The Victoria Classic Boat Festival takes place Sept. 2 to 4 in the Inner Harbour.

Classic boats take centre stage at festival

Sailing on a 40-foot-long wooden boat along B.C.'s coast is when John West feels most free.

Sailing on a 40-foot-long wooden boat along B.C.’s coast is when John West feels most free.

The wind in his hair, the smell of salt water filling his nose and the gentle lapping of water against the boat is a feeling West will never get tired of.

The 67-year-old Greater Victoria resident has been sailing boats for almost his entire life, after he received his first dingy from a neighbour when he was five years old. Three years later, West’s father built him a slightly larger wooden boat so he would be more safe on the water.

Since then, West’s love of sailing has grown immensely. West has owned a number of wooden classic boats ranging in size from 40 to 50 feet long. He’s sailed around south east Asia, the Philippines and east Africa, often heading out for weeks at a time with his wife, usually in the summer and winter months.

Despite the international waters that he has sailed in throughout his life, West said the B.C. coast has some of the best cruising grounds in the world and offers a climate where one can sail year-round.

“We’ve got 30,000 miles of coastline here, when you go around all the little islands. You can really spend your entire life here and never get bored with it,” West said.

“(Other places) don’t have the variety and the on-going sense of exploring. I’ve had boats for 60 years and I’m still going to places that I’ve never been before on this coast. It’s a pretty remarkable place.”

In one particular adventure, West remembers sailing from Port Hardy at the north end of Vancouver Island to Hornby Island. It was dusk when he and his wife decided to tie up the boat for the evening and they came across a First Nations man fishing with his grandson. The duo rafted up alongside the two fisherman, who cooked salmon for them for dinner.

“Here’s this lovely old guy, fishing with his grandson, really nice young kid, and just kind of chatting. Him telling stories of his life in terms of growing up on the coast, and we’ve been on the water our entire lives,” West said. “That kind of meeting — calm, watching the sunset and just sharing our appreciation of the coast — that was pretty magical.”

Earlier this week, West decided to sell his boat, but continues to be active in the local classic boat community. He also helps organize the Victoria Classic Boat Festival on this weekend.

As part of the 39th annual event, roughly 80 to 150 classic boats (powerboats built before 1942 and sail boats built before 1957) from around the world will dock in the Inner Harbour for spectators to marvel at. Last year, there were roughly 30,000 people who attended the event over a three-day period.

West hopes people will walk away with an appreciation for craftsmanship and the beauty of classic boats.

“It’s a way of keeping in touch with our history. A lot of these boats were integral in terms of the development of the B.C. coast, prior to aircraft and helicopters,” West said. “Similar to buildings, it’s important that we know how we evolved as a people to know where we’re at now. Boats are certainly a large part of that and continue to be.”

The Victoria Classic Boat Festival takes place from Saturday, Sept. 2 to 4 in the Inner Harbour. For more information visit classicboatfestival.ca.