The annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race has been cancelled due to the increasing threat of COVID-19, marking the first break for the open-water race since 1946.
The Royal Victoria Yacht Club event was scheduled for May 21-25. The decision was finalized last week to skip what would have been the 77th edition.
Gatherings of more than 50 people are not allowed in B.C., and both Canada and the U.S. have banned non-essential cross-border travel.
Swiftsure attracts thousands of spectators each year, with a strong contingent of American participants.
“A week has transpired since we made the decision, and it’s gotten even worse,” said Randy Diamond, who co-chairs the race with Andrew McBride. “So we know that it was the right decision to make.”
Swiftsure was last halted for several years during the fallout from the Second World War, Diamond said. “It has certainly been an institution.”
More than 160 yachts charted the course between Clover Point and the Inner Harbour last year. Diamond expected a similar number of racers this year. The decision to cancel early gave participants and organizers an opportunity to avoid last-minute headaches.
“We started working on some workarounds, but then as things got worse and worse and worse, there came to be a point where there was no workaround,” Diamond said.
“It’s not just the competitors — we were also looking at how do we do things to ensure the safety of the volunteers.”
The range of events included in Swiftsure Week depended on the work of about 200 volunteers, many of whom are also involved with the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, the oldest yacht club of its kind in Western Canada. All events at the club in the coming months have been cancelled, including the opening day festivities set for April 24-27.
“We hope we will be getting out on the water sometime this summer, but there’s no guarantee of that,” Diamond said.