Members of team Sail Like A Girl from Bainbridge Island are ready to take on R2AK. The field of competitors leaves Port Townsend Bay at 5 a.m. this morning, with the first stop being Victoria. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Members of team Sail Like A Girl from Bainbridge Island are ready to take on R2AK. The field of competitors leaves Port Townsend Bay at 5 a.m. this morning, with the first stop being Victoria. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Race to Alaska begins today; sailors party, prepare

PORT TOWNSEND — A fleet of sailors was making last-minute preparations Wednesday for today’s 5 a.m. start of the fourth annual Race to Alaska.

A sea of 44 boats of varying size and style, and a few paddleboards, will make their way to Victoria, in the 40-mile first leg of the race. From there, 36 teams will launch on Sunday for the final push into Ketchikan, Alaska, the final destination in the 750-mile race, undertaken without engines, only sail or human power.

The mood was festive Wednesday afternoon as participants, the public and vendors all felt the excitement that pervaded Pope Marine Park and Point Hudson Marina for the Ruckus, a big street party with a maritime theme.

“We’ve done about eight tattoos so far today,” noted Clae Welch and Keith Dulin, who set up shop in the Cotton Building next to the park. R2AK logo tats were popular and free to those willing to go under the needle.

The beer garden was humming with imbibers. Paddleboard enthusiasts heard a presentation on the sport and how to endure a long-distance paddle. Music was flowing through the air.

Several teams had their boats on display and talked about size, strategy and what they expect to endure during the event.

Other teams were making last-minute adjustments and preparations to their crafts.

Bainbridge Island’s Sail like a Girl team members were hosting sponsors and making plans for the start tomorrow. The women won a sponsorship from First Federal Bank.

The team includes Aimee Fulwell, Jeanne Assael Goussev, Allison Dvaladze, Anna Stevens, Haley King Lhamon, Kate Hearsay, Morgana Buell, and Kelly Adamson Danielson. Their boat is a Melges 32 that has been customized for the race. They took out the motor and replaced with it with paddles and pedal drives.

Kate Hearsey, head sail trim specialist, said the team has been practicing quite a bit over the last six months.

“The boat has been out sailing three to four days a week,” Hearsey said.

The team feels the pressure of the hype, but they want to do their best.

“We’ve been practicing a lot. We may not win, but we’ll sail the boat well. We’ve come a long way.”

All the team members have a financial stock in the boat, having purchased it as a team.

“We’ve put a lot of work and finances into it,” Hearsey said.

Hearsay said she anticipates her team will make the trip in record time.

“If I had to put money on it, I’d say six days,” she said, smiling.

“One person is dropping off in Victoria. Morgana just started a new job and couldn’t continue on to Alaska. Team members will have a three-hours-on, three-hours-off plan. Two people will be down below napping, and two will be doing general duties.”

The team members are married, some have children and all have a good support system. Their ages range from 35 to 45 years old. This seems almost like a vacation away from family, life and work.

“Several of us have been sailing since we were kids,” Hearsey said.

They have a special incentive to do well when things get tough, she added.

“On our mast down below we are writing the names of female family and friends who have fought cancer so we’re reminded of the strength we have around us. People we can look to and realize they’ve fought something a little bigger than themselves.”

For more about the Race to Alaska sponsored by the Northwest Maritime Center, and to follow boats on the tracker, go to https://r2ak.com/.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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