R2AK Update: This race, and it’s competitors, continues to amaze

UPDATE, 5:30 p.m. 6/26/17:

Since the last update, five more teams have finished, one is knocking at the door of ‘done’ and the final eight teams are strung out from Prince Rupert to Bella Bella. The mystical, mythical and perhaps metaphorical “sweep boat” started on the 25th, making 75 nautical miles a day. Meaning this race has just over a week left to go before, one way or another, it’s over for this year.

Team Sistership, once near dead last, passed much of the fleet to finish 15th, but couldn’t quite catch team Adventourists, the Australians on Gizmo. After a two day lag, the Frenchmen aboard Team Phocoena finished and minutes later Karl Kruger on his standup paddleboard finished. Each team is a story on their own, but Karl’s journey was exceptional. Seven hundred and fifty miles on a SUP. 750! After he finished, Karl seemed to say he was battling himself as much or more than the elements. That voice that says, “stop, you don’t have to do this.” But the indomitable will that over powers that voice.

Karl Kruger. Roger Mann. The boys, now men, of North2Alaska. Sistership after their setback. Broderna after their initial breakage. Global after their boom crumpled. Everyone trying to pedal, paddle and row through rain and calms. These hearty souls make up R2AK. Everyone battled the elements, fatigue, equipment and themselves. Each of the teams in the R2AK offers examples of our better selves and life lessons to follow. Oh what a race.

Ryan (Nomadica) should finish shortly. He came into Shearwater with no electronics, navigating the last few pitch black miles with a head lamp.

The other teams are still heading North. Rush Aweigh, the Montgomery 17 is just outside of Prince Rupert and three other boats, the Kayak (Matt Prius, Vis Reporter’, canoe (Rod Price Adventures) and Kristen and Elena with Team Kelp (carrying ‘flat Dan!’) are on the east side of Porcher Island. The three guys on the old pinky ‘Grace B’ are just to the south. Oaracle and team ‘Make it so’ are in Shearwater and Dan Gilbert, (Team Gar) is the southern most racer just now approaching Bella Bella.

Great stories yet to come and now the math of the Sweep Boat enters into an already complicated equation.

Rock on R2AK V 3.0!

UPDATE, 8:30 p.m. 6/22/17:

It’s the home stretch for many R2AK competitors. Click the image to follow the tracker live.

Thirteen teams have finished, 14 are left working their way north and an additional three teams have retired from the race.

Russell Brown handily beat the singlehanded record and Roger Mann finished several hours later. With a much faster boat, Russell took a more gentlemanly approach stopping every night. Roger Mann, with a slower boat, got to Ketchikan with strength, determination and sheer will.

In R2AK, it’s said that “everyone finds their race.” The four boys and a dad (North2Alaska) in the aluminum high school project sharpie were focused on beating their competitor Team Global. And beat them they did. Their bold move through Seymour Narrows in the dead of night gave them strategic advantage and they built on it with relentless effort. Eerily similar to Roger Mann, they pulled oars, all nighters and gave it everything they had. The boys became men upon their successful arrival in Ketchikan, and Henry became the youngest ever to complete the R2AK.

Just as North2Alaska pulled off an audaciously bold move, team Global thought they had their move lined up when they headed to the outside in Hecate Strait.  Their boat is the heaviest in the fleet and, in their words “sucks in light wind.” With strong southerlies they saw their chance to perhaps get in front of the coming gale and make good time. They headed outside and all was going well till it wasn’t. As they surfed a wave their boom buckled.

Again, in their words, they cursed, broke out some food and snacked. Then discussed how to fix things. Obtaining shelter in a cove, they created a splint for the boom and pushed on to Ketchikan.

The next two to land in Ketchikan will likely be Adventourists and Sistership. Adventourists has the lead, Sistership may have something to prove. Sistership has been passing teams right and left after their setback with their centerboard. Can they pass the last team between them and Ketchikan?

