Exciting News: Van Isle 360 is Happening in 2023!


It is so exciting to welcome The Van Isle 360 sailboat race again, in 2023,  to Winter Harbour (the last race was in 2019). Below, please find a post that explains, in great detail , what the Van Isle 360 is all about.

Thank you John Shepard.

“Posted by Waggoner Guest | Oct 31, 2020

For 6 months I consulted with sailors, examined the charts, and recorded the tidal currents in planning for a cruise around Vancouver Island. This is a big island about 600 nautical miles in distance. The waters are filled with challenges that some might call hazards, like Seymour Narrows. When the moon and the sun align, the current through the Narrows can run at 11 Knots.

After all the preplanning for what I considered a 45-60 day cruise – boat maintenance, provisioning, looking at the tidal currents, crew boarding locations, and weather stations, and looking for places to hide out from storms – imagine my shock when a friendly Canadian said, “You Know John, every two years we race around the Island. It is the Van Isle 360∞ in 14 days.

The Van Isle 360∞ is a biennial race held on odd years for sailors willing to meet the challenge of circumnavigating Vancouver Island. Described by the Organizers as “a 580 nm point to point race, it’s a circumnavigation of wild, rugged Vancouver Island.

Sailed in a series of legs, the course provides inshore, offshore, and overnight legs through some of the most stunning and challenging waters on the planet.” Or in simpler terms, it is a staged distance sailing race that will put to the test your sailing skills, seamanship, courage, patience, endurance, and test of relationships. It’s a 14-day experience that few sailors dare to imagine during their lifetime. If this is your year to meet the challenge and have some fun, you will need to get started. It is not a “Hey I hear the club is racing around the cans tonight, let’s get some beer and join in” kind of event.

With boats racing in constantly changing waters off a remote coast with few roads, it is not your typical  spectator race. It will take a committed sailboat groupie to follow the boats along the island’s west coast with limited roads to the various overnight stops. In some places, there are no roads at all, only a ferry that arrives once a week. Changing crew and meet-and-greet options can be had in towns along the Strait of
Georgia like Nanaimo, Comox, and Campbell River, where racers stop for the night and sip a local brew over discussions of the day’s adventure. The north end of the island at Port Hardy is where racers make preparations before “Turning the Corner.”

Rounding Cape Scott, the racers venture down the wild side of Vancouver Island. Surviving the turn, racers make a stop at Winter Harbor to take a breather or repair damaged gear and prepare for the next leg. The 140 nautical miles of open ocean dash to Ucluelet is the challenge of endurance. At the start of this leg is Brooks Peninsula, called the “Cape of Storms” by Captain Cook. Unlike most of Canada, Brooks Peninsula escaped the last Ice Age.

It is an area where many rare plants exist. This is the traditional area of the Kyuquot/Cheklesshht and Quatsino First Nations, who never ceded their lands. Jutting 12 miles (20 km) out into the ocean, Brooks Peninsula is a formidable hazard to be managed. Sailors are challenged not only by the rocky lee shore, but the wind and water that conspire against the unprepared. Solander Island, standing 1.03 miles (1.66 km) off the northwest corner of Brooks, serves as a sentinel to sailors. A lighthouse and weather station provide the
attentive mariner with weather conditions, often indicating winds from 10-20 knots to hurricane force gusts, and sea states from calm to 4 plus meters in a few hours.

Surviving Cape Scott, Brooks Peninsula, and the open ocean with a safe arrival at Ucluelet, a weary sailor might feel “we are almost home.” The 98 nm run to Victoria with following seas and the wind at your back, might foster thoughts of a cake walk home, but only for the uninitiated. This leg takes sailors around the southwest tip of the island and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Winds and currents can play with sailboats like they are toys, tossing them about when wind and currents collide. Beaten and battered, the boats arrive in Victoria to be hosted by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, the oldest yacht club in western Canada.

