When Peter Wealick looks out at English Bay, he sees things that few other people would ever notice, let alone compute with a mathematician’s accuracy.
That trail of flat water winding its way through the ripples on the water’s surface? That’s a tidal stream. Changes in the ripples themselves tell him where there is a puff of wind on the horizon. He doesn’t have to look to know which direction the wind is coming from — he feels it on his face.
If he’s to win the upcoming World Cup sailing race in these very same waters, he’ll have to process all that information in the blink of an eye and respond just as quickly.
“If you have to think about it, it’s too late — someone has passed you by,” he says, sitting on the patio of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, which is hosting Vancouver’s first sailing race of this magnitude September 15 to 21.
To him, it’s instinctual. “I can look at the water and say, ‘There’s a plus-two knot puff coming towards us.’ I’m figuring out the shortest course and best wind.”
Nevertheless, Wealick knows he’ll be nervous competing against the likes of King Juan Carlos I of Spain, who will be racing with Vancouver Olympian Ross MacDonald, as well as four-time America’s Cup yacht race winner, Dennis Conner from the United States.
There will be 45 participating yachts from 11 countries competing in the Six Metre Class World Championship yacht race.
The sailboats are smaller than you’d think, especially if your main exposure to racing is the prestigious America’s Cup with its foiling catamarans. (Popular Mechanics calls them “less a boat than a collection of knives racing over water.”) Sleek and single-hulled, the six-metre boats in Vancouver’s event are like the ones you see racing in English Bay on a Wednesday night, which is when we joined Wealick at the RVYC club house on Jericho Beach.
Wealick’s boat is one of 20 owned by sailboat aficionado and North Shore businessman Rainer Muller. And it’s one of nine of Muller’s boats that will compete in the World Cup.
Just before the race, Wealick’s boat is getting a new name: Maxi’nux, which means killer whale in the language of the Kwakwa’wakw people.
Wealick’s father is from the Sto:Lo Territory and is a member of the Tzeachten First Nation. His mother is from the Kwakwa’wakw territory and is a member of Wei Wai Kum First Nation in Campbell River. She’s of the Killer Whale Clan and, with its ties to the ocean, the inspiration for the boat’s name.
Wealick will be the first-ever First Nations yachtsman to compete in a 6mR world championship. To mark such an honour, he’s designed a logo for his spinnaker — the large, billowing front sail that capitalizes on all those puffs of wind.
“The dorsal fin is traditional in design while the body is non-traditional,” he says of his creative process. “The sweeping links of the body are representative of a killer whale breaching the surface of the water.
“It is said that when the killer whale disappears from the surface that he has gone to his village at the bottom of the ocean. The image I have created represents the killer whale breaching the surface after visiting his village.”
Killer whales also travel in pods, and so do the Wealicks. His brother Richard is also a sailor based out of RVYC; his boat is called Marhenurh, which also means killer whale but in the Halkomelem language of their father.
Their sister, Laura Wee Lay Laq, is a world-renown clay artist whose work is in the Smithsonian and Museum of Anthropology at UBC. She has a degree in linguistics from SFU and is also helping RVYC honour First Nations during the event.
“The First Nations theme will be following us throughout our world championship for various reasons,” RVYC’s blog post says, “one being that the RVYC is on First Nations land but also [because] First Nations people made Canada become what the country is known and loved for today. We are happy that we will be able to have a Chief, dancers and drummers at our event, and can show even more culture and history during our social evening at the Museum of Anthropology. Last but not least, one of the prizes is done by First Nations artist Xwakacktun (Rick Harry).”
Wealick’s initial goal was to have an all-First Nations crew but it was hard to find enough people to commit to the rigorous three-day-a-week training schedule they’ve had for the past 10 weeks.
As Wealick says, as much as he will be relying on instinct, his four-person crew — daughter Alea, Elizabeth Dier, Cameron Walker, Dennis LeFeaux and spare Carissa Block — is also an essential component to a winning team.
“The first thing you look for in a crew is a combination of skills, personality and agility,” he says.
The RVYC is thrilled to be hosting an event of this size and prestige.
Chris Freimond, who is helping with communications, says the race began as a world championship event and, as the number of competitors increased, became a World Cup event.
The six-metre class, he says, “was once the most important international yacht racing class and was an Olympic event from 1908 until 1952. A Canadian crew won a bronze medal at the 1932 games in Los Angeles.”
He encourages people to come out to watch the race, with vantage points along the shoreline, especially at Spanish Banks. The RVYC also plans to have a viewing platform.
“It’s such a great event for Vancouver, we want to stretch it beyond the sailing world. If you get some good winds there will be 47 boats out there with their spinnakers up.”
For details go to http://6mvancouver2017.com/.