Katy Stewart. The R2AK Captain Who Can’t Get Enough!

Katy Stewart. The R2AK Captain Who Can’t Get Enough!

Katy at the helm on the Race to AlaskaKaty Stewart is a sleeper when it comes to the Race to Alaska (R2AK). With no need for hoopla, self-promotion or a social cause needing an event, Katy has stayed under the radar of this high-profile race. Ask even the most die-hard tracker junkie “who has skippered their team to Alaska the most times?”  Chances are they won’t know, or they wouldn’t guess the answer is a woman. Katy is the only person to have led her crew to Ketchikan three times.  Yes – you read that right, three times!  And, she’s set to do it again this June. Incredible? Yes! Nuts? Certainly.                    Gender and notoriety aside, Katy Stewart modestly sits at the top of the   most accomplished of all R2AK captains.

Katy Stewart is the ultimate problem solver when it comes to boats. 

If it’s not already apparent, it takes an extraordinary mariner to pull off this feat. Katy’s upbringing gives you a clue. The level of skill and confidence needed to negotiate the unknown elements of the R2AK multiple times didn’t happen overnight. She blames it all on her father.

Katie Stewart on a dinghy as a child

 Katie grew up on boats and the water

It was his idea to take his wife and then three-year-old Katy on his hand-made boat and sail to Mexico. She still remembers sleeping with her life jacket during rough weather. Her father’s confidence and willingness to take risks was ingrained in her as a toddler, and the sea found its way into her bloodstream.  Katy holds a 100-ton Master’s USCG license, has worked as a first officer on cruises and as a lighthouse keeper in SF Bay.  But her current job with Global Diving & Salvage in Seattle, WA deals with marine casualties.  When a vessel is in trouble, she assesses the problem, plans the attack, accounts for the risk and proceeds with the rescue.   In other words, Katy is the ultimate problem solver when it comes to boats.

At an early age, the sea found its way into her bloodstream

In 2017, the crew was working their way through Hecate Strait, a wide but shallow body of water known to be susceptible to storms and violent weather.  Following a gale, the seas were really steep and as Katy described it, “the boat was like a surf-board.” They rigged the preventer and a sudden move caused the boom to snap in half.  Staying calm and composed, she and her crew used their ingenuity and jury-rigged a splint with dyneema and dinghy line.  After 12 hours, they were heading north.

Why Four Times?

What is it about this race that makes so many individuals and teams coming back for more punishment?  Who better to answer that question than the woman considered an icon (to all those in the know), of the R2AK. When I asked what keeps drawing her back, Katy did not hesitate. “These are my people!” she blurted. 

Team Onism 2016 sitting at starboard

      All-Female Crew of Team Onism 2016

Katy’s first team in 2016 was Team Onism, an all-women team of three, of which one member was her sister, Emily.  The women sailed on a home-made trimaran, built by their father.   The experience was so incredible Katy decided to take the whole family along the next year. In 2017 her husband, Elan, a boat captain himself, and both her sisters, Emily and Caroline took a family “outing” up the Inside Passage as Team Global Diving

Katy does admit that “taking all of my dad’s kids on a dangerous adventure made him a little nervous, I think”.  Last year, she changed it up a bit, since the rest of the family was busy. Deciding at the last minute to enter the race, she had only five weeks to make a retired 34’ sailboat seaworthy and ready for the R2AK.  The boat had been moored for nearly 10 years and needed work.  In such “Katy style” she gathered an entirely new crew of five members who met for the first time at the race start in Port Townsend. Some had sailing experience and others not.  Who does that?

R2AK Team Global Diving 2017, a family outing.

                                             2017 Team Global Diving on a family “outing” to Alaska


Katy laughs when she talks about her crews. “I just want to take anyone who wants to go.” With this attitude, it’s clear that competition isn’t what drives this adventurous sailor, it’s the people. “I enjoy everything about it.  The lead-up, the race itself, the sense of community.  I just love this group of people, the energy and how everyone understands the challenge.” 

