Skipper Jeanne Goussev checks the boat as the team sails out of the marina on Thursday, May 17. “I have to say that I love sailing with all women. It’s a totally different experience…when we sail as a team and we don’t have any men on board with us it is different. I think that weve gelled together as this group of women – we have each others’ backs, were gonna figure it out together were going to try teach them on the way,” she said. Photo by Emily Gilbert.

Skipper Jeanne Goussev checks the boat as the team sails out of the marina on Thursday, May 17. “I have to say that I love sailing with all women. It’s a totally different experience…when we sail as a team and we don’t have any men on board with us it is different. I think that weve gelled together as this group of women – we have each others’ backs, were gonna figure it out together were going to try teach them on the way,” she said. Photo by Emily Gilbert.

All-female crew prepares for Race to Alaska to challenge themselves and encourage more women to pursue sailing

  • Saturday, June 9, 2018 10:24am
  • Sports

BY EMILY GILBERT

Imagine sails fluttering in the breeze, the sunlight glittering on the waves. Maybe a salmon leaps out of the water or the fins of some humpback whales crest the surface.

Now imagine 15-knot currents, your boat going backward, and relentless rain. You have no motor, and you are miles from the nearest town.

These are the extremes of Race to Alaska, and what team Sail Like a Girl has signed up for.

R2AK is a 750-mile boat race with only two rules: no motors and no outside support during race time. The race starts on June 14 in Port Townsend and leads teams through the Inside Passage, on the east side of Vancouver Island. The finish line is in Ketchikan, Alaska — time unknown.

Last year the winning team did it in four days. For comparison, the longest time it took for a team to finish last year was 23 days.

The winner gets $10,000 nailed to a block of wood. Second place gets a set of steak knives. All other finishers get to ring a bell at the dock in Ketchikan.

Although there is not a set date by which the teams must finish, a boat nicknamed the “Grim Sweeper” leaves Port Townsend the day the first team reaches Ketchikan or on July 1, whichever comes later. Any teams that find themselves behind the Grim Sweeper are ejected from the race.

Many teams do not finish the race. The success rate is 60 percent.

***

“Do you want to do Race to Alaska with an all-women’s crew?” Jeanne Goussev remembers Anna Stevens asking her over a glass of homemade whiskey from a friend and fellow sailor.

They had just finished Round the County, a sailing race in the San Juans that happens in November, when Stevens asked.

Goussev has spent most of her life on the water. She owns a boat with her husband and is active in the sailboat racing circuits, but she was also particularly frustrated with how she was treated by other teams during the Round the County race this past year.

“We are both competent sailors, and he gets all of the questions about our boat. People are just dismissive of me, which drives me nuts,” Goussev said.

She told Stevens yes, she was interested in forming an all-woman crew, and they got started putting together a team for Race to Alaska. On average, one out of five race competitors is female.

Team Sail Like a Girl is made up of eight women, although the crew is considering adding a ninth since one person is leaving after reaching Victoria, B.C. Their goal is to finish the race in five days.

Many of the women hail from Bainbridge Island and have extensive experience in sailing or other activities on the water.

Goussev said she wishes that Seattle had a stronger women’s sailing community.

“I still feel like we take a step back as women in sailing,” she said. “There are some really amazing, strong sailors that are women sailors in this community, and they don’t get the credit that they deserve.”

However, both Goussev and Stevens stressed that the sailing community is welcoming, and it can be just a few individuals who make it appear otherwise.

“One thing that I noticed is that it is kind of a boys club sometimes. If guys aren’t used to having a woman around or think they [the women] don’t know what they’re doing, they might try to take over,” Stevens said. “It just depends on the actual people on the boat.”

***

The team of eight (or nine, if they add another skipper) plans to bring only dehydrated food and 50 gallons of water. Each person will be allowed to have a bag of a specified size for personal items. They will sleep in four bunks below deck, and, perhaps, on the folded sails.

Their boat, the 32-foot Melges, has a wide, open pit that can seat all of the crew, although it will be tight. A crew of eight may seem large — and it is larger than the average crew on R2AK. From an informal analysis of team rosters, most teams consist of three or four people.

Goussev said that the Melges typically does better with a larger crew. Having more people in the boat means there will be more movable ballast, or weight, to compensate for strong winds that may tilt the boat to one side.

The boat will also have two bikes on the stern that will be attached to propellers in case the wind dies down. The team also plans to bring four stand-up paddleboard paddles that can be used to help propel the boat. Many teams, if not all, have an additional propulsion source besides wind if they’re racing in a sailboat.

Besides power problems, R2AK teams have to navigate through the dramatic tides of the Inside Passage.