Karl Kruger is headed up Grenville channel. Eating three to four chewable tablets per hour, he’s been averaging about 50 miles per day on his paddleboard. Before the race, Daniel Evans explained to me that his thinking about paddleboards had evolved over the past couple of years. When it comes to being prepared to go overboard, most of us sailors wear PFDs giving the illusion we’re ready to take a dunk. But we know our chances of going over are exceedingly slim. We may or may not be wearing a dry or wet suit and wearing a PFD isn’t really an indication of preparedness for the real thing. For a paddleboarder, it’s a real risk. Karl explained as much when he took on Johnstone Strait in high winds. He was suited up and ready for a swim.

Most of the rest of the fleet is above Bella Bella with only three teams remaining south of Cape Caution.

The “Fueled on Stoke” guys have retired from the race, as has John Guider who had been battling bronchitis.

UPDATE, 7:00 a.m. 6/18/17:

The teams are spread wide. Click on the image to view the tracker.

It’s Sunday morning. Three teams are done and 10 teams are above the Bella Bella check point. All teams are preparing for strong southerlies projected for today.

Two very dissimilar teams are battling it out in the final stages. Ketch Me if You Can, on a Nacra 20 Catamaran with a team of two should out pace the West Coast Wild Ones to Ketchikan next, but given their performance, the Wild Ones are sailing their O’Day 27 exceedingly well. Reportedly, ‘Ketch Me’ is after the $10K buyback prize and will shortly be on their final approach to Ketchikan.

With a large gap between the likely 4th and 5th place boats, 3 ½ Aussies are in 6th place currently about to enter Estevan Sound.

Next are 7 boats the just above Bella Bella. The diversity of these craft, so close together, is remarkable. Tri’s, Cats, monohulls and a rowboat that has no reason – and yet every reason – to be hanging with far faster craft. The monohulls range from a mid-sixties Columbia sailboat to a state of the art planning Seascape 27. Low tech and high tech. Within that group is Roger Mann, positioned again to be the first solo finisher although it’s way premature to call it. Also within that group are the four high schoolers plus a dad rowing and sailing an aluminum replica of a sharpie. Happy Fathers Day to him!

Both the high schoolers and Roger Mann are showing what both the young, and the not-so young, are capable of. Both pulled all nighters yesterday with Roger Mann in team Discovery chugging up Fitzhugh Sound with the high schoolers right behind. With a full generation between Roger and the teenagers, it was a great sight. The spirit of R2AK is well represented between those two teams.

In a league by himself, Karl Kruger is camped after a big day near Cape Caution. Consider he’s gone the length of Vancouver Island in 6 days on a standup paddleboard. Re-read the previous sentence and let that sink in. And he just turned 45.

Adventourists, who have been posting some funny clips, had a fairly close encounter with a bear (they got a picture of it) is poised to pass Karl today as they drive Gizmo north through Queen Charlotte Sound.

The rest of the teams haven’t yet cleared the top of Vancouver Island. Sistership is on the move after rafting to former team mate Janice Mason near Helmcken Island for a reunion. Down to to three crewmembers, they’re still aiming to pick off as many teams as they can as they head north.

All but four of the teams are now above the Narrows and John Guilder, currently the southernmost boat, is battling a return of his Asthma and his posts indicate he’s struggling but at last report was still headed north. His tracker is acting up, so I don’t know his exact location.

There was a brief scare Thursday when Rod Price tried to head out into Seymour Narrows. He was seen battling large standing waves and wasn’t seen again. His batteries had given out on his Spot tracker, but he wisely returned to a cove and took shelter.  All the while he was oblivious to increasing alarm both within the R2AK organizers and his wife. The Canadian Coast Guard mounted a search, but Matt Prius, knowing what he’d do in a similar situation, followed a hunch and located Rod right where he thought he’d be. Safe and sound. All’s well that ends well, but there were about 30 increasingly nervous hours on the part of all parties, not the least of which was Rod’s wife.  In a posted video Rod was apologetic for the unintended event and he was clearly concerned about the angst he caused his wife (who likely holds the keys on future adventures!).

Strong southerlies are in the forecast today which should favor sail power. I’d look for some separation with the tri’s and the planning capable Seascape (Willpower) to rocket north.

Rock on R2AK v3.0!!

UPDATE, 5:00 p.m. 6/16/17:

Team Bad Kitty has just arrived in Ketchikan and takes third place. Huge congrats goes out to them for fighting on!

