Sailors get shipshape for gruelling Van Isle 360 race


Seasickness, intense winds and sleepless nights are just a few of the challenges facing sailors as they prepare to circumnavigate Vancouver Island, one of the wildest coastlines of North America.

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Van Isle 360, which begins June 10 in Nanaimo, is an epic 580-nautical mile (1,074-kilometre) race that takes two weeks to complete. Among the 32 boats in the competition is the West Vancouver-based Paragon, skippered by Katy Campbell.

Campbell’s tight-knit crew is made up of a diverse range of locals. Some members, like Will Goldsmith-Jones, have years of experience mastering the high seas. Others have been part of Campbell's Sea to Sky Sailing school and have six months to a year of experience, including several ocean races. 

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Some of the crew on board the Paragon during the Southern Straits yacht race. - Mark Trankner photo

For Campbell, "it's the ultimate adventure. The sailing is incredibly challenging since you face every condition, and navigation is intellectually challenging. I've always wanted to do it," she said. 

From Nanaimo, competitors race north to Campbell River and then up to Port Hardy through the famously challenging Seymour Narrows. From there, they'll be on the outside passage of the journey around the northern tip of Vancouver Island and then south along the west coast toward Ucluelet. The last stretch sees them sailing the Juan de Fuca Strait to Victoria, and then north again to the finish at Nanaimo.

On the first, inside legs, crews will stop every night. “It's very social as you'll meet up with the other sailors. It's a very tightly knit sailing community," Campbell said. But once past Port Hardy, "it gets really wild. Winter Harbour to Ucluelet takes up to three days and there's nowhere to stop." The crews sleep in three- to four-hour shifts. "Getting enough rest is crucial," noted Campbell. "You need to be mentally sharp."

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View from the bow of the Paragon. - Mark Trankner photo

Scott Shaw-MacLaren, another local racer participating in the Van Isle 360, was in the 2011 race and described it as "an upwind washing machine" most of the way.

He's been racing his boat Natural High in "progressively more challenging races, so Van Isle is the next step." He and his sailing partner are "racing one of the smallest yachts in the fleet, so nasty conditions can be more difficult."

For Shaw-MacLaren, doing the race double handed (with just one other crew member) has always been a personal goal. He has competed in most major BC races double-handed, as well as the 2,300-nautical mile (4,260-km) Vic-Maui Yacht Race in 2012.

His favourite thing about racing is "definitely the challenge, both physically and technically." "Sailing is a sport of millimetres. Getting the most out of a yacht is extremely sensitive," Shaw-MacLaren said. "It gets even more challenging in the dark."

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Skipper Katy Campbell aboard the Paragon. - Mark Trankner photo

Putting a team together has been both rewarding and challenging, Campbell said. As the instructor, she's worked hard to instil experience and knowledge. 

“It's been really cool watching everyone progress and diversify their skill set," she said, noting that she's watched her apprentice Kelsey Westbrook grow comfortable taking on increasingly difficult positions on deck. 

Campbell’s favourite thing about racing is the "satisfaction of seeing all the aspects come together, using all the skills they've gained.” 

"It's about everyone on the boat all coming together and seeing people excel," she said. 

Follow the race at

Amy Logan is a Vancouver writer, editor and English instructor with an ear for trends in the arts, community and environment. She is a regular contributor to Metro News, and joins the Westender family for the summer to explore the artists, creatives, environmentalists and adventurers who make Vancouver tick. 

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