For the first time in the competition’s four-year history, an all-female team has won the Race to Alaska.
Team Sail Like a Girl won the grueling contest from Port Townsend, Wash., to Ketchikan, Alaska, at 0017 on June 24 in a time of 6:13:17. They finished nearly two hours ahead of the second-place finisher, team Lagopus.
“People are saying we busted a glass ceiling, and we are really proud of that,” skipper Jeanne Assael Goussev said in a recent interview.
“If there is any message to come from this, it is that women can be competitive in sailing,” she added. “We can persevere.”
Team Sail Like a Girl also was the first ever to win the race in a mono-hull. Assael Goussev and her husband own the winnng boat, Maks to the Moon, a Melges 32. The team spent the last several months practicing on the vessel two to five times a week.
The annual Race to Alaska, organized by the Northwest Maritime Center, is unique. Competitors in the two-stage, 750-mile race cannot have motors or support along the way. They can use oars, pedal drives and other non-mechanical forms of propulsion.
Thirty-nine teams left Port Townsend on June 14 for the 40-mile run to Victoria, B.C., across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Three days later, 25 teams left for the 710-mile sprint to Ketchikan through the Inside Passage. Teams must reach waypoints at Seymour Narrows and Bella Bella, B.C., but otherwise chart their own course.
Courtesy Race to Alaska
Daniel Evans, the “race boss” for the event, said it is aimed at reclaiming the soul of sailing.
“There are a bunch of us who look around and see sailing has become harder to access,” he said, “with more money and more white people who are older and older, and it celebrates more of those professional sailors.”
By comparison, he said, Race to Alaska, is meant to be challenging, fun and accessible to a broader cross section of sailors.
The route features strong tidal currents, narrow passages and challenging weather and winds. Team Sail Like a Girl also hit a 20-foot log on June 21 at about 0200, bringing the vessel to a dead stop.
During periods of calm, the team traded off on the pedal drives installed on the stern. With two women pedaling hard, the vessel could make about 4.5 knots, Assael Goussev said.
“There were times we could bike ourselves into wind patterns, where we could get the boat up over 6 or 7 knots again,” she said.
In addition to Assael Goussev, the eight-person team from Bainbridge Island, Wash., was comprised of Aimee Fulwell, Allison Dvaladze, Anna Stevens, Haley King Lhamon, Kate Hearsey McKay, Morgana Buell and Kelly Adamson Danielson.
The team hopes its finish will show women they can perform challenging duties that include navigating, decision-making and skippering. If nothing else, Assael Goussev said, maybe they’ll feel a little more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone.
“We are really proud to be an all-women team,” she said. “We’re proud that that is making a statement and we just hope it motivates others.”