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.

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