Ski to Sea

Ski to Sea kayaking leg a race across the bay to ring the bell

Aeromech kayaker Sean Rice approaches the beach at Fairhaven Marine Park after completing the kayak leg of the 2015 Ski to Sea.
Aeromech kayaker Sean Rice approaches the beach at Fairhaven Marine Park after completing the kayak leg of the 2015 Ski to Sea. For The Bellingham Herald


Year leg added to the race: 1990 (first added as an option to sailing for two years before it became the only option until 2005, when outrigger canoe was added).

Where: Bellingham Bay from Squalicum Harbor to Marine Park.

Course length: About five miles.

Approximate time to complete: 40 minutes for top finishers, around an hour for everybody else.

Course description: On a normal race day, the finish line is only a zigzag across Bellingham Bay, but afternoon winds may force the race committee to shorten or cancel the leg for safety reasons. The course is set to go from Squalicum Harbor to the outfall buoy, then back to marker 1 at the log boom. It then heads southwest close to Boulevard Park around four other markers, before competitors beach their kayaks at Marine Park, run up the beach and ring the bell.

Kayak/Bellingham Bay conditions chair: Larry Bussinger.

Kayaak exchange co-chairs: Penny Carter and Mac Carter.

Finish line co-chairs: Mo Stewart and Russ Stewart.

Pre-race meeting: 11:45 a.m. at Zuanich Point Park.

Recommended departure time from Bellingham: 10:45 a.m.

Timing chip: The kayaker will receive the chip from the cyclocross biker, swipe the chip to record the finish time of the cyclocross leg, kayak across Bellingham Bay, swipe the chip to record the finish time for the kayak leg and ring the bell. The kayaker is responsible for swiping the chip twice (once at the start and once at the finish of the leg). The kayaker should also return the timing chip to a Ski to Sea volunteer at the finish line. Failure to return the chip could result in the team being charged to replace it.

0 Kayakers who got to ring the bell after completing their leg in 2015, when the mountain biking leg was the final leg. Kayaking will once again be the final leg this year, meaning kayakers will once again get the honor.

2 p.m. Time afternoon winds tend to kick up on Bellingham Bay.

16 Straight years the Boundary Bay Brewery Women’s Team has claimed the Competitive Women’s Division title, though the Whatcom County Women Division’s Kulshan Cycles had the fastest time by a women’s team in 2016.

What’s new in 2016

Ring the bell, buy a beer: With the changes in 2015, the kayaking leg, was no longer the final leg of Ski to Sea. Kayakers had to hand off to mountain bikers, who pedaled to Chuckanut Mountain and back before they got to ring the bell at the ceremonial finish line for their team. But with Ski to Sea returning to its “classic” format this year, kayakers will once again get the glory.

Course adjustment: Though few people will notice any changes unless they they are using a GPS, the race committee will make some minor modifications to two of the buoys. “We basically just wanted to clean things up,” kayak and Bellingham Bay conditions chair Larry Bussinger said in a phone interview. The buoy nearest the old Georgia Pacific plant was moved about 150 feet to create better anchorages for safety boats, and the buoy near Marine Park was moved farther south to create a safer entrance to the park, Bussinger said.

Short course adjustment: Though Ski to Sea hopes it won’t have to use it, the race committee created a new, safer short course, Bussinger said. The short course, which has only been used once because of strong afternoon winds, used to head to the northeastern end of Boulevard Park and then hug the coast to Marine Park. But rebound off the coast hit kayakers at unsafe angles, making it challenging for paddlers of all levels. Bussinger said the new short course will go directly to Marine Park. The new 2.4-mile course will allow kayakers to head directly into the prevailing winds out of the southwest — a much safer way for kayaks to navigate waves.


The race may be seen from Zuanich Point Park, the Bellwether development, Bellingham Cruise Terminal, Boulevard Park or Marine Park. To avoid the parking crunch around Fairhaven, arrive early or ride a bike. Whatcom Transportation Authority is offering extra buses on Route 14, allowing people to park at Western Washington University’s Lot C. Buses will run every 15 minutes.

Best place to watch the leg: Is there a better place than near the finish line in Fairhaven? Watch competitors finish and reunite with their teams and take in the awards celebration before heading to the beer garden.


▪ Racers can take kayaks to the park on Saturday, May 28, and Boy Scouts will watch them overnight.

▪ By this time of day you won’t be dealing with changing weather, so clothing choices should be easier. Remember it is likely to be breezy on Bellingham Bay, and there could be splashes from waves.

▪ Any water that kayakers bring should be easy to access without using your hands; CamelBaks, or something similar, would be ideal.

▪ Coast Guard-approved life jackets must be worn at all times during the leg.

2015 top finishers

Men: Sean Rice (Aeromech / Sensible.Technology) 41:30

Women: Heather Nelson (Kulshan Cycles) 51:46

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