Gripping the mainsheet, I had one eye trained on the knotmeter and one ahead towards the infamous Race Rocks. The westerly breeze had steadily built into to mid-20s to low 30s and with an ebbing tide, the waves were stacking up. Under full main and 4A spinnaker were were absolutely bombing towards Race Passage and with each gust I eased a little bit and then trimmed back in.
Double Take was simply alive in these conditions and with boatspeeds regularly in the mid teens, we topped out at 19.5 knots several times. It was one of the most exhilarating rides on a sailboat I’ve ever had, and it was the perfect way to finish the amazing outside legs of the Van Isle 360.
Downwind we go
After multiple days of upwind sailing in challenging conditions during the inside legs, it was appropriate that we had to beat our way out of Goletas Channel and over the Nahwitti Bar in order to fall off, crack the sheets and round the top of Vancouver Island.
The Nahwitti Bar is no place to mess around on a boat and we could see it coming. The swell slowly built and large, often breaking ways were visible in the distance. We encountered some good 10 to 12 footers as we went over, but with the knowledge that we’d be sailing downwind for the next 300 miles firmly embedded in our collective consciousness, they was a mere afterthought.
From Cape Scott on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, to Winter Harbour, Ucluelet and Victoria we raced over three separate legs, day and night, with our spinnaker drawing. Downwind sailing in a steady breeze is always a great time and for many competitors in this year’s Van Isle 360, the ocean sailing portion was a dream.
Whales breached in the sunshine, an impossibly thick blanket of stars helped us steer at night and the racing action was always tight and exciting. In some divisions, only a few points now separate first from last place and the leaderboards seem to be like a revolving door. As far as the racing goes, it can’t get much better.
More than just racing
I’ve come to realize, though, that the Van Isle 360 is about more than just sailboat racing — far more. Each stop along the way is unique and each community we visit enthusiastically embraces our presence.
With rustic cabins lining the shore and a wooden boardwalk serving as a sidewalk, Winter Harbour is a sleepy fishing village that got invaded by hoards of sailors after leg 6. A great bbq and party was put on and the crew from Dragonfly even provided a late night fireworks show. Plus, there was no cell service, and more than one person mentioned how nice it was to disconnect.
Ucluelet was a slight change of pace, but not much. Five crewmembers from Double Take took advantage of the area’s famous fishing charter industry and are heading home with a considerable amount of salmon for their freezers. Others took in the beautiful beaches and visited the quaint, funky surf town of Tofino.
As part of a school project, 75 students from Ucluelet Elementary School got a chance to come down and tour the race boats. Each student was assigned to a boat beforehand and had to write a letter about themselves and the town. Our excited 6th-grader, Emily, asked about where we slept and how we sailed the boat. She also gave the crew some valuable insights into area eateries. The kids were then invited by the race committee to countdown the start of leg eight over the radio from the lighthouse at Amphitrite Point — very cool.
For the racers, an unparalleled camaraderie has developed and strong friendships have been forged. Though we’ve all sailed together before aboard Double Take, the Van Isle 360 has brought our crew closer together and you can see the same thing happening from boat to boat.
Before competing in the Van Isle 360, I’d heard racers describe it as an incredible experience and I figured they meant the racing. But it’s so much more, and that is really why people come back time and time again.
Today is the final leg of the Van Isle 360 from Victoria to Nanaimo. Follow along on the race tracker and check back here for a full race report.