How Will 2019 Be Different?

Katy acknowledges her employer, Global Diving and Salvage, for their support for the past three races.   Their generosity in sponsoring her team and allowing her time off has not gone unnoticed to Katy.  She is very grateful and acknowledges the luxury of having this type of job and employer. However, this year, she will sail under another name, Team Razzle-Dazzle.   Tempted by the offer of a friend to use their Corsair F-27, Katy reported “I’m going to use the Sistership of Sistership,” referring to the Corsair F-27 used by Team Sistership in 2016 and 2017.   This same model trimaran catapulted to the top of the “must have boats” when Team Elsie Piddock won the inaugural R2AK in 2015. The following year, 8 similar style trimarans were at the starting line. 

Although her natural tendency is to share the adventure with anyone, especially anyone related, this year is different. “It’s pretty stressful, knowing you’re responsible for the safety of everyone on the boat,” she states.  This stress is multiplied with inexperienced crew. So, she is excited to be on a fast boat this year with three experienced and skilled sailors.

Has the R2AK Changed You in Some Way?

“I’m a lot more willing to take on a challenge with unknowns. I know that I can.  Once you’ve gotten through a challenge, you realize you’re more able to… I’m a lot more willing to risk failure.”

“If you’re not constantly assessing your own limits, then what are you doing?”

Words of Wisdom for Those Contemplating Adventure.

Katy feels that with desire, family and employer support, “it’s totally possible” to do this race or any other adventure. “I have a full-time job, am a full-time mom with two children, ages 8 and 11.” Yet, she proclaims – “it’s totally doable!” At 43, Katy admits to not being in great physical shape, but that doesn’t stop her for one bit. “That’s life, and I’ve found a way to do this race.” She thinks for a moment and share’s her final thoughts on the matter.  In a somewhat bewildered tone, Katy asks, “well, if you’re not constantly assessing your own limits, then what are you doing?”

Captain Katy Stewart sits barefoot at the helm

                  Katy relaxing at the helm

Read more Sistership Stories about The Women of the R2AK.  

R2AK Captain Jeanne Goussev

R2AK Captain Janice Mason

R2AK Captain Michelle Boroski

R2AK Captains Kristin Pederson & Elena Losey

Team Sail Like A Girl Wins 2018 R2AK

2018 R2AK. In Sisterhood with Sistership

Team Sistership 2017

Team Sistership 2016

Sistership uses a portion of our profits from our Sistership Store to support organizations that give women and girls opportunities that ignite their adventurous spirit and age boldly.  Check out our new 2019 ENDURE women T-shirts, designed with for the women of the R2AK in mind.  Purchase one and make an impact on the NWMC “Give Like A Girl” scholarship program.

Sistership ENDURE T-shirt for women who sail, row, pedal, paddle and endure.

Janice Mason – Sail, Row, Paddle the R2AK – What’s Next?

Janice Mason – Sail, Row, Paddle the R2AK – What’s Next?

Have you ever wondered how an Olympic athlete adjusts once the years of regimented schedules and the spotlight on the national stage end? The transition might be traumatic and depressing for some, and for others, they may simply move on to finding or creating their next life adventure. Janice Mason is a classic example of the latter. At 59, she just keeps asking herself, “what’s next?”

Janice is a Canadian Olympian and World Cup Champion in rowing. She is also a physician in Sport and Exercise Medicine.  Janice competed in the 1984 Olympic Games and the ’82 and ’87 World Cup. Her transition from an elite athlete to routine life was gradual and fluid. She simply found other ways to challenge herself. Her competitive rowing career took a back seat to her other life choices, such as completing medical school and raising her daughter. As time allowed, Janice began to look for more daring physical challenges beyond rowing. She competed in the Yukon Quest with her nephew in 2010 and won the mixed doubles kayak category. It was the first of her many adventures on the water and she loved it. In 2012 she did it again in a single kayak. “It was one of the hardest things I had ever done up to that point,” she remembers. Two years later, at 54, she completed her first Ironman.

