The Full "Race to Alaska" is 750 miles, but everyone must first complete a 40 mile qualifier run within 36 hours, called "Stage-1".
Start date: June 4th /Time 5:00 AM (Sunrise),
From Port Hudson, in Port Townsend (PT), Washington to Victoria Harbor, Vancouver Island, BC.
"MastGates" was my team listing for Stage-1 participants.
Skipper: Tom Luque, builer of MastGates.com
Crew: Andy Linn (Puddle Ducker from Port of Toledo's Community Boathouse, Salem, Oregon).
Boat: 1989 West Wight Potter-19 sloop rigged. Carrying about 700 pounds of crew and supplies including: electric ice shaver, bubble blowing machine, Honda generator, 12 Volt battery, two autohelms and, because we are not competing for any prizes, I carried a 5-hp 4-stroke Tuhatsu engine. This saved me about $400 in ferry and taxi fees to return back from Victoria, BC to Port Townsend. This was the first time I have ever make such a long crossing and to make matters worse, these waters can be dangerous.
June 3rd was a rainy 4-hour drive from my home in Camas, Washington to Port Townsend. I arrived in time for the "Boat Safety Check", which required me to buy one new dated flare from another sailor with extras.
My Potter was tagged with a profile sign for display area with other boats while registering. The R2AK staff gave participants a race T-Shirt and gift bag of items from sponsors: coupons for a free meal and drink at the outside Rukcus party; Spyderco knife (very sharp); "Small Craft Advisory" magazine with a 1 year subscription, etc.
Everyone was assigned a GPS SPOT satellite tracker. Met up with Andy for the captain's meeting with nearly 200 people representing 53 entries. Reporters showed for reviews, photos and a videographer to follow the complete event.
While my Potter-19 was on street display, I took the time to step the mast and attached the standing rigging.
Andy & I enjoyed the Ruckus Party food vendors, live music and doing a walk-around to view the other race boats on display and some were making repairs.
7PM is High tide, by 7:30 PM, Andy backed the boat down the concrete portion of the gravel ramp next to the Wooden Boat shop, with me in the boat. Because the ramp had a very shallow angle and my Honda Odyssey Van is low to the ground, the boat would not float off the trailer while the tail pipe was blowing salty bubbles. Rocking fore-n-aft in the cockpit did not free the boat from the trailer. I called out to the growing spectators at the waters edge to come out and "SAVE THE WHALE ! ". One brave sole waded out and put a shoulder to the bow while I danced back-n-forth. With a heave-ho and crying cheers we inched that Potter whale off the trailer into the cool clear waters.
Everyone planned for a race in light wind, so boats fabricated other types of propulsion. I drilled two holes into my rudder to attach two swim fins to the trailing edge to improve the sculling effect of my ida rudder (aka ruddercraft).
I am so glad no one had to see my hideous contraption before removing it. I rigged a line from tiller to rudder to hold rudder horizontally for sculling.
Andy met me in Port Hudson, slip #7, after parking in the official long term lot. By 9:30 PM, Andy & I were tired, but able to walk a few yards to a Chinese dinner.
By 11:00 PM. Andy was asleep in the strb quarter berth while I settled onto the captain's bunk (9 years ago I cut out the port side sink to create a greater seating and sleeping space. International Marine incorporated the idea in their new boats).
Laying warm and snug in my bunk (wearing my 12 volt C-PAP mask), I used my mind's eye to plan the steps we had to complete in the morning at 4 AM.
All night the wind was increasing and constant. I listened to the slapping sounds of lose rigging in the harbor. No sounds above me? I forgot to reinstall running rigging from last year! We will have to un-step the mast while at dockside to rig the main & jib halyards. What a Pickle !
June 4th, Thursday morning, 4:00 AM .
Packed away the bedding while Andy made a run to vehicle to retrieve forgotten food supplies while I repositioned the boat to an inside corner of docks to lower the mast over the walkway to run the two halyards through their upper blocks while watcthing all the sailboats leaving Hudson harbor.
The starting was delayed to 5:30, boom of the cannon sounded followed by a loudspeaker playing the Russian National Anthem (music from the movie "Crimson Tide"). Sounded cool, but WHY?
We marched our Potter to the windward end of the finger dock. Wind still blowing south through harbor while Andy held the bow line before jumping aboard while I held tiller. The wind blew us away from the corner end of dock. We only needed the small jib for a swift run into the main harbor channel. We had the main up soon after a clean exit through the harbor as our loving spectators cheered us on. Thanks to Chuck and Shalline Chism (Potter-19 owners) we have photos of our departure.
