The world’s coolest boat race is underway, and the first to Alaska wins

“What if we nail 10,000 to a tree in Alaska and say, ‘Come and get it’?”

He got the idea in the beer tent. Jake Beattie told friends at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival back in 2013. Beattie, the CEO of the Northwest Maritime Center, was tired of high-tech, high-dollar yacht racers. He was looking for a simpler challenge, something pure that anyone with wild hair and lots of determination could handle.

A 750-mile line up the Inside Passage from Puget Sound, near Seattle, to Ketchikan Alaska seemed to fit the bill. Simplicity was key, with only two rules to speak of: No support and no motors.

It was an inspired idea; the only question is who it would inspire. As Beattie told me Haika magazine author Aldyn Chwelos, “Every wing nut with a bad idea would show up with something that mostly hovered.”

And showed up, they did. The race, now in its sixth edition, has attracted everything from sleek racing sailboats with bikes bolted to the stern to rowboats, kayaks and standup paddleboards. Last week, after a two-year pandemic break, the fleet traveled out again. The leaders are likely to come to Ketchikan before we get started posting this story. Others do not come for weeks. No one really knows for sure. Really, here’s the Sunday update from the media team:

“Before we get to the daily dose of R2AK’s nagging fever dream, we need to fix the record: If you do not know, we probably will not either.

“To be clear: we’re massaging. Up and down R2AK’s elongated geography, we’re rushing by boat, car, plane and internet to get in touch with the ever – shrinking field of competitors to find out what the hell is going on. On a good day, we can scratch the surface, but make sure we do not sit on a pile of facts that we hand out like candy if you race fans behave. ”

Team Angry Beaver reaches in a nice breeze with their dual pedal drive tucked away. “We’re still creeping a little by the name.” Photo: R2AK / Taylor Bayly

To ensure that competitors had sufficient experience to survive the passage, organizers convened a secret solitaire of “Darwin’s bouncers.” Those who convince the committee that they are ready for the challenge must still pass a test in real life – a 40-mile long preamble from Port Townsend to Victoria, British Columbia, called “The Proving Ground”. Those who finish in less than 36 hours earn a seat in the main event.

Referring to the conditions of “seasick to dangerous” this year, the organizers graciously gave the team an extra 24 hours. Still, three boats capsized on their way to Victoria, and a fourth was dismantled. The U.S. Coast Guard lifted two competitors up in a helicopter and picked up a third with a patrol boat. Good Samaritans rescued a fourth racer.

34 teams reached Victoria in seaworthy condition before the deadline. The boats are mostly a mix of small trimarans, catamarans and monos hull sailboats, along with two kayaks and six rowboats. Team Rite of Passage is composed solely of teens “who still count their age in numbers and halves.” Nine people try to run solo. Some made their own boats.

Team Wee Free Men do the road they can. Photo: R2AK / Drew Malcolm

They started the 710-mile journey to Ketchikan at noon Thursday, where they sprinted from the beach embankment to their boats in a LeMans-like start. The boats were not allowed to sail inside Victoria Harbor, so they got started with the spray of paddles and oars or the wave of temporary pedal drives. R2AK media team had the call:

The Victoria launch is the most clumsy version of the hilarious chaos the sailing world has ever seen. Boats designed to do nothing but talk about when and where Code Zero will step on the pedals through the provincial capital’s runway for seaplanes, while rowing boats horizon the awkward sweaty progress of the sailing fleet.This year, most years, to be honest, when the fleet reached the point where the actual queen ordered that it be legal to hoist their sails, they did so just to learn, that it was quiet – for hours in both directions. Keep stepping on the pedals. “

This year, the organizers introduced a plot twist. For the first time, competitors had the opportunity to go “outside” via the open sea west of Vancouver Island. “We decided that what we could do to refresh the riddle of Race to Alaska was to remove one of the rules – one of the few rules – which is that you have to go through the Seymour Narrows,” Beattie said. Oregon Public Broadcasting. A mandatory checkpoint in the intermission is back in Bella Bella, British Columbia.

The young people on Team Rite of Passage count their age in numbers and halves. Photo: R2AK

The Narrows are no joke, with currents of up to 18 miles per hour tearing through a passage less than half a mile wide. Still, all but three teams chose to try their luck with the devil they know (or had heard endless stories about), and stuck to the inside instead of throwing the dice with the North Pacific.

The problem with the internal route turns out to be the predominance of drifting tree trunks east of Vancouver Island. Three boats hit wood the first night out of Victoria and were forced to withdraw – a particularly hard break for the veterans of Team Mololo, who were at Team Pear Shaped Racing when they hit a tree trunk in 2019. The strike cost them two hours – difference between 10 grand and steak knives. That’s the second thing you need to know about Race to Alaska: Second place gets a set of steak knives. Nor do they nail the $ 10,000 to a tree. They stick it to a chunk of dead firewood.

As we go into print, Team Pure & Wild it seems they have a lock on the money, except accidents or log-in-the-night. The battle for the knives, however, was heated as five teams briefly attacked north through the Narrows and fought north. Seymour was in the mood.

“The much-hyped 30-foot hot tubs in R2AK’s literature doubled today – no joke, 60-foot hot tubs opened up the mystery and out of nowhere as the power grew,” the media team reported. In a report from Narrows, Race Marshall Jesse Wiegel said some of the larger hot tubs were “four or five feet vertical drop” below the surrounding water level. He did not say why his glasses were patched with scotch tape. We do not have the answers either, but we do R2AK daily updates is good reading.

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