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Posted: July 29, 2019

Between wind and water

College of the Rockies People: Their Courage, Curiosity, and Contributions

Dan Smith (right) wants to understand how things work. For the past year, he’s been applying this curiosity to his roles as Shop Assistant, and auxiliary Automotive Service Technician instructor, at College of the Rockies.

Whether he’s mentally figuring out the mechanics of an underwater aquarium while visiting Vegas, or working on his personal motorcycles, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles, Smith is interested in how things do the things they do. For the past few years, this inquisitiveness has extended to the world of sailing.

“Sailboats are pretty complicated,” Smith said. “I love the whole mechanics of it. The maneuvering that you need to do to get the boat to move or to make it go faster, it’s all very interesting to me.”

Smith first developed an interest in sailboats when he was a teenager, teaching himself to sail on Moyie Lake. About five years ago, he purchased another small sailboat, once again using it to sail around the lake in Moyie, where he lives.

As much as he enjoys lake sailing, when the opportunity arose to take part in a race on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, he couldn’t resist.  In both 2017 and 2019, he helped crew a sailboat taking part in the Swiftsure Yacht Race.

Beyond the Stars, the yacht Dan Smith helped crew for the 2019 Swiftsure race.

Dating back to 1930, the Swiftsure races launch from Victoria and include several contests of different lengths and routes; Smith took part in the Juan de Fuca Race which runs from Victoria to Clallam Bay, Washington. After crewing on a smaller vessel during his first race, the boat Smith was on this past spring, Beyond the Stars, competed in the Heavy Class of the Juan de Fuca Race.

Though a lack of wind made gaining any real speed a challenge, the race still presented tests for Smith and his crew-mates. In the middle of the night, they faced 12-foot swells that left their boat twisting and turning in the dark, making sleep unfeasible, and causing even the most stalwart sailors to look a little green around the gills.

The lack of wind, combined with the large swells, meant that not only was it difficult for the boat to make any progress in the race, but at times they actually lost ground.

(L-r) Dan’s partner Susan Woods, Dan Smith, and yacht co-owner, and sister to Susan, Shannon Breeze.

“If we looked at our speed, we were moving at a knot or maybe two knots,” he said. “But if we looked at the GPS, we were actually moving backward because the current was pushing us back.”

In the end, the lack of suitable wind conditions led to the finish line being moved to the halfway point. Beyond the Stars was one of only two vessels in their class to complete the shortened route.

Despite the challenges faced, Smith counts himself lucky to have the chance to take part.

“Having the opportunity to sail on a boat of this size and caliber is incredible,” Smith says. “I feel very lucky and can’t wait to try again next year. Hopefully this time we get some wind.”

Lead image: The crew of Beyond the Stars, (l-r front row: Don Brown, co-owner Shannon Breeze, Don Milligan, Susan Woods. Back row: co-owner John Schnellback, Dan Smith). Photos submitted

A sunset from the deck of Beyond the Stars during Swiftsure 2019.

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