U.S. Coast Guard rescues several people after capsizing in race to Victoria

Four people sailing on their way to Victoria have been pulled from the water in the Strait of Juan de Fuca by rescue crews.

According to the United States Coast Guard, four people were rescued after the vessels they were sailing in capsized on Monday morning. The group was heading from Port Townsend, Wash. to Victoria as part of the Race to Alaska when they encountered rough seas.

Three people were pulled from the water by USCG crews, one was rescued by a nearby safety boat while all remaining participants took shelter near Protection Island, Dungeness Spit, or returned to dry land.

“Thankfully a lot of these individuals were wearing the proper safety gear such as life jackets, dry suits and they had personal locator beacons,” Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, with the US Coast Guard, said.

In an email to CHEK News, the Coast Guard said the individuals were participating in a race, which had received a permit but the permit had a condition to cancel the race if the weather required it.

“While the Coast Guard issues marine event permits for races and certain other specific activities on the water, the race organizers are responsible for the overall safety of the event, including cancellation if weather conditions warrant it,” said Strohmaier in an email.

“The permitting process allows the Coast Guard to deconflict issues with events, determine if the event warrants pre-staging Coast Guard assets in the area, and gives our command center visibility. A permit does not absolve an organizer and the individual operators of the overall responsibility for safety.”

The Coast Guard confirmed to CHEK News the individuals were participating in the Race to Alaska, which posted on Instagram that three boats capsized in this morning’s race.

The Race to Alaska, organized by the Northwest Maritime Center, is an annual event, which paused for two years due to the pandemic, where teams sail from Port Townsend to Victoria for the first leg of the race, then from Victoria to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Organizers said because of the wind, they extended the race time frame from 36 hours to 60 hours for boaters to complete the first leg.

“Our hope was that racers would look at the same forecast that we were looking at and decide to wait because it was predicted to be pretty windy and with pretty steep seas on the straight today, which it was,” said Jake Bettie, executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center.

The rescued people were showing signs of hypothermia and were brought to medical personnel in Port Angeles.

The USCG also said that the Canadian Coast Guard came to help and that several good samaritans have also been helping in the rescue efforts.

Those who did make it to Victoria are getting ready for the second leg of the Race to Alaska scheduled to leave Thursday at noon.

“The same piece of water can be vastly different in just 24 hours,” Bettie said. “I think people are looking at the weather pretty acutely at this point.”

He added the Northwest Maritime Center will be reviewing this incident as part of final debriefs and will continue to work with both Canadian and US Coast Guards until the end of the race.

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