Category: R2AK Race to Alaska

28 Jun


20-Feet or Under: The Small Boats of R2AK


A closer look at a few of the 20-foot and under boats in the Race to Alaska. All of these boats will be eligible for the Small Craft Advisor “Side Bet,” a $1,000 cash prize and their boat on the cover of our magazine.


Team Shadowfax
Boat: Hobie 16
Designer: Hobie Alter
Length: 16′ 7″
Weight: 320 lb
Sail Area: 218 sq ft

Pros: Speed. Good in light air. Thoroughly proven design.

Cons: Exposure. Lack of accommodations or protection from elements. Athletic boat requires hiking out. No standard auxiliary propulsion system.


Team Vantucky
Boat: Windrider 17
Designer: Jim Brown
Length: 17′ 4″
Weight: 320 lb
Sail Area: 139 sq ft

Pros: Quite fast—especially off the wind. Very difficult to capsize. Offers some protection as crew sits inside center hull.

Cons: No standard auxiliary propulsion system—Team Vantucky has adapted a rowing system. Doesn’t point especially well and the loaded-up open cockpit can be vulnerable to flooding in rough going.


Team Angus Rowboats
Boat: RowCruiser (Sailing Model) from plywood kit
Designer: Colin Angus
Length: 18′ 8.5″
Weight: 148 pounds (rowing version)
Sail area: 70 sq ft

Pros: Versatility. A strong, sliding seat rowboat that is also quite fast under sail. The most unusual feature—especially significant for R2AK—is her enclosed cabin with a 6’6″ berth, allowing her skipper to sleep aboard anchored out.

Cons: Low on the water and fairly exposed. Not as canvassed-up as some faster beach cats and tris.


Team Bunny Whaler
Boat: Boston Whaler Harpoon 5.2
Length: 17′
Weight: 565 lb
Sail Area: 160 sq ft plus optional 150 sq ft spinnaker

Pros: Unsinkable foam-sandwich construction. Stable. Venturi-style bailers for self-draining cockpit. Roomy cockpit and a stowage cuddy that offers dry storage and some protection from wind and spray.

Cons: Not an ideal rowboat. No designated sleeping berths. Moderate speed potential.


Team Nordica
Boat: Nordica 16
Length: 16′
Weight: 925 lb
Sail Area: 130 sq ft

Pros: Self-righting keel boat can handle rough seas. Small sleeping cabin.

Cons: Heavy to row. Cockpit is small for two crew and isn’t self-draining. Relatively slow under sail.


Team Can’t Anchor Us
Boat: Swampscott Dory (Custom)
Length: 17′
Weight: ?
Sail Area: 115 sq ft

Pros: Custom Swampscott Dory has been decked over and had a cabin added. Proven already as it finished the first and very rough R2AK. Designed with a custom sliding-seat rowing setup. Cabin offers dry bunk and protection from elements. Lots of flotation added.

Cons: Not very fast. Fairly low initial stability.


Team Squamish
Boat: Young 6M (plywood plans)
Designer: Jim Young
Length: 19′ 8″
Weight: 1153 lb
Sail Area: 229 sq ft

Pros: Cockpit and cabin comforts are palatial by comparison to most of the smaller fleet in R2AK. Stable, water-ballasted boat with dry bunks and accommodations. Swinging centerboard allows for shallow draft.

Cons: Heavy to row, but water ballast can theoretically be dumped to lighten load. Less manageable/beachable than smaller boats.


Team Excellent Adventure
Boat: Montgomery 17
Designer: Jerry Montgomery
Length: 17′ 2″
Weight: 1600 lb
Sail Area: 154 sq ft

Pros: Seaworthy design proven in last year’s R2AK. Shoal fixed ballast for stability. Fast and weatherly for a monohull its size. Deep self-draining cockpit and cabin provide dry accommodations and stowage.

Cons: Beamy and heavy—far from an ideal rowboat. Fixed shoal keel makes her hard to beach.


Team Heart of Gold
Boat: King’s Unlimited Carbon Fiber Stand-Up Paddle Board
Length: 19′
Weight: 27 pounds

Pros: Easily managed. Easy to propel under paddle.

Cons: Exposure. Exposure. Exposure. Lack of stowage capacity or provisions. Oh, and it needs to be stand-up paddled for 750 miles.


