The first organized yacht race around Vancouver Island was developed in 1986 by some multihull sailors, and the event, co-sponsored by the Coast Hotels and the Anchorage Marina, was known as the “Coast Hotels Around the Island Race”. The race took place over eight legs rather than ten. Yachts were also encouraged to seek sponsorship. Twenty five boats signed up for the event, which had an entry fee of $1,000, but the starting gun was never fired. Unfortunately sponsored yachting was frowned upon in Canada at the time and the event was forced to cancel.
In 1999 the Cadillac Van Isle 360° International Yacht Race was born and the first year the fledgling event, billed as the “Ambassador’s Edition,” attracted 14 boats. The Ambassador’s Edition was intended to be a trial run to test the course and determine if a race around Vancouver Island done in stages and on a timetable was really possible. It was a huge success! The race ran for three consecutive years, each year attracting more and more boats, media attention and supporters. Following the 2001 race, the organizing authority made the decision to run the event every other year on the odd year, offsetting the Vic Maui race running on even years. This biennial schedule worked very well: the next race, 2003, was a banner year, attracting a record number of entries and selling out by early January. The Canadian Navy offered support vessels, new course records were set and television and movie crews followed the entire race.
The economic downturn of 2008 resulted in a precipitous drop in participants for the 2009 race, and the future of the race came into question.
In 2011 Blast Performance Sailing acquired the rights to the Van Isle 360. Enhancements made in 2011 included the addition of the Race Tracker, developed by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club for the Swiftsure Race. The Race Tracker allowed sailors and fans from around the Pacific North West to follow the race in real time. With the economy rebounding, and support from the close knit sailing community the race rebounded with 41 entries.
In 2013 the Organising Authority made certification of the ISAF Safety at Sea Course mandatory for a minimum of 2 crew members on every leg of the race. Light breeze shrouded the race, and crews were dead tired by the time the 14 days had elapsed. This resulted in the addition of shorten course options to the sailing instructions in 2015.
2015 saw over 50 boats apply for entry, and 51 started in Nanaimo. The wind gods, who were absent in 2013, turned out in force with gale force winds in Johnstone Strait for 4 days in a row. For the first time in the history of the race, the Race Committee was unable to make the passage from Kelsey Bay to the Marine Harvest Fish Farm due to the severity of the winds, and the resulting 2 metre standing waves that formed in Race Passage. The fleet arrived in Port Hardy a little worse for wear, and the concept of a lay day on the inside was instituted to allow for time for repairs.
In 2017, the lay day was added to the scenic village of Telegraph Cove. The morning of the start for the Telegraph Cove to Port Hardy leg was a barn burner, and upon arrival (very quickly we might add) in Port Hardy, the fleet was literally blown off the summer docks and onto the inner basin for refuge. One boat had the rudder shear off, and a lesson was learned very quickly on ensuring safety gear (in this case a drogue) is robust enough for the conditions encountered. The Cost Guard from Port hardy responded very quickly and was able to toe the vessel and her crew to the saety of Port Hardy.
It is interesting to note, that in the first 8 races, no boat had ever completed every leg within the time limits. This was mostly due to wind, but equipment failure also played a significant role for some competitors.
In 2013, Icon skippered by Kevin Welch, Dark Star skippered by Jonathan McKee, White Cloud skippered by Steve Johnson and Radical Departure skippered by Andre Wojcieszek were the first boats to ever complete an entire circumnavigation and obtain a score on each leg.
2015 and 2017 saw most of the fleet completing a full circumnavigation and finishing each leg.
The course record for a complete circumnavigation is currently held by Westerly, skippered by Stuart and Joy Dahlgren.