Chris Walter from North Sails Vancouver logs his road trip to provide sail care for the Van Isle 360 international yacht race.
This year marked the 10th Van Isle 360 International Yacht Race, comprised of nine distance legs running counter-clockwise around Vancouver Island. Known for its mild climate, mother nature delivered a whirlwind of uncharacteristically stormy weather for the sailors, who raced a combined 534.2nm between the start in Nanaimo and the finish in BC’s capital city, Victoria. Forecasts reported a maximum wind speed of 35 knots, a true test of strength for all 73 boats in the race and the wit of their crew.
North Sails is proud to have supported the race’s 10th edition through the overnight sail care program run by the Vancouver team and led by Chris Walter. Chris spent 20 days on the road, following the fleet up the inner coast of Vancouver Island and around the outside, taking in repairs each day and fixing them in time for the boats to reach starting line the next morning. With help from trusted accomplices and the occasional break to sail, Chris took a few minutes each day to record his journey for us.
37.4 NATUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 17-23 KNOTS
LEG 1- NANAIMO TO COMOX: ON THE ROAD
1030: I watch as the fleet pushes off the docks of Nanaimo, “The Harbour City” as it’s known, to begin their circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. It was a downwind start out of the bay and into the Strait of Georgia where they were greeted by a strong northwest wind.
1100: I hop in the van and begin the drive to Comox. I took the Old Island Highway for a more scenic route, stopping along the way at parks and trying to catch a glimpse of the boats. Eventually the wind started to die and I left the fleet behind to join the rest of the road crews at the park in Comox.
2000: It was late in the evening before the first boats started to arrive at the docks . When Zulu (a custom Jesperson 42 that I sail on quite a bit) arrived to the dock with our crew of Findlay Gibbons, Trevor Gibbons, Peter Gibbons, Krizia Marban, Reigh North, Rick Wunderlich, Andrew Costa, and Drew Mitchell, I caught their lines and spent some time on the boat before we all went to bed. I was excited to race on Zulu the next day in the inshore Straight Marine Race.
WIND SPEED 9 KNOTS WITH GUSTS TO 15 KNOTS
JUNE 7 – STRAIGHT MARINE RUM RACE: ZULU
0715: I am woken up by Drew bringing a genoa from Family Affair, a Beneteau 45, to the van to repair a tear along the top of the spreader patch. Once I found the right supplies, I got the sail patched up just in time to head out for the race start.
1100ish: The Straight Marine Rum Race race was held on Comox Harbour and consisted of a windward leeward course with the finish just off of Goose Spit. It was a fun race where every boat was awarded a bottle of rum at the beer garden later in the afternoon. Today was extremely hot with a period of very light wind, even the water was quite warm but everyone went swimming anyway. After racing, I got to work replacing all the battens in Northern Light’s jib (they had all flown out of the sail during a tack), and then replaced a broken mainsail slide for Rogues Roost. With all the work done it was time to join the guys on Zulu for some dinner.
26.7 NAUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 11-20 KNOTS WITH GUSTS TO 24 KNOTS
LEG 2, COMOX TO CAMPBELL RIVER
ON THE ROAD-
0800: Watched the fleet start into a strong NW wind, then continued driving up island. I passed by the Comox Canadian Forces Base where the search and rescue teams are based and continued north for most of the day arriving at the Campbell River Waterfront only an hour ahead of the leading boat, a Formula 40 catamaran named Dragonfly.
2000: The finish line was just off the pier where I watched as the fleet flew across the line in what must have been 4-5 knots of current. There were only a few minor repairs today and Drew gave me a hand to get everything done quickly. Everyone was in bed early because the boats would be leaving the dock at first light to make it through Seymour Narrows at slack water, before the current really got moving. Seymour Narrows has some of the strongest currents in the world.
34.2 NAUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 10-16 KNOTS WITH GUSTS TO 21 KNOTS
LEG 3, CAMPBELL RIVER TO HAWICK ISLAND (AKA “FISH FARM”)
ON THE ROAD-
Lay day for me. Went hiking with my dad up to Elk Falls. Elk Falls is a 27 metre waterfall on the Campbell River, below the John Hart Dam and above the generating station.
Fish habitats have been built up and down either side of the river below the Falls for salmon to spawn in. Tomorrow I will head to the airport to pick up a new set of sails for Julien Sellgren on Kiva.
41 NAUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 17 KNOTS WITH GUSTS TO 25 KNOTS
LEG 4, HARWICH ISLAND TO TELEGRAPH COVE
ON THE ROAD- I drove the 212km up to Telegraph Cove from Campbell River. The road leaves the coast and heads inland through the mountains.
