Spirit of Admiralty

New sailing club celebrates statehood with week-long race around Admiralty Island

Posted: Sunday, June 14, 2009

A new nonprofit sailing club in Juneau will help celebrate Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood with an inaugural flagship race designed to challenge even the most seasoned sailors.

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Courtesy Of Southeast Alaska Sailing
Courtesy Of Southeast Alaska Sailing

The longest inland water race on the West Coast, Spirit of Admiralty is an intense week-long race around Admiralty Island. Traditionally beginning the Saturday before summer solstice, it starts this Saturday at Auke Bay.

"The is the crown jewel of sailboat racing in Juneau," said Jonathan Estes, secretary for SouthEast Alaska Sailing, which started in March.

The group also revived the event to commemorate the epic race in Juneau 25 years ago, when a group of sailors circumnavigated Admiralty Island in a race honoring Alaska's 25th year of statehood.

"We chose to do this race to commemorate the 50 years of work and spirit that it took Alaskans to make the state what it is," said SEAS Commodore Brian Lieb. "This event is unique because it is an incredibly difficult and trying race that starts and ends in Juneau, and it sails through the night."

Boats in the Spirit of Admiralty face the challenges of Alaska waters with no engines, through any conditions, traveling nonstop for more than 24 hours on two separate legs.

Starting in Auke Bay, Spirit of Admiralty proceeds south down Stephens Passage, keeping Admiralty to starboard (right). Racers round Yasha Island on the southern tip of Admiralty and continue to Warm Springs Bay, on Baranof Island, for a mandatory two-day layover.

Ed Bennett, SEAS race committee chairman, said the layover is a much-needed, pleasant stop for the sailors.

"You race as hard as you can for two days, three days depending on the wind, and then you get a nice little reprieve - sit in the hot tubs and take in the wonderful scenery," Bennett said. "Where else are you going to have such a huge race with the scenery like we have here?"

After their layover, sailors begin leg two, which starts outside the mouth of the bay and proceeds north up Chatham Strait. They then round Point Retreat at the north tip of Admiralty, and race back to Auke Bay.

Next year, the Admiralty event will be the same routes but a regatta or cruising class, where racers stop every night to fish, camp and socialize.

"It's not so gung ho," Bennett described. "It's more laid-back."

SEAS plans to sponsor the Spirit of Admiralty Race every other year, alternating between a cruising class and racing class each year.

Both Bennett and Estes wish they could race this year, mainly for the thrill of competition.

"A lot of people sort of mock sailors for going everywhere kind of slow, but it's the challenge of getting the sails set right and tweaked out just right to get that extra two-tenths of a knot out of the breeze," he said. "And that's the difference - that extra two-tenths. It's not a big difference, but it makes the difference between winning and losing."

For Bennett, sailing and racing are "almost indescribable."

"You get out on the water, the sails are up and the first puff of breeze hits you, and you heel over - it's ... " Bennett said. "You're using all the elements of nature to get where you're going. ... When you're on a motorboat, you don't hear the orcas or whales right away. On a sailboat, you hear them from so far away, and you have to really look to try to find them. I don't think you get that same mystique on a pilot boat."

Not to mention, sailboats don't burn diesel.

"With the price of gasoline so high - and getting higher - sailing is the perfect way to get out into the waters of Alaska to appreciate them," said Commodore Lieb. "The ocean is just a little way from your house. And gas prices keep going up, but wind is free."

The Spirit of Admiralty race is open to the public, but by invitation only. There are about five boats scheduled to compete, and to participate, all vessels require safety checks done through the Coast Guard auxiliary.

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kim.andree@juneauempire.com.

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