The third edition of ‘Race to Alaska’ is set to begin Thursday morning at 0500. Early.
The mood here in Port Townsend is a little more subdued than the past couple of years, but more confident. Some of the teams are having last minute “aha” moments, but my recollection from the first year was one of widespread last minute preparation. That year, some 37 teams started, but only 15 finished. One or two never crossed the starting line and another didn’t make it to Point Wilson. Rudders failed and structural parts broke.
This year is different. Many of the racers are returnees from one or both of the earlier races. There’s no swagger but one feels the quiet, subdued determination. A few are here to win, most are here because this race gets under your skin. It’s difficult. It takes skill and applied experience. And it’s a whole lot of whacky fun.
In remarks shared with a small group of interested spectators, Jake Beattie talked about the origin of the race. Jake is the executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center located in Port Townsend and any chat about R2AK starts off with a quick overview of the center itself. The Maritime Center has woven itself into the DNA of Port Townsend with programs tied to learning, building boats, festivals and R2AK. Even the school system has utilized the center and one can argue that the sea is one of life’s great teachers. The center provides youth access to that incredible educator.
The race is structured with very few rules. No engine, no support. There are a few others, but the intent was to connect with the Northwest coast in simple terms — to experience it in as pure a form as possible. Not only is engine usage not allowed, you can’t have an engine on board period.
Not having an engine fosters a different decision making process. An engine can be used as a get out of jail free card. Without one, lee shores are (or should be) better respected. The calculation for risk taking changes without an engine. Seamanship is taken more seriously. There are no easy outs.
Jake is pretty much an “anti rules” guy and the race is a breath of fresh air given the litigious nature of society. In fact, rule 8 directly addresses any skirting of the rules. Paraphrased, it states, if the race committee needs to consult with a lawyer to determine if you are disqualified or not, you’re automatically disqualified. The ethic is clear.
As the race matures, the parties are getting bigger. Jake commented that R2AK now has three hometowns. Port Townsend, Victoria and Ketchikan. There are parties in each of the three and R2AK has become part of the fabric of them all. The Ruckus is tonight in Port Townsend, and the Whitehall Rowing and Sail Club is hosting a dinner and party in Victoria. Ketchikan is throwing a block party. Uniting the West Coast could be a subliminal plot by the R2AK organizers.
The respect for the Inside Passage is evident from all who participate in and with R2AK. It’s a beautiful stretch of water and the construct of the race allows competitors to experience all of it in its purest form.
The skippers meeting was conducted by Daniel Evans and went over the usual housekeeping items. One team had not done training for their SPOT Tracker and two other teams were yet to complete their safety checks. The start sequence was described and the quote of the day was, “you can’t win at the starting line tomorrow, but you can lose at the starting line tomorrow.” There is no prize for the leg between Port Townsend and Victoria. Yes, they keep statistics on such stuff but with so many teams with different type boats, the organizers cautioned all contestants that aggressive maneuvering at the start carried little reward and great risk.
A representative from VTS pointed out a “no go” area for contestants that would actually be guarded by the Coast Guard. Daniel gleefully pointed out that a law was passed specifically for R2AK. They also covered Rule 10 in the COLREGS, which clarifies the rules in the shipping lanes. Bluntly put, don’t take on a container ship with a little boat. You’ll lose.
Daniel also said that while the race is unsupported, it is not unsupervised. Several authorities from VTS, to the Coast Guard to search and rescue will be watching both their radars and the race tracker. Pay attention to the shipping lanes and the “no go” zone.
Daniel closed the skippers meeting with prepared remarks centering on individual responsibility. Self-reliance and seamanship strike at the core of what is R2AK. Help or assistance may be a while in coming. Be careful out there.
Finally, I did take a tour of a few of the boats about to compete in the race. Most seemed well prepared, while others wrestled with last minute problems. Russel Brown in his Gougeon 32 was tackling a rigging issue caused by his rotating mast and Global Diving was waiting for their pedal drive while at the same time experimenting with an offset rowing configuration (one sweep oar on the bow on one side with another sweep oar on the stern on the other side). Elena Losey from Team Kelp was showing off an ingenious sliding seat made from roller blade wheels (it was really cool) and a newly made foot pedestal that promptly snapped (it worked fine moments earlier).
Such is the preparation for R2AK.
The mood here is permeated by the weather forecast. Today has been lovely. Tomorrow morning could be ugly and wet. The glass is dropping. Stay tuned.
For all things R2AK related, including the race tracker, visit r2ak.com.