Team Sea Runner
Boat: Seascape 18
Length: 18′
Weight: 275 lb
Sail Area: 75 sq ft plus 115 sq ft gennaker.

Pros: very high speed potential performance design. Shallow draft with centerboard up. Small but enclosed cabin for stowage and V-berth. Added custom pedal drive system.

Cons: Not designed for distance cruising. Performance elements like twin rudders could be vulnerable in these conditions.


Team Why Not
Boat: Cal 20
Designer: C. William Lapworth
Length: 20′
Weight: 1950 lb
Sail Area: 195 sq ft

Pros: Safe, seaworthy fin-keeler that has been used for ocean crossings. Relatively comfortable cabin and accommodations.

Cons: Fixed draft of over 3 feet means she has to keep to deeper water. Not easy to propel under human power.


Team Coastal Express
Boat: Mirror 16
Length: 16′
Weight: 260 lb
Sail Area: 178 sq ft

Pros: Stable dinghy with small cuddy area forward for dry stowage. Easier to row than many of the monohulls in the R2AK. Beachable (draws only 6 inches board up).

Cons: Light boats offer a bouncy ride in rougher water. Not a lot of protection from weather.


Team Liteboat
Boat: Liteboat custom
Length: Around 18 feet
Weight: ?
Sail Area: ?

Pros: This sailing Liteboat prototype was built on a performance rowing chassis, so should be good under oar power. The trimaran sailing figuration makes her very stable under sail. The boat has multiple watertight stowage lockers. Low windage.

Cons: Versatile, but favors rowing over sailing performance. Close to water and exposed.

22 Jun


Little Boats in a Big Race #R2AK



The fast and famous “Bad Kitty” docked forward of Team Mail Order Bride’s F-boat.

From the moment the Race to Alaska kicked off its second year by calling out billionaire America’s Cup mogul Larry Ellison, the gossip and speculation has surrounded the biggest boats in the fleet. Ellison never called back, but another presumably wealthy and well-connected sailor did plan to enter an America’s Cup 72. The only catch was that he said they’d require a motorized support boat, which would mean a formal exemption to R2AK’s only two rules. Fortunately race management objected.

Then word came that the 34-foot custom catamaran Bad Kitty had signed on. While not as fast as the America’s Cup boats, the regional legend and Swiftsure and Vanisle 360 champion is arguably far more formidable in these waters (as demonstrated in part by their NOT requesting a motorized support boat.)

If the arrival of Bad Kitty took wind out of the sails of the many F-Boats eyeing the $10k first prize, seeing Team Tritium enter the 73-foot ocean-racing champion Lending Tree trimaran must have deflated them entirely. But then a few days ago word arrived that Tritium sailed into a rough patch on their way up the coast to the starting line and the Lending Tree boat broke. That’s the thing about this really fast boats, they can also be a little…delicate. To their credit, Team Tritium scrambled and came up with their own bright orange F-boat and made it to the starting line here in Port Townsend yesterday.

With all of the talk about big, expensive boats, one might assume that the Race to Alaska is going the way of so many other sailing races and becoming contest to see who’s pockets are deepest, but in fact this year’s fleet has plenty of modest entries, including some very small and home-built boats. Of the 44 teams aiming for Ketchikan, 22 of them—fully half the fleet—are in boats 24-feet or under. And 17 of the teams are in boats of 20-feet or less and therefore eligible for the Small Craft Advisor Side Bet prize, $1,000 and the cover of our magazine.


The Colin Angus-designed RowCruiser sailing version.

Handicapping R2AK is a fool’s game, as each boat is only a broken rudder, a navigation error, or a deadhead away from an early exit, but there are a few small-boats teams that look especially likely to compete for our $1000 prize.

World-class adventurer Colin Angus will be solo in his 18′ 8.5″ RowCruiser with sailing rig and amas. The RowCruiser-as-trimaran offers good speed and stability under sail and excellent performance under sliding seat and oars if the wind dies. And Colin’s experience and familiarity with local waters are no small advantage.

One might have assumed Colin would be the only R2AK competitor who had once rowed across the Atlantic, but Team Liteboat’s Mathieu Bonnier has done it as well—and he’s also showing up in a rowing-sailing trimaran of almost identical length. The match-up between these two experienced adventurers on similar boats should be fascinating.


