Maui cruisers set sail

Sailors watch horizon for Japanese tsunami debris during race

Skipper Jim McLauchlan stands aboard his yacht Big Ben

Here’s hoping the crew aboard Big Ben can get her to Maui, considering neither the skipper nor first mate has ever been to Hawaii.

Despite holding decades of sailing experience (more than a century between them) neither skipper Jim McLauchlan nor first mate Tony Roberts managed to make it to those particular Pacific islands. Both bear accented speech (English and South African), indicating their seas have been elsewhere most of their lives.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for years,” said McLauchlan of the Victoria to Maui International Yacht Race they embarked July 5 from Victoria. “It’s from here to Maui which is a good place to go. Everything is governed for safety. … You might skip on something (otherwise), now you have to do it.”

Vic-Maui runs every second year starting in Victoria and finishing near Lahaina, Maui – a 2,308 nautical mile trip. The co-ed crew of Big Ben – two women, two men make up each four-person shift – will swap off six-hour shifts as they aim for a two-week sail to Hawaii.

“Half our crew don’t even live on the water,” Roberts said with a chuckle as a swift breeze swept across the Inner Harbour Tuesday afternoon. Two are from Calgary, one from Saskatoon.

“There are some situations when it will be all hands on deck,” he added. Big Ben is among four in the ‘cruising’ division. The racing division of 10 leaves July 7. By midday today the cruisers hope to be nearing the Oregon coast – weather permitting.

The skipper and first mate share a concern over the winds, recounting a couple of races ago when some sailors were forced to bail at San Francisco after a month. You could run out of power, water and food, “things you can mitigate,” the skipper said. “You can’t mitigate for the weather.”

Though you are allowed to use the “mechanical sail” or motor on occasion he noted.

Tsunami debris provides a new tangle on the minds of the eight sailors aboard Big Ben.

“It’s a big concern,” McLauchlan said. “We’ve got some ways around it and that’s why it’s good to be in this group. … There’s a good chance we may see these things and be able to report it.”

Search Facebook for Oak Bay Sailing School to follow the crew’s views during the race. Follow all the action.