Janice on kayak in Victoria waiting for R2AK to start

                                             Janice preparing for Stage II on the docks of Victoria Harbor

Team Sistership was looking for a fourth person to join their crew. Janice applied and was first turned down. 

Janice had tried to put a rowing team together for the Race to Alaska (R2AK) in 2015, the first year of the race, but was unable to find anyone interested. Team Sistership was looking for a 4th person to join the all-female and all over 50 crew. Janice applied, but Michelle, the captain, turned her down. The team needed another experienced sailor, and although Janice had checked a lot of boxes on her impressive resume, sailing wasn’t one of them. Janice wasn’t accustomed to being turned down.  This made her even more determined to get on a boat. “I went to U-Vic (University of Victoria) for some sailing lessons,” she explained.  Janice also helped Sistership secure oars through donations from Victoria and met the team in Port Townsend to give her expert opinion on building rowing stations.  While waiting for any invite, she decided to complete a 1/2 marathon, just to stay in shape.  Her persistence and determination didn’t go unnoticed.  In April, two months before the race, Sistership had a sudden change of crew.  Janice, the logical next choice, was invited to join the team.

Rowing To Alaska

Janice rowing on Sistership in 2016 R2AK

   Janice rowing with Team Sistership in 2016 R2AK

The 2016 experience ignited Janice’s addiction to the R2AK. “The experience was hard’ “she recalls. “The winds in late June were light, and we rowed this 3500-pound trimaran for nearly 65-70 hours,” she said.  The lack of wind was particularly hard for an Olympic rower.  She was accustomed to gliding along the water on a 30-pound scull. Janice knew then that if she were going to row to Alaska, she’d do it in a boat designed for rowing.

She knew that if she were going to row to Alaska, she’d do it in a boat designed for rowing.

In 2017, she formed Team Oaracle with Ian Graeme. Ian, a 4-time R2AK veteran and the only person to complete the race since it’s inception, met Janice the year before. The two hail from Canada. They selected a 22-foot Merry Sea II rowing scull to match their strengths. After 24 days of rowing with their backs facing north, they arrived in Ketchikan as the last boat of the fleet. However, they set a record as the first team to finish the race in a human-powered rowboat.

Kayak Versus Rowboat

R2AK Tide changes always a challenge..

Team Oaracle pulls up on shore.

In 2018, the group decided to do the race again, this time facing forward in a double kayak. Rowing backward to Alaska, the year before, proved to be more difficult than either Janice or Ian imagined. “I was surprised how sore my butt got,” she said. “We had to stop every 15-20 minutes to take the pressure off and get blood flow back to the muscles.” The rowboat, nicknamed “Barbara” was also hard to manage. By design, it was heavy and even more so with gear. They didn’t count on the energy expenditure of pulling the rowboat out of the water to take rest breaks. “One time,” she explains, “we had to put the rowboat on the logs at dark. In the morning because the tide was out, it was 1/4 mile to get the boat back into the water.” It took multiple trips and nearly 3 hours just to get going again.

“I was surprised how sore my butt got.” 

Team Oaracle had a new game plan in 2018. Why not? Janice and Ian had both sailed and rowed the race, why not paddle this time? But before they did this, they thought they’d “warm-up” by doing the SEVENTY/48, a 70-mile boat race from Tacoma, WA to Port Townsend, WA. Participants must complete the race in 48 hours. Like the R2AK, there are no engines or support. Unlike the R2AK, it’s all about human-power, so using a sail or wind generator isn’t allowed. In retrospect, Janice wouldn’t recommend this strategy. Before the R2AK started, her hands were already covered with blisters.

Team Oaracle 2017 resting on beach

Janice and Ian resting on beach with Barbara (the boat)

With painful hands and fatigued legs, they head to Victoria the next day on their kayak.  They had attached a small sail this time in hopes of getting a little reprieve from paddling, but the sail gave only about 1-knot of assistance when heading downwind. Yet without the open cockpit of the rowboat, the two were more comfortable and needed fewer rest breaks than the year before. The kayak was more secure, lighter, and much easier to manage rest breaks along their 19-day journey.

