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Student Spotlight: William-Patrick Blouin-Comeau

Boat on water

Competitive Sailor, BCIT Student, and Red Bull Canada Marketing Specialist

Words by Nikita Nayak
Photography by Eric J.W. Li

It’s an overcast Friday morning. The date on the calendar reads the thirteenth, but the feeling is far from ominous. I’m looking forward to meeting an old acquaintance. I’m early, so I flip through a few apps on my phone. The new weather app reports that it’s 62° Fahrenheit and that the winds are blowing at nine knots. These numbers don’t mean much to me at the moment, but they make a world of difference to the person I’m meeting.
William-Patrick Blouin-Comeau is a BCIT student, and a competitive sailor—both are high-adrenaline, stress-inducing commitments, that demand laser-sharp focus.
Blouin-Comeau first learned the ropes of sailing when he was eight years old. With every passing year, he fell deeper in love with the sport.
The last few months have been brimming with crests and troughs for him. He took part in several sailing races, including one particularly gruelling course from the coast of Seattle to the frigid waters of Alaska.
All this happened while he led a marketing team at Red Bull Canada and juggled a crushing course-load at BCIT. It is safe to say that twenty-two-year-old Blouin-Comeau developed resilience in steering his way through challenges.

Read on to delve into what keeps his head afloat as he sails swiftly through school, work and life.

What drew you to sailing?

When you think about sailing, you think mostly about older people on a yacht that just want to travel the world. Sailing was something different for me to explore. It’s not a sport where you’re on a baseball court or a soccer field. It’s an adventure every time you go out, and I think that’s what draws me back every time. It’s an exciting moment for me, every time I go out on the water.

What exciting moments have you experienced while sailing?

I sailed across the Strait of Georgia on a really small 13-foot boat, which was pretty exciting at the time. It was a bit scary. Other than that, I’ve done a couple of big races and ‘Race to Alaska,’ which was another big one that we did last summer in 2018. It was a group of myself and three or four other youth sailors from the U.S. We sailed and rowed all the way up to Alaska from Seattle.

What are some of the challenges that you face when you’re out on the water?

I think there’s too many to count, but off the top of my head, it’s the weather. It’s the only component that you cannot control. Whether that be the sea state or the wind, the waves, the temperature, or the currents. That’s something you just have to deal with. The whole sport is based around your ability to navigate those items.

How do you prepare for a race?

I do some cold-water training in the middle of winter. You grab a rock, walk down into the ocean and sit underwater as long as you can. It creates that sense of panic for your body so your mental state would be able to [handle it] if [something dangerous] happened in the water [while sailing].

It’s just putting yourself in a scenario where you’re training your body [and mind] to react to those situations. Your mind is a massive component of any sport.

How do you mentally prepare yourself for long periods of out on the water with limited resources?

You’re focusing on only one thing when you’re out in the water and that’s your sailing. You’re watching the weather. There’s nothing really else that you have to take care of except how you entertain yourself.

It’s a pretty tight space on any boat, right? You can’t really pull out a ping pong table and play unless you have a really big boat which we don’t. I don’t need much to entertain myself on the boat. It’s already entertaining being on one.

You took part in the Van Isle 360 Race* this past summer. What was that like?

That was a big project for me. We would have been sailing for two weeks, which was pretty sweet. There were a couple of breakages and engine issues, so we had to pull out after day one, which was unfortunate. If you can’t have a boat that’s safe for everybody or if you can’t have a platform that you can trust, [it’s better to] pull out, go back home and fix it rather than risking yourself in the boat. I think that that was a good learning experience.

What were the emotions going through your mind when you couldn’t finish the race?

I think when things like that happen, it’s completely out of your control, in most cases. If something happens and you have no control over it, what’s your reaction going to be? There’s a great saying: 10% of life is what happens to you and, 90% is how you react to it.
Whether that be on a sailboat, or stubbing your toe walking by a bed. It’s the way you react and the way you perceive that event happening to you. That will define how you go forward.

If you had all the money in the world and the boat of your dreams, what would you do?

The Sydney Harbour race in Australia. It’s pretty much the biggest race that’s not around the world or multi-day.

It’s where all the big boats go and where a lot of my good friends have gone and raced. I think it’d be cool to do a Caribbean 600 just because of the water and the weather. You get great wins and plus you’re docking at Lake Juan in the Caribbean Islands. I would not complain.

After a three-day race, you hop on a beach and have a beer with your friends. That’s a beautiful place.

Do you have plans to circumnavigate the globe solo someday?

I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to the point where I need to go be alone for 80 days on the water. That said, it takes a special type of person and a special team behind you to do that. I like companionship. I like having people around me when I sail. I have definitely looked at major crossings with the team or friends on a transatlantic or transpacific one, or down to Hawaii and back. Something like that.

What’s something that you’ve learned from sailing that you can apply to life at BCIT and vice versa?

BCIT is team-based work, and so is sailing. A big part of it is learning to work with people and learning to work with people under pressure or under stress.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Don’t ever do a job or schooling that you’re not passionate about. If you’re not comfortable, don’t do it. Quit school, go do something else and come back later.

*The Van Isle 360 Race is a adventure that involves sailing around Vancouver Island.