All-women sailing team makes history winning Race to Alaska

Crew members from Sail Like a Girl on a recent practice sail. (Photo: Ric Horst)

Crew members from Sail Like a Girl on a recent practice sail. (Photo: Ric Horst)

On, June 24, for the first time ever, an all-women team won the Race to Alaska. The team, composed of sailors from Seattle and Bainbridge, finished in six days, 13 hours and 17 minutes.

The Race to Alaska is an annual nonmotorized boat race that begins in Port Townsend, Washington, and continues onto Victoria, British Columbia before the teams make their way to the final destination of Ketchikan, Alaska, for a total of 750 miles. The race, which started in 2015, is self-supported, meaning that there are no supply drops along the way or safety nets for the teams.

Of the winning crew, Goussev, Aimee Fulwell, Allison Dvaladze, Kelly Danielson and Haley Lhamon are from Bainbridge Island. Morgana Buell, Kate McKay and Anna Stevens are from the Seattle area. There were 39 teams that competed this year.

"Doing this race was the first time for everyone," Sail Like a Girl's captain Jeanna Goussev said. "Some of the crew hadn't sailed in years, but we just went and started planning."

After Stevens proposed the original idea back in October, the team charged ahead with planning, coordinating everything from modifications to the boat to training and sponsorships.

“It absolutely took over our lives,” Goussev said. “We worked five to six hours a night for weeks. There was so much to do.”

The boat the team purchased was originally designed for short day trips about Puget Sound and required major upgrades to get ready for the long journey to Alaska. The boat lacked a kitchen, bathroom and sleeping quarters which were later added, as well as biking stations on the front and the back of the boat to assist with propelling.

“It’s like we took a Ferrari off-roading,” Goussev said, laughing.

She said the most challenging part of the trip was when the boat hit a log in the water at 2 a.m. off the coast of Bella Bella, British Columbia.

“It was really scary,” Goussev said. “We didn’t know the condition of the boat and sailed really slowly until it was light enough out that we could really tell what happened.”

The team was sure it had lost its lead after the major delay until Steven’s son texted later saying, “Mom, you’re in the lead!”

Sail Like a Girl reached Ketchikan at 12:17 a.m., just under two hours ahead of the next boat. The team received the traditional first-place prize of $10,000 nailed to a tree.

“It was so much more about the experience and the journey,” Goussev said. “We had to do well to prove that we could be competitive in sailing.”

While the team set out to be competitive, winning the race wasn’t the top priority.

“As we showed that we could succeed in sailing, I hope we inspire other women to face some new challenge and put themselves out there,” Goussev said. “Touch base with that inner warrior inside of you and get outside of your comfort zone.”