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About a Squamish sailor

Ben Biswell of Squamish Sailing Ventures on his roots, the joys of sailing in Howe Sound and trips around Vancouver Island on deck for this summer.

Squamish's Ben Biswell was a baby the first time he went sailing.

He has been doing it pretty much ever since.

"Growing up back in the U.K., my parents had a 26-foot boat and then we'd go sailing on the south coast of England," he said. 

Biswell eventually became interested in mountain activities, which is what brought him to the Sea to Sky Corridor, but the draw of local waterways led him to sail here too. 

"For a long time, I was more interested in mountains which is why I came here — for skiing and snowboarding. And then once I was living over here and started to spend the summers I just saw how beautiful the coastline was and wanted to get back out onto the water," he said. 

The two passions balance out the year nicely, he said. 

He has been a ski and snowboard instructor since 2002 and a sailing instructor since 2014.

Last summer, he launched  Squamish Sailing Ventures, an International Yacht Training-certified sailing school. 

Students get hands-on experience sailing in Squamish or beyond. 

His boat — called Tarka — is a 1989, 32-foot sailboat, which is a good size for students to learn to sail on, Biswell said. It is a Vancouver 32, which was built in England. 

He has sailed it around the world. In 2019 and 2020, with his girlfriend and father, he sailed it to Canada from the U.K. via the Caribbean, ending up in Lake Ontario and Toronto. Tarka was then trucked to Vancouver and then sailed up to Squamish. 

Howe Sound is an excellent place to learn to sail, Biswell said. 

"It is a great place to sail around here, because you can have quite a strong wind, especially in Squamish. You have the strong inflow winds all summer, but because of all the land around us, there's not a big fetch — that is the sailor's word — the fact that the wind that is blowing hasn't been blowing over the sea for long enough to build up big waves.”

Typical wind strengths in the spring and summer in Howe Sound are from 10 to 25 knots, he said. 

That said, when teaching people to sail in Howe Sound, Biswell said students are often surprised at the strength of the wind here, and how it is possible to still sail. 

"When the wind really does start blowing strong, if you know how to control the boat... you can still be safe and comfortable and move along," he said. 

Being out on the water gives folks a unique perspective of the corridor, he said. 

"It gives you a very different perspective from driving down the highway and looking at Howe Sound. It gives you a perspective that where we live is really vast and wild and endless.”

Setting sail

This summer, Biswell and three local sailors will be circumnavigating Vancouver Island over 17 days in June.

It is a great opportunity to sail in various conditions, see amazing landscapes and spot wildlife. He has seen humpback whales, sea otters and, on the shore, grizzly bears. 

He also once landed on a beach where there were no humans to be found, only wolf tracks, he said, with a chuckle. 

Biswell said the most challenging aspect of the trip around the island is near Campbell River, through the Johnstone Strait, because of the strong tidal rapids, tidal currents and possible gale-force winds in the area. 

For those along for the sail, it is a chance to hone skills and learn new ones. 

In July, he will again circumvent the island, taking sets of three students on different legs of the trip.

Find out more about the Vancouver Island Trips here.

Find out more about Squamish Sailing Ventures and the courses Biswell provides at


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