Ketch Me If You Can and West Coast Wild Ones are past Bella Bella and a host of others are north of Vancouver Island.

UPDATE, 9:45 a.m. 6/16/17:

Excellent report on yesterday’s action in Ketchikan here from R2AK HQ…

Team Pure & Wild and Big Broderna at the finish: Sean Huston, Nels Strandberg, Mars Le Baron, Lars Strandberg, Tripp Burd, Trevor Burd, Chris Burd (from left to right)

Despite the color of the flag, the feel of the money, and the sun-deprived caucasian pallor whose color falls somewhere between sidewalk stripe and salamander belly- Alaska is different. Bigger mountains, more rain, fewer people, louder jokes, thicker shirts, more xtra tuffs that serve here as the topsiders for anyone within a chew spit of the shoreline. Different as Alaska is, from the time the solstice-driven dawn began its slow yawn at 3 am, until three exhausted beers after the two teams finished, the same things were happening on the screen side of the last frontier as were happening in the rest of the R2AK nation. All of us were there: wide eyes, twitchy fingers that were alternately wearing out the tracker refresh and offering a center digit salute when it froze. All of us shared the desire to make eye contact with anyone nearby who wasn’t our boss to share just how damned exciting this all was. 750 miles and they were right on top of each other? If you had a pulse and more than two bars of cell coverage how could you not be excited? This was a race to the end. Continue reading…

Bad Kitty is on the move towards AK, as more teams head towards Bella Bella. Click the image to view the tracker.

UPDATE, 9:45 p.m. 6/15/17:

After 750 miles it boiled down to two sets of brothers from opposite coasts.

Accomplished sailors with great boats win races. But R2AK is about so much more than the top finishers. As gales rake the Inside Passage with the remaining R2AKers strung up and down the coast, there are still a couple of weeks left in this event. Consider that most teams are currently hunkered down waiting for the front to pass. Except for Karl Kruger on his paddleboard. He’s been on the move. When it was blowing 25-35 knots and prudent mariners were being prudent, he was hitting nearly 7 knots in Johnstone Strait. On a paddleboard!

And the high school kids (and one dad). They are on the move as well, but in a boat that is as uncomfortable as it can be. The dad deserves a great father’s day this weekend. But he knows he’s already got it.

After the gale lifts, though, there is still plenty of cheering left for great teams. Who will be the first solo R2Aker this year? Will Karl really make Ketchikan on his paddleboard? Who will get the $10K boat buy back? How many teams will Sistership pass?  Are there bold moves left for the high schoolers on North2Alaska? What about Rod Price and his single paddle? Will Kristen and Elena carrying ‘flat Dan’ retain their cheerfulness and get all the way to Ketchikan? Will West Coast Wild Ones in their old ODay 27 beat Ketch Me If You Can?

Everyone on the course finds their own race. Against others, against the elements, or against themselves. Find your racers. Cheer them on. And take the spirit of R2AK and make it your own.

Hit the refresh button on the tracker often. It’s all yet to unfold.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m. 6/15/17:

The Three Sheets Northwest crew was absolutely glued to the tracker and Facebook updates as Team Pure & Wild/Freeburd and Team Big Broderna battled to the finish in Ketchikan just moments ago. A huge congratulations goes out to the Burd brothers on Pure & Wild for taking number 1 — what a race! Wow.

And our hats go off to Team Big Broderna for giving them an epic run. Enjoy those steak knives, boys. You earned ’em!

UPDATE, 8:15 a.m. 6/15/17:

Well, it looks like a two horse race at this point, folks. The question is, who will snag the 10 grand and who will take home the steak knives?

Team Pure & Wild/Freeburd and Team Big Broderna are neck and neck near the BC – Alaska border and will finish today.

It’s gonna be a tight finish in Ketchikan! Click the tracker image to follow live.

For reasons yet unknown, Team Bad Kitty is holed up and out of contention for the first two slots. And don’t expect a lot of movement from the rest of the fleet as gales will rake the Inside Passage throughout the day.

UPDATE, Noon 6/14/17:

The R2AK playing field grows. Click on the image to view the tracker live.