The last leg takes racers back to protected waters on the east side of Vancouver Island. It is 60 nm to the finish line in Nanaimo, the route chosen by the Skipper and Navigator can mean the difference between first and last place. Do you go direct up through the Gulf Islands riding tidal currents, dodging boat traffic, and praying the winds will remain strong? Or do you choose the longer outside path up the Strait of Georgia where wind and waves may help or hinder your advance to the finish?

The Van Isle 360 is not only a race, it’s an adventure. The 2021 race is scheduled for Saturday, May 29th to Saturday, June 12 th . Yes, this conflicts with other races, but it’s the tide and currents that dictate the race days, not the race committee. To qualify for the Van Isle 360 race, Captain and Watch Crew need to have completed two overnight open-ocean qualifying races in order to register for this special event. So why consider participating in this event or sailing around the island? Because this is the chance to demonstrate you have what it takes to sail on the waters that are the Pacific Northwest. To explore the communities along the Inside Passage, with all the stunning views and narrow passages that cut through forested mountains running to meet the water’s edge. To watch whales swoosh and eagles soar in their natural environment. To share a meal or beer at a pub perched over the sea with new made friends. To transit waters like Seymour Narrows, Nahwitti Bar, and Race Rocks; to explore the scenic waters of Barkley Sound and Johnstone Strait; or experience the challenge of Brooks Peninsula that has fostered the stories of sailors as old as the waters themselves. To have stories of your own that only you can tell your children or grandchildren.

John Shepard
Field Correspondent”

How absolutely incredible it would be if you could write/comment about some of your experiences in the last race so more people could find out about the excitement of your hobby and the tremendous work and preparation that you put into this race.

Comments about your stop in Winter Harbour and your experience with staying and mooring at the Winter Harbour Marina and RV would be also welcome and appreciated.

Greg O’Byrne
Skipper – The Legendary Boomerang

Comments 13

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

    • JAM (52 ft J-160) had her best race leg from Pt Hardy to Winter Harbour. We eked over Nahwiti Bar in light wind and opposing tide by playing the fringes near the shoals to starboard, and carried that lead all the way to the finish in beautiful weather.
    • Unfortunately, on our last gybe in to finish, one of our crew was beaned by the boom, concussed and bleeding.
    • Paying attention to him diverted attention from navigation, so of course we hit a shoal right at the finish line, luckily only going a few knots in the wind shadow at the lighthouse

    • The Navy support at Winter Harbour was wonderful. They had a medic who knew his stuff. He diagnosed the crew member’s concussions and told us what to do and symptoms to watch for.
    • The fleet came together the following morning to help. Plane reservations were adjusted, and we got our injured crew home via Port Hardy, Vancouver and Seattle by 5 PM the next day. To make room, I think one passenger had to carry a tire on his lap for the flight to Port Hardy.
    • I was able to rent a BC and dive tank from the harbourmaster the following day to inspect the keel. A few rough edges were filed down and we were good-to-go.
    • The feast and the band on the lay day were the best of the whole regatta. The food was excellent, and I wish I could remember the name of the band to urge you to book them again.

    • The race start for the leg to Ucluelet was among the worst sailing weather days I can remember. We beat all the way to the Brooks Peninsula in driving rain. Boat and crew were cold and wet inside and out.
    • Thankfully the rain died out after midnight, but so did the wind, mostly.
    • Wind built during the following day and switched to the north, and we rumbled into Ucluelet late afternoon next day under 2A spinnaker in the most glorious weather of the whole regatta. After mooring, we transferred to our rental cabin and watched remaining fleet finishing with the sunset in the background, beer in hand. Beautiful.

  2. After a dusty 75 km drive from Port Hardy, arriving at Winter Harbour RV made the trip worthwhile! The new managers, Don and Julia, welcomed us like old friends, and are both working like mad to upgrade many of the facilities, buildings, etc. Their motto was “ Whatever we can do to make you happy”. We were so sad to leave but wish them much success with their retirement project!

