Resurgence of racing in Alaska
Published on August 31st, 2023
by Chris Bieri
After nearly a decade of dormancy, sailboat racing is booming in Resurrection Bay, Alaska. For Liam Zsolt, sailing started with a dream. Half a dozen years later, and Zsolt is one of five skippers who competed for the 2023 Alaska Cup in Seward.
The William H. Seward Yacht Club was founded in 1975. And while the club has maintained a strong membership of cruisers, racing at WSYC has sustained long periods of relative dormancy. But in recent years, a new generation of skippers, including Zsolt, has gravitated toward sailboat racing, helping reinvigorate Alaska interest in the sport.
“I had a dream that I was living on a sailboat like five or six years ago, and I woke up and I was thinking about it, and I just started researching where you could learn to sail in Alaska,” he said.
That investigation led Zsolt to the Alaska Sailing Club (ASC), an even older organization that operates on Big Lake. While the ASC held plenty of dinghy regattas, he yearned for a bigger adventure and started sailing in Prince William Sound.
That led to his eventual purchase of his boat the Wild Thing in Seward, where the WSYC is based. When he joined, the club hadn’t organized any serious racing in nearly a decade. In the few years the number has steadily grown with nine boats participating in the summer racing series. That has generated more competitive racing.
“There’s definitely a lot more energy to the racing lately,” said skipper Peter Knape. “The level of sailing has gone up and up and up the last few years.” Knape, who grew up in Michigan among a family of sailors, went to his first Alaska race in Seward in 2009, sparking his interest in getting back on the water. After being the youngest member in the club for some time, Knape has transitioned into the older guard.
In many ways, the boom has been a generational shift, with younger skippers buying boats from older or outgoing members.
“We just had turnover and new people coming in and buying these boats and introducing them to the racing,” said Sam Steele, the club’s vice commodore. “One thing led to another and all of a sudden we get all this momentum because we have a great time racing around in the bay and come back to the club and have a barbecue.”
That was the case for Zsolt, who bought his boat from a couple who raced during the ’80s and ’90s, the era considered the racing peak within the club. “As soon as I bought the boat I was running into younger people on the docks who had also just bought boats,” he said. “The timing just worked out and everyone said that we need to bring back racing in Seward.”
The season’s racing culminated in August with the Alaska Cup, the club’s variation of the America’s Cup. While the number of racers may seem modest, each boat carries between 5-7 crew members.
Being a crew member is also an opportunity to get exposed to the sport without a major investment. “A lot of people come in who don’t have boats or are just interested in participating,” Zsolt said. “Some people just come off the street looking to get on a crew.” – Full story