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Swiftsure starts with a breeze and excitement that it's back after pandemic pause

Boats were under spinnaker on their way to Swiftsure Bank. Spectators lined the Dallas Road waterfront to watch the start of the races.

Brightly coloured spinnakers put on their best show Saturday morning as crews readied themselves on the waters off Clover Point to participate in the first Swiftsure races since the pandemic was declared.

By late afternoon on Saturday boats in the longer races were out in the central part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, said event chairman Randy Diamond.

Most of the first boats in the shorter races had returned by 4 p.m., he said.

The morning saw spectators line Clover Point and stand along Dallas Road.

“The start was great,” said Dale Gann, event spokesman. ”For our 77th running of Swiftsure we were very happy to have a breeze that allowed the start to begin with spinnakers” bringing more excitement to the beginning of the six races, he said.

The Swiftsure Lightship Classic race started first at 9 a.m. with the other races following 10 minutes apart. By 10:30 a.m., only the tips of the approximately 120 boats taking part could be seen from Clover Point.

“The boats are still under spinnaker on their way to Swiftsure Bank and up to Race Rocks, so all in all a very good start to SwiftSure,” Gann said mid-morning.

Skies were cloudy and a light drizzle fell. “We have a northerly outflow wind northeast and the boats have been making consistent speed to Race Rocks.”

Anyone wanting to follow the races can go to swiftsure.org to see race times, current leaders, race progress, wind conditions and more.

Diamond said the wind diminished somewhat through the day. “But there’s a strong westerly forecast for late this afternoon, evening and night. So I think they are all kind of anxiously awaiting for the new wind to fill in from the west.”

Yachts in the longer races will likely finish up early this morning, he said.

People from around the region showed up to the waterfront early Saturday to join in a pancake breakfast and watch the boats arrive for the Swiftsure 2022 International Yacht Race staged by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club.

Swiftsure brings a festive event back to the city’s harbour and sailors are welcoming the return of the competition.

The races are a Victoria tradition and like other well-loved events it’s back this year after ­missing two years because of the pandemic. “It means a lot” to have the races — now in their 77th year — back again, Gann said.

A group of five spectators lined up folding chairs on the sidewalk next to Dallas Road above Clover Point. Watching Swiftsure has been an annual tradition they are happy to welcome back.

Loesha Donaldson, of Victoria, was particularly pleased to watch the start with sister Fay Wilkinson, who has returned to Victoria from Calgary. In their youth, the sisters and their brothers were keen sailors in the junior group at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club.

Donaldson used to sail with a twin brother and they often won their races, she said.

The group set up at 7:45 a.m., bringing binoculars and rain coats.

When the races started, “the spinnakers were so beautiful,” Donaldson said.

“It’s just so fascinating to see all the different sails, the different sizes of the boats, the different classes.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com