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'Boat junkies' get their fix at festival

Sep 02 2012
Judges Carol Hasse, left, and Bent Jespersen check out the Odyssey at the boat show. "Every boat that's here is still a viable vessel," Hasse said. 

Judges Carol Hasse, left, and Bent Jespersen check out the Odyssey at the boat show. "Every boat that's here is still a viable vessel," Hasse said.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

As water laps rhythmically against its wooden belly, the Odyssey seems more like a living thing than seafaring vessel.

"A wooden boat has so much soul," said Bent Jespersen, a boat builder based in North Saanich. As one of the judges at the 35th annual Victoria Classic Boat Festival, Jespersen scrutinized the Odyssey and the dozens of other boats that crowded the Inner Harbour.

As judges, Jespersen and Carol Hasse, a sail-maker from Port Townsend, Washington, suggest ways for captains to improve their boats.

"Every boat that's here is still a viable vessel in today's world," Hasse said.

Awards in various categories - including the Master Disaster award for the most embarrassing event of the year - are given out at the weekend festival.

"It's a family-style of judging," Hasse said, adding that the small community of classic boat enthusiasts return year after year and keep an eye on each vessel's progress. "We're all boat junkies."

Today's festivities include a sailboat race and the sail past, in which boats salute an honorary commodore.

Hasse will have the honour this year, standing aboard the HMCS Oriole as vessels salute her.

For Hasse, the Classic Boat Festival is a reminder of the importance of boats in Canadian history.

"The history and culture of wooden boats is critical to our well-being," she said. "As mariners, we're always learning."

For Odyssey Capt. Bryan Rassilyer, the Classic Boat Festival was a stop-over before the Wooden Boat Festival from Sept. 7 to 9 in Port Townsend, Washington.

"The boat's unusual," he said of his 70-year-old craft. "It was a fancy yacht when it was built."

The 27-metre Odyssey is part of the Sea Scouts program and is owned by the Boy Scouts of America.

Rassilyer said because no one else bid on the boat in 1978, the organization had to pay just $1 to the U.S. navy. Youth ages 14 to 21 train aboard the vessel, which is moored in Tacoma, Washington, to learn teamwork and hands-on sailing skills.

"[The Odyssey] is designed for ocean racing," Rassilyer said. "It sails faster than if it's motored."

Asked why he loves the boat, Rassilyer had a simple response: "Well, it's camping on the water."

Festival organizer James Webb said it's important to make the festival as accessible as possible.

"There's a public aspect to it," he said. "Victoria needs more free, colourful spectacles like this."

Webb, who has been involved with the festival for a decade, said the event draws boaters from across the amateur-professional sailing spectrum.

About half of the participants come from the United States, he said, adding that he estimated the spectator crowd to reach 10,000 by the end of the weekend.

"We just appreciate the public support," he said.

cclancy@timescolonist.com

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