Race to Alaska
June 4-6, 2015

The Race to Alaska was put on by the Northwest Maritime Center, and one of the organizers was Josh Colvin, an editor of Small Craft Advisor magazine. Josh and I have shared adventures before, the first Columbia 150 in 2009 and the great Ducking of the Texas 200 in 2015. It seemed appropriate to participate in some way.

I had originally intended to bring my own boat, a Goose we'd built at the Toledo Community Boathouse, but I didn't have enough time on the water to feel comfortable taking her into this serious of an adventure. I dropped out, and right after that, I got a call from fellow adventurer Tom Luque (West Wight Potter sailor and participant on both Columbia 150s) asking if I'd crew for him.

Tom owns a company called "Mast Gates" where he manufacturers . . . gates for masts and track stops. Check the website for more information. We became Team Mastgates in the Race to Alaska.

Being crew is great - I didn't have to research anything or plan. All I had to do was pack up and go.

Port Townsend is a sailors town - and they had pulled out the stops for the Race to Alaska. They closed off the street and had the race participants show off their boats.

I found this scientist showing off his ROV, Geoff, which he uses to observe sea stars (what we used to call starfish.) I mentioned I'd heard the sea stars were dying off, he said they did, but now they are coming back. Damn, Nature, you cyclical!

The Captain's Meeting was PACKED. See how cool the R2AK people are? Instead of having STAFF shirts, they have MINION shirts.

After the Captain's Meeting, there was the Pre-Race Ruckus: Live music, food, drinks, it was a hell of a show.

This is a shot of some of the competition: A Windrider on foils. These guys were serious.

The Canadians were well represented. More very serious people. Everyone seemed to be in it to win it - except Team MastGates, of course.

Fellow Coot Glen Woodbury dropped by to say hello. He was later joined by his brother, Allan. (that's not Allan in the photo) A good time was had by all.

The party wound down and Tom and I launched the boat (with a little help from Tom from Team Forest Grove) and I went off to stash the cars. In the parking lot, I saw this Skin-on-Frame outrigger, and spoke with the guy who'd built her. He'd driven up from Florida in a school bus to participate in the race and was getting ready to launch. 3 days later, after the event, I saw him in the same parking lot, boat hadn't moved. He said his crew had a family emergency and couldn't come up - so he was beached. Adventuring takes a lot of forms.

The evening was getting on, and we were getting ready for out 4:30a wakeup to hit the 5a start line. Excitement was in the air. The weather forecast predicted light winds in the morning and an outgoing tide. The wind was expected to pick up in the afternoon, blowing from the west at 12kts or so, as the tide changed at 2pm. The prediction seemed pretty much ideal.

This is a SCAMP, owned by Simeon. I have a special place in my heart for SCAMPs, as I had crewed on the infamous Red SCAMP with Mike Monies in the 2011 Everglades Challenge.

A WW Potter 19 is a very nice expeditioning boat. Tom had made some brilliant modifications, including this nice galley. We ate on shore that night, at a Chinese place there at Point Hudson, and bedded down by 10:30p.

At about 11:30p, Tom announced "I forgot to run the halyards when I set up the mast!" Whoops! Too late for that night, we'd have to do it in the morning.

And so we did. Tom has a pretty nifty setup for raising and lowering the mast. It took some time to run the halyards, which was unfortunate.

Simeon was running a little behind, too.

The horn sounded for the start, and I watched the boats take off from behind the seawall.

Others were moving slow, too. There was no penalty for starting late - anyone who crossed the line before 7a, 2 hours after the signal, would be considered to have launched on time.

This was a giant catamaran. One of the conditions of the race was No Motors, so they had attached rowing stations to the ends of the amas. Ingenious. All the speed of a massive catamaran and the ability to row.

Under weigh! There was even a crowd out to see us off at 5:30a.

Shaleen, a friend of the Toledo Community Boathouse and fellow adventurer, was at the scene and got this shot of us as we left teh docks.

She also got this one as we entered the bay. We wern't as late as I had feared.