The course now strings along from Nanaimo to Bella Bella. As of noon on Wednesday, there’s much to report. On the northern front, the brothers Burd on Pure & Wild have cleared the Bella Bella checkpoint and were cruising at 13 knots. Big Broderna and Bad Kitty are coming up on the checkpoint at about 7 knots. Lots of twists and turns ahead, but the focus now may be more on the steak knives. Strong southerlies are in the forecast – hold on!!

On the southern front, Sistership has re-engaged the race after repairing their centerboard. They are in it and it’ll be interesting to see just how many boats they can pick off as they find their own race north.

By my count, I have 30 boats actively racing now.

Aside from the top 3, Ketch me if you can is in 4th, with Team 3 and ½ Aussies in 5th but docked at Port McNeil.

There’s quite a gap to 6th, with West Coast Wild Ones still sailing up Johnstone strait and Roger Mann in 7th doggedly following.

Having no business in 8th place, but holding it after last night’s incredibly daring move through Seymour Narrows is North2Alaska. Most of Johnstone Strait is in front of them, but early mornings, late nights, guile and skill have this aluminum sharpie moving much faster than it logically should. Despite my misgivings, the team reports the event itself was mostly uneventful. “Minimal tide rips and perfect wind.” They rushed through within 10 minutes and achieved 12 knots, the fastest the old Johnny (for Johnny Horton) has ever gone. The team went on to say it was a strategic move to get ahead of the other teams holed up in Campbell River. Well played, sirs.

About 15 nautical miles behind and closing are 6 boats in close proximity. In an order that is likely to change, in 9th to 14th place are PT Watercraft, Global, Away Team, Triceratops, Nomadica, and the SeaScape 27, Willpower.

All the above teams are past Seymour Narrows. Seymour is ebbing right now – flowing the right direction, but with strong currents. Slack is just after three this afternoon, then the window closes with peak flood at 6:31 followed by another slack at 10 p.m.

In 15th through 19th position are five teams all at the same marina in Campbell River. Sailpro Racing (after some questionable navigation approaching Cape Mudge last night), team Kelp (after what must have been an incredibly long day yesterday!), Rush Aweigh, Adventourists, and new arrival just a few minutes ago, Karl Kruger on his standup paddleboard (Heart of Gold). All these teams could avail themselves of the afternoon slack.

Speaking of Adventourists, they tried to sneak away (their own admission) in the dead of night to get the benefit of the strong ebb around midnight and just as they were about to leave a random fellow on the dock called their attention to a missing rudder pin. No steering could have been catastrophic in the strong current. It’s likely Gizmo has an angel looking over her.

Four teams are just below Campbell River. Matt Prius and Grace B are well within range of the afternoon slack and there’s an outside chance that Rod Price and Freya could make it as well.

The other 7 teams are out of the Gulf Islands but still south of Comox. It’s really great to see Sistership back in it and charging north. It’s not the situation they had hoped for, but they’re back in and it will be fun to cheer them on. Adversity can bring out the best in the best.

A final note, Kairos has turned around. The technical issues were apparently insurmountable.

UPDATE, 7 a.m. 6/14/17:

Local knowledge defined. Team North2Alaska transited Seymour Narrows at peak ebb at 0045 hours. Dudes!

They’re going to remember this night for the rest of their lives. Four guys fresh out of high school and a dad. But the dad is a commercial fisherman who has done the Inside Passage hundreds of times according to an article in the PT Leader.

Team North2Alaska at the start in Port Townsend.

At the front of the pack, the Burd Brothers (Team Pure & Wild) remain in first and are nearing the checkpoint at Bella Bella. Team Broderna jumped into second and Team Bad Kitty is clawing its way north in third. The rest of the pack can basically split into two sections, those who have transited Seymour Narrows and, well, those who have not.

Here’s a great weather brief from our friends at Sailish.com.

