Local family promotes Comox sailing

Inaugural Sail Fest tops off busy two weeks of wind powered racing

First they were one of the ritziest boats on the water. Then they were the smallest. Next weekend they aim to be the fastest.

Stu and Andy Robinson’s recent efforts to put Comox Harbour on charts as the best place to learn and race sailboats on the west coast of North America was all about extremes. The brothers and co-owners of Compass Adventure captained two new high performance, multi-hull sail boats in two world class races, days apart, and are now preparing for their own event, Sail Fest, in Comox Harbour on the weekend of June 24 and 25.

“We learned a ton in the races and got really wet,” says Stu. “The long days make you tough. We pushed our whole team really hard.”

Just getting to the start line of the first race was an accomplishment. A partnership between the new Canadian Multi-hull Sailing Centre, a sail racing program run by the Robinsons and Pacific Rim Performance Racing brought two Diam 24s to the harbour in May. The nearly identical, high performance trimarans are the fastest boats of their size, capable of nearly 60 km/h. The Robinsons spent two weeks getting themselves and their crew familiar with the 24-foot boats. Then they disassembled them and drove to Port Townsend, Wash. for the first leg of the Race to Alaska.

The unique event pits sailors and paddlers against a two-leg course, a crossing to Victoria, and a long leg to Ketchikan, Alaska. The only rule – no motors allowed.

When they arrived in Port Townsend the Robinsons were given a place on the main street to set up their twin boats, nose to nose. As they put together the mast and strung up the trampoline fellow competitors, supporters and the curious stopped to ask questions about the boats – the only Diam 24s on the west coast.

“There was an amazing variety of entrants, everything from $100 rowboats to $100,000 sailboats,” Stu says. “Everyone tweaks their boats so they have sailing and propulsion systems. It’s inspiring to see grassroots adventure racing with real danger at every turn.”

It didn’t look threatening at 5 a.m. when the race began. It was so calm Stu’s boat drifted across the start line sideways. Stu and his two-man crew, Nicholas Parlee and Josh Bannister, spent the first seven hours paddling the 1,000 pound boat, before the wind finally started to build. Andy and his crew of Allan Gornall and Will Comeau did the same, staying within sight of the other boat all day, swapping the lead multiple times. As they neared Victoria Andy pulled ahead to beat his brother into the Victoria Inner Harbour just as the winds leapt to 30 knots. Both boats finished in the top 10. Many of the boats still on course ran into trouble in the high winds.

When the weather calmed enough, the two teams disassembled their boats and drove to Nanaimo for the VanIsle 360. The Diam 24s stood out in the biennial race around Vancouver Island as the only boat without a closed cockpit. Again Neptune was stingy with the race, supplying only light headwinds the whole way to Comox.

“The Diams are really fast in winds over five knots, but really slow when its slower than that, especially going upwind,” says Stu. “The bigger sailboats are much better in the conditions we had in the VanIsle.”

And this time they couldn’t paddle – any kind of propulsion but wind in the sails isn’t allowed in regular sailboat races. There was just enough wind the whole way to keep the boats moving and create some good tacking battles between the brothers and other boats.

During the races the Robinsons spread the word about Sail Fest, which will introduce stadium racing to Canada.

Stadium racing is a new style of sailboat competition held on a small course, close to shore. The idea is to move racing from obscure offshore grounds to spectator-friendly harbour settings, while adding the excitement of action and the potential for collisions. Fast-paced, short races will take place in front of the promenade along the Comox Harbour breakwater.

The races are friendly for all types of small sailboats. There will be a wine and beer garden, music, food, wine tasting and draw prizes from Harbour Air.

“With live commentary and the racing right in front of you, for the first time sailboat racing is going to make sense,” Stu says.

FMI: compassadventure.ca