I just finished competing in the Race to Alaska, which is a 750-mile, unsupported, engine-less race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska. Here’s the final installation of my race recaps (read it all here).
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. I 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, I 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!