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Winds, rough seas play havoc with Swiftsure yacht race

May 28 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)

High winds and rough seas battered the Swiftsure yacht racers this weekend, causing one man to fall overboard while an entire crew abandoned their boat after crashing into some rocks.

Organizers say winds reached up to 70 km/h, making this year's races some of the fiercest events in years.

Canadian Coast Guard crews pulled eight crew members from their vessel, the Melaque, after high winds forced them into some rocks near the entrance to Esquimalt Harbour around 1:30 a.m. The boat was registered in the race to Alistair Elliott of the Canadian Forces Sailing Association Victoria.

Rescue crews were involved in another incident when a man on the Wasabi boat went into the water after midnight. Crew members communicated with the coast guard but had the person back in the boat within minutes.

Safety gear with lighting allowed the quick rescue, say organizers, who demand a high level of preparedness for the skippers and their crews.

"They had all the right tools. They were able to come back and pick him up and pick up their gear as well," said John Edwards, safety officer with Swiftsure. "Otherwise, at that time at night, it's just about impossible to do that."

Gordon Kells-Murphy's crew heard the call about the man overboard from their vessel, Les Chevaux Blancs.

"The guy overboard is a pretty serious situation," he said after the race. "We don't like putting people in the water."

The response was quick and efficient, other racers said.

"That was really impressive how that played out and how they took care of that," said Doug Schenk of the boat Free Bowl of Soup.

No one suffered any serious injuries, and all looked safe and healthy when they arrived back in the Victoria Harbour, said Edwards.

The fierce weather conditions contrasted drastically to the start of the race, which was delayed Saturday morning because of lack of wind. The 10 a.m. start time for the Swiftsure Lightship Classic, the longest race of the weekend at 138 nautical miles, was postponed until 10:20 a.m.

By 2 p.m., however, the weather had turned, and racers were dealing with 30 km/h winds, which eventually increased to about 70 km/h.

"It was very rough," said Steve White, head of logistics for the races. "They had 40 knots of wind at Race Rock at one point."

Unofficial race results were available Sunday evening.

Kevin Welch of Icon crossed the finish line first in the Swiftsure Lightship Classic, Richard Ackrill in his Dragonfly crew took first in the Cape Flattery Race for Multihulls. Steve Travis of Flash took first in the Cape Flattery Race Unlimited, while Ron Jewula of Kairos took first in the Cape Flattery Race, and Daryl Homan of My-Tai took first in the Juan de Fuca Race.

Official results will be released Monday.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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