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Race to Alaska, SailGP in Chicago, and The Ocean Race report - Sail-World.com USA newsletter

20/06/2023


Race to Alaska, SailGP in Chicago, and The Ocean Race report

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Race to Alaska - photo © Drew Malcolm


Dear Recipient Name

From Alaska to Chicago to Europe, the sailing-news cycle has been in overdrive of late, and it's poised to continue for the foreseeable future as great events on all coasts hove into view. Where to begin? The saying goes that all politics is local, so today's conversation starts close to my home port of Bellingham, Washington, with the 2023 edition of the storied Race to Alaska (R2AK).

For anyone who is new to this newsletter, the R2AK is a human- and wind-powered race from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska, with a mandatory stop in Victoria, British Columbia. Racers are welcome to "run what they brung", so long as it does not involve internal combustion engine or other propulsion-delivering motor. This means that contending racers rely on sails that are supplemented by some form of human propulsion (read: rowing, pedaling, paddling).

The 2022 edition of the R2AK opened the world's eyes to the fact that sailing outside of Vancouver Island can be preferable to dealing with the tides, logs, and navigational challenges of racing up the inside, between mainland BC and Vancouver Island. While this routing can be fast (the 2022 winners sailed outside), it is also exposed to significant weather, especially in the case of a strong northerly, which is exactly what Mom Nature unleashed for the 2023 edition.

As a result, all takers sailed up the inside routing.

While the R2AK is sometimes a story of multihulls crushing monohulls, the same strong northerlies that forced all teams to the inside routing also meant that this year's contest featured uphill work that favored the monohulls.

After more than five days, 18 hours, and 59 minutes of hard sailing, Team We Brake For Whales crossed the finishing line to take first place and claim the $10,000 cash prize that the race organizers symbolically nail to a piece of wood. The team, consisting of Jeanne Goussev, Evgeniy Goussev, Maisie Bryant, Remy Lang, Andy Kleitsch, Lindsey Lind, John Guillote, and Nikki Henderson, raced aboard the Goussev's LM40 (it's normally called Gray Wolf, and, after having seen her in action for years on Puget Sound, the boat hauls the mail, especially off the breeze), and while they reportedly had ten sails filling their bow, this was clearly the right call.

 
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Sail Like A Girl - Race to Alaska 2018 - photo © Katrina Zoe Norbom / racetoalaska.com
Sail Like A Girl - Race to Alaska 2018 - photo © Katrina Zoe Norbom / racetoalaska.com

Here, it should be noted that Jeanne Goussev now joins Matt Pistay as the only sailors to have won the R2AK twice. (N.B. Goussev won the 2018 race with Team Sail Like A Girl.)

It should also be noted that all northbound teams faced their share of nautical moments, especially in Queen Charlotte Sound, the Hecate Strait, and in the often-exposed Dixon Entrance. In fact, the race tracker showed several frontrunners taking shelter behind islands just south of the Dixon Entrance before pressing on to the finishing line.

Team We Brake For Whales was joined on the winner's podium by Team Budgie Smugglers, (Graham Shaw, Tom Bohanon, Jon Hodges, Dave Becker, Dan Melaugh) who were racing aboard a Shaw 34 catamaran, and Team Pestou, a one-man effort (you read that correctly) consisting of Eric Pesty aboard his Corsair F-24 MKII.

While all teams that made it to Ketchikan have earned their seamanship marks, and while Mr Pesty's impressive run earned him neither a cash prize nor the consolation cutlery (second-place finishers are presented with a set of steak knives), his is one of the most impressive pieces of singlehanded seamanship that we have heard of on this racecourse in some time. Better still, Mr Pesty also set a new one-person record for this course.

Sail-World tips our hat to these three impressive teams, and to everyone who had the gumption to show up in Port Townsend with a vessel and a dream. Having sailed the first leg of this race as a journalist in 2015, and having delivered a boat home from Ketchikan to Seattle last year, via the outside routing (albeit with absolute milk-run conditions), I can personally attest that there's a lot of brine separating Alaska from Puget Sound.

 
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ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team helmed by Nicolai Sehested sails behind the fleet as they sail toward Navy Pier on Race Day 2 of the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier, Season 4, in Chicago, Illinois, USA - photo © Bob Martin for SailGP
ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team helmed by Nicolai Sehested sails behind the fleet as they sail toward Navy Pier on Race Day 2 of the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier, Season 4, in Chicago, Illinois, USA - photo © Bob Martin for SailGP

Jumping two time zones to the east brings us to the Windy City, where the first event of SailGP's fourth season kicked off last weekend (June 16-17). Racing unfurled on the waters between Navy Pier and the Adler Planetarium, giving Chicagoans great opportunities to witness the ten-strong fleet of F50 catamarans foiling across their freshwater lake.

