Local skipper Cris Fletcher and his sailing crew are ready to take on high seas.
And the higher, the better.
“Because it’s a big, heavy boat, we want big wind,” said Fletcher, who will pilot the 44-foot Northern Lights in this year’s VanIsle 360 race around Vancouver Island. “The nastier it is, the better for us. Forty-knot winds would be ideal.”
He’s unlikely to face that rosy scenario over the course of the two-week, biannual sailing race, which begins June 6 and takes competitors from Nanaimo north along the east coast of the Island and around Cape Scott before the run south and around Victoria to the finish back in Nanaimo.
But as Campbell River’s first entry in the elite, international competition, Fletcher is simply looking ahead to seeing what’s over the horizon in the 10th running of the VanIsle 360.
“For us, no question, it’s the adventure and the challenge,” he said. “To take on an approximately 580 nautical mile race, with its currents, tides, navigation and getting to race the coast, this is the only race that offers that.”
The Northern Lights VI will be on display this weekend during the annual Ocean Pacific Marine Show, which runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Boasting a 60-foot mast, the boat will carry nearly 2,500 square feet of sail traveling downwind and about 1,300 feet upwind, pushing a top speed of about 13 knots per hour.
“It’s considered a performance cruising boat,” said Fletcher. “To make it a racing boat we pretty much double the sail area.”
Fletcher, the 34-year-old owner of Genesis Marketing, has been sailing since the age of six. Originally from Vancouver, he moved to Campbell River five years ago for the lifestyle and promptly became a member of the local yacht club.
His Northern Lights crew is also local, made up of sailors from Campbell River and the Comox Valley. They include Dave Dakin, Drew Hadfield, Wade Major, John North, Glen Rumley and Dave Shaw.
“This is my first VanIsle 360, but I have crew who have done this race,” said Fletcher, who will be one of, if not the, youngest skippers in the event. “It’s a good, veteran group.”
Fletcher has circumnavigated Vancouver Island, even if he hasn’t raced it.
He said the team has no illusions of winning the race outright — “Not a chance; the overall win goes to the better funded racing teams,” he said — but will be placed in a division with similar sized and constructed crafts.
“I’m not sure yet if we’re going to be in Division II or Division III,” he said, “but our goal is to be competitive in our own division.”
Owning and maintaining a sailboat is not an inexpensive pursuit, and an undertaking like the VanIsle 360 adds to the expense in extra sails, mandatory safety equipment and training and general preparation to make the vessel race-ready.
The Koala Springs beverage company has signed on as the Northern Lights team sponsor, and Fletcher has gotten strong backing from Ocean Pacific Marina as well.
“We’re getting really great support here in the community, and it’s always nice to get that local support,” he said.
The VanIsle 360 is broken into 10 racing legs, with several lay-up days built into the schedule. The boats will stop in Campbell River on June 8 and motor the next morning to Deepwater Bay before raising sail for a short, 24.5-nautical mile jaunt to Hardwick Island.
The longer legs come when the boats reach Port Hardy and begin the run around the northern tip and down the west coast, but that prospect doesn’t trouble Fletcher.
“I think probably the biggest challenge for us will be the tidal areas, like out of Nanaimo and right here, believe it or not,” he said. “I have no concern about the big, scary coast. We want nasty wind.”