Crew members from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club-based Goes to Eleven (standing, from left) Mark Malleson, Stephen Isbister, Keith Provan, (seated) Chris Vassallo and skipper Duncan Stamper gather for a photo aboard their No. 011 boat in the Victoria International Marina after a day of racing the Melges 24 World Championships. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Yachting world race event helps christen new Victoria marina

Sailors from near and far contesting international Melges 24 event in Juan de Fuca Strait

It’s still a little ways off from its official opening, but the Victoria International Marina in the Songhees has enjoyed the distinction of hosting a world-class event this week.

The Melges 24 World Championships, which followed up last weekend’s Canadian championships here, has been plagued by a lack of wind, but the visiting sailors are enjoying the hospitality and their time in the city.

“It’s a beautiful marina and we’re loving being here,” said Kevin Nixon, skipper of the Australian boat Accru. He’s in Victoria for the first time with a family crew that includes wife, Glenda, son Daniel and daughter Bonnie, and Daniel’s girlfriend, Heidi Kiakebosch-Fitt.

Crew members from the Syndey, Australia-based Accru (from left) Heidi Kiakebosch-Fitt, Daniel Nixon, Bonnie Nixon, skipper Keith Nixon and Glenda Nixon, are in Victoria this week racing their boat in the Melges 24 World Championships. The family have been sailing together for a number of years. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

The Nixons, whose boat sat 18th in the fleet of 41 after five races here, dove headfirst into international Melges 24 racing after buying boat No. 812 five years ago in San Francisco. The identical 24-foot monohull sailboats are numbered in order of their completion at the Melges company in Wisconsin.

Kevin, who began sailing at a young age and did so professionally for some years, is the lynchpin of this sailing family, having inspired them all to get into the sport.

Said Glenda, “We met when we were teenagers and I wondered where he was going most weekends, and I decided to check the sailing thing out. After a while I got good enough that he would allow me to sail with him.”

The purchase of the Melges came after their children moved out and was a good way for them to do something together as a family, Kevin added.

Daniel and Bonnie Nixon, sailing since they were wee ones, were fully on board when their parents decided to dive full into this popular class of racing. They agreed the family works well together on board, with everyone handling slightly different duties during a race.

While Lower Mainland and U.S.-based crews comprise well over half this fleet, eight boats competing are Royal Victoria Yacht Club based. Not surprisingly, family connections and longtime friendships are a common thread running through those crews.

Two sons of race chairman Terry Stamper from the RVYC are in the mix, including Tim, crewing on the Lekker (No. 371); and Duncan, who skippers Goes to Eleven (No. 011).

The latter boat, co-owned by Mark Malleson, was built in 1993 and is among the first constructed by Melges. It is the oldest vessel in the fleet and sat in 17th overall heading into today’s (June 8) races.

Speaking after a largely windless day in which only one race could actually be staged – no racing happens in winds less than six knots – Duncan Stamper joked about what happens during the waiting times.

“We fix stuff that’s broken, we went through our lunch leisurely; after that we had a cheese platter. It was quite civilized … what a beautiful place to be doing nothing,” he said.

Stamper, a renowned good starter who has contested an Olympic qualifying campaign, and Malleson were previously part of three world championship wins in the Thunderbird racing class. They bought their Melges in 2013 from clubmate Gord Galbraith, co-skipper of Lekker with Malcolm Smith.

“We got into Melges because that’s the hot fleet in Victoria,” Malleson said. “Duncan and I bought this and put a bunch of money into it, put some stiffeners under the deck, prettied it up, new rigging and got new sails from an ex-world champion. This is our third world championships in this boat … we all work well together.”

Crewmate Keith Provan pointed out that this class of racing, with its identical boats, no handicaps and similar top speeds, appeals to competitors at all levels.

“It’s super competitive, and there’s a lot of the best sailors in the world we’re sailing against,” he said.

Meanwhile Galbraith, whose boat sat 15th overall entering today, was enjoying the competition and spoke highly of the new marina.

“It’s a beautiful facility and it doesn’t impose on the harbour in the way that some people seem to think that it might,” he said. “Just the excitement of being right in the centre of Victoria, and the planes landing and the ferries going in and out, it’s quite amazing. We’re very lucky to live here.”

Youth boat making waves at worlds

Their slip tucked in behind a behemoth yacht with the name Scout II emblazoned on the back, the competition’s youngest crew gathered to chat about their route to the worlds, which included trailering their boat up from Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border.

Boat owner Ryan Conner first described how the name Blue Dream (No. 219) came to be.

“We’re from Lake Tahoe, which is known for being super blue, and it’s been our dream to own a Melges 24, so that’s where it comes from,” he said.

Rudi Arntson, the helmsman on the crew, was excited about the opportunity to compete here and grateful for the help they’ve received from some veteran racers.

“It’s been pretty amazing as far as worlds go,” he said. “We got donated some [year-old] sails from Monsoon, a pro boat that’s sailing here. Everything’s been coming together on the boat and it’s finally sailable and raceable to our full potential.”

He gave kudos to the rest of the crew, noting that they’ve learned a lot and worked well together as a team.

On this young California crew, Casey Tolan and Ian Collignon are still in their teens but have plenty of sailing experience. Tolan, the only female in the group and an accomplished solo sailor, admitted she wasn’t sure how the dynamics would play out.

“Honestly, it’s come to be a really great experience and they’re all ready to race, really focused – we have our moments for being goofy but I like that they can snap into gear and be ready to race whenever,” she said.

Lincoln Riley, a strapping young man who attends the University of Nevada-Reno with Conner, was plucked out of the school’s intramural sailing club for the worlds. This week’s races marks his first foray into competitive racing.

“It just kind of all fell into place in February,” Riley said. “Before that, this was not even a thought at all … it just came out of nowhere, but it’s definitely worked out. This is the best boat I’ve ever been on, hands down.” Asked if he hopes to continue sailing at this level, he didn’t hesitate: “I’m hooked!”

Blue Dream sat 27th overall after five rounds, having posted a 13th place finish in round 4 and with today and Saturday’s results still to come.

The Italian boat Altea (No. 722), skippered by Andrea Racchelli, has been the class of the field so far, posting three first-place finishes and two fifths. They lead California Yacht Club entry WTF (No. 829) by six points after five races.

Friday’s races, pending enough wind, were due to get underway at 11 a.m. this morning (June 8), with Saturday’s final races set for the same time. Best public viewing sites are from Esquimalt Lagoon, Royal Roads and Saxe Point Park.

editor@vicnews.com

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Crew members from Blue Dream, (rear left) Ian Collignon, Ryan Conner, Lincoln Riley, Rudi Arntson and Casey Tolan (front), gather for a photo in the Victoria International Marina after a day of racing the Melges 24 World Championships. They’re the youngest crew in the fleet at this regatta. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

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