There is a long history of sailboat racing on Lake Okanagan.
For instance the Vernon Yacht Club began with an organized sailing race in 1951. This sport has grown year over year and helped teach skills needed to sail a boat in most conditions. Racing sailboats has drawn many local sailors to international races and has recently attracted some major races to our lake. It takes teamwork, commitment and grit for sailors to excel in this sport, and on Lake Okanagan it all starts with fun, sharing skills and navigating rules along the way.
With skills learned from local racing, sailors participate and often place in the top three spots at many international races and regattas. Some popular races are Victoria’s Swiftsure International Yacht Race Regatta, Whidbey Island Race Week and the International Melges 24 Racing Series to name a few. Racing skills make for great cruising too, and Okanagan sailors often go on to cruise and explore North American and International oceans and lakes.
The language of sailing is universal. The hardware and techniques change with size and type of boat, but tacking and gybing to get to a destination, is how it works. In racing, the wind is the speed, the crew is the engine and the skipper drives the fastest course. Sure, there are massive ocean racing boats that will never race on Lake Okanagan, but for decades Okanagan boats have raced nationally and internationally in their fleet categories, alongside those boats.
A top level racing event hosted in the Okanagan June 24 – 26, 2016 was the Land Rover Kelowna Melges 24 Canadian National Championship. This was the first event of its kind for the Kelowna Yacht Club and it eatured one of the world’s leading one-design sports boats, the Melges 24, a high-tech design including a carbon fibre spar, rudder, bowsprit and a vertical keel fin. The Kelowna racing fleet has five Melges 24 boats and Marc Noel, President of the Canadian Melges 24 Class Association and owner of “Eclipse” was essential in pitching the Okanagan as the 2016 location for this event. Just last October, Kelowna Yacht Club’s second Women’s National Keelboat Championships in 2015, paved the way for hosting this event.
For Women’s racing it all began in preparation for the 2007 Women’s National Keelboat Championship hosted at the old Kelowna Yacht Club. The National Women’s Championship is sponsored by Sail Canada and is hosted by a different club and on a different one-design boat across Canada each year. Prior to the 2007 Nationals, women sailors on Lake Okanagan only sailed with men as the skipper. This regatta brought women together to learn how to helm their own boats.
With one season to train, teams were formed with ladies from throughout the Okanagan Valley who practiced all year with guidance of many male sailors out of the Penticton, Summerland, West Kelowna, Kelowna and Vernon Yacht Clubs. The Okanagan happened to be home to the largest North American collection of Santana 525 sailboats, a perfect sized boat for the 2007 Women’s National Keelboat Championship one-design fleet.
Each year since 2007, the Kelowna Yacht Club (and some years Vernon Yacht Club) has hosted a 2-month weekly training and racing series for women which includes sailors and coaches from throughout the Okanagan Valley. At the end of this series, one of the Yacht Clubs in the Valley took turns hosting the annual Okanagan Women’s Regatta which now has a permanent home at the West Kelowna Yacht Club.
Many continued to participate in the Women’s National Keelboat Championships in other locations in Canada. All this training paid off last year, when the new Kelowna Yacht Club was once again awarded the location for the 2015 Sail Canada RE/MAX Women’s Keelboat Championships. The results: Gillian Hayward on “Shazam” from the Kelowna Yacht Club took first place. Crew members included Selena Sced, Teresa Lindsay and Tanis Coletti and Gillian Thomson on “Contagious” from both the Kelowna Yacht Club and Central Okanagan Sailing Association won second place with her crew; Loree Felt, Birte DeCloux and Kathryn Albright!
Okanagan has seven yacht clubs and three sailing associations, all active in racing in some capacity. Many Okanagan Yacht Clubs offer weekly racing series and regattas. Clubs up and down the lake, host around 10 regattas a year some as fundraisers for sailing programs and community causes. The Kelowna Yacht Club offers an extensive adult learn to sail programs for Keelboats including ”Learn to Sail With the Clubs Sailing Fleet”.
The sailing programs at the North Okanagan Sailing Association, Central Okanagan Sailing Association and South Okanagan Sailing Associations are all great places to start both adult and youth racing. The associations have their own regular sailboat races and regattas with ties to many international events. Racing smaller boats teaches helming, a skill some racers on larger boats never learn. Smaller boats are very responsive to the wind so harnessing wind is learned quickly, making Dinghy racers sought after as skippers for larger boats and resulting in some of the best keelboat racers on the lake. The three sailing associations and the Kelowna Yacht Club (KYC) offer Youth and Adult Dinghy sailing programs and KYC fundraises and provides facilities for the Disabled Sailing Association of Kelowna.
The Okanagan’s Yacht Clubs from North to South are; The Vernon Yacht Club, Kelowna Yacht Club, West Kelowna Yacht Club, Peachland Yacht Club, Summerland Yacht Club, Penticton Yacht Club and Naramata Yacht Club. All yacht clubs have reciprocal visiting and mooring privileges between them. Our Yacht Clubs’ power and sail boaters volunteer time to be a board member or to organize many events and programs that help make all boating activities a safe, fun and a great experience for the community at large.