Chicago's nickname may be based on billowing air, but the fleet found light-air conditions for Sunday's final day of racing, and teams quickly discovered that adjusting their hydraulic daggerboards made a big difference in the sticky conditions.

 
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The New Zealand SailGP Team, Australia SailGP Team and Canada SailGP Team sail close to the spectators in the SailGP Race Stadium on Navy Pier - SailGP USA Final - June 2023 - photo © Simon Bruty / SailGP
The New Zealand SailGP Team, Australia SailGP Team and Canada SailGP Team sail close to the spectators in the SailGP Race Stadium on Navy Pier - SailGP USA Final - June 2023 - photo © Simon Bruty / SailGP

"Normally we sail in enough breeze that it doesn't make any difference," said Peter Burling, driver of the New Zealand SailGP Team. "You can gain speed by putting the daggerboard up and down, and effectively use the hydraulic pump downstairs to push the boat forward."

These tactics mattered greatly in Sunday's light airs, which were reportedly some of the thinnest breezes that SailGP has ever raced in.

This didn't stop Burling and his Kiwi-flagged team from earning top honors in the first event of the league's fourth season. They were joined on the winner's podium by the Australia SailGP Team and the Canada SailGP Team.

Sadly, for fans of the United States SailGP Team, the homecourt advantage didn't save driver Jimmy Spithill and his teammates from a ninth-place finish.

 
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USA SailGP Team helmed by Jimmy Spithill sail past Navy Pier - SailGP - Season 4 - SailGP USA - photo © Bob Martin/SailGP
USA SailGP Team helmed by Jimmy Spithill sail past Navy Pier - SailGP - Season 4 - SailGP USA - photo © Bob Martin/SailGP

"While we had a slightly better day today, this weekend was definitely disappointing," said Spithill in an official team communication after racing concluded on Sunday. "On the bright side, it was great to see and hear the huge crowds at Navy Pier this weekend. Chicago is an iconic sports city and it's an incredible place to race."

Finally, last week marked the start of the Leg 7 and the final distance-racing push in the 2023 edition of The Ocean Race. The leg began in The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Thursday, June 15, and is taking the three-strong fleet of IMOCA 60s and the five-strong fleet of VO65s, to Genova, Italy.

Here, sharp-eyed readers will notice something odd, given that Leg 6 saw racing take place between five IMOCA 60s.

 
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GUYOT environnement - Team Europe crashes into 11th Hour Racing Team just 15 mins after the start of Leg 7 of The Ocean Race - photo © The Ocean Race
GUYOT environnement - Team Europe crashes into 11th Hour Racing Team just 15 mins after the start of Leg 7 of The Ocean Race - photo © The Ocean Race

Unfortunately for American interests, skipper Charlie Enright and his race-leading 11th Hour Racing Team, sailing on starboard tack, were hit roughly 15 minutes after the start of Leg 7 by skipper Benjamin Dutreux's GUYOT envrionnement - Team Europe.

Thankfully, no-one was hurt, however both boats sustained serious damage and were forced to retire racing.

 
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11th Hour Racing Team - The Ocean Race - photo © Pierre Bouras / 11th Hour Racing / The Ocean Race
11th Hour Racing Team - The Ocean Race - photo © Pierre Bouras / 11th Hour Racing / The Ocean Race

"Obviously this is an extremely unfortunate situation," said Enright in an official team communication. "We tacked on the lay line to mark 4, clean and clear; I don't want to speculate but it seems that the other boat didn't see us. We were the right of way boat. The impact was forceful - we are very lucky that everybody is okay...

"Accidents happen and I know it's clear they wouldn't want to end our race, just as we wouldn't want to end their race," Enright continued. "We'll just have to see what happens next. It's definitely not over until it's over - this is not going to be the reason that we don't finish the job. Whatever it takes - we will figure it out."

 
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The Ocean Race 2022-23 - 17 June 2023, Leg 7 Day 2 onboard Team Holcim - PRB. Skipper Benjamin Schwartz looking the pressure coming - photo © Julien Champolion | polaRYSE / Holcim - PRB / The Ocean Race
The Ocean Race 2022-23 - 17 June 2023, Leg 7 Day 2 onboard Team Holcim - PRB. Skipper Benjamin Schwartz looking the pressure coming - photo © Julien Champolion | polaRYSE / Holcim - PRB / The Ocean Race

As of this writing, 11th Hour Racing Team has completed repairs to their boat and the team is now in delivery mode, with the goal of getting to Genova in time for the in-port racing. The team has also filed a redress claim with the jury, but - as of this writing - there is still a lot to be determined, both for 11th Hour Racing, and for the rest of the fleet.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

 
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