By: Matthew Dunning, TMC Northwest
R2AK Finish – Sail Like a Girl
The occupants of Awesome’s Port Hull are jubilant and exhausted. As are the seven sailing sisters of Team Sail Like A Girl who stepped ashore and rung the bell in Ketchikan at 12:17am Sunday claiming $10,000 prize money which they promptly donated to breast cancer research. The Port Hull had been pulling for them all week long. You see Sail Like A Girl had an X-factor of a plan for the race: to overcome all challenges with grace and to make it to Alaska as fast as possible. This year, as fast as possible wasn’t terribly fast as the winds were light and the water was glassy except when they weren’t. It was a year for teamwork and human power and grace and determination and Sail Like A Girl pedaled and willed their sled to victory as much as they sailed it.
This wasn’t a year for high speed multihulls and it is the first time that a monohull has finished first. Another monohull, Team Lagopus, took the steak knives and Team Wild Card, yet another monohull, drifted into 3rd. The first multihulls didn’t ring the bell until nearly 12 hours after the leader when Team Ptarmigan (F-28cc) and Team Strait To The Pool Room (Shaw 34 catamaran) came in neck and neck. Weirdly, Team Ptarmigan was the second winter grouse to finish as Team Lagopus’ vessel is also named Ptarmigan but they had been forced to revert to the scientific name. As much as teamwork told the tale for the winners, these two birds told the tale of the course and conditions. There just wasn’t enough bluster and flap in the air to allow the multihulls to exceed monohull-speed and the monohulls were able to glide and pedal-sail to the finish.
When it came to predictions, Awesome’s Starboard Hull was caught napping. Russell Brown’s single-handed Gougeon 32 was fast when the wind blew but anchored for longer and longer naps as the race progressed. Some of these naps were 12 hours long even when darkness lasted only 4 hours. It seems Team PT Watercraft was really only racing between breakfast and tea time. During those accumulated hours he was tremendously successful. Still snug harbors beckoned and I suspect Goose Bay on Dundas Island will get the best of him soon as he contemplates the middle of Dixon Entrance. I expect to see him around lunch. . . tomorrow.
“We hope more girls will get into sailing, be courageous, and follow their dreams.” These were the words of Team Sail Like A Girl just moments into their reign as R2AK champions. Both Awesome’s Port and Starboard Hulls are behind that sentiment. Our little one hitched her wagon to Sail Like A Girl until exhaustion overcame jubilance and she drifted off to dreamland just off their bow. It was a beautiful night in Ketchikan.
Hull vs. Hull – Ketchikan, AK – Day 2
Right now the R2AK is well under way and we have a divided house on “Awesome.” The perspective from the Starboard Hull is that Russ Brown (Team PT Watercraft) is smart, crafty, a wizard with epoxy, fully experimental, and has the fastest boat (a Guegeon 32 catamaran that looks like a spaceship). I’m sure Russ is a man with a plan. He handily won the qualifier across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. He took the lead after a windless start once “Catpaws” came upon the water and then led the pack North until the wind died, the tide turned, it got dark and Russell had to get some sleep.
Russell is trying to win this thing single-handed so he has water ballast for rail meat instead. Still, he has to stop and sleep. His first two nights he picked a very good time to nap and by tucking in at the right time, he still woke up in the lead. When he went to sleep again he woke up just behind the lead pack, but got through Seymour Narrows and began working his way back to the front. The leaders are coming through Johnstone Strait, then they will dump into the Queen Charlotte Strait with Cape Caution and the open ocean in their sites. Russ is definitely favored and the dark horse of this race. The Starboard Hull with the only Y chromosome aboard is cheering for him—as long as he doesn’t have to sleep (much).
Over in the Port Hull, things are different. The Port Hull is the Mermaid Hull on “Awesome” and when Team Sail Like a Girl overtook Russell in the night I heard a little cheer. “Sail Like a Girl” is crewed by 6 women going very fast. They can put a fresh crew on deck every watch. They can sleep. They are a team. They’re playing leapfrog with the lead. What’s not to like? They are sailing a monohull! A Melges 32′. The horror.
We have another Multi vs. Mono grudge-match playing out just behind the lead pair. The F-28 Team Ptarmigan is trading punches with the Santa Cruz 27’ Team Wild Card. Team Logapus is stalking the four lead boats. Everyone else was severely impacted by the turning of the current in Seymour Narrows and haven’t gotten into Johnstone Passage yet. They are pooling up, hunkering down, and getting ready for the onslaught to come. It’s going to look like a restart in Campbell River when the floodgates open.
As the leaders approach Race & Current Passages mid-Johnstone (home to Earl Ledge which can magically mix millions of whirlpools), Russ has regained the lead. The tide is flooding against them at up to 3.2 knots tonight. There is high pressure and the wind is coming out of the Northwest. Skagua likes to die in the wee hours though and wind could even go South, but should blow up to 25 knots from the Northwest in the afternoons. They will have it on the nose tomorrow.
It is unseasonably hot so there is likely fresh meltwater above the salt causing all sorts of unpredictable currents and weird effects. The king tides have just passed so the logs are off the beaches and migrating down the rivers. There are 6 hours until sunset. Because we are so far north it won’t get dark here until 11 pm and the moon doesn’t set until 1:30 am. It will be light again by 3:30 am. Maybe Russ just needs a power nap during the evening lull.
Older Post – Before the Kickoff
The 4th annual running of the Race to Alaska is underway! This is an exciting race to follow in-person or online as it features the best of sailing in the Wild West. No engines are allowed – only wind or human power can be used to cover more than 750 cold-water miles from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK.
There are very few rules other than that racers must pass through two Inside Passage ‘gates’ (one of which is the dreaded Seymour Narrows which can flow more than 15 knots and where the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion decapitated Ripple Rock after it claimed more than 100 lives). The Race to Alaska attracts a diverse fleet. There are professionals and amateurs sailing speedy trimarans, catamarans, and sleds. There are folk boats, ocean-going canoes, Hobie Adventure trimarans and all manner of pedal-powered contraptions. One contestant completed the race in 2 weeks on a stand-up paddleboard last year!
This isn’t just a race for the $10k of prize money given to the first finisher (best so far was the 32′ Marstrom Cat that finished in 3 days, 20 hours, and 13 minutes). It isn’t just a race for the set of steak knives given the second finisher. It’s not even for the option to sell your boat at the finish for $10k. It is mono vs. multi, pro vs. amateur, crewed vs. single-handers, wind vs. current, and innovation vs. the sea. There are so many races within the race. Most of all it is a test of endurance, determination and grit.
I’ve followed along in prior years and have found the commentary to be exhilarating, inspiring, and down-right funny. This year my family and I will be in Ketchikan (aboard our admittedly non-gritty 68′ power catamaran “Awesome“) to greet the finishers and hear first-hand accounts before proceeding South through the remains of the fleet on our way back to Puget Sound. The excitement starts today with the qualifier leg from Port Townsend, WA to Victoria, BC. Then the real race begins in Victoria June 17th.
Check out the teams, watch the Tracker, and cheer for your favorites. It is sure to be entertaining!