Plans for the Next Adventure?

Having mastered just about all aspects of the R2AK, Janice is looking for what’s next. “I’m going to be 60 this year. Obviously, my age isn’t impairing me, and my endurance seems to be better.” Her regular exercise routine includes strength training, which she feels is what most women fail to do as they age. “If you want to keep doing things as you get older, you need to maintain your muscle mass,” she explains. Janice’s participation in diverse and physically demanding activities is key to how she looks at her future. “I’ve been looking into those transatlantic rowing capsules,” she says, referring to the 3000-mile rowing challenge across the Atlantic. “I’m still trying to work out whether this is something I can or want to do,” she says.

“If you want to keep doing things as you get older, you need to maintain your muscle mass.”

How Will 2019 Look for Team Oaracle?

“We would like to do it in less than 19 days,” she responds. Their goal is to keep up a higher daily average. But as the most seasoned R2AK veterans know better, than anyone, goals are simply “wish lists” in a race with so many unknowns and so little control.

Words of Wisdom for Others Contemplating Adventure?

For anyone interested in taking on this or any other adventure, Janice offers a little advice. “Be willing to try,” she says. “Fear often keeps people from taking the first step…People can choose not to do something for fear that something terrible will happen. But you can easily get hurt if you don’t do anything. No guarantees. You might be surprised about all the good that could happen too. Be willing just to try something!”

Team Oaracle R2AK at the finish line in Ketchikan

         Team Oaracle rings the bell in Ketchikan 


Captain Michelle Boroski – Thoughts on the R2AK and A Crew Over 50.

Captain Michelle Boroski – Thoughts on the R2AK and A Crew Over 50.

2015 R2AK Flyer

                         2015 R2AK Flyer


She was bored. Routine and security were killing her spirit of adventure, and she didn’t like it.  This changed in February 2015.  Michelle Boroski stumbled upon a flyer while visiting her old stomping grounds in Port Townsend, WA.  The pamphlet described the upcoming Race to Alaska (R2AK), a 750-mile boat race up the Inside Passage with no motor, support and few rules.  She knew the race directors, Jake Beattie and Dan Evans. All three had worked together for Outward Bound when they were younger. “Leave it to these guys to pull off such an outrageous boat race,” she thought.

By the time she returned home to Ventura, California, the seed was already planted.  The idea of doing such a daring adventure was just what she needed to shake up what she refers to as her “sanitized life.”

Why Women Over 50?

Michelle was glued to the race tracker the first year and weeks later, decided she would enter the next year. At 58, her approach to the competition was different.  Her priorities had changed since her mid 30’s and 40’s.  This race wouldn’t be about winning, it would be a proving ground to see if she still had what it took.  Michelle knew other women felt as she did, and she invited them to join in the challenge. She would have an all-women crew over 50, and the name would be Sistership.

Was It Easy To Find Crew?

Team Sistership R2AK 2016

Sistership 2016: (L to R) Janice Mason, Johanna Gabbard, Michelle Boroski, Sheri Smith

“The first year, I had visions of having four experienced female sailors, all over 50, to be on my team,” Michelle explains. “But finding women of over 50, fit and willing enough to go to Alaska on a boat with no motor, or support, proved to be a lot harder than I thought,” she chuckles.

The first year, two of her original teammates quit with two months to go. Michelle had to scramble to find others to fill their seats. She was able to find one experienced SF Bay sailboat racer, Sheri Smith and another experienced sailor, Renee Fields. Renee was a sailor but sailed land yachts in the desert. “This was good enough,” Michelle thought, “she understands the wind.” She also invited Janice Mason, a hardy former Olympic rower with no sailing experience, whom she initially turned down, to be the fourth team member.

“Finding women over 50, fit and willing enough to go to Alaska on a boat with no motor or support, proved to be a lot harder than I thought.”

