For the citizens of Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city, Labour Day has been synonymous with the Classic Boat Festival since 1978. This year’s event was more festive than ever.
The Canadians celebrate their wooden boat heritage in inimitable style.
Set like a precious gem in the southwestern part of Vancouver Island, Victoria is a beautiful city built on a human scale. Its resident population numbers just 83,000. The British heritage and colonial past is distinctly reflected in its parks, museums, the city squares and monuments – and particularly in its English-style pubs.
Two buildings that certainly fit into this category have been the architectural backdrop for the Classic Boat Festival: the Fairmont Empress hotel with its castle-like shape and steeply sloping roofs, and the Parliament of British Columbia.
This year’s event drew several thousand visitors and 85 craft (both sail and power) from various American states (mainly Washington and Oregon for obvious geographical reasons) and the province of British Columbia.
Boats that enlivened the port with their white-painted planking and hulls, mahogany deckhouses, shiny transoms and ensigns, burgees and the colourful flags of their dressing lines aflutter in the breeze.
On board the vessels were the owners themselves, super-passionate and always ready to welcome visitors with many stories. Were it not for
the next visitor waiting his turn at the dock, most would quite happily talk for hours about the tiniest details of their floating homes – the helm’s bronze hub, the specific shade of the dinette’s upholstery, the hand-oiled teak interior.
The boats – all beautiful and well-assorted – ranged in length from the 16-foot Small Fry, fitted with an inboard Easthope four-stroke engine, to the 88-foot of Gyrfalcon (a former ship of the US National Geodetic Survey), the largest power boat on show. The largest sailing vessel, at 105-feet, was the schooner Pacific Grace.
Built in 1999, Pacific Grace is owned by the Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS), a non-profit organization committed to offering annual sailing courses for some 1,700 youngsters between her and her smaller sister, Pacific
Swift (77 feet). Next to the SALTS vessels was Katahdin (1899), the oldest boat on show and allegedly, according to her
On board the vessels were the owners themselves, super-passionate and always ready to welcome visitors with many stories.
charismatic owner, the Alaska-resident Doug Leen, “the oldest tugboat still operated in the North Pacific region”.
As always with such events, a diversity of activities were staged on the sidelines. These included maritime trivia, lectures on scrimshaw, visual signaling at sea, protection of waters and the role of British Columbia during WWII, as well shipbuilding (including traditional Songhees canoes built from local red cedar), and street artists and musicians, like one-man-band Dave Harris.
Also attending the festival was Ron Holland who’s lived in Vancouver for a number of years. He used the event to present his recently-published memoirs All the Oceans. Designing by the Seat of My Pants. Numerous plaques were awarded. They
The boats – all beautiful and well-assorted – ranged in length...
included Midnight Sun (the Hospitality Award and a shout-out for the best engine room), Merry Chase (People’s Choice and Best Conversion piece), Suellen (Best overall powerboat and mention for the best engine room), Sir Isaac (Best modern-classic and best laminate construction), the aforementioned Gyrfalcon (Most improved and a mention for best restored power boat) and Flying Eagle (Best costume and a mention for hospitality).
Flying Eagle is a wonderful, 1963-built Down East Maine lobster boat owned by Rick Strollo, and was the 2017 recipient of the Best Restored Power plaque. It was awarded following a three-year restoration process that involved a deep historical research, much work, money and two shipyards.
And now the next appointment for these inveterate enthusiasts, possibly in even greater numbers, is 2019, in the days that precede Labour Day in North America: just the way it’s always been for 41 consecutive years, without interruption.
CLOCKWISE, FROM ABOVE Buntings, ratlines, belaying pins, spoked wheels, brass telegraphs – this might be technology from a bygone era, but it’s very much alive and kicking at the annual Classic Boat Festival in Victoria, Vancouver Island. Now in its fortieth year, the Festival has become one of the most colourful, signature events on Canada’s boating calendar.
RIGHT & BELOW Each vessel is lovingly maintained and its owners more than eagar to tell about its history. FAR RIGHT Scores of boats and enthusiastic crowds make for a vibrant Festival. BOTTOM Pacific Grace is used in a youth training programme.