Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Swiftsure Race Preview

Swiftsure Cup Session Ale (Victoria, BC, Canada)- It’s a testament to an event, the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, and a sport, sailboat racing, that has been changing in ways that have allowed more people to become involved in recent years and stay interested.  Swiftsure began in 1930. Since then, it has been halted only by major world calamities, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War. So, this year will be the 73rd running of Swiftsure.

Its most prestigious event, the Swiftsure Lightship Classic, is 138.2nm (256 km) from Clover Point out to the Swiftsure Banks near the entrance of Juan de Fuca Strait. It’s named for the former lightship, a floating lighthouse, the US Coast Guard once anchored at the entrance of the strait as a navigation aid.  The Swiftsure Lightship Classic offers some of the best, worst and trickiest conditions all in one race in one fairly wide stretch of ocean, all to be undertaken in two full days.

The Juan de Fuca Strait is bordered by the Olympic Mountains to the south and Vancouver Island to the north. And these land formations create a geographic funnel to channel wind and squeeze the air mass into a tighter space. So, the wind coming in from the Pacific will speed up as it moves farther into the strait.  This speeding wind makes for an especially tricky turn, often in the dark, as returning boats swing past a narrow neck near Race Rocks, off Metchosin, BC to head north into the finish in Victoria Harbour.

But, the Swiftsure event also offers racers choices of other starts and courses. There’s the 101.9nm Cape Flattery Race, the Juan de Fuca Race at 78.7nm, and added last year was the Hein Bank Race, 118.1nm.  There is even the Swiftsure Inshore Classic, a short trip designed to get sailors into Cadboro Bay in time for supper.

Charlotte Gann, Swiftsure spokeswoman, sailor and member of a family that has had an entrant in Swiftsure every year since it began, agreed. Gann said sailors vary in their competitive levels, their skills and their boats. To make sure everybody can have a good race, it’s important to offer courses to suit. It also helps keep the event fresh, giving entrants a chance to switch from year to year.  She said the race had a high point for entrants in 1981 when it reached 441 boats, but steadily declined afterwards. A low point was reached in 2011 when 152 boats entered.

J/120 Time Bandit sailing Swiftsure CupHowever, those numbers are rebounding, with 199 last year, and Gann said registration is on track to top 200 this year.  She also credits what she calls a modern “culture of safety” bred by Swiftsure chairman Vern Burkhardt since he took over in 2012.  People now feel confident when they enter. They can push hard on themselves and their craft, but the best safety and rescue measures are built in.  “A cornerstone of Swiftsure is our safety culture,” Gann said. “It’s very high.”  Agencies including the Canadian Coast Guard, the US Coast Guard, US Homeland Security, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy will be standing by for the race.

HMCS Whitehorse will fire the starting guns for the various races. It will then motor off to take a position on Swiftsure Bank standing in for the original lightship (thanks for contribution from Richard Watts- Times Colonist in Victoria, BC)

How & Where to Watch Swiftsure Race starts?
Go to Clover Point on Dallas Road about 8 AM. The race starts at 0900 hrs, Saturday, May 28. There's a pancake breakfast, blessing of the fleet by Songhees & Esquimalt elders, live commentary and RCAF Search & Rescue demonstration.  Then, follow the fleet in real-time on the Swiftsure Race Tracker.

Swiftsure Yacht Race Announces Own Brand of Beer!
The Swiftsure Race is thrilled to announce our own brand of beer! That's right! “Spinnakers SWIFTSURE Session Ale” has been custom brewed for the Swiftsure Race by our uber cool sponsor, Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub. We're not sure, but we think we may be the only race in the history of yacht racing to have a beer named after them. Now, how cool is that!? Look for the label in the Swiftsure Tent and check the website here.

J/105 sailing Swiftsure Cup RaceDozens of J/Teams Participating!
There are 34 J/Teams entered (17% of the fleet) in this year’s Swiftsure events, by far the largest sailboat brand participating (and, maybe the largest numbers of J entries ever!).  The only team sailing the original race- the Swiftsure Lightship Classic- is Reed Bernhard’s J/109 MOUNTAIN from Sloop Tavern YC.  Sailing in the Hein Bank Race under ORC handicap rule are the two big J’s- John McPhail’s J/160 JAM and Tom Huseby’s J/145 DOUBLE TAKE.

The largest contingent of J’s are sailing the Cape Flattery Race, with 20 boats participating in three classes.  In Class L1, the biggest, fastest rides are Tom Kelly’s J/122 ANAM CARA, fresh off their fight up the coast in the Oregon Offshore Race (report below), John Murkowski’s pretty new J/122E JOY RIDE, Greg Slyngstad’s lightning-quick J/125 HAMACHI and Ron Holbrook’s J/133 CONSTELLATION.  Class L2 is loaded with good boats that include J120s, J/109s and J/35s (in fact, there are seven J/35s across three races!).  Bob Brunius’ J/120 TIME BANDIT will look to repeat their good performance in the Oregon Offshore and will have to contend with two J/120 colleagues- Kirk Palmer’s LIGHT SCOUT and Mike Picco’s WILD BLUE.  The two J/109s are Mark Hansen’s MOJO and Tom Sitar’s SERENDIPITY.  The four J/35s are Jim Prentice’s DIVA, Don Leighton’s TAHLEQUAH, Jaso Vannice’s ALTAIR, and John Vassallo’s MOONLIGHT MILE.  Several leading J/105s are packed into the L3 Class, including recent Oregon Offshore winners, FREE BOWL OF SOUP skippered by Doug Schenk.  Doing battle with them will be Jim Geros’ LAST TANGO, Chuck Stephen’s PANIC, Doug Pihlaja’s ABSTRACT, and Ed Wilder’s AVALANCHE.  Don’t be surprised if two well-prepared J/30s give them a run-for-the-money, like Scott Shaw-Mac’s NATURAL HIGH or Ulf Georg Gwildis’ IMPULSIVE.

Nine J/crews are participating in the Juan de Fuca Race across three divisions.  The cruising J’s are in H1 class, John Simpkin’s J/32 BLUE JAY and John Tulip’s J/35c IRENE II.  At the top of L1 Class is Peter McComb’s J/109 TIPPY.  They will chased hard by a number of good crews, including Walt Meagher’s J/35 SUNSHINE GIRL, two J/33s- Adrian King-Harris’ “J” and MC Marciniak’s PRESTO, Alan Ip’s J/29 GODZILLA and two J/30s- Geoff Wolf’s CONRAD J and Theo Singellis’ TAKU.

Finally, happy to just spend a weekend sailing are those sailing in the Inshore Flying Sails division, two J/35s- Ed Pinkham’s JEOPARDY and Bob McClinton’s INTREPID and Tom Kerr’s famously fast J/33 CORVO!    Follow the Swiftsure Race social activities here on Facebook   For more Swiftsure Race sailing information