The Mathieu Bonnier-designed LiteBoat

But one thing that Angus and Bonnier lack that would nearly double their chances, is crew. Teams like Bunny Whaler (Boston Whaler), Team Nordica (Nordica 16), Team Excellent Adventure (Montgomery 17), Team Coastal Express (16-foot Mirror), Team Vantucky (Windrider 17) and Team Squamish (6M Monohull) have extra hands and someone to give them a pep talk when things inevitably look bleak—also no small thing.

The rugged and relentless Roger Mann would have been among our pre-race favorites, but late word is that he’s been forced to drop out after car trouble delayed his cross-country arrival.


Turnpoint Design’s carbon cat “Felix.”

If there’s a giant killer among the smaller boats it might be Team Turnpoint and their custom carbon Turnpoint 24 catamaran Felix. Demonstrating plenty of speed under sail and pedal power last year, Team Turnpoint’s crew of two was forced to drop out in the heavy weather as their hastily prepared prototype showed its flaws. But a year and many modifications later, the local team returns with a faster Felix and, importantly, three crew members.

Adventure races, just like sailing regions themselves, tend to steer the development of boat design. There are certain boat design characteristics that are advantageous in particular waters and for particular purposes. Obviously a light boat and more than one hull is an advantage in terms of speed, but quite a few of the boats entered in the R2AK look like speed was the only consideration. When we look out over the small-boat fleet assembled, the word that comes to mind is “exposure.”

The open beach catamarans and low-riding trimarans will be fast, but for how long? Somewhere around three days of being cold, uncomfortable, and sleep-deprived has even the most masochistic sailor thinking about warm beds and hot showers. In terms of comfort—and quite possibly race longevity—the “cruising” boats have a distinct advantage, with a cabin to act as a bulwark against wind and weather and warm, dry place to sleep. Here’s where Colin Angus’s RowCruiser with its enclosed cabin, and Turnpoint’s Felix with her protected cuddy (where most catamarans have only a trampoline), look like a better fit for the conditions.


Bill Gifford’s (Excellent Adventure) Monty 17 has been fully vetted

Several of the small monohulls look well-prepared also. Team Coastal Express is back in their 16-foot Mirror Dinghy for another shot at Ketchikan. Team Excellent Adventure, who completed the race last year in 18 days, is back to do it again. After two rudder failures and some close calls night sailing last year, Bill Gifford and crew are carrying an extra rudder and have upgraded navigation lights on his Montgomery 17.

Team Sea Runner’s Thomas Nielsen, who was forced to bail out in his Wharram-designed catamaran a few windy days into R2AK 1, is back in what might be the fastest monohull in the race—an 18-foot Seascape. With a small cabin to duck out of the weather and surfing speeds as high as 20-knots, the Seascape, with its twin outboard rudders, code zero, and spinnaker, makes an intriguing choice.


Thomas Nielsen (Team Sea Runner) aboard his swift Seascape 18.

Many race fans and trailersailors will enjoy following the adventures of teams in popular small production boats just like ones they own. A rugged but heavily-laden Nordica 16 will aim for Alaska with two souls aboard, as will a Windrider 17, a Drascombe Longboat, and a Cal 20, among others.


The Nordica 16 ready for 750 miles of cold water.


Team Bunny Whaler’s Harpoon with custom sliding seat rowing

We’ll be following the action and will try to post a few updates along the way. Wishing everyone fair winds and smooth seas.

15 Jun

1 Comment

More Boats of the R2AK


Here’s a list as some additional boats of the R2AK

Team Grin
Etchells 22
Length: 30′ 6″
Beam: 6′ 11″
Draft: 4′ 6″
Weight: 3700 lb
Sail Area: 310 sq ft


This classic international one-design keelboat racer was designed in 1966. This sleek, fast, seaworthy sloop is typically sailed by 3 or 4 crew and is known for excellent pointing and light air abilities. Its top speed is around 10 knots. Not typically used for distance cruising, accommodations are spartan—although in the R2AK that’s a relative term. You can spot the E22 easily by its long, graceful overhangs, as although it is over 30 feet long, the actual waterline length is only 22 feet.

Team Blackfish
F-27 Catamaran (Farrier Marine)
Length: 27′ 1″
Beam: 19′ 1″
Draft: 1′ 2″/ 4′ 11″
Weight: 2600 lb
Sail Area: 446 ft


This modern classic was put into full production by Corsair back in the 1980s and went on to become hugely popular. Corsair sold over a hundred of these boats in 1991 alone. The F-27 has won countless races and successfully crossed oceans. In the 1993 Miami to Key Largo race an F-27 averaged 18.2 knots over the 43 mile course. The cabin sleeps 2-3 adults and the same number of children in addition.