Kate Hearsley, a crew member of Sail Like a Girl, said that the area north of Bella Bella, Alaska, will likely present more challenges than other parts of the race. The weather can be bad, and the team isn’t familiar with the area.

Two spots that she anticipates will be particularly difficult are Seymour Narrows and the Johnstone Strait. The Seymour Narrows are notorious for being challenging among racers, Hearsely said. Stevens also expressed concern over the two well-known difficult places.

The current in Seymour Narrows can churn around 15 knots, and some boats will drop an anchor instead of trying to push through the area, depending on the tide. The area used to be so dangerous for seafarers that the Canadian government actually blew up one of the most prominent rocks under the water to reduce the danger.

Haley Lhamon, another skipper, said that if the weather gets too dangerous or the current gets too strong, the team will simply find a protected spot and wait.

“We’re going to be pretty conservative,” she said. Safety is a top concern shared by all team members.

Although the team has a long to-do list to get ready before the race, the women are all still committed to R2AK.

“There are days when I’m just up all night thinking about the race, and there [are] days when I wish it was tomorrow,” Stevens said. “I want to ring the bell.”

***

To see off the racers, head to Port Townsend on race day, Thursday, June 14. The race starts at 5 a.m.

Haley Lhamon (left) and Anna Stevens (right) prepare the team’s boat for their next sailing practice on Thursday, May 21. Lhamon is one of two skippers on the crew and just received her power boat captain certification. “Just in time to take the motor out,” said crew member Allison Dvaladze.

Haley Lhamon (left) and Anna Stevens (right) prepare the team’s boat for their next sailing practice on Thursday, May 21. Lhamon is one of two skippers on the crew and just received her power boat captain certification. “Just in time to take the motor out,” said crew member Allison Dvaladze.

Kelly Danielson pushes out the boom to try to catch more wind as the crew turns to sail back into the marina on Thursday, May 21. The team goes out two to three times per week to practice the mechanics but say the team has really “gelled” together. Photo by Emily Gilbert.

Kelly Danielson pushes out the boom to try to catch more wind as the crew turns to sail back into the marina on Thursday, May 21. The team goes out two to three times per week to practice the mechanics but say the team has really “gelled” together. Photo by Emily Gilbert.

More in Sports

Beavers break away in varsity football

Ballard remained perfect for the season in prep football after beating Bainbridge… Continue reading

Contributed photo
                                Virgil and his wife, DiAnn, who were together for 63 years and married for nearly 58.
N. Kitsap coaching legend dies at age 80

He was a longtime fixture at high school baseball, football games

Bainbridge running back Alex Ledbetter tries to break away from the pile during the Spartans’ 2018 opener against North Kitsap. (File photo)
A look back at some great Week 1 local prep gridiron games

Under normal circumstances, tonight fans would have gathered at high school stadiums… Continue reading

“Strong Like Her” features American powerlifter Megan Gallagher on the cover.
Kitsap native Haley Shapley features strong women in “Strong Like Her”

Says it’s OK to have muscles if you’re female

Cross country was one of the few remaining sports that had a chance to compete this fall until the decision was made to move all fall sports to spring. (Review File Photo)
PREPS: Fall seasons officially pushed to spring 2021

Cross country, boys tennis join girls swim and dive in season 3

Island resident Greg Nance pulls up to the end of Point Monroe Drive near Fay Bainbridge Park during his endurance run around Bainbridge. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)
With community encouragement, Greg Nance completes his run around Bainbridge Island

For the rare few among us who enjoy putting ourselves through the… Continue reading

Photo courtesy Pete Saloutos
                                Greg Nance, a 2007 Bainbridge High School graduate, will run the island’s entire shoreline on Aug. 18 to raise awareness for mental health issues.
BHS grad Greg Nance to run island shoreline for mental health and addiction support

On the surface, just about anyone would be envious of Greg Nance.… Continue reading

Krulish: Release the Kraken

What’s in a name? When it comes to professional sports teams, not… Continue reading

Girls swimming will be moved to season 3 in the spring after the WIAA received further guidance from the Department of Health (Review file photo)
Moving fall sports to spring provides a glimmer of hope for coaches and athletes

There’s nothing quite like combining the crisp, damp Autumn air of the… Continue reading

Nathan Adrian joined the Kitsap Athletic Roundtable in July for a talk on swimming in the Olympics, battling cancer, and growing up in Kitsap. (Kitsap Athletic Roundtable video screengrab)
The Bainbridge football team, shown here celebrating their 2019 Agate Cup win over North Kitsap, will have to wait until March of 2021 to get a chance to defend the cup. (Review file photo)
WIAA to move most fall sports to March 2021

Friday night lights won’t be returning in 2020 for high school sports… Continue reading

WIAA delays start of football season to Sept. 5

The WIAA Executive Board voted this month to delay the start of… Continue reading