1300: I arrived in Telegraph Cove which I learned is an old whaling village tucked into a tiny cove. The road crew from Dominatrix had rented a house on the hill where we could watch the boats finish. Neptune’s Car was the first to arrive and we saw they were motoring, so they must have had a breakdown, followed by the other Santa Cruz 70 Westerly, the Formula 40 Dragonfly, and another catamaran named Bad Kitty. By this time, there was already work to do as Neptune’s Car had torn the leech in their mainsail and lost some battens. I assessed the damage, took the sail with me, and the other jobs started flooding in.
…We took in four mainsails and many jibs with damage all down the leech from the strong wind the fleet had been sailing into for the past few days. I was up until 11pm fixing sails before a heavy fog rolled in and stopped us from working for the night. We couldn’t get them all done but we had been sure to finish the mainsails first so that every boat could sail the next day. The next morning I headed down to check out the fleet all crammed into the tiny cove. It was quite impressive to see them all fit, I had my doubts the day before!
LEG 5, TELEGRAPH COVER TO PORT HARDY
ON THE ROAD- 1330: Arrived in Port Hardy just as the first rain started to fall. After re-provisioning the van, I am waiting for a sail and more supplies to be sent up from Vancouver. It started to rain hard, off and on all day, as the fleet slowly trickled into to the bay across the finish line. With many sails to repair we were lucky when the local Harbour Master gave us a room in their building to work. Protected from the rain, we set up our mobile loft and Drew, my dad, and I got to work fixing sails. I worked until 2am, when every job was finished. I wanted to get everything done so I could go out on the boat the next day.
69.1 NAUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 8-21 KNOTS WITH GUSTS UP TO 30 KNOTS
LEG 6, PORT HARDY TO WINTER HARBOUR
Onboard ZULU – This leg was around 70 nautical miles and took us around the top of Vancouver Island. With the start line at the bottom of the bay the fleet didn’t have much room to play with and we didn’t get the best start. We headed out of the bay on a close hauled course, tacking up the inside and then crossing the Nahwiti Sandbar which was quite interesting with so many breaking waves. Once through the bar, we were able to start cracking off and picked up speed as we headed to Cape Scott at the tip of Vancouver Island. After a nice run down the outside, we turned the corner into Winter Harbour just before sunset.
WINTER HARBOUR LAY DAY
Winter Harbour is a tiny community on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There is an old boardwalk that runs along the waterline between the homes and the ocean, and one storefront that opens only when they feel like it. I spent most of the day repairing the last of the sails from the upwind legs and finished in time to miss the barbecue. Lucky for me, they fired it up again so I could get some dinner! After that Drew and I and a few others walked down to the beach and around the corner from town. We had a fire and enjoyed how peaceful it was to be out in the middle of nowhere. As it started to get dark, we headed back to the party where the guys from the Formula 40 Dragonfly put on a fireworks show for everyone.
138.1 NAUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 20 KNOTS WITH GUSTS TO 30 KNOTS
LEG 7, WINTER HARBOUR TO UCLUELET
ON THE ROAD – 0740: I jumped back in the van just as the fleet left the dock. The drive started with two hours down a narrow logging road that, in some places, you couldn’t pass a car if you met one. Lucky for me, it was Sunday because you can’t drive on these roads during the week days until evening due to active logging. Back on the highway, I still had a long way to go – all the way down to Parksville, then take a right to pass through Cathedral Grove. The grove is one of the only old growth forests in BC you can drive through. The trees are huge. The road took me up over the hill to Port Alberni where I stopped for gas and food before continuing down the narrow winding road out to Ucluelet and Tofino. I barely had time for dinner before rushing down to Amphirite Lighthouse to watch the boats finish Leg 8. Out on the horizon I could see Dragonfly finishing just as the sun was setting.
Headed up to Tofino and went surfing for a day at Cox Beach. It was nice to relax. The next day, a bunch of local school kids came down to check out the boats and ask lots of questions. They even got to help out with tasks on some of the boats. On Zulu we gave the kids some North Sails sunnies and they were all very excited. Later we walked down to the awards dinner, then back to the boat for the start of the next leg in the morning.
