The countdown is on for the 76th sailing of Victoria’s Swiftsure International Yacht Race.

In one week, some of the youngest and fastest sailors to ever sail in the Strait of Juan De Fuca will be descending on Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Teams from around the Pacific Northwest will arrive in front of the Fairmont Empress hotel starting May 23, and Richard Ackrill, the skipper of the fan favourite Dragon Fly, says spectators are encouraged to come greet them.

“It’s the first chance to get right up close and personal with the boats and the skippers and the crew, and seeing people folding sails and organizing stuff,” Ackrill said.

On Saturday, May 26, competitors in the main event will sail about 250 kilometres to Swiftsure Bank and back. 

The fastest anyone has ever completed the journey is 14 hours 35 minutes and 29 seconds – a record held in part by one of Ackrill’s sailing partners. 

Now Nick Banks is the Dragon Fly’s navigator, but in 1997 he was part of that record-setting team sailing a 60-foot catamaran called Stars and Stripes. 

“I was incredibly lucky to get selected in the first place and I was out of my element in a big way,” Banks said. 

“But it was a great deal of fun and a fantastic group of guys who are all now very, very well-known sailors, and a great group of people to learn from.”

The Swiftsure regatta includes five separate races. With the exception of the inshore race, they all range between 150 and 250 kilometres.

This year’s regatta will also be a learning experience for Maia Galbraith. 

She's a newcomer. At only three years old, she's the youngest Swiftsure competitor.

Her mother Michelle has been competing for the past few years, and her father Gord has about a decade of experience in the local event. 

“Racing is a passion for me so it would be nice to include her in all of that,” Gord Galbraith said. “We’re gonna just do the inshore race again just because of Mia. This is her first year in training.” 

More than 400 competitors will be sailing about 150 boats in this year’s event. While Banks doesn’t think the wind will be right for any of them to break his record, he says theres a lot more to Swiftsure than being on the fastest boat. 

“The enjoyment of sailing, the camaraderie, and meeting other sailors and getting along and experiencing that part of the process,” Banks says.

Swiftsure gets underway at Clover Point with a pancake breakfast Saturday starting at 8 a.m. 

At 9 a.m., HMCS Edmonton will signal the start of the first race with a cannon blast. Racers will start crossing the finish line at Ogden Point late Saturday evening and into Sunday morning.