‘Pure perseverance’ for sailors who finished wind-starved Swiftsure

Sixteen Swiftsure skippers persevered through light wind, harsh rain, rough waters and challenging currents over the weekend to cross the finish line.

One hundred and six boats in the 76th edition of the Swiftsure International Yacht Race long courses dropped out. Boats had left in intervals starting at 9 a.m. off Clover Point Saturday after two postponements due to lack of wind.

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“It was pure perseverance on the part of those who finished, the ones that held on,” said John Abel, principal race officer for Swiftsure.

Rage, skippered by David Raney out of Portland, was the only boat of 11 to finish and win the Swiftsure Lightship Classic for monohulls, the longest and trickiest of the races, covering 138 nautical miles or 256 kilometres. It finished with a corrected time of 40:02.

Boats in Swiftsure use a handicapping system that allows boats of different specifications and capabilities to compete against each other.

“The weather was so bad Saturday, a lot bailed out early because of the light wind and heavy rain and currents,” said Abel, “but I think the story is the ones who hung on and managed to finish the race.”

The deadline to cross the finish line was 6 a.m. on Monday, but three inbound boats — Les Chevaux Blancs, Galmegi and Puff — persevered. They didn’t make it in time, but they didn’t give up.

Sailing in super-light conditions is as mentally tiring as a fast race, said Abel. By Saturday afternoon, the boats were catching eight- to 10-knot winds, but that was it.

Gladiator crew member Garry Sagert said the weekend race was all about “focus and endurance.”

Gladiator, a boat out of Sidney, emerged the winner of the Juan de Fuca monohulls return race from Victoria to Clallam Bay in Washington, once race times were corrected.

“Races like this are won because of being able to stay focused,” said Sagert. “We made massive gains during the night when some people dial it down. It’s a mix of determination and keeping your foot on the gas the whole time.”

Sagert, who has raced in Swiftsure about seven times, admits he considered quitting.

“I was certainly thinking that in the middle of the night when I was cold and soaked to the bone — wondering how I was going to stay warm — and the ocean swells had me feeling nauseous,” said Sagert.

Sailing challenges one physically, emotionally and mentally, he said.

“I thought this totally sucks. I want to be home in my bed and maybe retire from sailing and then the rain stopped and the sky cleared and it was the most beautiful starry night and the sunset and the sunrise was spectacular,” said Sagert. “And on Sunday, it was a beautiful day and by the time we got to the dock, I was feeling optimistic.”

Sagert said he plans to do the race again. “Each year, the currents and winds are always different and it’s always a cool challenge.”

Kahuna skipper John Leitzinger, who was first to cross the finish line physically in the Juan de Fuca monohulls race but placed second in corrected times, said longtime Swiftsure sailors always joke after a tough Swiftsure that they’ll “never again” race in the renowned West Coast event, but always end up doing so.

Leitzinger sailed Kahuna, out of Tacoma, Washington, into Victoria’s Inner Harbour at 11:20 a.m. on Sunday. Second to cross the line was My-Tai at 11:38 a.m. out of Sidney-North Saanich. My-Tai placed third in corrected times.

Leitzinger said his crew just kept trying to connect pockets of wind.

The rain seemed never ending, the water was rough, the currents were strong — in the wrong direction — and as on other boats, at least one sailor lost his dinner overboard.

“It was a classic Swiftsure,” said Tim Cleary, one of Kahuna’s crew. “We had everything — we had rain, we had puking.”

Cleary said that at one point, the crew saw it had 10 miles to go, then six hours later, it had 11 miles to go. “That was a bit of a downer, but we just kept sailing.”

My-Tai skipper Dallas Ross, from Vancouver, said of the race: “It was wet and then it was cold and it was long, but then it was a beautiful day and there was some wind and it was a beautiful finish.”

It was tiring and frustrating from the start line and the low points included at 4 a.m. “slopping around Race Rocks realizing we’re going backward,” said Ross.

“We started because we came to play and we finished because we came to play.”

The Swiftsure yacht race sees sailors race in Juan de Fuca Strait and beyond, before returning to Victoria. Organized by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, it is the largest such event on the West Coast and a qualifying event for the Vic-Maui race from Victoria to Hawaii.

The Cape Flattery Race multihulls was won by Big Broderna, skippered by Lars Strandberg, with a corrected time of 38:00. The Cape Flattery Race monohulls was won by Panic, skippered by Chuck Stephens, with a corrected time of 36:31.

None of the eight boats in the Hein Bank race, a longer course that takes place entirely within Juan de Fuca Strait, finished the course.

Almost all entrants finished the shortest and easiest courses, the three Swiftsure Inshore Classic races.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

Race results are at swiftsure.org

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