98.2 NAUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 9-18 KNOWS WITH GUSTS TO 35 KNOTS
LEG 8, UCLUELET TO VICTORIA
Onboard ZULU – We headed out of the harbour to the start line and were greeted by a very light Northwest Breeze. The wind picked up just as we were about to start and before I knew it we were off with the big boats leaving most of our competitors behind. We had steady breeze all day and the sun was out. We made a few gybes and took a nice header that had us flying down into the Strait of Juan de Fuca alongside Strait Marine, a Farr 40, and Jam a J/160. After going as far to the American side as we wanted, we gybed back to the Canadian side of the strait. As we expected, the wind began to pick up closer to Race Rocks on the Canadian side, so we gybed again and doused the big kite. We hoisted the heavy air spinnaker and blasted back across the passage with a top speed of 16.7 knots – not far off Zulu’s all-time speed record.
Soon we had to gybe again and in the heavy breeze we tore the kite through the turn, so we took it down quickly to avoid further damage. As we headed into Race Passage (between Race Rocks and Vancouver Island) the wind really picked up to at least 30 knots gusting to 38, with the tide running against us at 4.5 knots. The sea state was a mess and we were surfing down waves at over 15 knots boatspeed with the bowsprit buried in the back of the next wave. The boats behind us rounded up under main and jib and one was still coming down under spinnaker. I noticed they made the wise choice to get rid of it before they approached Race Rocks. We took it easy as we knew we were probably far enough ahead and the wind was still quite strong. Closer to the finish at Clover Point we hoisted the big kite and passed a boat in the 1st Division before finishing. We were greeted by Krizia at Royal Victoria Yacht Club with three pizzas and beer.
VICTORIA LAY DAY
Spent the day cleaning up the boat and stripping everything that we didn’t need for the last leg. We even took the cooking spices off the boat. We had to beat two boats ahead of us (Kiva and Different Drummer) that were tied for first on the leaderboard in our division. Drew and I and some of the crew showed a friend from Nova Scotia around Victoria as it is a very cool place that has a very British feel to the downtown part. In the evening there was a bbq and prizes in the rain.
59.9 NAUTICAL MILES, WIND SPEED 6-12 KNOTS
LEG 9, VICTORIA TO NANAIMO
ZULU – 1200 start today: The final leg was very challenging as there are so many different route options to take between the islands. We were prepared and planned our route in advance using the forecast as a guide. It was a downwind start in 20-25 knots and we sailed our planned route through Enterprise Channel between Vancouver Island and Trial Island which is only about 600 feet wide at its narrowest part. We were one of the first boats through with a good chunk of the fleet cramming in behind us. They didn’t look like they were having fun! As we headed out into Haro Strait the wind started to calm down and temperatures rose. We noticed that a number of bigger boats were well inside kelp reefs when, all of a sudden, Neptune’s Car stopped dead in the water. By the time they were off the reef and back into deep water we had almost caught up to them.
As we gybed close to Sidney Island and the kite filled I noticed a three foot long tear coming out of the clew patch and up into the middle. We rushed to rig up the smaller heavy air kite and drop the big white one down before it tore any more. After a quick repair on deck we had the white kite back up again. Later on as we approached Saltspring Island and sailed into Captains Passage we watched a number of other boats head north toward Active Pass. We had already chosen our route and stuck with it. We were now in Trincomali Channel and had a big transition zone to get through. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side and a few other boats snuck past. Once through the zone we got the code zero out and had a nice reach down to Porlier Pass. With the tide still flooding, both Zulu and our competitors were spat out into the Strait of Georgia. On Zulu we were spun right around by a whirlpool as another boat was pushed to close the shore and ran aground.
No wind in the strait. We all let the current push us up the side of Valdes Island toward the finish. Out farther in the strait you could see Darkstar just barely make out ahead of the rest of the boats who had followed them. We were waiting for the wind to fill so I went up the mast to have a look and see if any wind was coming. The crews on the other boats were watching me and when I got to the top of the mast I said “nope, we are screwed” quite loudly and everyone around us had a good laugh. By this time the sun was going down and there was still no wind. Yet somehow the sneaky little J/80 SW2 had managed to sail past us and they just kept going. A round of coffee and hot chocolate and the wind started to finally fill in. We didn’t have far to go now, Just around Gabriola Island and into Nanaimo Harbour, trading tacks with other boats in the dark. We went between Entrance Island and Gabriola Island on our last tack, heading right for the south end of Protection Island on a close reach. Then we rounded up to close hauled and crossed the finish line.
Congratulations to all Van Isle 360 sailors and the organizer and supporters of this event. It was well-run and it seemed everyone had fun and enjoyed the beautiful Vancouver weather and scenery. We hope to see you all again next year!