Team Mau
Nacra 570
Length: 19′ 6″
Beam: 8′ 2″
Draft: 10″
Weight: 360 lb
Sail Area: 225 sq ft


The fast Nacra is a austere choice for a race like the R2AK. The 570 is very light, doesn’t like to carry a lot of additional weight, and offers no amenities or protection from the elements. With skeg hulls, the Nacra doesn’t need daggerboards or additional lateral resistance, keeping her draft exceptionally shallow. The boat is rigged with a double trapeze so that both crew can hike out to offset the powerful rig.

Team Barefoot Wooden Boats
Custom Tad Roberts Design
Length: 19′
Beam: 6′ 5″
Draft: 6″ board up
Weight: 500 lb
Sail area: 287 sq ft


One of several boats built specifically for R2AK, Team Barefoot’s boat was designed by B.C. designer and Shipyard Raid founder Tad Roberts. Designed as a planing monohull, the boat was also kept narrow for good rowing performance. Instead of a conventional centerboard or keel, the Barefoot boat employs a pair of offset daggerboards located just inside the gunwhales. Essentially she’s is a big open dinghy, meaning she requires more attention to sail safely but offers exceptional performance potential. The boat also features a bowsprit for flying the spinnaker and a pair of sliding-seat rowing stations—one for each oar, port and starboard.

Team Excellent Adventure
Montgomery 17
Length: 17′ 2″
Beam: 7′ 4″
Draft: 1′ 9″ / 3′
Weight: 1600 lb
Sail area: 154 sq ft


A classic mini cruiser, the Lyle Hess designed (with Jerry Montgomery) Montgomery 17 sloop features a masthead rig and shallow fixed keel/centerboard combo. The 17’s cockpit is spacious and there are typically 2-3 berths and an optional minimal galley unit below. Fast for a small trailersailer, the Monty has been known to hold its own with 22 and 23 footers. While not nearly as fast as the beach cats in R2AK, the 17 can carry provisions and gear easily, and her cabin offers protection from spray and a dry place to sleep. You can spot the Monty by its simulated lap strake hull.

Team Mike’s Kayak
Prijon Kodiak Kayak
Length: 17′
Beam: 23.3 inches
Weight: 62 Lb


Sitting down in his 17-foot Prijon Kodiak kayak, Mike is arguably the most the most exposed of all racers. His particular boat is said to be designed with speed and carrying capacity in mind–a touring boat that tracks well and swallows a lot of gear (weight capacity 331 pounds).

Team Coastal Express
Length: 16′
Beam: 6′
Draft: 6″
Weight: 260 lb
Sail area: 178 sq ft


Designed for the Daily Mirror newspaper in 1963, this plywood kit boat 16-footer was based on the very popular 11-foot Mirror Dinghy. The Mirror 16 was popular with racers but also with sailors who wanted to potter around and camp cruise. Like the smaller Mirror, the 16 sports distinctive red sails.

Team John
Easy rider Kayak with outrigger and sail
Length: 17′
Beam: 24.25 ”
Weight: 52 lb


John’s kayak is equipped with a single outrigger, adding stability. The main kayak hull was designed to be a forgiving ocean boat, tracking well and slicing through waves.

Team Boatyard Boys
Swampscott Dory (decked)
Length: 17′


We don’t know a lot about the Boatyard Boys’ boat–apparently they found the derelict Swampscott Dory left for dead in the weeds and blackberry bushes. Where an open dory would be vulnerable to swamping, the Boys built in flotation by decking the boat over completely, creating a tiny cabin, and they installed a sliding rowing seat. The boat is also equipped with a small, low-aspect sailing rig.

Team Sea Runner
Hitia 17 catamaran
Length: 17
Beam: 10′ 1″
Draft: 11″
Weight: 295 lb
Sail area: 160


We think Team Sea Runner is sailing a home-built James Wharram designed Hitia 17 catamaran. Designed as a beach catamaran, the Hitia is also frequently used as a cruiser or coastal trekker. There is no cabin, but the boat is seaworthy and offers dry stowage in hulls. The deck makes a good base for a two-man dome tent.

