RCN finds sailing success

A/SLt Hayden Pooley and Lt(N) Tom Eagle of STV Goldcrest neck and neck with STV Tuna in a downwind Spinnaker race to Port Hardy during the Van Isle 360 Yacht Race. Photo by LCdr Chris Maier

A/SLt Hayden Pooley and Lt(N) Tom Eagle of STV Goldcrest neck and neck with STV Tuna in a downwind Spinnaker race to Port Hardy during the Van Isle 360 Yacht Race. Photo by LCdr Chris Maier

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Sixteen members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) put their sailing skills to the ultimate test, proudly representing the base at this year’s Van Isle 360 Yacht race.

The 15-day sailing competition began on June 1 and included the circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. The sailors competed aboard Naval Fleet School Pacific’s STV (Sail Training Vessel) Goldcrest and STV Tuna. The RCN’s participation in the 15th iteration of the annual race was also buoyed by an Orca-class Patrol Craft (PCT) Renard and its crew that acted as a support vessel for the entire competition, of which there were 37 boats and approximately 400 competitors. 

The two teams, whose sailors were recruited from across the Naval Training System, competed aboard their 36-foot, sloop-rigged (single mast) STVs against 36 of the fastest racing yachts from across the region. When the final leg of the race between Victoria and Nanaimo concluded on June 15, Goldcrest had wrestled a 3rd Place finish in the 12-boat Division 3 from Tuna who had been in 2nd place for much of the race and finished 7th. The overall winner of the race was 65 Red Roses II, skippered by Alex Smyth out of West Vancouver Yacht Club, Line Honours for the race went to SMOKE out of the Corinthian Yacht Club Seattle.

The strong showing by the RCN boats surprised everyone involved in the race said Lieutenant Commander Chris Maier, who skipped Tuna and its seven-person crew and is a Division Commander at Naval Fleet School (Pacific). Before the race began LCdr Maier noted that many of the sailors were new to sailing and none of them had competed as a team before their training began. The objective was to have a safe training experience that would progressively challenge the sailors.

“But instead we were extremely successful,” said LCdr Maier who organized the RCN’s participation in the race. “We showed up and competed well. Because we were rated as the slowest two boats in the race competing against some newer purpose built race boats with established racing crews, we moderated our expectations.”

Goldcrest, which was skipped by Kevin Greenwood of the Naval Training Development Centre (Pacific), who LCdr Maier described as an expert at ship handling, navigation and leadership at sea. The sailors completed nearly three weeks of training under the guidance of the boats’ watch captains Lt(N) Tom Eagle and LS Ben Sproule, as well as a Sea Survival Course, as required by race organizers.

To get ready for the competition both boats entered the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, May 25 and 26 in Victoria. Several boats entered in the race failed to finish due to the lack of wind on the Juan de Fuca Strait that weekend. Swiftsure’s challenging conditions were a good introduction to what his crews would face in the Van Isle 360 said LCdr Maier.

The two crews faced a wide range of weather and nautical conditions throughout the race, from not enough wind and weak currents during their first leg between Nanaimo and Comox to too much wind and strong currents two days later when they raced through a narrow channel between Deep Water Bay to Hardwick Island. In an effort to combat the conditions in the fourth leg, the teams moved their boats closer to shore. They then used a series of short but labour-intensive tacks close-to-shore resulting in a 4th and 5th Place finish in Division 3 that day for Goldcrest and Tuna respectively.

“I think that’s where the rest of the fleet [in the race] took notice and this tactic paid off in spades,” said LCdr Maier. “We were able to keep up while the other boats were making longer tacks off-shore and didn’t have the stamina of our young and disciplined sailors who on that day were able to compete against the best boats in our division.”

LCdr Maier also hailed the crew of Renard for their support role and outreach efforts, opening up their ship to public tours when stopping in the many port towns along the way, which he said was a big hit. The Renard also acted as an emergency support vessel through the competition and had emergency and medical supplies and a medical staff member on board. It also provided Tuna and Goldcrest with stores and replacement equipment for the race.

Upon conclusion of the Van Isle 360 Race, event organizer Jeff Motley extended his appreciation and a “Bravo Zulu” to the RCN for their competitive spirit and sportsmanship in the race and for making Renard available.

“The smiles and vigour of the sailors [of the RCN] was infectious and the skippers and crews knew that in the event of a significant emergency the Navy would be there,” said Motley. “From assisting with weather observations for the [racing] fleet, to retrieving race marks and stitching up members of racing teams who suffered lacerations from being hit by a boom during an accidental gybe, the navy was there.”

For more information about the Van Isle 360 Yacht Race visit their website www.vanisle360.com

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