Tom was having a great time as we tacked out to the start line, crossing the path of the big cat on the way.

Remember that weather prediction I mentioned? Well, like nearly all weather predictions, it was way wrong. The winds were in the teens and the seas were lumpy. The radio was alive with calls of distress: Stays failing, a demasting, various other issues. We'd been slowly closing on Simeon's SCAMP when he suddenly turned to port and headed off.

The temps were in the low 50s and there was enough spray coming over the sides to get us into our foulies. It was a glorious day at sea.

Our first sea life sighting, a harbor seal floating around in the middle of the Strait.

We were pinching the wind as hard as we could and were still 3 miles out from shore when the tide changed. Then the wind died. 6 miles from the entrance of the harbor, when we had been doing about 2.3mph Velocity Made Good, we were now being swept away at nearly 7mph.

If we weren't going to be overnighting at Friday Harbor, we needed come up with a plan. We were off the Trial Islands and needed to get out of the flow. Tom dropped the #1 Storm Jib and raised the #3 Lapper so we could catch all the wind that was available and set a course to cut across the current and hide in the eddies behind Discovery Island.

This was 4 maddening hours of fighting current, dodging skinny water, and trying to find wind. Finally, FINALLY, we got enough wind and the tide had changed enough for us to break free of Oak Bay.

The nav hazards of Oak Bay are clearly marked - with big, frigging lights.

(sorry for the blur) The Coasties had been notified of the Race to Alaska event and were using it as a training exercise, coordinating communication, mostly. As we rounded Trial Island, this go-fast came out and asked us if we were OK. We gave them the Thumbs Up, they wished us good luck, and took off.

Lighthouse on Trial Island. We'd been staring at that damn thing all day. Tom and I worked out a course, he took the tiller, and I went below to sleep.

Sometime later I was jolted away with a terrible grinding noise. I looked over and the centerboard was popping up out of it's case - we'd struck ground. I poked my head out of the companionway and saw we were just a few yards off shore, there were people sitting on the rocks, watching as we were about to be smashed to bits.

I'd witnessed the loss of a WW Potter in the Texas 200 one year. His boat went down when she rolled on her side and the centerboard came out of the case, allowing the cabin to fill with water. I called for Tom to raise the centerboard so we could get free of the rocks, but there is a pretty complex system of cables, blocks, and cranks required.

A wave lifted us off the rocks before Tom could hook the cable to the centerboard, so I called to drop the sails and start the motor so we could power away from shore. I wanted the sails down to prevent us from going over if the centerboard struck again. I wanted the motor started so we could get the hell out of there.

Using the motor disqualified us for the race, but that was fine, we were never in it as racers, anyhow. We'd always planned on using the motor once we were in the No Sail zone of Victoria Harbor, so disqualification was moot.

There is was - the entrance to Victoria Harbor.

We motored to the finish right as the light was failing and Tom ran the bell with gusto (seriously, I thought I'd gone deaf for a minute or two.) I asked him why he rang it so hard, he said he was used to bells that only 'clunked.'

There I am, probably one of the better pictures ever taken of me.

Bleah, that was a long day's run.

Besides notifying the Coast Guard, the Race to Alaska people had arranged for us participants to check into customs there at Victoria Harbor instead of at a sanctioned check-in point (like Oak Harbor.) When I called the number, I, of course, got the only customs agent who hadn't heard of us. I turned the phone over to the R2AK minion who was checking us in to let him talk to her. While he was trying to explain, another participant paddled up, called customs, and was readily allowed in to the country. James (the minion) finally hung up on his agent and called the number again, got a different agent, and we were checked in within minutes.

The next morning, I got out to meet and greet the other people who'd made the crossing. This shot is the docks that had been set aside for us.

Steve and Tom were Team Forest Grove and they'd had an easier time than us as they'd made it to harbor before the tide change.

I looked out over the water and saw the harbor boats pulling something out of the water. "Is that a body?" I asked the guy standing next to me. "No, it's a log. Why would you even think such a thing?" was the disgusted response. Because a body makes for a better story - Jeez, doesn't everyone know that?

