RACE RECAP, June 27:
The Race to Alaska is over for Team Wild Card and many others, and I have to say, the experience was truly incredible. Actually, it’s hard to even put it into words.
I’m sitting at the nav desk on Yahtzee in Seward, Alaska replaying so much of it over in my mind. The holes of no wind. The breeze when it did come. The heat. The downright wicked currents. The pedaling. The sailing. The friends. Going from 14th to 1st place in a 24 hour period and then holding first for a day-and-half. Pooping in a bucket. Finishing in Ketchikan after absolutely sending it in 20+ knots of breeze with our big asymmetrical spinnaker flying. Now that was some exhilarating, adrenaline pumping fun right there!
Never in my wildest dreams did I think our team would take a 1978 Santa Cruz 27 purchased from Craigslist and then go out and compete at the top of the R2AK fleet. I owe a lot to my teammates, each of them incredible sailors in their own right. Each with a set of skills that really came together throughout the race. And we had a ton of fun doing it every single day.
Now that the exhilaration of finishing is wearing off, I’m also going back to my decision making as the tactician of Wild Card. Every hour of every day, I was thinking about how to make that boat go fast. As a team, we knew there was no way a SC27 that had been sailed a total of once with this crew before the race, could go toe-to-toe with a Melges 32 or even an Olson 30, let alone many of the trimarans. Accordingly, we had to throw Hail Mary’s all over the course with the knowledge that some would land and others wouldn’t. I tried my hardest to keep us out front and, needless to say, I didn’t sleep much throughout those seven days at sea.
It’s easy for me to sit here now and second guess some of the calls I made and how they were subsequently handled. But that happens to any tactician on any given race. It has happened to me before and it will happen again. When all the conclusions are drawn in my mind, I honestly can’t believe we got to lead so many other fast boats with fine sailors aboard to Alaska for even part of the time. I’m very happy with third place. I’m happy to just have been apart of everything that is the Race to Alaska.
At its core, the idea that so many racers in all manner of craft can cover the distance from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska without engines is pretty wild. I’ve cruised it and raced it now, and will never think of it the same again. But what the Race to Alaska is — more than anything — is an absolute raucous adventure. Sure it’s sailboat racing, but it’s more than that. What makes it so unique is that it taps into the wild, raw and adventurous spirit of everyone who enters, everyone who follows along on the tracker and even those who become just casual fans. And that, right there, is priceless.
Along with my crew mates Mark Aberle, Mike Descheemaeker and Robert Robinson, we have a whole lot of other people to thank for making Wild Card’s R2AK adventure possible. First off, to our families and significant others, thank you! To our friends that encouraged us, followed along and cheered us on, cheers! To the fans we gained along the way and rooted us on via the tracker and on our Facebook page, thank you! To one hell of a sailmaker, friend and SC27 guru, Alex Simanis and everyone at Ballard Sails, you guys had us flying — thank you! And to all the competitors, volunteers and employees who make something like the Race to Alaska possible, a truly unending amount of thank yous!
Finally, a huge shout out to our sponsors, THANK YOU for your support!!!
UPDATE, June 24:
Sail Like a Girl held off a very persistent Lagopus to claim the $10K prize and 2018 R2AK bragging rights. Lagopus got the steak knives. Wild Card had a great race to finish third. It looks like Ptarmigan is going to hold off a hard-charging Strait to the Pool Room.
We’ll do more later.
Photo from last night as the boys from Wild Card smelled the barn door – still a long night away.
UPDATE, June 23:
My how things have changed. After a less than stellar entrance to Bella Bella by going from 1st to 3rd in a snap, we haven’t been able to regain much momentum. Riding a fresh southwesterly out into Hecate Strait on Thursday night and then hoping for the predicted 10 to 20 knot northwesterly turned into a bust. We basically parked in the doldrums while Sail Like A Girl made it out and Lagopus went to the inside. It happens in racing, though, we’re well aware of that. When the northerly did finally show up at 5 pm, we used every bit of it and made big strides on the leaders. Alas, as we sit in the doldrums again, it seems to be too little too late. We’re 80 miles from Ketchikan and are pedaling. It’s all we can do. Fortunately, spirits amongst the boys are high. Did we ever imagine being in this position in the R2AK in a 1978 Santa Cruz 27 that was purchased off Craigslist and then brought back from the ashes in less than a year? Hell no. And to have kept pace and even lead a Melges 32, Olson 30 and others. We’ll take it. We’re having the time of our lives!
Huge thanks to Kurt Hoehne from Sailish.com for helping publish updates while we were on the course!
UPDATE, June 21:
Here’s a video interview we did on the docks in Port Townsend that just got posted:
UPDATE, June, 20:
Currently (0341 6/20) we’re beating up Johnstone Strait in fog, we’re chasing Sail Like a Girl with Lagopus hot on our heels. The story of how we got here is this: after parking in a hole north of Gabriola and watching the leaders step away, we needed to make a move. Knowing that they were going to hit adverse current and park up between Hornby and Lesqueti, we gambled. In the light and variable conditions, I was confident we’d find wind on the west side of Texada. Boy, did we. A warm southeasterly spilled us through the slot and up Texada on a fast reach.
We’ve strung together two solid days and nights. Hopefully we can keep it going. (Ed. note: actually 3 days/3 nights, but they can be forgiven for losing track)We put the kite up soon after and stuck close to the island and out of current. At one point we were consistently hitting 8s with some 9s in the surf. What a fun night. By morning, we were back in it chasing leaders into Campbell River and Seymour Narrows.
