More than 200 people jammed the breakwater to watch the local leg of the Van Isle 360 sailboat race Sunday at French Creek Marina.
Winds were whipping from the north down the Georgia Strait into the bows of the boats and the faces of the sailors at the mass start of about 40 vessels. The sun was shining and local residents were lined up with their cameras to watch the start of this leg of this America's Cup-style, Black Press-sponsored race, with six divisions and classes of crafts expected to pull into Comox after four-five hours of intense sailing.
Scott Gilbert crews the Steve Travis-skippered 48-foot Flash, which calls Seattle its home port. Flash was one of eight similar boats built in the 1990s and used as trainers for the America's Cup.
This is Flash's fifth year in the Van Isle 360. Gilbert was asked what makes this race special for him.
"Once you do it, you tend to get hooked," said Gilbert. "It's just too much fun. To see the scenery you do, you join this travelling community for a couple of weeks, what's not to like? We've had good luck with this race, we've won it a couple of times. Yeah, we like to win, yeah we like to beat the other guys, but it's all about the total experience. Like they say, a bad day of sailing beats a good day at work any time."
Flash was third across the finish line during the Nanaimo-to-French Creek leg of the race Saturday, the first leg of the two-week race. She covered the 22.1 nautical miles of that leg in just over four hours and 13 minutes. Icon, a 66-foot craft from Anacortes, Washington, skippered by Kevin Welch, was the fastest boat Saturday in 3:44:45. Dark Star, a 44-foot boat skippered by Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee and also from Seattle, was second in 4:06.38.
There are a number of divisions and a handicap system like golf, so Dark Star was the top point-getter in the big boat category during the Nanaimo-to-French Creek leg on Saturday.
The 580 nautical-mile course is run in 10 legs of varying length. After racing out of Nanaimo harbour, the fleet proceeds north around Vancouver Island stopping at French Creek, Comox, Campbell River, Hardwicke Island, Telegraph Cove, Port Hardy, Ucluelet, Victoria and finishing back in Nanaimo on June 22.
For results and more information about the race, the boats and their crews, visit www.vanisle360.com. For more photos from the action around French Creek both Saturday evening and Sunday morning, visit: