With 175 yachts, 76th Swiftsure sails on May 25

About 175 yachts, including some of the most competitive racing boats from the West Coast of Canada and the U.S., are expected in Victoria next week for Swiftsure 2019, the 76th edition of the sailing race.

Swiftsure, organized by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, has become the largest sailboat race in western North America. It serves as a qualifying event for the gruelling open-ocean Vic-Mauii, where racers travel from Victoria to Hawaii.

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“Swiftsure is always a challenge, that’s the motto,” said principal race officer John Abel during an introductory event Tuesday at Spinnakers Brewpub, which makes a special ale for the event.

Swiftsure Week runs May 23 to 27, with opening race day set for May 25.

In Victoria, Swiftsure is always a big event. Staging it requires about 220 volunteers who do everything from monitoring radio communications to checking in finishers.

On May 23 and 24, the public is invited to visit the Inner Harbour, where some of the racers are likely to be tied up. Race ambassadors will answer questions.

On race-day morning, Saturday, May 25, everyone is invited to Clover Point at 8 a.m. to eat a pancake breakfast laid on by the Central Saanich Lions Club and watch the colourful sails balloon out as the racing boats speed away.

Swiftsure began in 1930 with sailboats going down Juan de Fuca Strait and back. After a few stoppages during the Great Depression and Second World War, the race has been staged regularly ever since.

At the mouth of the strait,racing boats head to the open Pacific Ocean, turn around at Swiftsure Bank, once marked by a U.S. Coast Guard light ship, and return. That race is now called the Swiftsure Lightship Classic. Organizers have added four more race events, each one offering different levels of time, distance and challenge.

The Cape Flattery Race saves racers the need to venture out onto the Pacific. The Juan de Fuca Race is a fast race from Victoria to Clallam Bay in Washington state and back. The Hein Bank is a longer course, but takes place entirely within Juan de Fuca Strait.

The shortest and easiest, the Swiftsure Inshore Class, is a family affair and is designed to get a boat back to the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in time for supper.

The Lightship Classic remains the longest and trickiest, an overnight event that covers 138 nautical miles or 256 kilometres.

Abel said Swiftsure attracts sailors of every level, from professionals to family cruisers. “That we can now deliver a race event for all these different people is especially nice.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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