Team Elsie Piddock win Race to Alaska

Published on June 12th, 2015

Fifty-three teams started the Race to Alaska on June 4, all hoping to complete the 750 mile course from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK. The latest count has 20 teams still enroute, with three guys sailing a F-25c crushing them all….

(June 12, 2015; Day 6, Stage 2) – After 750 miles, Team Elsie Piddock tacked up the channel, crossed the entrance at Thomas Basin to the fanfare of cheering crowds, a signal cannon, and a horn blast from a cruise ship and became the first team to complete the Race to Alaska.

Impressive to the end, Al Hughes, Graeme Esarey, and Matt Steverson finished their journey by executing a flawless landing, under sail, in an unfamiliar harbor, in 2 knots of cross current, and under all the pressure of a crowd of well-wishers augmented by a dozen representatives from the media all with cameras. Arriving in Ketchikan at 12:55pm – 5 days, 55 minutes after leaving Victoria – they absolutely greased it. Flawless!

Not bad for a crew of sunburned and sleep deprived sailors who had just sailed the race of their life, of all of our lives, upwind and on a boat they had sailed for a total of 4 hours before the race began. Test pilots don’t always come back, but these guys broke the sound barrier Yeager-style, and then landed it without a scratch, and the boom was heard around the world.

They were greeted with accolades, $10,000 in cash nailed to the only portion of that tree we could carry to the dock, and a sixer of the best Rainer money could buy. “It was never about the money” was the quote that echoed across the sailing world and while it sounded like the rote kind of humble brag winners make when they know what is expected of those cast in the role of hero, what was different was these guys meant it.

They meant it so deeply because it was true. For them, for the crowds on the dock who wanted to share in their accomplishment, for the families that embraced them not knowing the exact border between the pride and relief that flowed in their tears as a single emotion, it was never about the money.

The moments that didn’t make the headlines because of their truth and complexity were the acts of fellowship that followed the moments surrounding Team Piddock’s arrival. No paper mentioned the members of Team Turnpoint Design and Team Pure and Wild (who exited the race 4 days earlier) who booked last minute flights to honor and celebrate. “They sailed a hell of a race and we wanted to be here.”

No radio interview touched on the scores of Ketchikan residents that welcomed the race to their community by offering their homes, businesses and boats to accommodate this idea, or the fact that the sunburnt crew, stumbling and near delirious with fatigue stayed awake to revel in a paper plate potluck thrown in their honor by the earnest folks at the Ketchikan Yacht Club.

Real people, inspired and appreciative, connecting over a propane grill wheeled onto the dock. This wasn’t a blue blazer golf clap and a champagne toast of the America’s Cup but a heartfelt affair with more burgers than pretense.

“It was never about the money” is a sentence that if it could wouldn’t be punctuated with a period but with the fact that 100 or so miles to the south Team Por Favor and Team MOB Mentality are still doggedly making upwind miles toward Ketchikan in the quest for a set of steak knives.

Steak knives. Admittedly really nice ones with a fancy little logo on the box, but steak knives? There is hardly a cost benefit analysis that justifies months of preparation, the investment in sails and rigging, let alone the heavy weather sailing days that blurred together and tested the capacity for human endurance. Let’s be honest, no matter how nice they are, who really needs a set of steak knives? When was the last time that you bought steak knives – let alone risked injury to your boat and your body to obtain them?

It’s incredibly doubtful even in the most bizarre world apocalypse scenario that steak knives will be the currency of the future. This is just not a meme that makes sense. Even the downtown shops that fleece the daily flock of rubes and cruise ship tourists don’t sell steak knives. But the teams press on, from the race for the knives to the teams whose brass ring will be to simply complete the trip of their lifetime.

Al, Graeme, and Matt are the best kind of heroes, and we couldn’t be happier that the inaugural first place team are guys that “get” the R2AK to its core. This was never about the money. This was about the accomplishment, about reconnecting people to the adventure of the water and to the fellowship that can create. Want proof? Money in hand, Team Elsie Piddock are staying to cheer and welcome the next sets of winners across the line. Class act. As sailors and humans these guys are the real deal.

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Report by Race Central.

Background: The inaugural Race to Alaska is a unique, non-motorized, 750-mile marathon geared toward long distance rowers, paddlers and sailors. The two stage race began in Port Townsend, Washington on June 4 and finished at Victoria, BC (40 miles), with this first stage used as a qualifier to continue. If approved, competitors started the second stage Victoria, BC to Ketchikan, AK (710 miles) on June 6. The first person or team to finish wins $10,000. Second place will be awarded a set of steak knives.

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