Rigging the halyards delayed us 30 minutes from the 5:30 start. "The Game is Afoot !" after we circled around the official starting line....
I am so fortunate and relieved to have a veteran Puddle Duck sailor like Andy crewing with me to face the coming horrors and navigation decisions as we rounded Point Hudson into increasing winds. Farther out we faced more winds and white caps ahead as we approached Point Wilson Lighthouse at 5:53 AM, doing 5.6 mph before entering the famous Strait of Juan de Fuca. Winds reported at 20 knots (23 mph).
Thank God the yellow streak running down my back made me hank on the smallest jib before leaving port. Replacing the original wooden rudder with the sleek Ida rudder eliminated sloppy steering. The current ran contrarty to wind to cause hours of 2 to 4 foot wind waves at 4 second intervals might have damaged a wooden rudder. Occasionally we lost our forward momentum and were blown off to strb when quartering larger wind waves. Wind from NW.
The Navionics "rhumb-line course" was my choice for navigation, (app for iPhone-4s), while Andy check his GPS hand held.
Andy grants that I will be Head skipper with final say, but he will be the Neck that turns it.
We monitor VHF 68 and 16. The radio chatter is active with many failures taking place: fast cat dis-masting at 8am, kayaks swamping and capsizing with broken rudder cables, beached, turning back, crew refusing to go on, team Sea Wolf had a mainsail tear off. 13 teams reported as dropping out.
Even though part of the waves splashed over the cabin top, Andy and I were able to stay warm and dry behind the cabin top, in our bright yellow foulies.
Although I brought two 12 volt autohelms for the trip, both failed to hold a course in this white tipped tempest. We took turns at the tiller till the autohelm was comfortable to take over.
The Potter-19 handled well and we felt very safe. The heavy cargo I'm carrying is a big factor in keeping the waves from slapping under the hard chine of the boat.
We can't imagine what it's like for those excited souls riding on adrenaline, maybe soaking wet behind low gunnels and trampolines.
All this wave action caused the keel-plate to pump water up & out of the keel trunk. We only needed to use my toy water-cannon to suck water up from the compression post area & shoot out and over the cabin top. Prefearably down wind (sorry Andy).
According the the SPOT tracker web page on my iPhone, we were in the middle of the pack when the pack was rounding Point Wilson Lighthouse before entering the Juan de Fuca Strait. About half way across I lost AT&T cell phone service to view the race, but the GPS is all the Navionics needed to plot our rhumb-line course.
With such a wide body of water to cross and no large ships around, by 6:53 AM we set a rhumb-line course pointing straight to Victoria's harbor entrance. Now doing 4.6 mph.
7:15 AM we were in the dead center of the Circle-of-Death, (bouy "SA") all shipping lanes converge here, doing 5.9 mph.
7:39 AM we are 27.5 miles from Victoria harbor, the vectoring current has slowed us to 3.6 mph.
9:55 AM , 23.4 miles to go, 4.2 mph. still very windy, overcast and white caps all around us.
11:03 AM, 17.1 miles to go, doing 4.6 mph. Current pushing us SW. White caps are diminishing.
12:05 PM, 12.8 miles to go, current stronger, pushing us SW.
1:00 PM, 6 miles to go. We watch a large white sailboat one mile ahead of us pass the Trial Island lighthouse on the south end tip.
1:55 PM, the lighthouse is getting smaller...we are now 7 miles away from Victoria! Oh Boy! We are in a pickle, sailing backwards at 2.8 mph NE.
Skipper & Crew hold emergency meeting to talk about options:
1. The winds and current want us to go to Friday Harbor.
2. Skipper (me) has never sailed at night with nav lights.
3. We have an engine.
4. Circumnavigate Discovery & Chatham Islands CCW to be in shallower water near Vancouver Island where current might be less than sailing speed.
5. Crew (Andy), Hell no! We are not dropping engine, we sail all night if that's what it takes.
6. Put the large lapper jib sail on.
OK, we adopt options 5 & 6. OK Scotty, warp speed to see what's on the other side of Discovery & Chatham Islands. Andy will bring us about while I go forward to hank on the large lapper jib.
We swing quickly behind the Islands keeping them to port side and moving over toward Maynard Cove to make a SW passage.
Once between the Islands and Maynard Cove we take turns trying different ideas to stitch a way past the flood of water pushing our rhumb-line course backwards.
6:00 PM, After 4 hours, weaving back and forth with a course track looking like a child's etch-a-sketch, the slack tide grants us passage out.
For safety, we opted not to take the short narrow passage above Trial Islands and headed farther south.
The wind started to increase and we could see white caps starting to build. Andy held course while I dropped and secured the lapper jib to the forward port hatch handle and cabin top port rail to reduce the flogging taking place. I also reefed the main.
My turn at the tiller while Andy rested his arm.
We caught sight of team "Sea Runners" (yellow claw shaped sail) taking the shorter distance above Trial Islands as we rounded the bottom of that island. The apparent wind was coming from the west and I was dumbfounded to see how well "Sea Runners" ran west, close to the shore line.
Team "Sea Runners" was slowly vectoring ahead of us to cross us at Clover Point. This is the last run before entering the harbor entrance.
Because I did not have a racers mentality, I stupidly did not think to raise the lapper back up. I caught sight of a small movement by shore, which turned out to be team "Mike’s Kayak". Andy was resting below, the autohelm had the tiller and I was enjoying the cool wind and viewing the sun start to set behind the mountain top. I watched Mike paddle like a wind-up boat toy, admiring his fortitude, thinking how can muscles work like that for so long?... and oh, look at the happy people jumping on the rocks and sand, and....
Bang! Crunch! Crunch! Pickle!
The autohelm was set to follow too close to the shore line and we hit several bottom rocks near the entry of the Harbor. No damage done, and the wind just blew us onward through that rough patch. 9:20 PM we passed the cruise ships and turned on the running lights as sunlight was replaced with a bright moon shining from a clear blue sky. This gave us enough light to show the harbor markers inward. How beautiful Victoria looked with the Empress Hotel and the Parliament building outlined with lights.
A finger dock on the right side of the inner harbor held a marine bell, waiting for us to ring out our freedom and finish. To my surprise, the bell was top quality, and give ear splitting rings. We docked on the opposite side of "Sea Runners" as they did the phone-in customs. While we did our customs check, "Mike's Kayak" slid into the vacated dock spot, and not wanting to leave his kayak, raised his carbon fiber paddle to ring the bell. "Mike's Kayak" was the last team in for the day. We heard that other team boats were anchored or camped-out, and were expected the following afternoon, Friday.
We celebrated our final docking by breaking out the Victory bottle, Martinelli's Gold Medal Sparkling Apple-Mango, then walk to a hotel across from the ferry dock for a victory dinner.
Team "MastGates" Results:
Miles covered = 57.21
Transit time = 15 hr 49 min
Average speed = 3.6 mph (4 hrs of backwards sailing hurt Avg speed).
Max speed = 5.9 mph
Saturday, June 6th, we motor-sailed back to Port Hudson, in PT.
Miles covered = 39.7
Transit time = 9 hr 46 min
Average speed = 4.06 mph
Max speed = 8.8 mph (Peak winds & current took place rounding Point Wilson Lighthouse at Port Townsend).
Andy jumps ship to retrieve van with trailer and meet me at Boat Haven launch ramp kiosk and pay for one night before heading home Sunday morning. This adds 1.4 miles and 30 minutes to conclude Team MastGates return. It was serendipitous that the 2011 Tuhatsu engine did not die in transit, but at the slip and would not restart.
Next morning Andy & I took turns pulling the start cord, only to see a vapor cloud puff out of the carburetor air intake sometimes.
Andy used an oar while I fended off parked boats from running into us and sculled with the rudder half raised.
It made for a more rewarding breakfast to sit in the cool, shaded back patio at Addie Maes Southern Kitchen in town.
2016 R2AK June 23
Because I missed the grand start last year, I needed closure by participating in the start, take videos, then go home.
It was enjoyable to sit by to my Potter-19, between Bad Kitty and Mad Dog, playing my harmonica during a day of frantic repairs in the harbor.
I helped others with repairs and pushing boats out of their slips before motoring ahead of the start to video the forgotten and the slow. Darn, my rigging knife and harmonic jumped into the harbor.
This year there was no loud speaker of music or the canon boom to announce the start.
I did not hear the pistol shot of the start, and before I knew it, the red Bad Dog blew passed before I got the video running!
Everyone seemed to enjoy the common suffering and meeting fellow adventures in Port Townsend to make the 1st Stage crossing.
I'm at peace now.
Search google or youtube for my 20 videos posted under " 2016 r2ak mastgates ".
GREAT RACE of 2015
Last edited on 11/24/16
Andy is a professional blog writer. Plenty of photos.