Team Elsie Piddock Wins 2015 Race to Alaska

Recently, UCO’s President, Graeme Esarey, took first place in the only human and wind powered sailboat race in the USA, the Race to Alaska. Graeme and his shipmates raced 750 miles of brutal ocean water in 5 days, finishing over 24 hours ahead of the second place team. Needless to say, we’re extremely proud of our boss. It’s seems appropriate to kick off our blog with a post on one of the original UCO People. Check out our conversation with Graeme below.

UCO: Give us a little background on your sailing experience. When did you first step foot on a sailboat?

GE: I started sailing in high school, but my dad was a commercial fisherman. So I spent 13 summers on the ocean, put myself through college working on boats. Salt water got in my blood early.

UCO: How’d you get roped in to do the Race to Alaska?

GE: We started talking about doing the race last fall. Finding the time, and finding a boat that we could actually row if we had to took some time. It all came together at the last minute, actually.

UCO: Did you choose your teammates? Or did they choose you?

GE: Some of both. The three of us have done an awful lot of sailing together, mostly as part of the Kotuku Crew. (40’ Farr designed monohull.) But Al was the one who ultimately decided who was going to Alaska, and I was sure glad he invited me. Perhaps it was because of my depth of experience sailing trimarans—I had done exactly one race on this boat, but that was more than Matt or Al.

UCO: What was the biggest challenge during the race?

GE: Yikes, there were plenty of challenges. We had some really nasty weather, with 40 knot winds opposing 5 knot tides, so big blocky square waves that we had to beat into in our little boat. Sleep deprivation was a close second though, we didn’t sleep much for those 5 days. Running into logs. Still working on fixing the boat after the log we hit north of Cape Caution.

UCO: Were there moments when you thought you wouldn’t make it to the finish line?

GE: No. Not really. There were moments where I thought I hope we don’t die right here…but aside from those brief flashes of terror I was pretty sure this crew could get us to Alaska. Really experienced sailors, a very strong boat, and once we started I don’t think any of us had many doubts about our ability to finish, and to be competitive.

UCO: Describe the feelings you had as you reached the finish in Ketchikan.

GE: I think in an interview I said “Shock and awe.” Amazed that we had done something that hard, that fast. In awe of the scenery, the race course itself. Really, really glad for all the support from friends and family, and the R2AK folks, and the people from the great town of Ketchikan. The race was an incredible experience. And glad to set foot on land!

UCO: Besides sailing, what other outdoor activities give you that same intoxicating feeling?

GE: Well, I had a pretty strong climbing addiction for a couple of decades. It started the first time I summited Mt. Rainier, but it led me all over Asia and South America. Sailing and climbing have a lot in common. Ask Jim Whittaker about that, I think he was part of the inspiration for me to make the shift from climber to sailor after having a scare in Chile, and then starting a family. Sailing is easier to share with them, and it might be safer. (I am not perfect, though. I still try to sneak a summit in every now and then. Old habits die hard…)

UCO: What’s the top piece of advice you would give to a young person today?

GE: Figure out what you are passionate about, and commit to stoking those fires. It is easier to be your best self when you are doing what you love, and it makes it easier to maintain balance and perspective on life if you are out there living it fully.

UCO: What’s next for you?

GE: Good question! The family is saying I need to take them sailing, so I expect a summer filled with trips to the islands, fishing, crabbing, and swimming. Nothing that requires a drysuit though, my neck needs time to recover!

You can follow Graeme at @kotukusailing and at
Shameless plug: If you want to read more on Graeme’s sailing adventures, check out his wife’s book “Motion of Ocean,” which describes their 2.5 year honeymoon sail from Seattle to Japan.