IN 1975 a man named Buddy Hulscher built a boat, called it the Poudre d'Or and fell in love with the wind and the waves.
Since then the Poudre d'Or, French for Gold Dust, has sailed half way around the world, faced mast-snapping storms off the tip of Africa and raced nose to nose with other yachts through the choppy waters of Canada's West Coast. On Friday the Poudre d'Or will set sail once more but it won't be Buddy at the helm, it will be his son Sean. He'll be racing a race that now bears his father's name in a boat his father built, racing to honour the man who taught him to love the sea.
"Our family, we miss my dad," Sean says as he prepares for the annual Southern Straits Race, starting from the West Vancouver Yacht Club on Good Friday for the 44th consecutive year. The boat meant a lot to Buddy and so it means a lot to Sean.
"It was a tough, well built boat," he says. "He could have bought far nicer boats but for some reason he kind of always stuck with this old boat - it was just kind of his life, and he liked it."
The story begins in Cape Town, South Africa with Buddy buying a hull and a deck, plopping them down in his backyard and getting to work. Sean, 17 at the time, pitched in along with the rest of the family. Before that time nobody in the family was passionate about sailing but that all changed when the Poudre d'Or hit the water.
"My dad did get us all into sailing because we weren't really into it," says Sean. "He was the kind of guy who when he got into something, he went into it full bore. Basically sailing became his life from the time he got the boat."
Buddy then took up racing, taking Sean along for the ride. In the 1975 Agulhas Race - a swing back and forth around Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa - the Poudre d'Or ran into a hellacious storm.
"We were in massive waves and seas and 60-knot winds," says Sean. Some of the rigging for the boat, purchased in bulk by Buddy and his new Cape Town sailing friends, was not up to the challenge.
"(We were) dismasted," says Sean, "and basically had to scurry back into one of the few refuge holes close to Cape Agulhas. . . . We limped into port. That was our first massive adventure on that boat."
Many more followed. In the late 1970s the whole family left Cape Town for West Vancouver and the Poudre d'Or soon followed. Buddy and Sean entered many local races, including the Southern Straits.
"I used to do the fore deck, my dad would be the skipper, obviously, and we had a whole lot of people sail with us over the years," says Sean. Eventually Sean bought his own boat, the Meltemi, and began charting his own course. In 2006 they learned Buddy had prostate cancer. He was given five years to live. He kept on sailing, continuing to race for the next four years and still hitting the waves just 12 months before he died last September.
After Buddy's death the organizers of the Southern Straits decided to rename the race's short course after him, a move that surprised and touched Sean and his family.
"It just came right out of left field. I had no inkling of it," says Sean. The gesture got Sean thinking about doing his own small tribute.
"Because the race has been named after him I thought we might as well get the old Poudre d'Or out of the mothballs and take it out for a race," he says, adding that while the thought was fitting, the task was tough. Sean hasn't raced the Poudre d'Or for many years and with Buddy not able to take it out the last couple of seasons it has been sitting idle.
"It creates a bit of work for me because the boat was not ready and we had to prep it up," says Sean. "I didn't even know what sails he had. We just went up and raised a few sails to see what there is. In fact today I still have to go to his house to find out if there's any more sails that should be on the boat and are not."
The Southern Straits race kicks off Friday morning and Sean, bringing his regular crew over from the Meltemi, will be looking for a good showing in the short course race, now known as the Buddy Hulscher Short Course. The race clocks in at about 66 nautical miles with boats expected to finish in anywhere from 16 to 24 hours. The Poudre d'Or is a stout vessel but not the fastest girl on the ocean these days.
"I'm under no apprehensions - my crew coming over from my boat, most of them have never been on this boat and we just haven't had a chance to go for a test sail or anything," says Sean. "Are we going to win it? No, not this time. But we're going to try - that's what you're out there for."
Just being out on the waves is enough to stir old thoughts of sailing around the rugged tip of Africa or the scenic shores of British Columbia, of fighting waves and wind with a father now gone.
"It does bring back old memories," says Sean. "But quite honestly I try not to dwell on them - it just sort of makes one a little bit nostalgic. My dad was always a guy who was always like, 'Yeah, get on with life, get on with things.' He wasn't one to sit around thinking about the meaning of life. He kind of got on with life. He was sort of old school from that point of view. I find that for myself in dealing with his death, that's probably been the easiest way for me to deal with it - just get on with things."
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The race kicks off Friday morning at the West Vancouver Yacht Club with a Lions Society pancake breakfast beginning at 9 a.m. followed by music from the West Vancouver Pops Band. The race's starting sequence will begin at 10: 25 a.m. Along with the short course there will be a long course of approximately 132 nautical miles as well as a medium course. The medium course also has a new name: The Jim Pine Medium Course, named after another longtime West Vancouver Yacht Club Member who passed away last year.