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Swiftsure competitors delayed, but where there's a wind there's a way

May 27 2012
Boats taking part in the Swiftsure International Yacht Race off Clover Point Saturday as their crews wait for wind. 

Boats taking part in the Swiftsure International Yacht Race off Clover Point Saturday as their crews wait for wind.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (May 2012)

While the hundreds of people who gathered at Clover Point to watch Saturday's 69th annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race were loving the calm, sunny weather, those aboard the yachts dotting the ocean were likely wishing for more wind in their sails.

Spectators set up chairs along the edge of the point, but the grass barely stirred as the boats drifted across the start line in six-knot winds. The 10 a.m. start time for the Swiftsure Lightship Classic, the longest race at 138 nautical miles, was postponed until 10: 20 a.m. due to light winds.

HMCS Edmonton fired a booming cannon blast to signal the start for the 24 largest boats heading to Swiftsure Bank and back. Every 10 minutes, the cannon would sound again, the plume of smoke wafting out a few seconds before the sound reached the shore, indicating the start of the next four races.

Unlike a road race, for example, which sees participants sprint across the start line the second the gun sounds, the name of this game is slow and steady wins the race.

One spectator quipped that watching the graceful boats glide across the water was a little like watching paint dry, but others appreciated the sight of white sails against the crisp outline of the Olympic Mountains in the distance, and more experienced mariners know the action takes place on the open water far from shore, as ships battle the unpredictable waves and currents, and try to strategically stay one step ahead of their competitors.

This year, 184 boats from across the Pacific Northwest took part in the race.

Jill Robertson, an expert sailor and one of the commentators, said despite the calm wind, the current was heading in the right direction toward Race Rocks.

Olga Byrnes craned her neck above the crowd to look for her son's boat, Lifestyle. Michael Byrnes and his four-man crew have raced many a Swiftsure and have come to know each other quite well, which is important during an endurance race.

"It's a good old crew," she said, noting that her son is in his 60s and bought the boat at least 25 years ago. "One is quite the character. You've got to have a comedian on board."

As the start time was pushed back, Byrnes realized her allegiances were split, enjoying the warm, sunny weather that had eluded Victoria all week, but at the same time wishing for some hearty gusts for her son. Finally, she seemed to take a side: "Oh to heck with the boaters, it's our turn," she joked.

Victoria native Ralph Gustafson, 67, took in his first Swiftsure race with his family in 1948. They would watch the start at Clover Point and then head to Point No Point with a picnic lunch, and dinner, to watch the yachts glide by.

On Saturday, he and his wife, Margaret, were toting their two wide-eyed granddaughters, five-year-old Lara and three-year-old Rowyn, who held their ears and giggled when the cannon sounded.

"This is a game of tactics and strategy and the actual racing part is in your head," said Gustafson, a former sea scout leader. "You have to figure out how you're going to balance the current against the wind."

The best spot to see the ships finish is from the breakwater this morning and afternoon.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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