Team Puffin
Tiki 21 catamaran
Length: 21
Beam: 12′
Draft: 1′ 2″
Weight: 790 lb
Sail area: 208


We believe team Puffin is sailimg a James Wharram designed Tiki 21. These are Polynesian-inspired home-built catamarans designed for cruising. Although very simplistic, Tiki 21 hulls offer a bunk out of the weather and are known to be very seaworthy. In fact a Tiki 21 was the smallest multihull to sail around the world.

11 Jun


Strait Up Windy


Debra Photo by Debra Colvin

Well, we can say this much—the weather in Haro and Johnstone Strait has been anything but fickle. Each and every day has offered up another gale warning. Yesterday the Fanny Island buoy in Johnstone Strait was showing gusts to 35 knots, and it’s blowing 20 now.

What does that mean for racers? Big, nasty waves and a malevolent wind trying to break their boat. As a result they are forced to bite off small chunks of distance or sit tight and wait for saner conditions.

Of the few restless teams who did venture out, several were punished for their insolence. Broderna had their mast snapped in two, and the Team Superfriends San Juan 21 had its bow opened up. Both teams are safe but have withdrawn.

Of course nothing, it would seem, can stop leaders Team Elsie Piddock, who continue to claw their way up the coast closing in on the finish line.

Team Hexagram, who’ve been valiantly pressing on in their thrice-repaired Hobie 20 beach cat, managed to make it through Seymour Narrows yesterday, but nearly capsized with one of the team ending up in the water. They were also forced to battle an onboard stove fire at another point. The supposedly reliable maxim that, “your boat can take more weather than you can,” might need to be retired once and for all, as many of the R2AK crews are literally dragging their reluctant, broken boats toward the finish.

There has been a lot of talk about the conditions in the Straits. We asked a couple of experienced sailors and paddlers whether they were surprised.

Adventurer Colin Angus wrote: “Conditions this year are not typical. While the Johnstone Strait often has stiff northerlies, generally the Georgia Strait is much calmer.  During my training three years ago for my Vancouver Island circumnavigation I was out in the open waters of the Georgia Strait (out from Comox) three days a week through the months of May and June, and not once did I experience northerlies as strong as what the racers are currently experiencing.

“During my oar-powered circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, conditions were glassy, without a breath of wind, from Victoria to Comox (not too far from Seymour narrows), and I covered the distance easily with 20 hours of rowing. When Russell Henry broke my human powered speed record of Vancouver Island, he covered this same stretch at an even faster speed. I don’t know exactly how long it has taken Russell Henry’s six man crew to cover the same distance this time, but I believe it is has been more than 50 hours at the paddle.”

Small-boat cruiser and designer Scot Domergue was less surprised by the wind, but impressed by its unrelenting consistency.

“From everything I’ve seen, pictures, videos, reports, etc., the wind has been strong and conditions rough, but not beyond what I would consider well within the range of possible expectation.  These are definitely challenging conditions, especially lasting as long as they have and for small boats in a very long race! Still, Roger Mann in his little Hobie Adventure Island has managed it quite well,” he wrote.

“I don’t know that conditions in the Strait of Georgia have been much, if any, worse than I experienced and managed fine a couple of summers ago on the Marsh Duck. And even today I think they’re only a little worse in Johnstone Strait than what was happening at times when I was there.  The big difference is that these conditions may be more continuous, not getting significantly worse in the afternoon and then being far more reasonable the next morning. And that makes it tough.”

Yacht designer Tad Roberts says this kind of weather could be anticipated.

“The actual weather should come as no surprise; it’s pretty typical. Most were betting on lighter wind, and we’ll see some of that yet. But the heavy windward work in the Johnstone Straits is entirely expected. Around the time the race was announced I predicted the Johnstone Strait would be the most difficult gate. I still believe that,” he says. “Elsie Piddock played it perfectly, some of her followers are having a tougher time.”

On the R2AK in general, Tad said it reminds him another race.

“So far the R2AK reminds me of the early OSTAR days, when all sorts of crazy looking contraptions would show up. Tuesday we had 4-5 of the smallest/slowest boats sheltering here in Silva Bay. Super Friends, Dick Smiley, Boatyard Boys, Excellent Adventure, and Coastal Express were all here. You could not find any more disparate group in any marina. With few rules or requirements the R2AK offers considerable room for individual expression, which for me is the most interesting aspect of the race.”