2021 Spirit of Admiralty
The around admiralty sailboat race was conceived on the 25th Anniversary year of Alaska’s Statehood. Commemorating the spirit of adventure, comradery, and endurance that characterizes the people of Alaska, and thirty-seven years later, this race has not lost any of that adventurous spirit.
The SEAS sailors had a tough 2020 season, the impacts of the global pandemic had severely limited the activities we could do. Our spirit of adventure had been tested, and we were ready to sail into 2021 leaving the memories of 2020 in our wake. It was with this attitude that the Southeast Alaska Sailing club decided to hold the Spirit of Adventure on schedule, and the world seemed to be cooperating.
Four experienced boats announced their intentions to race, three former champions of the race, and a third time participant.
- Tango searching for its first finish, having been plagued by light air in previous Admiralty races.
- High Noon, the sleek mahogany racing machine, looking to avenge its second place finish in the 2019 race
- Haiku, 10 time participant and four time champion, coming back from a four year hiatus in the race. And they were all gunning for
- Surprise, defending champion, and multiple winner.
So the fleet was set, the course was agreed upon, and the dates were selected. As the calendar moved towards June 19, 2021, the forecasted wind seemed to be getting lighter and lighter. And as anyone knows, the first twenty four hours behind Douglas Island can be the most difficult sailing in the entire race. With its fluky winds and adverse currents, the crews began to wonder just how to get around Douglas into Stephen’s Passage.
Leg 1: Two Fleets and a Slatting Sound
Saturday dawned clear, and with light air from the north! The boats gathered at the north end of Portland Island for the noon start of the Spirit of Admiralty. It looked like it was going to be a downwind start, and the boats maneuvered to be at the line, and all four boats set their spinnakers at the horn, and they were off. A good sunny start in a 5-10 knot northerly, a more auspicious beginning couldn’t be had.
The four boats were running close together for the first several hours, until towards evening the wind began to lighten, Haiku, High Noon, and Suprise were able to stay in the puffs ahead of Tango as they approached Pt. Arden. High Noon and Haiku taking a closer approach to Arden, and Surprise running farther out into Taku Inlet.
As the wind died, High Noon navigated to the west side of Grand Island, while Haiku and Surprise running neck and neck went toward Graves Point. Tango, still caught in behind Pt. Arden was struggling to get around the notoriously turbulent point in very light breeze.
Sunday dawned, with Surprise having passed Haiku in the night using the dreaded “wind-seeker” slightly in front of the red dot. High Noon was trapped behind Grand Island, followed by Tango still struggling with the Pt. Arden confusion.
The wind was beginning to switch from a northerly to a southerly, and Haiku took advantage of the localized breeze coming out of Tracy Arm to pass Surprise. Picking this breeze up an hour or so before Surprise and several hours ahead of High Noon, Haiku was able to build a substantial lead as it headed for the Brother’s. If the wind held, it looked like Haiku would have favorable current through the Brother Island cut, and squirt out into Frederick Sound, comfortably in the lead.
Meanwhile, High Noon used its upwind speed advantage to pass through the narrows at Pt. Pybus hot on the tail of Surprise.
As the three boats entered Frederick Sound, the clouds came down, cutting off visibility from each other, but during the day, the wind stayed a constant 10-15 straight into their teeth. All three boats stayed on a starboard tack and crossed the sound toward Kake, making their way to Yasha Island.
The longer the wind lasted, and the tide changed, the seas became taller for the boats, they were now beating into three foot seas. Which was okay as long as the wind stayed at 15, but as anyone who has sailed Southeast Alaska knows, the only thing predictable about the wind is that it will change.
So it did, the wind began to lighten. The Chatham Straight, Frederick Sound, Keku Straight confluence caused the seas to become confused, and sloppy. And the boats began to slat. High Noon using it’s larger rig, more mass was able to endure this hell better than the other lead boats, and took the lead over Haiku. Surprise, trailing had to endure this slatting longer than the other two boats, and was being beat up by the wind. At some point trying to use the wind-seeker to pull out of this slop, Surprise tore the fabled blue light air sail.
After several hours of slatting, a front began to move in from the south, and the boats were able to get moving toward Yasha again, with High Noon in front, followed closely by Haiku, and Surprise closing out the lead group.
At this time, Tango had made its way into Stephen’s Passage, but was in entirely different conditions. The lighter air that had plagued the lead boats, was doing its number on Tango also. But Tango was stubbornly fighting its way down Stephens to get into Frederick Sound.
High Noon rounded Yasha Island about 2100 on June 20, followed three hours later by Haiku. The wind had built to 25 knots, and the seas were 6 feet with periodic 8 foot seas. Making for an exciting, windy, wet, and dark rounding of the most spectacular mark on the course. Surprise, three hours behind Haiku, rounded in the early morning hours of June 21, and headed for Warm Springs Bay.
Alas, for High Noon, rounding Yasha isn’t the end of the leg. You still have to get into the mouth of the bay, and whatever wind is in Chatham, doesn’t make its way into the bay, and the large creek at the head of the bay means the current is almost always adverse to enter. So, although High Noon had arrived at the bay several hours before Haiku, they were unable to cross the line, they were still struggling to cross as Haiku came bearing down Chatham, spinnaker up, trying to get their first. High Noon was able to cross about 30 minutes before in front of Haiku in the very early morning of June 21.
Surprise, after enduring the Frederick Sound washing machine, made it to the bay three hours later.
