Van Isle 360 racers sped past Ucluelet’s Amphitrite Lighthouse on Wednesday on their way to Victoria as part of the two-week International Yacht Race around Vancouver Island. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Ready, set, sail! Van Isle 360 International Yacht Race sprints out of Ucluelet en route to Victoria

Two-week race includes stops in Comox, Campbell River, Port Hardy and Victoria

They’re off!

The Van Isle 360 International Yacht Race is back in action as 37 racing vessels sped out of Ucluelet en route to Victoria Wednesday morning.

A large, excited, crowd gathered at Ucluelet’s freshly painted lighthouse at Amphitrite Point to cheer the vessels onto the next leg of their journey at 10 a.m.

“It’s always fun to see something like this happening in our community,” said Ucluelet resident Pieter Timmermans. “It’s a community event. A lot of people show up.”

He added that Ucluelet “is a unique little community” and that scenic Amphitrite provided a great vantage point to watch the nautical spectacle unfold.

The racers arrived in Ucluelet from Winter Harbour on Monday evening and enjoyed their time in the community, which included giving tours of their vessels to Ucluelet Elementary School students at the inner boat basin.

The race turned 20 years old this year and is being coordinated by Jeff Motley and his wife Sylvia. Jeff told the Westerly News that Ucluelet is a popular spot along the biennial event’s ocean racetrack around Vancouver Island.

“Of the nine stops that we’ve got, it’s definitely in the top two…Ucluelet has been a huge, huge, part of this race since the very beginning,” he said. “The welcoming that we get from everybody here is just incredible. Everybody feels like they can say Ukee rather than Ucluelet and feel like a local…It doesn’t matter who you walk by on the street, they always have a welcoming word. It’s a really, really, great feeling.”

He said the West Coast’s Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue unit and Canadian Coast Guard have been a huge help and added that the 140-plus nautical miles race-leg from Winter Harbour to Ucluelet is “one of the most dangerous pieces of ocean that we’ve got.”

He said Ucluelet is also a popular stop because the racers arrive hungry and find no shortage of options for filling up.

“One of the great things about Ukee is that the restaurants here are superb,” he said.

He added that Ucluelet’s harbour master Kevin Cortes went above and beyond to make the racers feel welcome.

“The most difficult thing that we have wherever we go is parking boats and Kevin and his team here are incredible at making sure that no matter how busy it is here, we’re always welcomed down at the docks,” he said. “That’s really key and that’s where Ukee really shines. A good safe harbour and a smiling harbour master welcoming the boats in means a lot to the skippers.”

Tourism Ucluelet executive director Denise Stys-Norman said Ucluelet loves the race as much as the race loves Ucluelet.

“Sailing/boating is a niche market in Ucluelet that has been slowing growing over the last few years. Van Isle 360 not only helps showcase the adventure and beauty of the area from a different vantage point, but certainly adds as an economic boost to accommodation providers and local businesses during the race,” Stys-Norman told the Westerly via email. “It also connects Ucluelet to a group of consumers that may have never considered coming to the West Coast of Vancouver Island as an option by road or boat. We are fortunate that Ucluelet is also walkable from the small craft harbour and gives boaters access to everything they need while in town. The positive experiences the crews have during their stay in Ucluelet create wonderful memories during this challenging race. ”

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READ MORE: Boats sailing in Vancouver Island waters as Van Isle 360 race begins

READ MORE: VIDEO: Van Isle 360 yacht racers speed out of Ucluelet en route to Victoria

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