I cannot sing the praises of Victoria enough. It is a beautiful, vibrant town, and there are food trucks offering fine Canadian dishes. I've tried poutine and let me just say "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . . can't get fooled again."

The inner harbor at Victoria is perfect for sailors. We were just a block or two from the Royal British Columbia Museum, so Tom and I went over to take a gander.

I've been to a lot of museums, and this one was outstanding. They had an excellent exhibit on the gold rush and a truly magnificent collection of First Peoples items.

And THIS is why you go early, people. Just as Tom and I were leaving, the school kids showed up, giggling and pointing at the penises on the totems.

Food trucks behind the museum. I love food trucks. I had the Three Perogies and a Slider deal. Tom asked what a perogy was, I said "No idea, all I know is it's what the aliens were ordering when the Bug killed them in the first Men in Black movie." Turns out, they are little potato ravioli stuffed with deliciousness. Travel hint: If you pay with US dollars, they give you change in Canadian money, which is plastic and has funny names like "Looney" or "Tooney."

Back at the docks, I met another SCAMP man, David. When I denitrified myself as the crew of the Red SCAMP, David lit up like a kid meeting Santa Claus. Fame (such as it is) is a weird thing, but I don't let it freak me out like it used to.

Traveling with Tom is nice - he has a shaved ice machine and made us ice cones. That's a luxury I am not used to.

The dock was alive with activity - people making repairs, alterations, and improvements. Racing is not my favorite activity, but it is similar enough to 'normal' endurance events to keep me interested. The goal is the same: finish, survive, endure, but the intent is different: Win.

I left Tom to rest and wandered around the city. I found a dive bar to stop and have a beer. It was 3p and the guy to the right told me stories of moving to Victoria from the prairie while the guy on my left just mumbled into his beer.

Back at the docks, I got to see Simeon in his SCAMP hit the finish line. Good on him.

Tom and I went to a movie, then caught a little street theater. Truly, Victoria is a wonderful city.

In the morning, Tom made breakfast and we got ready to get under weigh.

That is one beautiful picture.

At about 9:30a, we waved good-bye to our fellow adventurers - good luck on the rest of the Race to Alaska.

Victoria is home to a Pickle Boat fleet - very cute little harbor taxies.

As we left (under motor) in dead wind and flat seas. We had the #2 Standard Jib on, just for good measure.

Seas like glass, I tells ya.

Cargo and cruise ships are a serious hazard up here. We were motoring at 4mph and these bad boys travel at 20kts (about 23mph.) Rather than try to cut across his path, we just paralleled him until he passed, then darted across.

In the afternoon, the tide went with us and the wind started to pick up from the west, we began to really move. This shot has us touching 8.8mph, we went over 10 as we got closer to Point Hudson at Port Townsend.

We went ahead and put two reefs in the main (Tom's Mast Gate makes it really easy) and sailed under jib. When we got close to Port Townsend, the seas got lumpy and the wind picked up even more, so we dropped the jib and continued under motor alone.

Here's the numbers for the day. Averaging 4mph shows how little wind there was in the morning - when we were against the tide.

At Point Hudson, Tom dropped me off to get the car while he took the boat to the Boat Haven, where there is a ramp.

At the Boat Haven, I saw this family of otters swimming in the harbor. As I was watching them, one of the residents told me every high tide, the otters come out, swim across the harbor, and go into a submerged drain pipe that goes under the parking lot. What can be in a drain pipe? Pennywise the Clown lives in a drain pipe. Nothing good comes from a drain pipe.

It was too late to head for home, so we rented a slip for the night. Just as Tom nudged into the slip, he said "Hey! Did you see that? My engine just puffed out a bit of smoke! It's never done that before."

In the morning, we got ready to move the boat over to the ramp so we could take her out. The engine would not start. Tom had it serviced just for this trip, but, much like the car at the end of the Blues Brother, it had apparently had enough. We had to paddle over to the ramp.

End of the trail - Tom removes the Race to Alaska burgee from the backstay.

Race to Alaska - what a great event.