Animated Knots

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Ketchikan Yacht Club (KYC)
P.O. Box 6694
Ketchikan, Alaska 99901

Roger Maynard

The Ketchikan Yacht Club (KYC) is a domestic non-profit corporation, registered and licensed to do business in the State of Alaska. The Ketchikan Yacht Club blog is an information service for members and guests, and a public advertisement for the Ketchikan Yacht Club.

Boating and navigation information in this blog is published in good faith based on the best information available including local knowledge, but is not intended to replace authoritive sources. Mariners are cautioned to use all authoritive sources when planning trips or operating a boat.

The Ketchikan Yacht Club is organized as a social and recreation club under section 501(C)(7) of the U.S. Tax Code; contributions are not tax deductible.

Cruising | Sailing | Tourism

The Race is ON!

Team Elsie Piddock

Team Elsie Piddock, F25c (from r2ak website)

by Roger Maynard

I have to admit, when I first heard of the race to Alaska in non-powered watercraft, I had some mixed feelings. It seemed an invitation for under-prepared folks in less-than-seaworthy craft to tackle a coastal voyage that can be downright dangerous to the unprepared when the weather turns raunchy.

But difficulties that come with this coast are also its attraction.  Depending on the caliber of the competition, the race could turn into a yearly event that attracts the most skilled seafarers to the Inside Passage to Alaska–sort of an “Iditarod” of northwest coast boating.

The day before the race start in Port Townsend, Barb and I went down to see the fleet. Yes, the under-prepared folks were there, some with craft that were, in my estimation, not seaworthy for this trip. The racers had some rather creative ideas, some good; others based on something other than experience in rough conditions and long distances.

Electronics were solar powered; bicycle pedals attached to home-made propeller assemblies were common; some used oars or paddles for manual propulsion, and one used a long sculling oar for propulsion.  More than a few had no place for the crew to get out of the weather, warm up, and rest during or after a difficult crossing.  Others were built for light weight with rigging not sturdy enough for a rough day at sea. A couple even threatened to attempt the race on paddleboards.

Too often my first question, “Are you carrying an anchor,” was met with “No.”

But then there were the serious contenders–a Hobie 33, a Santa Cruz 27, a couple of F25 trimarans, and several other multi-hull sailboats, properly fitted out for racing/cruising this coast in safety, and with reasonable crew accomodations. Among these well-found boats were some expert ocean racers and experienced crews.

On June 4th at 0500 hours I was at the starting line to get a few photos. The weather was cool and breezy with about a light breeze from the northwest. Canadians had wind warnings posted for the western part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the afternoon. The race would end in Victoria. This would separate the serious boat racers from the dreamers and wannabees.

And so it did. 13 teams were out of the race before they arrived in Victoria. (Read the official account of this day’s race here.)

As I watched the race unfold on the Internet R2AK Tracking web page, a couple of things became apparent–some of these multi-hull sailboats were FAST, at times averaging over 10 knots in a 25-foot boat. Also, it was apparent that the conditions favored the larger and more seaworthy entries.

The second part of the race started from Victoria at noon Sunday. I’ve been checking the tracking page periodically (in fact following this race can be a bit addictive.)

As of this writing it is 30 hours since the start of the race. The leader, an F-25 trimaran, team “Elsie Piddock” is north of Seymour Narrows anchored at Rock Bay Marine Provincial Park to wait out the next several hours of adverse flood currents. They’re well positioned to ride the next ebb through the length of Johnstone Straits.

Team Elsie Piddock is 70 kilometers ahead of the next boat. This team successfully sailed to windward and negotiated Seymour Narrows with a favorable current, putting the first major hurdle between them and the rest of the fleet.

The rest of the boats are still grouped south of a line from Comox to Powell River, obviously dealing with light winds and adverse currents. There could be some stiff competition for second place, but it will be hard to overtake team Elsie Piddock. That said, it’s still early in the race and anything can happen.


All this is to say that the Race to Alaska has captured the attention of a number of folks, me included. If it survives its infancy without disaster, it has the potential to attract world class talent to this coast.

As I say this, I compare it with the most famous sled dog race in the world, the Iditarod. It started with an idea that matured over time. Today, there are folks who race the Iditarod trail on snowmobiles, skis, bicycles, and on foot. But the romance of the race continues because it attracts the best dog mushers in the world to compete against each other in the harshest conditions. The same true of the Yukon Quest and other long-distance dog races.

Likewise, the Race to Alaska has the potential to thrive if it attracts world class sailors and oarsmen.

Team Elsie Piddock is setting a breathtaking pace that will be hard to beat.  If ideal conditions persist and the team’s excellent performance continues, they could be in Ketchikan in well under a week. Regardless of who wins, the competitive nature of the race should feed off the standard of performance that has already been set by team Elsie Piddock during the first few days of racing. Surely some challengers are watching, analyzing, and planning for next year’s event.


For complete race information, check out the Race to Alaska website at

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