Race to Alaska leaders battled 16-foot swells

Sail Like a Girl boat damaged in 16-foot swells

PORT TOWNSEND — The top 10 finishers had reached the finish line in Ketchikan, Alaska, by Thursday during the fifth annual Race to Alaska, but it’s been a harrowing adventure, and there are still more to come.

Event organizers said this week the first wave of boats dealt with some of the roughest wind and sea conditions they’ve seen during the non-motorized race, which began from the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend on June 3 with a proving ground stage to Victoria, followed June 6 by the most significant push of the 750-mile stretch to Alaska.

“The next group of four teams left Bella Bella [Wednesday] within spitting distance of each other, and it’s going to take them longer than it took the rest because the others were beyond sailing winds,” said Jake Beattie, the executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center.

“They basically had a storm going in the right direction that they latched on to.”

Team Angry Beaver was awarded the $10,000 cash prize during a racer party Tuesday, and crew members nailed the money to a log. Pear Shaped Racing came in second and was customarily awarded a set of steak knives. Shut Up and Drive placed third and Sail Like a Girl came in fourth.

Beattie is in Ketchikan, and Race Boss Daniel Evans has been out on the water and providing official updates daily at www.r2ak.com.

Beattie said waves reaching 16 feet pummeled the leaders of the pack, and several boats broached the surface of the water with powerful impacts.

“It gave even the most seasoned sailors pause at how rough it got out there,” Beattie said.

Team Sail Like a Girl, the all-female crew that won the race last year, broached 20 times in the final 36 hours of their journey, Beattie said.

“During the worst ones, they were half-submerged,” he said.

“Once they went over so far and so hard that their uppermost spreaders were in the water, and they got bent because of the force of the water,” Beattie added.

The second year of the race had extreme conditions, and “this one I’d put right up there,” he said.

It also allowed for more wind propulsion than racers anticipated.

Sail Like a Girl crew members estimated they pedaled for 75 hours last year, and they guessed they only spent 10 hours pedaling this year, Beattie said.

Twenty-two boats were still on the water Thursday. Three may finish before the weekend in much safer but slower conditions because winds were expected to switch and come from the north.

Out of the rest of the finishers, Beattie pointed to Dazed and Confused edging Ketchikan Yacht Club for eighth place.

“They were basically in a dogfight, always racing each other,” Beattie said. “It was kind of like you do for the afternoon and weekend races except they were doing it for 600 miles.

“It came down to the last strategic decision they made,” he added. “One decided to go on one side of the last island toward Ketchikan, and the other chose the other side, and their times were literally five minutes apart. There was mutual respect and celebration for having pushed each other so well.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the 31-foot Givin’ The Horns of Goleta, Calif., was less than 50 miles from the finish line. Crew members Alex Potter, Will Suto, Ian Chapman and Daniel Flanigan constructed a new rudder in Bella Bella with materials they found.

Two other boats were within 200 miles Thursday.

Pitoraq, a 30-foot Windward from Victoria, had about 125 miles to go with crew members Graham Heath, Serjei Moukminov and JT Hammill.

MBR (McGuffin Brothers Racing) was within 150 miles in a 24-foot boat. The Salt Spring Island, B.C.-based crew — Cianan McGuffin, Finn McGuffin, Callum McGuffin and Duncan Macdonald — is tied for the youngest team to enter with an average age of 19½.

For up to date boat locations, visit www.tracker.r2ak.com.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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