UPDATE, 9 p.m. 6/13/17:

Some news at the front of the pack. The Burd brothers, in the lead, left Malcolm Island to port and went up through George Passage. Bad Kitty, in second, appeared to gamble, leaving Malcolm Island to starboard and went through Broughton Strait. Big Broderna, in third, followed the Burd Brothers. As of 2100 Tuesday night, it appears the gamble didn’t work. Bad Kitty is now in third and Big Broderna is in second trying to reel in the Burd Brothers. They’re all at the top of Vancouver Island with a lot of water ahead of them, so one can’t get too confident or disappointed.

Team 3 and ½ Aussies is alone in 4th place about midway in Johnstone Strait and Ketch me if you can is in 5th starting their run at Johnstone.

Five teams above the Narrows but slack is 9:19 with six teams at Campbell River with more arriving shortly. Two of those six, Roger Mann on Discovery and West Coast Wild Ones, appear poised to take advantage of the evening slack. The others may wait until either the 3:51 a.m. slack or perhaps the 8:58 slack. Between the evening slack and the 3:51 slack the current is moving in the right direction, but with strong eddies and whirlpools. Arriving near peak current last night, the Burd brothers faced a choice. Wait and watch their lead diminish or go for it. I’m not privy to their deliberation, but their description was great:

They recalled the entry into the narrows as the “darkest of dark you can imagine and nearly max current”.  Fading wind, little steerage but they were prepared – hatch covers, Ocean Rodeo suits, headlamps, and deck vests on. As they entered “the gut of the narrows” they could hear, but not see, breaking waves. “Here we go!” they thought. Only to find that the breaking waves were really a school of 30 to 40 porpoises. I suspect they were Pacific Whitesided Dolphins, but in any case the porpoises/dolphins played with their bow and made an already memorable trip that much more memorable.

The next 10 hours or so will be great to watch on who makes what decision. I suspect the 8:58 slack will be a busy one for R2AK, although the aggressive may try earlier.

Pear Shaped Racing has formally retired and Team Kairos is having some issues with their row cruiser and trying to make repairs.

Sistership hit some rocks exiting Active Pass and has posted some heartbreaking posts. Their centerboard is jammed in the up position and they were just towed back to Nanaimo. They’ll need to be hauled out of the water and then make the decision whether or not to carry on and go for Ketchikan. It’s tough watching the live posts they’ve made — the disappointment is palpable.  I’m hoping they go for it as they can still find their race picking off the slower craft. They’ve got a good boat and a good crew.

If there’s a most improved boat, team Kelp had a good day. Would have been better had they gotten up a little earlier the past few days (ahem:).

More on the smaller human powered boats later – they are holding their own and the North2Alaska guys are really making a fine accounting of themselves.

As this missive closes, I’m thinking about Roger Mann, alone in his boat, making the 9 p.m. slack. He’s not going to get much sleep tonight.

UPDATE, 9 a.m. 6/13/17: 

Team Pure & Wild/Freeburd, Team Bad Kitty and Team Big Broderna are building a lead in Johnstone Strait. Click on the image to view tracker live.

The overall picture hasn’t changed much, but the Burd brothers didn’t wait for slack and took Seymour Narrows on shortly after midnight. Bad Kitty and Big Broderna also got through the checkpoint at Campbell River and are through the Narrows. The Burd brothers hold roughly a 15 nautical mile lead over Bad Kitty, slightly less than what they had leading up to Campbell River. The wind is blowing and they’ve got an adverse current at present.

Roger Mann was up early as were the boys in North2Alaska and Matt Prius in Viz Reporter.

A quick note on North2Alaska: When I was in Port Townsend, I looked at this boat. It’s a high school project, a home made welded aluminum sharpie. Their oars appeared to be crude affairs so heavy they were counter balanced with zincs. The unstayed masts wobbled and the thought of five souls aboard (four teenagers just graduated from high school plus one dad), made me shudder. Privately I didn’t give them much of a shot to make it to Victoria much less Ketchikan. There’s still a lot of water between them and Ketchikan, but they have put in long days and the last two mornings beat the sun up getting underway.  Ahead of some faster, more capable boats, these guys are bring their A game and then some. This morning they left Lasqueti Island and are headed north. In any case, my earlier assessment of their chances was flat wrong. And being wrong on something like this makes me very happy as it’s exactly that type of performance by young people that provides hope for the future.

