Race to Alaska: North

Kelsey Breseman
2 min readJun 25, 2022

The first time you could really feel the growing cold was the exit of Johnstone Strait into Queen Charlotte. The sun was out, and warm, but there was a noticeable bite in the wind.

The further north we go, the more we feel it. On the night watch at solstice, 2am saw me and Ert doing calisthenics in the darkness: him doing step-ups on the lazaret, me doing ankle circles, flutter kicks, Y-T-W arm configurations to loosen my shoulders.

Cold burns a lot of calories, and more so when you have to work out to be warm. Morning is always a relief, now even more so.

We’re past the year’s longest day, but we’re moving northward faster than the days shorten: two last night was the beginning of dawn.

I’m in all my layers every shift: full thermals, two more base layers, fleece, down coat, waterproof outers. My feet are in wool socks in waterproof socks in 16" rubber boots, and I’m wearing a beanie plus two hoods up.

There’s no heater, no campfire. All we have is our sleeping bags and clothes, maybe Jetboil tea.

That outfit held me cozy for the first two hours of shift last night. We’re sailing on fine seas, perfect conditions: chop and swells less than a meter, winds five to fifteen knots, enough to fill our sails but not enough to dip the toe rails. Ert and I sat in the cockpit singing along to Cat Stevens and Jim Croce on long upwind tacks between Banks Island and Haida Gwaii. The water glowed with the reflected pink and gold.

We sailed suspended in an hours-long sunset that ceded most of the sky to deep blue and stars, but never quite gave up its orange glow.

After the midnight shift change, Graham and I sat quiet in the constant chill, him at the tiller, me on log watch: scanning out in front at the silver-blue-gray for anything that’s not water.

There are logs that look like waves, waves that look like logs, and pieces of wood that float by your boat without you ever seeing them coming. We’ve hit a few, and had a few near misses. The wake of our boat churns up glowing algae flakes.

I sing quietly into the wind as my toes slowly grow numb and my body shivers. Sunset/sunrise is in the north: follow the big dipper up to the north star.

At two, as light fills the horizon ring, I wake Liam and take his bunk as he takes over the shift.

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