Just when she thought her crew was set, Renee had to pull out due to medical issues, three weeks before the race.  Michelle was then able to convince her team administrator to fill in the open spot. She had listed her as an alternate, just in case, but seriously doubted she would need her.  Johanna Gabbard wasn’t a sailor, but, was fit enough to help with rowing and was eager for adventure.

First all-female team to finish multihull sailboat race to alaska

Sistership 2017: (L to R) Stephanie York, Michelle Boroski, Johanna Gabbard, Stephanie Maheu

When describing her crew search for her second time around, Michelle relays similar difficulties. “I knew if I did this race again, I would try to find strong sailors, but again, none of them were volunteering.  I talked to many women over 50.  The problem I found was that they were day sailors and cruisers, not adventurers. Most admitted their fears and lacked confidence in their ability to do a race of this nature.  So, I ended up with a crew of three enthusiastic and gutsy women with some recreational sailing experience, but not as much as I had hoped.”

“…I talked to many women over 50.  The problem I found was that they were day sailors and cruisers, not adventurers..”

The Challenges of Living A Far.

Preparing for the R2AK presents incredible behind the scene challenges.    The logistics are intimidating.  It takes a ton of patience and organization to navigate the details of obtaining a watercraft, making sure it’s safe enough to get to Alaska, transporting both crew and boat to the starting line and then bringing them back home from Alaska. The logistics of this race are a daunting undertaking and enough to make many rethink their dream of signing up.  Orchestrating all of these moving parts have undoubtedly been the cause of many last-minute cancellations for would-be-racers.

The logistics of this race are a daunting undertaking, enough to make many rethink their dream of signing up.

Michelle purchased Sistership, a Corsair F-27 trimaran in Port Townsend. She opted to leave the boat in Washington.  But to get work done from afar while working a full-time job as a Physician Assistant, was very difficult.  She took multiple flights to Washington to work on and oversee the retrofit. This became extremely stressful and costly. “In retrospect, I should have had the boat transported back to CA, work on it at home, then transport it back up to WA before the race,” she says.                           

Why Did You Do It A Second Time?

“I was exhausted. The preparation and the race itself were so intense I couldn’t begin to think about doing it again.  But there were things I would’ve done differently. We already had the boat, the gear, and the know-how, so this was a chance to do better the second time around. It took about 8 months before I was really on board to do it again.”

The 2016 Race

Team Sistership, Sistership R2AK, R2AK, First All Women Team R2AK, Adventure women, active women over 50, fit and fifty,

  First All-Female Crew to Complete the R2AK

Team Sistership ’16 completed the race in in 11 days. “We had hoped to make it in seven days or less,” Michelle explains. “It was grueling.  We literally rowed for 65 hours in the first 4 days. We fell just behind the wind window and kept trying to find wind.” The crew redefined the R2AK acronym to “Rowing to Alaska” and jokingly sent a note to the Race Boss during the middle of the race, demanding a refund for false advertising.  Despite the disappointment, they made it across the finish line as the first all-female crew to complete the race.

Team Sistership, Sistership R2AK, jerry rigged center board,

Jury-rigging the broken centerboard

The 2017 Race

In 2017, Michelle and her crew repeated the race.  Team Sistership ’17 finished again in 11 days and 15th place, the same showing as the year before.  They were more prepared in every way this time around, but the conditions were very different. “Big wind, angry seas. It was a whole different race,” Michelle explained.  She described four episodes of gale force winds that really shook the boat and crew.  The worst happened on the first day to Victoria when they tore their jib and lost steerage in 50-knot winds in Haro Strait.  Another time, the boat took off under full sail in Fitzhugh Sound. “We passed an open channel and the winds picked up instantly.  Our boat speed hit over 20 knots, it was crazy.”

