Race to Alaska leader Team Elsie Piddock (F-25C) is past the second mark of the race at Bella Bella and picks her way through the tide rips, reefs and islands of Western Canada towards the finish in Ketchikan. Behind her, a Hobie 33, a F-82SR Trimaran, a Corsair F-24 and an old Warrior 29 catamaran round out the top five. Behind them, lie another F-25, an F-27 and two beach cats. Light, fast, agile multihull sailboats rule the inaugural Race to Alaska.
Aside from fast boats, you need tough, fast crew. The top five boats include grizzled offshore race veterans, crab boat captains, Coast Guard officers, wilderness adventurers, national champion cat sailors – all rugged, individual, competent waterpeople. Here there be heroes.
Something wild and wonderful is going on in the rough waters North and East of Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. A fleet of tiny boats, led by a quartet of small lithe trimarans, intrepidly push their way north against furious winds and mammoth tides in a wacky race to nowhere – and light up the sailing world. The Race to Alaska Tracker is shared and discussed and viewed over and over again as the fleet jostles and jockeys across computer screens. When any given boat makes a dash for a back eddy, heads for the beach to park up for a rest or back tracks to lick their wounds opinions are tendered and conjectures rendered. The tenacity of the crews astonishes. The performance of the leaders makes heads shake and jaws drop. We imagine what it must be like to sail headlong into cold gale force winds, against ripping tides, thinking about the unseen dead head swirling down in the dark – and shudder. Dis-masting, gear failure, fatigue, broken boats, mistaken navigation play out before us as it happens. Real sea stories in real time. Despite its wacky spirit, it is serious business, this race.
When Elsie Piddock reaches the finish in Ketchikan, the sweep boat will depart Port Townsend and steam up the course to Ketchikan. Any competitor still on the course, passed by the sweep boat will be out of the race as Did Not Finish. Given Elsie’s position, and the brutal weather conditions, it is likely that most of the fleet will not finish.
Regardless of how many actually do finish, The Race to Alaska…and the spectacular performance of the teams in it….has ignited our interest, grabbed our scattered attention, distracted us from boring routine, given us something and somebody to cheer for.
It inspires us when someone like Loick Peyron or Yann Guichard flies a 100 foot trimaran across an ocean alone. It inspires us too, when Elsie Piddock skips her way up a wild coast with grit and consumate skill. It inspires us when a Hobie 33 – just like the old yellow boat two slips down from you – is pushed hard against vicious conditions – and prevails.
The race was dreamed up and executed brilliantly by the good folks at the Northwest Maritime Center to further their charter to “engage and educate people of all generations in traditional and contemporary maritime life, in a spirit of adventure and discovery”.
In that, they have succeeded beyond their own wild dreams.
Here’s to the Race to Alaska and the intrepid crews battling each other and the elements. A tip of the hat and low bow also to the race organizers at the Northwest Maritime Center. Thank you all for giving us one more reason to believe.
With buckets of respect and admiration – cheers!