Race To Alaska (R2AK) version #1 was great fun. And R2AK 2.0 is shaping up to be even more exciting.
The same prize remains — $10,000 for first prize, a set of steak knives for second place, but who will take it? Will the high tech multihulls dominate again? Will last year’s historic winds return favoring the sailors? Or will a calm prevail favoring the strong? The debate could go on for hours, but like Bugliosy said, “…the sea will tell.”
The race rules are simple: No engines, no support. Start in Port Townsend with a sprint to Victoria to weed out the ill prepared. Check points are at Seymour Narrows and Bella Bella. This year the rules on “no support” were strengthened a bit after last year’s experience.
The wide variety of contestants is staggering. High tech multihulls, including a 73-foot monster, will race side by side with much smaller monohulls, modified kayaks and, yes, a SUP (standup paddleboard). This year’s contest has attracted world class sailors, an Olympic Gold medalist, and many others who seek a grand challenge and excellent adventure.
One can grouse about the entry of larger, well financed entrants, but at its core, the race is about promoting human powered and sail driven craft on almost any budget — heck, the race bosses even invited Larry Ellison and Oracle Team USA to join the fun. They declined.
This author has taken an old leaky sailboat from Seattle to Ketchikan (ok, that was over a third of a century ago) and a few years later screamed up to Juneau and out to Glacier Bay in a 21 foot speedboat. Though neither trip was as “pure” as the R2AK, both trips, as well as some of the contestants, prove that it doesn’t take a big budget to get to Alaska. With a bit of knowledge (easily obtainable in and around Puget Sound) the trip can be done in almost any craft and done so fairly safely. It’s a fun ride with breathtaking scenery and up close encounters with wildlife.
Who’s stepping into the R2AK ring this year?
With the wide scope of competing boats there’s no precise way to break down the competition. But here’s a look at some of the 45 entries for the full race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan (R2AK is still updating their site with all the entrants):
- 15 high tech multihulls, all of which are capable of high speeds (some higher than others, but not a slouch in the pack).
- 11 small sailboats, ranging from a Montgomery 17 (hey, they finished last year!) to some high speed dinghies.
- 6 small trimarans. Even those have a wide spread: 3 of them are paddled, 2 of them are rowed and one is peddled when the wind drops.
- 5 larger monohulls ranging from 27 feet to 44 feet, including Carl Buchan’s custom 40-footer, Madrona.
- The final two boats that are more or less in their own category are a 26 foot dory, crewed by nine (according to the R2AK website, “if you want privacy, close your eyes”) and a standup paddleboard. Port Townsend to Ketchikan on a SUP, good for him.
Last year at the starting line, I got the sense that there was a lot of last minute preparation with race ending problems occurring just before and after the start. One launched, but was unable to get to the starting line. During the first few days of the race some boats never got past the Strait of Georgia. Thirty five started. Fifteen finished.
In looking at this year’s race, undoubtably there will be some teams tweaking until the last minute but the greater story is one of overall preparation. Several teams are returning from last year (this race, apparently, gets under your skin). Seasoned, they know what to expect.
The 73-foot trimaran is poised to take every advantage of the wind. Stacked with talent (read their bio here) they’re probably the odds on favorite, but in an unsupported race with 750 nautical miles of currents and fluky winds, anything can happen. Without wind, the nod goes to the more human powered craft, as the ratio of hours with decent wind and when that wind occurs will shape the race. If it’s unusually calm for a large portion of the race, then human powered craft, with their ability to head straight where they want to go, might have the advantage. But math is on the side of sail. When the wind pipes up, some of the sailboats are capable of 20 knots or better. At those speeds, any deficit can be erased in a hurry.
Then you’ve got smart sailors. World class sailors. One Olympic Gold Medalist. And one of the three winning crew from last year will combine his efforts with a seasoned captain who also raced last year. They’ve got experience.
Graeme Esarey was one of the winners last year aboard Team Elsie Piddock and is on board “Unscrewed” with fun loving and adventure seeking Captain Dan Blanchard for this year’s contest. Dan hosted a hilarious competition and crowd sourced his crew (see it here). With that type of experience and energy aboard, Dan could be one of the favorites.
Carl Buchan is an Olympic Gold medalist. Growing up on Puget Sound, we’d race against the Buchan family and binoculars were usually required to read their sterns. Carl is going to yank the engine out of his 40-foot monohull Madrona, the boat he designed and built (it’s in his blood he told me a couple of years ago), then put two sweep oars on the stern. He’s assembled a crew that he enjoys sailing with and while they’re not the largest monohull nor the fastest boat, never count him out.
One interesting race within a race will be the lineup of the Liteboat from France that was conceived and built by Mathieu Bonnier versus the Row-Cruiser designed and built by Colin Angus. From a distance they are similar, combining sail and rowing using a narrow hull supported by outriggers. But up close they are quite different. Both will be rowed by a single person and in both cases, rowed by world class adventurers.
Colin and his wife Julie were both awarded National Geographic’s “Adventurer of the Year” in 2007, and were the first to circumnavigate the world via human propulsion. Pause for a moment, that would be around the earth via bike, ski, on foot, canoe and rowboat. Both Colin and Mathieu have rowed across the Atlantic. The Liteboat and the Row Cruiser combine rowing and sailing in a way that lines up well with today’s small footprint ethic.
Crowd (and contestant) favorite Roger Mann is back this year as are Bill and Ted and their Excellent Adventure. Only it’s a new Ted. Not the old Ted. Both Teds were introduced to Bill by Bill’s daughter with the race committee surmising that she has put in place a devious filter for any prospective mate (“If you sail to Alaska with my Dad…”).
Once again, there are just too many interesting characters from which to pick a favorite. You can find them all here. Most of their bios are quite funny to read and after you stop laughing (in an admiring way), pick your winner and follow them on the race tracker.
The race starts on June 23 with a dash to Victoria. By design, it’s both a chance for some to compete in only that leg and to be a part of R2AK, but it also serves as a filter for the participants of the full race. If you can’t make it to Victoria, you’re obviously not going to make it to Ketchikan.
You can follow the race on Three Sheets for periodic updates and context, or by going directly to the R2AK website — which is really the best and fastest way to find out up-to-date info. Jake Beattie, executive director of the NW Maritime Center in Port Townsend, is the brain child of the race and provides their updates. He’s got a sense of humor that won’t stop and his reports are informative and hilarious.
Have fun with following the 2016 R2AK. And if you have kids, help them follow along too. Who knows what will evolve when young people are exposed to these types of challenges and role models?