Michelle summarizes the race as “one problem-solving challenge after another.  We tore our sail, broke our centerboard, took on a leak and one crew mate left in Nanaimo. With only three of us onboard, our sleep schedule changed from three hours to one hour.   It was exhausting, but still so amazing!  After all the mishaps, we were more determined than ever.”

Any Chance of Doing It A Third Time?

Michelle admits, “it’s hard not to be in the middle of it again. There’s such a rush to be around the community of people, like a drug – you keep wanting to come back for more,” she explains. “I think it’d be cool to have a “masters” all-women team of 50 and 60+ year-olds. “I’m 61 and have no doubt that women of this age and older are capable of doing this race. It’s just a matter of convincing them to redefine their own limits.”

2017 Sistership sailing to Alaska

                Team Sistership sails to Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Zach Carver, 2AK Media Boss.)


R2AK Team Kelp -Youngest All-Female Team Finishers

R2AK Team Kelp -Youngest All-Female Team Finishers

Kristin Pederson and Elena Losey, camped in the backyard of the Race to Alaska’s (R2AK) Race Director, Jake Beattie’s home the night before the first race began in 2015. They both had crossed paths with Jake at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle and heard he was putting on this insane race from Port Townsend to Alaska.  This sparked their interest. 

The next morning, they watched from the sidelines at a boat race unlike any they had seen before. Both women were residents of Seattle and had viewed many sailboat races. Something was different. Absent were the multimillion-dollar yachts, fancy carbon foils, and hulls plastered with mega-rich sponsors.  They watched and marveled as a symphony of mixed vessels of all shapes and forms paraded by in dissonance. “It was so organic,” Kristin thought, and both women knew they just had to be a part of it. “We’re doing this next year,” Kristin recalls telling Elena.  Kristin even has an audio recording of that very conversation.  It was a defining moment – the moment they made a commitment that would end up defining the next two years of their lives.

Elena was 29 and Kristin 30.  Elena had learned to sail at 22 on Lake Michigan and then volunteered with Sound Experience on their 133-foot schooner, the Adventuress to get practical experience.  Kristin worked as a sailing instructor in Washington, lead sailing excursions in the British Virgin Islands, worked as a dive master in Thailand, and raced boats throughout the Puget Sound. They were some of the younger participants of the race, but their combined experienced was impressive for their years.  

         KELP, an acronym for the women’s initials.

They named their boat Holdfast – part of a root-like structure at the base of kelp that fastens it and keeps it from floating away.

They chose their team name – KELP, an acronym of their initials Elena Losey and Kristin Pederson, but it was also fitting for their love of the water and respect for the life force of the ocean’s ecosystem.   Once they decided on a name, Team Kelp took to the task of finding a boat.

Preparation and the 2016 Proving Ground

In the fall of 2015, they bought a Santana 20′ sailboat for $1500. They named her Holdfast, which is the part of a root-like structure at the base of kelp that fastens it and keeps it from floating away. Unlike so many teams and boats of the R2AK, their only boat expense beyond the initial cost was the haul-out, the bottom paint and putting in extra reef points into a donated mainsail.They outfitted it with oars but admitted it was a pretty low-tech human-power mechanism.Lacking confidence in their alternate propulsion system, like so many others teams, they planned to just pray for wind.

              Co-Captain Kristin Pederson

Their game plan was deliberate. 2016 would be a trial run. If all went well, Team Kelp would spend the next 12 months, training for the 2017 full race to Alaska.  On June 23, 2016, the women put their plan to the test along with a fleet of 63 other boats.  The all-women team was one of four competing in the race along with Sistership, Onism, and KrankenUp.  With the sizeable green kelp designs flowing on the sides of her hull, Holdfast skimmed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria with ease – so much ease it was a “no-brainer.” They would be heading to Alaska in a year.  

The 2017 R2AK

The race in 2017 was a different beast and life had added one more dimension for Elena.She had just married three weeks before the start and when asked about this, she admitted that having another person to worry about added to her fear factor.To top this off, Elena admitted: “I had never sailed at night and this added to my stress level.” However, she opted out of a blissful honeymoon with her new husband and chose a very different kind of experience. After a year practicing and learning every nuance of their boat, they were ready.