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  3. Julia and Don were great hosts during our stay in June. The lodgings were clean with all bedding, cooking and bbq’ing supplies stocked. Freezers for ice and fish at each accommodation. Great moorage with easy and close access to accommodations. The 7 of us had a great fishing experience and have booked back for next year!

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      Thank you, The Group of Seven, for your thoughtful comments. You are the group of seven famous for believing in friendship, having fun, and having a good time fishing!!! Thank you for planning to come back next year.

      There is another Group of Seven
      who are famous for believing that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with nature. The Group of Seven is best known for its paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement.

  4. Thank you Julia for your warm welcome at the docks in the middle of the night. We’ve had an incredible week of racing and our longest leg yet was to Winter Harbour. After a gruelling and puzzling day it was a pleasure to land in the beautiful hamlet of Winter Harbour. Your generosity in hosting us and sharing your space for the event was so appreciated. Can’t wait to return on a more relaxed timeline. Awesome spot.

  5. We stopped in Winter Harbour as part of this year’s Van Isle 360 Sailing Race. Hospitality was over the top; way above and beyond expectations. We arrived after dark, wet, tired and hungry, and were taken care of like family. Thanks again for a memorable experience!

  6. June 2023 Van Ilse 360 Race sailing vessel.

    Winter Harbour Marine provided clean and comfortable accommodation for 7 sailors with room for more. We had a large kitchen area and exceptionally large barbecue and outdoor sitting area on pier; all of which we used. The sailors moored the TP52 directly outside. Julia, Don and son CJ are the family operators who greeted us and pulled the lines in. They went out of their way to assure we had a provisions for a large salmon, ling cod and crab dinner for 11 which we bbq’d on the equipment provided.

    The Winter Harbour family operators were very helpful to shore support and their assistance was greatly appreciated.

    Another local business, the Outpost Store, provided us additional hardtop accomodation with separate wash house at their campsite atop a near small hill. It was likewise clean and comfortable.

    Stephen Dobson
    (at site for visit and shore support for TP52)

  7. Participating in the VanIsle 360 race, the stopover in Winter Harbour was fabulous. Thank you and all of Winter Harbour for your generosity, hospitality and the great BBQ for all the racers.

  8. We arrived at WHMon July 23/23
    The two bedroom cabin was to be our home for 10 days. Julia and Don made us feel at home immediately and gave us lots of information on how and where to fish. We met many interesting people and everyone was always eager to share their fishing strategies and locations. The fishing was fabulous and our freezer filled quickly. Thank you Julia and Don for making our trip enjoyable and successful.

  9. Julia,

    Thanks to you and Don for looking after us so generously during our Winter Harbour visit. From local knowledge to fishing help and more you extended yourselves and we really appreciate it. Consider: your friend volunteered to take our tire to Port Hardy for repair, another lent his vacuum bagger, you gave us vacuum bags, Don provided a free, substantive fishing lesson. You and yours could not have been more inclusive and pleasant.

    I have just now uploaded a five star google review. Again, many thanks!

    -Phil Lansing

  10. We just spent eight wonderful days here enjoying the beauty, the nature, the fishing, and the fine company of all the splendid folks up this way. Don and Julia were especially amazing, always there to help out, and made us feel like old friends. We cant recommend this place enough. It was fantastic!

  11. We booked a two night stay in the nearby outpost camp ground and we weren’t even staying at the RV park but we thoroughly recommend it. We wanted to get out onto the water on kayaks and Don and Julia (managers of Winter Harbour marina and RV park) very kindly rented their personal kayaks to us.

    Don and Julia went out of their way to make us feel welcomed in Winter Harbour and we had a lovely dinner with them, sharing stories and having lots of laughs. They are the perfect hosts and will take good care of you in this beautiful location. We will always remember their kindness.

    We recommend Winter Harbour , your stay could not go wrong with Don and Julia looking after you!

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