Twenty-one of the original 28 teams remain in the first Race to Alaska from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, with one team expected to hit the finish line sometime Friday.
UPDATE: Team Elsie Piddock reached Ketchikan, Alaska, on Friday after five days, 55 minutes.
ORIGINAL POST: For sailors in the first Race to Alaska from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, glory is dangling within reach — if they can brave the curveballs.
There’s heavier-than-expected wind. There’s equipment failure. There’s the fatigue for boats that have been full-steam-ahead since the weekend.
Out of 28 teams that left Victoria, B.C., Sunday for Ketchikan, 20 remain in the running.
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Despite the challenges, Team Elsie Piddock — a lightweight, high-performance racing trimaran with a cabin that sleeps up to four, powered by a boomless mainsail with a three-person crew — is exceeding expectations.
The F-25C trimaran is almost 100 miles ahead of the rest of the pack, barreling toward Alaska at an unprecedented pace. It’s faster than even race organizers anticipated and could finish sometime Friday, said Jake Beattie, race brainchild and executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center.
The stretch from Victoria to Ketchikan is the second leg of a trip that started June 4 from Port Townsend to Victoria — 40 miles. Teams doing the full leg will have completed 750 miles from Port Townsend to Ketchikan by the time they finish.
The rest of the teams are following, though technical issues are slowing some. Some teams bowed out of the race early, acknowledging that their boats weren’t ready. Others exited when they realized the waves might be too much for their equipment.
Winds have proved a considerable obstacle, reaching 25 mph to up to 40 mph daily. Beattie said organizers had been predicting lighter winds.
Another factor hitting participants: fatigue.
“You can gut it out and go all night for a few days, but eventually, you gotta sleep,” Beattie said.
Participants Thomas Nielsen, 53, and his partner, Scott Veirs, 45, both of Seattle, were on Newcastle Island in B.C. on Thursday afternoon, making repairs to their boat; the top of its yard (a part of the boat that helps hold up the sail) broke off.
They know the wind likely will keep up for another day, but it will get lighter after that. That’s when the pair plans to head out again.
“This is really turning into a race of attrition,” Nielsen said.
Both are experienced but amateur sailors with day jobs.
“Jake Beattie wanted to sort of generate a new buzz around sailing,” Nielsen said. “There’s other ways than just the traditional sailing that exists. I think it [the race] has really achieved that.”
Colin Angus, of Victoria, was supposed to be in this year’s race, but his boat fell off his trailer because he’d forgotten to tie it on. The boat was salvageable, and he plans to fix it up for next year’s race. In the meantime, he’s become an avid spectator of this year’s Race to Alaska, tracking teams’ progress online.
He said he loves the imagination in the conversations about boating that the competition has brought forward. And the range of participants shows diversity in the race.
“It’s very inclusive,” he said. “You see young people, old people, fast boats, slow boats.”
From those still in the running come stories of perseverance, echoing the race’s sense of adventure.
Roger Mann was assembling his boat the day before the race when he cut his finger on a box knife. He stitched himself up, but the stitches broke, so he stitched himself up again. He’s racing solo but is now up with a pack of boats behind the leader.
There’s the kindness of those along the route who help keep the participants going. Beattie recounted that someone rowed out to a team and gave members salmon for dinner. When a team landed at a dock, the people who owned it brought the racers coffee, bacon and eggs in the morning.
Six men from British Columbia call themselves Soggy Beavers — “just a bunch of puppies,” Beattie said, who are all under 25 — with antics that have included deciding to learn German during their trip and setting up a speaker on board to do so. The team is planning to call ahead to have pizza delivered for themselves when they reach Bella Bella, B.C.
“They all have so much heart,” Beattie said.