        Team Kelp in Victoria Harbor

Day one to Victoria saw gale force winds up to 50 knots.  Only six miles into the Victoria Harbor,Holdfast struggled to live up to her name, at least initially.Kristin recalls fighting the wind and the big waves while trying to force the boat to go in their desired direction.It was intuitive to fight, yet it didn’t take long for them to realize it was futile to muscle against what nature was dealing.It would be more prudent to stop forcing things. “We sailed our keelboat like a dinghy and just went with it,” says Kristin.Hours later, they were able to tuck into Oak Harbor to wait out the storm before heading safely into Victoria.   

After this ferocious introduction to the excitement and dangers of the R2AK, Team Kelp made a pact that they would race smart but cautious. “We both agreed we would avoid weather like that at all cost,” Kristin said. “If the conditions said no, they would seek safe anchorage and wait it out.” The women were both okay with this plan.  Their goal was to get to Ketchikan in 18-22 days.  After all, this to this team, the R2AK was more of an adventure than a race.  At one point, they were moving along swiftly but decided to make a detour to hang out and play with dolphins for 45 minutes.  This pit stop was costly.  Once they were back on their way, the wind died and they ended up rowing 6 hours in Johnstone Strain into the night.

“We both agreed we would avoid weather like that at all cost.”

Kristin doing some science research

    Kristin Pederson taking research samples.

What Were the Hard Parts? 

To look back at the photos and videos of Team Kelp, one would get the impression that they giggled and laughed all the way to Alaska.But to delve deeper into their story, there was undoubtedly the element of fear present.After days of sailing, rowing and sleepless nights, fatigue factored into the equation and there was a time when Elena found herself doubting her desire to continue. “This was hard,” she stated.  Elena needed to work through this and after taking a “time out” below in their cramped cabin, she realized that if she quit now, it would be due to fear.If Elena knew one thing, she knew that she was not about to let her fear define her actions. Her decision was made. Back in control, she rejoined her teammate.

   Beauty and remoteness of the Inside Passage

For Kirstin, it was being alone that got to her. The remoteness was difficult and played on their stress levels. Desolate wilderness surrounded by isolating blue waters, the chances of running into one of 24 boats competing for the same finish line was slim.  But chance was on their side when they met up with Team Grace B – three guys nearly old enough to be their fathers.  They shared a meal, laughs, and their sea tales.  The camaraderie was just what they needed to raise their spirits and energize them forward.

Team Kelp rang the bell in Ketchikan after 17 days, one day faster than their original goal.  Like all the finishers of the R2AK, they each walked off their boat changed by the experience.  For Elena, the urgency of the task has passed. “Immediately upon returning,  I had more patience for things I couldn’t change.  Some days we just rowed in place or went backward.  Finally, we gave into what we couldn’t change.  I walked away with a greater sense of patience.” Kristin felt the experience was a huge confidence booster. “Not having an engine makes every move more serious and intentional. When you’re out there and you just have to figure things out – you just do!”

“Immediately upon returning, I had more patience for things I couldn’t change.”

Any Plans to Repeat the R2AK

Team Kelp on their boat Holdfast

               Holdfast sunset sail to Alaska

Kristin contemplates repeating the race.  “Yes, but I wouldn’t want to double handle it… It’s such a crazy event.  Every time you do it will be a different experience.”  Elena on the other hand, isn’t interested in another try.  “I have no desire to do this race again.  I’ve toyed with doing the 70/48, but the R2AK takes so much effort and time in the preparation.  I personally feel there are so many other parts of my life I want to live, like my career, marriage, reading, sewing and sailing

Any Words of Wisdom for Women/Girls?

