Race to Alaska, sailing icon, rough start to sailing life

Dear friends and family,

We picked up our guest, Carol Hasse ( Hasse to friends) in Ketchikan in the middle of a series of rainstorms that are only in Alaska in the summer. We couldn’t make it to our waiting taxi at the top of the ramp without getting drenched. So we postponed our departure by a couple of days, which magically coincided with the first boats finishing the Race to Alaska ( R2AK), which is an engineless race of 750 miles from Port Townsend to Ketchikan. Since the winning boat, WE BRAKE FOR WHALES, arrived in the middle of the night, we got to see the next four boats finish. Some of the volunteers for the race, sponsored by the Northwest Maritime Center, which grew out of the Wooden Boat Foundation, founded by our guest- Hasse, didn’t know much history and we got to fill them in on how we all got here. I was the treasurer for ten years, so shared a period of that history.

All the racers knew of Hasse because of her lifelong devotion to sailing, mentoring especially women, and community service. The crew on the first place boat were especially enamored of her and it was fun for Liz and I to enjoy seeing what the reputation of that kind of dedication and knowledge over all those years gets you. We were in the presence of a true icon!

Once leaving Ketchikan to work our way north to Wrangell, Hasse taught us a ton of tips about sailing, sail trim, and handwork. What an amazing wealth of knowledge, all tested with experience. All the lines aboard our little ship are now properly whipped to replace my taped and melted ends. 

The other thing I especially shared with Hasse is a love of the history and literature of sailing and we spent many hours sharing books we had read, sailing icons we had met, and ideas and stories of sailing adventure. Turns out we both share as one of our favorite authors and adventurers Bill Tilman, whose books we carry onboard in Kindle and hard copy to share.

So, between transiting Canada two years ago with Stig, a very experienced racing sailor and now Hasse, the world renowned sailmaker, it’s possible that I might actually be getting to be a sailor. Thanks Hasse and Stig.

It wasn’t always that way.

When I was 26 and working in Cleveland, I drove by a power boat dealer who one day had this small sailboat with a for sale sign on it. I stopped, brushed the snow off and crawled aboard. I had read many sailing adventure stories and as I crawled aboard could picture myself rounding Cape Horn. I gave it a lot of thought and purchased it that day after work.

Now, realize I’d never been on a sailboat of any kind. Ever.

So, I towed it home, bought a HOW TO SAIL book and figured I was ready.

When spring came, my younger brother Mike and I took it to Lake Erie to launch. What we realized is the book never gave instructions on how to get the mast up or how to bend on (sailing jargon for attach the sails) the sails. Eventually we figured it out, sorta, and launched. Our little outboard got us out into the open Lake and in all the heat and sweat of preparing, we decided we needed to cool off in the water. So we both dove overboard to refresh. What we didn’t realize is that there was no boarding ladder and the boat had fairly high freeboard preventing crawling up the side. At first we laughed heartily at our predicament until we realized that this could get serious. Eventually we used one of us hanging on the side while the other climbed over the hanging body to get aboard.

It seemed that this little boat wasn’t designed to sail in light winds. Wasn’t designed for heavy winds either. I’m sure it wasn’t the skipper or crew, so in a couple of years I bought a real sailboat: a Cal 30, which as you might guess is a 30 foot long and fairly heavy boat.

The woman I bought the boat from was an avid racer and the purchase included her 13 sails, including a bright spinnaker with a dog peeing and a blooper, another big bright sail, with a fire hydrant. In keeping with the dog theme, I renamed the boat SIRIUS, which is the dog star.

I’d raced a half dozen times as crew on a friends similar sized boat so figured I had it down.

The next season I signed up for racing in the 30 foot boat class. There was a beginners racing group for jib and main only to keep beginners out of trouble, but with my extensive experience and wanting to use those big bright dog sails, I opted for the open racing division.

Crew: what would I do for crew? I invited Mike, my brother, his friend Phil, and a couple of young guys and gals who worked at the hardware store. None of the others had ever been on a boat of any kind. How hard could it be?

Well, I knew that you bundle the spinnaker sail in a bag at the bow of the boat and as soon as you round the upwind marker and turn downwind, you release it to have it pull you downwind.

Of course we were lagging seriously behind our fleet and getting approached from behind by the next group that started behind us. I was now in traffic with serious racers. As we approached the turning mark, I wanted to make sure we were ready to hoist that sail immediately after the turn, so I asked my foredeck crew “ready?”

They didn’t hear the question mark and took it as a command and hoisted the great big nylon sail. As we were still moving into the wind the sail formed two big pockets either side of the head stay ( wire up front that holds up the mast) to perfectly push the boat in reverse. In the middle of the fleet coming up on us. I am sure they were questioning my racing tactics as I steered the boat backwards through the entire following fleet and managed to avoid any collisions, till we were clear and able to drop the sails, try to be invisible, and motor back to our slip. 

The start of my sailboat racing. We only had up to go from here

Sending love,


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2 thoughts on “Race to Alaska, sailing icon, rough start to sailing life”

  1. Took a lot of guts to attempt a race like that. Worth it just for the experience.
    Hanging out with Hasse sounds pretty cool.
    What does”whipping” mean?

    1. liz hoenig kanieski

      Hi Lynne-

      Liz here, whipping is when you use a thin piece of thread to wrap and see the end of lines, keep them from unraveling 😌

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