Seascape18 on Race2Alaska

Thomas Nielsen recently became a Seascape18 owner. A man of many adventures and ideas decided to take Seascape18 on the biggest journey she probably ever did.

We met Thomas this year on SeascapeChallenge, when he joined Jochen Denkena on 134NM route. And it was a great experience about which you can read in his article – The last boat wins the SeascapeChallenge.

Here Thomas is presenting us Race2Alaska, 750NM sailing adventure that is hard to describe in one sentence. About the race, his reason for joining and his last year experience in the story below. The Race to Alaska starts on June 23rd!

Race to Alaska

by Thomas Nielsen


The start of the Race to Alaska is now less than two weeks away. For many teams, it in fact has already started. Some teams have started to move their boats towards the start line by air, land and water. Other teams, are now facing the reality that they’re boats are not ready and they are in a race to get to the start line.

The Race to Alaska is a 750 mile cold water test of brave souls who will push towards Ketchikan Alaska from Port Townsend Washington with their eyes on the ten thousand dollar prize. It’s nailed to a tree for the first boat to arrive to take. I’ll be racing solo in my eighteen against 43 other teams, not two alike. This is one type of adventure I believe the Seascape 18 will do well in.

The Race to Alaska started well over six months ago for me on a cool November morning when I stepped off the bus that had taken me from Logan Airport in Boston north to Kittery Point Maine. My first contact with the Seascape 18. In 2015, I was in the second camp of sailors as described above. Madly trying to finish building a boat for the race. A boat conceived in chalk lines of a garage floor, most of the details to be discovered. Free-flow design as you build. I didn’t want to be there again if I was going to try to be competitive. For the 2016 R2AK, I wanted a well thought out, tested boat that I could race solo and that would meet some basic criteria. On paper, the Seascape 18 looked like the boat. Two days of test sailing with Toralf Strand had me thinking that I had found my boat or was that the beers we drank afterwards talking? I went back after a fast and crazy weekend, re-read my notes, weighed my options, had a beer and committed. I had found my boat.

Looking back over the time spent first waiting for the boat to arrive and then sailing it almost daily since it arrived, I know I made the right choice. Other than buying some fruit and a pay as you go SIM card in Victoria, I am ready to race.

Most of the race is through very desolate country. Very few people live along the race route. There will be long stretches where at night, not a single sign of human habitation will be visible. Not a light to guide you along. It will be like open ocean racing but with plenty of rocks to hit – whole islands in fact that if it is cloudy or rainy will be completely obscured. I have trained for this. I am ready. In fact, I have already done some rock hitting and the eighteen’s swing keel is the perfect weapon.

The Race to Alaska is probably unlike any other race. The absence of most sail racing rules and the lack of classes means that almost anything goes. How can a boat like the Seascape 18 compete against a 73 foot trimaran? Is a heavy, traditional, rowed open dory crewed by nine women a threat? Or the solo stand up paddle boarder? Speed is not necessarily your friend in this race. Boats tear out their bottoms, rudders and keels on the vast amount of debris that floats in these waters – whole trees, cut logs, tide lines filled with all types of floating items including tsunami debris that continues to show up from the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Recently during a race, a 60 foot catamaran pitch polled when one of the hulls hit a large tangle of kelp. That hull stopped, the rest of the boat sailed on. They lost their rig and spent time sitting on the upside down wreck. They were lucky they were not in an isolated area like the Race to Alaska will transit. Rescue happen in under an hour, not days. That won’t be the story for the R2AK.

Thomas Nielsen on Race to Alaska 2015

For the race, I will be carrying a few more items than what you would normally expect to find on a boat participating in a coastal race. Of course I have the basics; sailing gear, food and water. I have also had to think through the contingencies. Hull holed – collision mat. Dismasted but needing to sail on – supplies to jury rig. Bear, wolf or cougar encounter – oh shit! The scenarios are unlimited and so would the weight of everything you would need be. I set a limit. No more total weight, including myself, than what three sailors would weigh with their gear for a “round the marks” club race. We three scrawny sailors or two normal weight individuals that will be “onboard” when I leave includes ten days of water. I have lost about 10 kilos in weight in preparation for the race. It is guaranteed that I will need to move the boat and the gear through my own power alone after all. I don’t want to be giving these free loaders a ride. My pedaling weight is lean and muscular.

The Seascape I will be racing is pretty much a stock boat. I’ve made a few modifications that will help me on the Race to Alaska but really this boat was ready to go out of the box. Sure I drilled a few holes to add some extra hardware to make it easier to sail solo and I have a couple of extra sails but that’s it. The real change is in how I propel this boat by human power. A thru-hull opening for an “inboard motor” would have been nice but a brutal change. Instead I’ve given the boat an “outboard” powered by me. Using the motor mount bolts on the transom, I’ve fit a pedal driven propellor to the boat. It’s fairly simple but it’s also still a prototype. I’m counting on the eighteen’s ability to sail faster than I can pedal in light wind but I have to have it. You are not allowed to sail into Victoria Harbour and you are required by the race to get to the Customs Dock under your own power. This is good. It will be fun to see how the 73 foot trimaran manages that.

Big ocean weather systems govern what happens on the Pacific Coast but inland the winds tend to be highly thermal with predictable daily patterns. As a solo sailor, when the wind machine completely shuts down, that will be when I get some sleep. The rest of the time I will be either sailing or at the pedals keeping the competition on the southern horizon as the race heads north.

Thomas Nielsen, new to Seascape sailing, is racing solo in his Seascape 18 in the Race to Alaska.  Follow him at tsunamichaser on Instagram, on Facebook for race updates and R2AK.com/tracker!

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