Something extraordinary is happening this weekend in the wide world of sailing. And I would bet that many of us know nothing about it.
Let me tell you about your new favourite Canadian sports team!
Tomorrow is the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV). This is a famous sailing race starting in Le Havre, France and racing across the Atlantic to Itajaí, Brazil. It follows the historic route for trading ships carrying coffee from the New World to caffeine addicted Europe.
Perhaps most importantly, it is also one of the major qualifying events for the Vendée Globe, a brutally hard single-handed round the world race known as the ‘Everest’ of the sailing world.
So with the TJV we have a French sailing race crossing an ocean on the exact opposite side of our continent. It's an event that is worlds away in so many ways from life on the West Coast of Canada. Why should you care?
Because this year we have skin in the game.
Two good Canadian kids (to borrow from hockey language) are sailing a veteran race boat called O Canada together across the Atlantic. Not just two Canadians... two western Canadians! Eric Holden (35) is one of our own from Vancouver, while his co-skipper Morgen Watson (26) is from right next door in Calgary, Alberta.
Last year, Eric was the winning skipper of the Clipper Round the World Race, making him the first Canadian ever to win a round the world race. Morgen was his watch leader, helping manage a large amateur crew as they raced the longest round the world course.
The TJV is their first event against a fleet of professional sailors, and they're breaking into this world despite countless obstacles.
It has been a hard road for Eric and Morgen to get to the start line of the TJV. They spent the winter and spring in Vancouver fixing up the battered O Canada with help from a group of keen young sailors that joined their Canadian Ocean Racing team.
Then they had to get O Canada from Vancouver to Toronto in time for the PanAm Games... no big deal, right? Just 15,000 nautical miles to get around the entire continent of North America via the Panama Canal.
And finally, they had to cross the North Atlantic to get to the start line on time. Hurricane Joaquin had other plans, trapping them on the East Coast waiting for a weather system that would not try to obliterate them on their trip to France.
They just arrived in Le Havre on Thursday.
The grueling 3-ish week long TJV starts on Sunday.
Their competition consists of 42 boats, each with 2 professional sailors on board, all of whom have had a lot more preparation, funding and rest leading up to the start.
O Canada with Eric and Morgen is the only boat to have sailed all the way from the Pacific Ocean to get to the start line. O Canada is by far the oldest boat, making it very difficult for her skippers to be competitive against the better-funded teams with shiny new boats and crispy sails.
As they prepare for the start of the TJV tomorrow, Eric and Morgen are a long way from home but representing Canada in the finest way possible. They have shown an unyielding passion for their sport, and the determination to literally cross oceans in order to compete.
On top of making it to the TJV start, they have also launched the first program to provide young Canadians with ocean sailing opportunities. They are holding open the doors of a world that can seem closed off and impenetrable, helping young sailors step through and gain experience and mileage that can be incredibly difficult to come by.
They only just scraped together the funds for O Canada to enter the TJV, and need a great deal more funding to make it to the Vendée itself. If you want to see the maple leaf sailed around the world, if you want to support the ultimate Canadian underdogs in a truly epic adventure at sea, donate to their campaign here and cheer them on through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Here’s wishing fair winds, fast sailing and a safe passage for Eric, Morgen and O Canada!
This is the first in our 'Wide World of Sailing' series. Here we aim to give you a look beyond local, coastal sailing towards some of the incredible adventures happening around the oceans of the world.