Meanwhile, Tango had entered Frederick Sound and entered a more turbulent washing machine than the other boats. The heavy breeze the others had experienced in Chatham, had only served to churn Frederick Sound, causing the boat to slat, and get pretty beat up. But knowing they wanted to finish, Dave D’Amore and crew exemplified the spirit of adventure and necessary endurance to slog through. While the crews of the lead boats were taking their third and fourth baths at the Warm Springs, the crew of Tango was grittily beating their way through Frederick Sound, making for the bay.
Tango entered the bay mid-morning on June 22, roughly 30 hours after High Noon.
As is tradition, the crews rested, reset, and regaled each other with stories of the first leg. The crews of Surprise, Haiku, and High Noon listened with empathy, albeit amused empathy, to the woes of slop that Tango endured in Frederick Sound. The crews ate good food, slept well, took four or five baths per day, and watched the weather.
It sounded like a storm was coming, and if the boats were able to start on June 23, they could get in front of the southerly, and ride it up Chatham, but if they waited longer, it looked like they would just be stuck in a light rainy southerly. So it was decided to have the second leg start on June 23, 2021 at 1000.
Leg 2: Windy, Wet, and Wild
The crews took one last soak, and then loaded aboard the boats for what promised to be a blowy downwind run up Chatham. They motored out to the mouth of the bay, where they gathered, and took note of the wind. Like Leg 1, the start was a downwind start in about 10 knots of breeze.
All four boats hoisted spinnakers at the horn, and took off north up Chatham. High Noon got out to the early lead, followed by Surprise, then Haiku, with Tango chasing from the back.
The first several hours were perfect downwind sailing, 10-15 knots of breeze, very little chop and a steady 6 knots of boat speed. But, all the crews knew that this was going to change before too long, and looking south down Chatham, they could see the dark clouds and dark water coming.
The boats were in the same order, about halfway between Angoon and Basket Bay when the wind started to build. It built slowly, and the boats kept up their spinnakers. The trailing seas, now starting to make spinnaker handling more difficult, were building. The boats were now eclipsing hull speed, going 7 to 8 knots. The wind had built to 20 knots, and the forecast promised more. As the wind built toward 25 knots, High Noon’s spinnaker halyard broke, and the spinnaker went into the water. While the crew was frantically fishing the sail out of the water, Surprise and Haiku took advantage and gained a lot of ground.
Haiku was directly on Surprise’s stern when Surprise the trailing seas finally caught up with them, and the boat experienced some significant death rolling. Feeling that it was better to be safe, the crew of Surprise took their spinnaker down as they neared Tenakee Inlet. Haiku took advantage. Already carrying the spinnaker a little higher than Surprise, Haiku rolled over the now headless Surprise, and stayed on the same tack until nearly cube cove. The entire time making significant gains on the High Noon and Surprise. Surfing down some of the chop with the spinnaker up at speeds of up to 10 knots, Haiku was sailing strong downwind.
Deciding that the chop would make for a tricky jibe, Haiku opted to douse the chute, jibe, and then set an asymmetrical spinnaker.
As of hanus reef, Haiku was still the only boat with a spinnaker flying, but High Noon was hot on their tail, using a longer waterline and stable sailing to keep up.
The wind appeared to be moderating as the boats came into Point Retreat, so Haiku switched back to the symmetrical spinnaker, and was hoping to hold off the High Noon and Surprise to the finish.
The crew of Haiku worried that the dreaded Admiralty Island wind shadow was going to force a restart at Pt. Retreat, but as they were rounding, the wind was actually building, and now the storm appeared to arrive. Carrying heavy, pelting rain, the wind picked up to 25 knots again, and the boats reefed for the beat up Saginaw channel. It was now past midnight and with the cloud cover, it was dark, and difficult to sail to a decent trim. The tide was ebbing, causing the current to run 2 knots against the beating boats.
High Noon took advantage of Haiku’s difficulties in staying close to the weather in the dark chop, and steadily climbed up to them, before overtaking Haiku at the south end of Saginaw Channel. It looked like High Noon just had to hold on for the close reach back to Portland Island to take line honors.
Meanwhile, Surprise was rounding Pt. Retreat. They went in a little close, and bumped, but were immediately off, made the rounding, and began the difficult wet, dark, beat south down Saginaw Channel.
Reaching across from Shelter Island to Portland Island, the wind just died. It went from 25 to less than 5 in 15 minutes. Then it was fluky, and with the swirling, sloppy currents and the fluky light wind, both High Noon and Haiku struggled to get to the Portland Island finish. At various points, the slatting forced the boats to turn complete 360’s, just trying to get steerage back.
The two boats were now right next to each other, struggling to get across the line. Both had tacked back and were on the west side of Portland, because the breeze seemed cleaner, hoping to get as close to the point before coming back to make the rounding quickly.
High Noon was farther west, when the breeze freshened from the east, coming directly from Auke Bay. Haiku was able to get into that wind earlier than High Noon and crossed the line about an hour earlier. Surprise had managed to get out of Saginaw Channel, and worked their way to the finish line, two hours after Haiku.
Tango, having the disadvantage of not being quite as good upwind as the three former champions, took two or three times as many tacks to get through Saginaw channel, but still managed to complete leg 2 of admiralty in under twenty-four hours.
Haiku’s time of 17:33:35 minutes is the fastest time that is remembered for a single leg of Admiralty, and having the entire fleet finish a leg in under a day is unheard of. This leg of Admiralty will enter the annals of this race as one of the fastest ever.
All in all, the SEAS fleet made a great comeback for the 2021 Spirit of Admiralty, with Haiku taking the Series and Overall corrected time cup, followed by Surprise, High Noon, and Tango.
Tango successfully enters the pantheon of boats to finish this legendary race. A feat in and of itself.
It takes a few days to recover, but plans for revenge have already been hatched. And the race will continue in 2023.