Elena eloquently summarized her wisdom about this race. “Anytime you’re considering something for your life that will make you happy – you should do it. It’s not worth your time if it doesn’t make you happy.” After a short pause, she added: “Our ability to do this race reflects an immense privilege we have.  We were able to buy a boat.  We have jobs that allowed us to do this.  Not everyone gets to make choices on this scale.  I recognize that, but everyone has some small choice in life they can make to make them happy – it’s so important to make those choices.  We all need to do more of this!”   

Read more Sistership Stories about The Women of the R2AK.  

R2AK Captain Katy Stewart

R2AK Captain Janice Mason

R2AK Captain Jeanne Goussev

R2AK Captain Michelle Boroski

Team Sail Like A Girl Wins 2018 R2AK

2018 R2AK. In Sisterhood with Sistership

Team Sistership 2017

Team Sistership 2016

Sistership uses a portion of our profits from our Sistership Store to support organizations that give women and girls opportunities that ignite their adventurous spirit and age boldly.  Check out our new 2019 ENDURE women T-shirts, designed with for the women of the R2AK in mind.  Purchase one and make an impact on the NWMC “Give Like A Girl” scholarship program.

Sistership ENDURE T-shirt for women who sail, row, pedal, paddle and endure.

Photos used by permission from Team Kelp Facebook



Six R2AK Women Captains – Perspectives On Their Race To Alaska

Six R2AK Women Captains – Perspectives On Their Race To Alaska


Things for women are moving at a record pace these days for women of the Race to Alaska (R2AK).  That’s excellent news, especially for a race that was the brainchild of a couple of dudes over more than a couple of beers. Fortunately, these guys had the foresight to create a race with little rules.  The R2AK is a 750-mile boat race from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, Alaska.  The route travels north up the Inside Passage along some of the most breathtaking and desolate waters and landscapes in North America.  The race provides a unique risk-taking opportunity for athletes, adventurers, and explorers to test their survival instincts and reclaim their spirit of adventure.  Without categories, motors, or support, the race encourages ingenuity and grit over high dollar vessels and big corporate sponsorship. By design, Mother Nature becomes the great equalizer.  It’s a race for “the People” –  women included. 

The number of women R2AK finishers has seen a six-fold increase in four years.

Photos from Team’s Facebook used with permission.

In just the four years since its “humble beginnings,” female participation in the R2AK has gone wild.   As best as I can gather from the unofficial race bios on the R2AK website, the number of woman finishers has seen a six-fold increase.  The inaugural race in 2015 started out with four women making it to Alaska. In 2016 it doubled, and two of the all-female teams accounted for seven of the eight women finishers.   The following year, this number increased to 16 and just last year, 24 women rang the bell in Ketchikan.  These statistics are only the women who made it to Alaska.  I didn’t have an accurate count of all the women who started the race out of Port Townsend for Stage I to Victoria or the full race to Alaska.  But, I’m guessing there were at least twice as many who started as who finished.  Some either made it to Victoria and intentionally (or unintentionally) stopped, and some called it quits somewhere along the 710-mile course of Stage II and went home.  Reasons unknown, who cares.  The women showed up with grit and enthusiasm and thousands (if not millions) of viewers took notice. 

Sistership Stories is profiling six female captains who’ve made it to Ketchikan, three of them multiple times. Three are set to do it again. 

Sistership Stories is profiling six female captains who’ve made it to Ketchikan, three of them multiple times and three who are doing it again on June 03.  Our mission is to showcase, support and promote active women who live to Age Proud, Grow Bold and who inspire others to do the same.  


Captain Katy Stewart

Captain Janice Mason  

Captain Jeanne Goussev

Captain Michelle Boroski

Co-Captains Kristin Pederson / Elena Losey

Follow these stories and the women of the R2AK.
Support their efforts of empowering women by visiting the Sistership Store and purchasing Sistership’s 2019 ENDURE T-shirt on our store.
We will donate a portion of our profits to the Northwest Maritime Center “Give Like A Girl” Campaign.
Make an impact and help women and girls become involved in maritime programs and opportunities and the spirit of adventure.
Sistership ENDURE T-shirt for women who sail, row, pedal, paddle and endure.