Team Sistership took an odd turn last night, getting out of the strait and pulled into French Creek. No movement yet this morning. Hope all is well with them. The rest of the field is scattered throughout Georgia Strait.

It’s another day for R2AK!

Original Post, 9:30 p.m. 6/12/17:

Screen shot of the race tracker at 9:32 p.m. Click on the image to view the tracker live.

R2AK is off and running. Similar to the start at Port Townsend, the Victoria re-start was in calm weather. Unlike the Port Townsend start, the forecasted calm wind was supposed to last all day.

Unfortunately, when the racers took off from Victoria Harbour at high noon on Sunday it was marred by a collision between a powerboat and team Oaracle. The powerboat came up behind the rowers and caused some damage, but fortunately no injuries.   Clearly the overtaking and hence burdened vessel, the powerboat’s operator yelled at the rowers and reportedly took off — the equivalent of an aquatic hit and run.

Just days before, the Port Townsend to Victoria race was really two races. Or, more candidly, a race then a fight for survival. The predicted heavy wind arrive and, in the words of Jake Beattie, “went from zero to 50 as if it had something to prove.” For a full recap of that leg, Jake’s writing is well worth a read.

As of this writing, Monday afternoon, Team Pure and Wild/Freeburd, with the brothers Burd ( Tripp, Chris and Trevor) are opening up a commanding lead, charging up the Strait of Georgia despite hitting something hard last night. Overnight and earlier into the morning Pear Shaped Racing had been giving them competition, but a log strike at 8 knots sent them into Nanaimo for inspection.

The Burd brothers vessel has a nice combination of fast sailing, an effective propulsion system (Pedal powered) and three athletic young men as crew. They can deal with calms, they can deal with wind and they don’t have to stop. They were the first sailboat to arrive in Victoria, arriving just minutes before Pear Shaped Racing, PT Watercraft and Bad Kitty. All fast boats, but the log strike certainly impacted the Pear Shaped team and PT Watercraft has a crew of one, who will need to sleep. Bad Kitty and Big Broderna are sure to provide some competition, but it’s setting up to have the Burd brothers get through Seymour Narrows a slack or two before their nearest rival. They’re aiming for the slack around 2000 hours tonight.

Of the three paddleboarders, Karl Kruger is showing how it’s done. He was up early this morning and moving – currently the first of the primarily human powered craft.  Following close behind is Rod Price in his canoe (looks like a kayak with training wheels, but he’s got a single sided paddle and technically it’s a canoe) and Viz Reporter (Matt Prius). All three opted to avoid Dodd Narrows and went through False Narrows shortly after noon. The other two paddle boarders, Luke Burritt and Edrogan Kirac with ‘Stoked on Fuel” have been at Van Isle Marina all morning but got underway shortly after noon and opted to go through Sansum narrows. So far, all the other teams going up the inside opted to take Trincomali Channel.

Roger Mann opted for open water and surprisingly is ahead of larger boats with larger crews. If he slept at all last night, it wasn’t for very long.

The rest of the fleet is split between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ with the larger cats and tri’s headed outside and the primarily human powered craft going inside through the Gulf Islands. For the smaller teams unable to go 24 hours a day, the length of their day will make a difference. The Port Townsend high school boys were up and at it early this morning as were many of the teams.  Some chose to sleep in. As we’ve seen before, the cumulative effect of those different habits will string out the fleet over the next week.

Some of the teams did a hybrid approach, going up the inside, but escaping the Gulf Islands through one of the passes. Kelp and Sistership opted for Active pass, and North2Alaska and Adventourists took Porlier Pass.

Speaking of what’s coming next, it’s wind. There’s a strong wind warning in Johnstone Strait later today, tonight and tomorrow.  Thursday will be 25 – 35, but out of the southeast. From personal experience in a small boat with less than a foot of freeboard, Johnstone Strait can be brutal, but at least it’ll be a following sea on Thursday. The wind will pick up in Georgia Strait as well, making up for the earlier easy time for the human powered craft. Look for the racers to spread out. Some will take advantage of the wind and charge forward, others will try and avoid the wind respecting their vessels and perhaps their own limitations. This isn’t really a race. But then again, it is.

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