Lt.-Comm. Shane Denneny accepts a Sanford Williams carving from Vern Burkhardt, chair of the Swiftsure International Yacht Race which returns to the waters just off Clover Point, May 24-28. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

SETTING SAIL: Swiftsure yacht race takes to Victoria waters

For 75 years, sailors from across the globe have taken part in premier event

For 75 years, the Royal Victoria Yacht Club has served as host to Swiftsure, the longest running sailboat race in the world, launching from the waters just off Clover Point.

The international yacht race tests sailing skills, endurance and strategy is part of a full weekend of activities that kicks off with a public opening of the docks to view the boats Thursday (May 24). Depending upon the winds the final boats may finish as late as Monday morning.

Boats from all over the world will set sail on four overnight courses and a few new elements are present this year.

“For the first time in Swiftsure history we have an all-women crew,” says Vern Burkhardt, chair of the race.

This year, over 200 boats are expected to take part, including another first – Dragon, a multihull boat from Victoria that will race with foils, devices under the boat that increase its ability.

“It allows the boat to get up and have the hull actually go above the water and hit incredible speeds,” he says, adding the boat can travel 30 nautical miles per hour, the equivalent of a car going 50 km/hr.

It’s a big thrill, says Burkhardt, who will also compete for a 30th time in the race, on the Turnagain, a 50-ft. multihull from Vancouver.

Swiftsure began in 1930 as a race between yacht clubs from Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria and was named for the Swiftsure Bank at the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait. Today, it has grown into a spectator sport attracting racers and observers from as far as away as New Zealand and Russia.

The Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Coast Guard will kick things off with a live action demo, simulating a search and rescue operation using a cormorant helicopter.

HMCS Nanaimo will serve as one of the start boats, signalling the launch of each race with a powerful bang from a six-pound cannon.

Lt.-Comm. Shane Denneny will sail Nanaimo to Swiftsure Bank, where it will serve as the rounding mark for Lightship Classic course. It makes for an interesting perspective watching fresh faces at the start, he says, and then later, looking on as some of the largest of the competing vessels “slug it out for glory.”

“Once you start heading out to the strait of Juan de Fuca, it’s anybody’s game,” he says. “Weather conditions, tide currents change and it’s a real competition to see who rounds that first.”

When the first vessel leaves the starting line, Burkhardt says the youngest sailor aboard will be nine years old. An event of this size and complexity, it’s what keeps racers coming back, he says.

“It’s a big event, requires a lot of skills, but it’s so very rewarding.”

A pancake breakfast is available Saturday morning (May 26) at 8 a.m. at Clover Point, which offers great vistas of the race starts, which get underway at 9 a.m. and happen in 10-minute intervals.

For more details visit Swiftsure.org where you can track the progress of each vessel in real time as the race takes place.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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