The Swiftsure International Yacht Race sails into its 70th edition this year, celebrating the canvas-and-compass of its past and the high-tech navigation and materials of today.
Organizers are hoping for a record turnout of boats for the races, part of a five-day festival that attracts visitors from around the world, said Vern Burkhardt, the chairman of the international race.
At an announcement Thursday at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Burkhardt said Swiftsure activities this year will focus on the evolution in sailing over the history of the event.
“In those 70 years, we’ve seen a tremendous change in technology, from canvas sails that billow heavy with water to modern sails that are very precise, and carbon, fibreglass-made boats that are quite light,” Burkhardt said.
“Technically, the sailing is quite different, but the love of sailing, the teamwork and the skills are what’s still common.”
Race day is Saturday, May 25, with boats starting from Clover Point and finishing near Ogden Point. Other events during the festivities, which run May 23 to 27, include tours of HMCS Oriole, the oldest commissioned ship in the Canadian Navy with a pedigree that dates back to 1880, and the 1909 schooner Martha. There will also be pirate entertainers, a pancake breakfast and live music.
“We’re encouraging the public to come down and take part,” said Burkhardt, who sailed his first Swiftsure at the age of 22 and has completed 30 races since.
The Swiftsure race began in 1930 as a 257-kilometre race along the Juan de Fuca Strait between yacht clubs in Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle. The race took a hiatus for three years during the Second World War — making this its 70th year, not the 73rd.
Despite facing several gale force winds and monstrous waves, the race has never been cancelled due to weather — though it came close during a wicked storm a few years back. Weather warnings are sent to skippers, who can decide to come in any time during the race.
Sailing is often misunderstood as an elitist sport, when in fact small boats run by amateurs sail alongside professionals on fancy rigs, says Victoria racer Ben Power, who has participated in Swiftsure several times with his boats Betty Boop and Baaad Kitty!
“It’s dangerous and exciting for everyone,” he said. “There’s no team sport like this. You’re like an Indy 500 pit crew out there … playing a chess game on water.”
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