At this time, Wild Card is leading (!), chased by the Olson 30 Lagopus and the Melges 32 Sail Like A Girl. The first multihull, Ptarmigan, is in fourth.
UPDATE, June, 18: Tracker junkies unite!
The start to the Race to Alaska from Victoria Harbor was everything I expected it would be: winds were light, pedaling, paddling and rowing was hard yet effective, and it took some patience to get the boat moving once we were rounding the southeastern corner of Vancouver Island. Oh yeah, it was also hot.
After working the shoreline to find favorable current against the ebb, we stepped into some breeze while leaving Oak Bay and Cadboro Bay close to port and made some gains against the leaders. From there it was all light wind in Haro Strait and several large freighters made life tricky for many competitors. Our pedal power was effective but hot, as the sun did no favors.
Strategy and tactics are two very different things in sailboat racing, and that was proven to me once again. I abandoned my overall strategy of wanting to get up into the Gulf Islands when I realized that, with the light wind, we couldn’t make it in time to catch the currents right at any of the key passes. Essentially, we’d be locked into the islands until the next morning. The other option was to head right, boogie with the current through Johns Pass and then round Saturna Island in favorable current and hopefully into breeze. The tactic worked, mostly.
While going through Johns, a southwesterly wind kicked up and we rode our big black asymmetrical spinnaker to the corner. We were all smiles. But things were going to change. In the Strait of George we watched a gorgeous sunset and then the wind die, leaving the current to have its way with us. Sails up, sails down, we finally found wind. And then more wind. We also found wood.
Shortly after dark, we heard and felt that unmistakable thud of a log say, “Hello, sailor!”. A collective, “Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!” went up from the crew and we are happy to report no damage was done. From there the wind kept climbing and at 3 am — because it’s always that time when these things happen — we had some difficult sail changes that slowed us down. Peeling from the #1 to #3, waves broke over the bow and sails just didn’t want to stay on deck. Imagine that on a 27-foot boat.
I’m happy to report that all is well and, as I write this (10:30 a.m.) we’re sailing fast off the northern end of Valdes Island. Life is good aboard Wild Card.
UPDATE, June, 17:
Tucked into the port pipe-berth on Wild Card, our team’s spritely Santa Cruz 27, I woke quickly to the sound of seagulls saying good morning while cruising over Victoria harbor. Rubbing my eyes, I looked at my watch for the time: 6 a.m.
Six hours to go time.
After a couple lay days, we’re finally about to shove off and get this great big 750-mile adventure to Alaska rolling again. I’m ready. Our team is ready. From cruising the docks, checking out other boats and meeting the teams, it seems like lots of other competitors are, too. And if the smiles and laughter from last evenings impromptu happy hour were any indication, people are definitely having fun.
Right now the wind is supposed to be light at the high noon start time (weather brief here), which might suit paddlers and pedals until the sailors can hook into a breeze. Fortunately, as the day wears on and the fleet heads around the bottom corner of Vancouver Island, we’ll have a favorable current to do it on. From there it’s going to be anyone’s ballgame.
UPDATE, June, 15: The fourth incarnation of the Race to Alaska got underway yesterday on Port Townsend Bay and conditions did not disappoint.
When the gun went off at 5 a.m., all manner of craft were on or near the line in a sort of dance that can only happen during this race. Standup paddleboards, kayaks, sailboats, row boats and home-built pedal boats jockeyed for position as a modest southerly wind and ebbing current coaxed racers out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
For Team Wild Card, our start left a lot to be desired. A lot. I botched it. Fortunately, our team stayed cool and once out into the Strait we used the now westerly breeze to rocket northwest with focus. Our capable Santa Cruz 27 skipped over a building sea state that never fully soaked the boat, and we finished in 5-and-a-half hours in 11th place. It was one of those sails that you want to bottle, brand and sell — it was that good.
Meanwhile, other teams were crushing it too. Team PT Watercraft finished first with Team Sail Like a Girl coming in second and Team Strait to the Pool Room ringing the bell shortly there after.
As of noon today, some folks are still working their way towards Victoria’s inner harbor. Here’s an update from Race Boss Daniel Evans: “Mulig is trying to cross the straits but being swept West. Tri-Harder left out of Sequim Bay today and is expected to finish Stage 1. Fly Baby Fly after suffering mechanical issues late last night was towed into Oak Bay by C-Tow Marine Assist. Dock Rat completed Stage 1 after being anchored in the harbor. WaterWorld Impending has pulled out after losing a prop but is hoping to sail over to Victoria for the fun of it on Saturday. Way to make lemonade, WaterWorld.”
The race to Ketchikan kicks off again Sunday at noon — tracker is here!
UPDATE, June, 13:
The start of the latest incarnation of the Race to Alaska is now less than 24 hours away, and the excitement here in Port Townsend is palpable.
After a fast morning sail up from Seattle on Tuesday, final preparations are being sorted out on Wild Card, our Santa Cruz 27, but we’re mostly ready to rock. Other racers are doing their last minute prep as well and the camaraderie amongst us all is tightening up — helped in large part by a delicious racer-only lamb roast hosted by race founder Jake Beattie.
For racers and spectators, the Pre-Race Rukus is today from 12 to 8 p.m. at Pope Marine Park & the Northwest Maritime Center (NWMC).
Race fans can mingle with the participants, see some race boats on the hard, get food and drinks, and dance it up with great music.
And if you’re so inclined, you can get a free tattoo! Yup, the artist of real tattoos, Clae Welch, will be offering his skill and if you decide to get a tattoo of the R2AK logo, the NWMC will pay for it.
See you in Port Townsend!