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Swiftsure sails into its 78th year this weekend

Spectators will flock to Clover Point, the official starting location, and line up along Dallas Road for five races, beginning with the Lightship Classic at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Spectators will be lining Dallas Road Saturday morning for the 78th Swiftsure Lightship ­Classic race, hoping to see brightly coloured spinnakers filled out by a brisk westerly wind sending boats on their way.

Every year — except 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic — locals and visitors flock to Clover Point, the official starting location, and line up along Dallas Road for five races, beginning with the Lightship Classic at 9 a.m. Saturday. Other races ­follow in 10-minute increments.

Race chair Randy Diamond said organizers are hoping for clear weather with a 15 to 20 knot wind coming from the west.

Last year, spectators huddled along the waterfront under cloudy skies and a light drizzle.

Officials will do a live broadcast from a tent set up at Clover Point.

Out-of-town boats are expected to begin arriving at the Inner Harbour Causeway docks early this afternoon and through Friday.

So far close to 115 boats have registered for the five races, of which about 70 per cent are from the U.S. More are expected to enter the race. “People love coming to Victoria’s Inner Harbour,” Diamond said, adding Swiftsure boats setting off create a “very pretty race at the start.”

While the Swiftsure remains popular with boaters, entry numbers have not yet regained pre-pandemic levels.

Last year’s races attracted 120 boats, below the 2019 figure of 140, Diamond said.

The Swiftsure Lightship Classic, named for a lightship — an aid to navigation serving as a kind of lighthouse — is the longest race. Boats in the race sail around the “lightship” before returning to Victoria.

These days, racing yachts go around a virtual mark, but the real Swiftsure lightship was stationed at Swiftsure Bank, near the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, west of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Today, it’s being restored at the Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Centre in Seattle.

Tents will be set up on the lower causeway for the Swiftsure Centre, where the public can ask questions of event ambassadors. Close to 200 volunteers pitch in to make the event happen.

Volunteers are buffing up trophies to prepare for the award ceremony, held the night prior to the race — awards are handed out one year after the event — at the Strathcona Hotel, Diamond said.

While the Lightship Classic is the longest race, the Cape Flattery race is the most popular. That’s because waters are calmer in the Cape Flattery race than in the Lightship race, where boats can face open ocean swells.

Boats from the Juan de Fuca race start returning about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Sunday morning. That day will be filled with boats returning from their various races, Diamond said.

The finish point is Ogden Point breakwater. Boats then go into the harbour for a check by safety inspectors.

Jeff Bray, chief executive of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said visitors stay in hotels downtown and go to ­restaurants and shop, while locals are also attracted to the city centre. “It has a great impact.”

Keith Wells, executive ­director of the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission, called Swiftsure a premiere yachting event on North America’s west coast. “It has the attention of yachtsmen up and down the coast.”

Even so, the tourism commission, a sponsor, is trying to attract more international sailors and raise more awareness, he said. This is a marquee event for the city and it makes sense to build it back up, he said.

Swiftsure basics

• Race boats will arrive at the Inner Harbour Causeway docks on Thursday and Friday.

• Central Saanich Lions Club serves breakfast at 8 a.m. Saturday at Clover Point.

• Swiftsure Lightship Classic starts at 9 a.m. Saturday off Clover Point, followed by the other races.

• Clover Point and Dallas Road are prime spots to watch the start.

• A race commentator will be in a tent at Clover Point.

• The Swiftsure Centre will be set up at the Inner Harbour Lower Causeway.

• To follow the races, go to Each vessel is equipped with a transponder that regularly transmits location data.

• On Sunday, boats will return through the day past Ogden Point and then head to Ship Point for inspection.

Swiftsure races

• Swiftsure Lightship Classic: 138 nautical miles

• Hein Bank Race: 118.1 nautical miles

• Cape Flattery: 101.9 nautical miles

• Juan de Fuca: 78.7 nautical miles

• Swiftsure Inshore Classic, which ends at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. The length is determined on race day.

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