R2AK 2018: Ships, sail changes and things that go bump in the night

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:

The first rays of sunshine trickle through the fleet.

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.

Get your trackers on, folks!

UPDATE, June, 15: The fourth incarnation of the Race to Alaska got underway yesterday on Port Townsend Bay and conditions did not disappoint.

A gorgeous sunrise greeted racers right after the start.

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.

Team Wild Card sending it across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (And yes, we put a trapeze on an SC27).

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:

A small portion of the R2AK fleet moored in Port Townsend.

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.

Sailing north fast at 5 am.

Team Wild Card’s little rocketship.

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!


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3 Responses to R2AK 2018: Ships, sail changes and things that go bump in the night

  1. bamboo fencing June 17, 2018 at 11:52 pm #

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  2. Beckie June 13, 2018 at 7:13 pm #

    Best of luck to all. Safe waters.

    • Bill Sikich June 16, 2018 at 9:33 am #

      The inspiration for this race is brilliant, as are all who take part. Sail on!

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