Race Day Approaches (R2AK)

by · June 1, 2015

Triakr2akThings are abuzz here in Port Townsend as the start of the first ever Race To Alaska draws near. Sailors and crew of various boats can been seen around town already, tuning and tweaking (or trying to finish) their boats in preparation for the Thursday morning departure. Other hearty crews are sailing across the Strait just to get to the starting line.

Given this is the first ever race of its kind, being held at a time of year when wind and weather are notoriously unpredictable, it’s hard to pick who the favorites are to win the $10,000 prize.

When we first proposed the idea of an engineless race from Port Townsend up the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, a number of expert sailors contended the race would certainly be won by a rowboat, with the fickle winds leaving the sailboats to wallow and wait. It’s true, most of the reports we’ve heard from sailors making the same passage describe little or no wind and many days at the oars.

But now, three days before the horn sounds, the general consensus is that the big multihulls are the strong favorites. Sure, they’ll be difficult to propel consistently with sweeps or pedal drives, but in any kind of breeze they’ll be sailing, and with larger crews and more creature comforts they’ll think nothing of sailing straight on through 24 hours a day and “going outside”—at least once they’ve cleared the mandatory checkpoints in the narrow sections—to find even more consistent wind.

One of the many fascinating subplots—especially for us small-boat fans—is to see whether the versatility and manageability of some of the little boats will provide enough of an advantage for them to challenge. In particular, whether the little boats can establish a lead in the spotty winds and tidal area between Victoria and the north end of Vancouver Island.

Here are a few more things we’ll be watching closely:

• Shakedown or Breakdown: The 40-mile first leg from Port Townsend to Victoria is really just a qualifier and will have no bearing on who wins the race ultimately, but it’s also one of the more potentially challenging stretches along the 750-mile course. With current forecasts predicting up to 20 knots race-day afternoon, the Strait of Juan De Fuca could certainly weed out a few of the fleet.

• Speed and Stamina: There are some big multihulls in this race, but the hull-speed relationship between smaller and bigger monohulls does not apply to the multihulls. Can the crews of the smaller beach cats endure exposure and additional hardship to keep pace with the larger multis?

• Will anyone take advantage of the portage option? R2AK rules allow portaging your boat so long as no other vehicle—not even a bike—is used to assist. Looking at the route it seems unlikely, but could a team with a lightweight boat find a way to exploit the rule to advantage?

• Wild Cards: Handicapping this race is almost impossible, but one thing is for sure—in a few days or weeks we’re going to know a lot more about which boats and strategies worked and which didn’t. How about team Pure and Wild’s custom-designed proa? This very serious contender might be the fastest boat in the field, but the sleek Polynesian design also looks a little vulnerable. Given the rugged nature of the course, are they bringing a stock Ferrari to a rally race?

And what about adventurer Graham Henry and his Soggy Beavers team in their six-person OC-6 outrigger canoe with sail rig? Certainly so much manpower is an advantage when paddling through the calms, and they should be able to keep each other motivated. On the other hand, that’s a lot of gear to bring along and sleeping in a seated position will get old fast.

• Ye Olde Pedal Drive: How many sailboats have you been aboard that use pedal drives for auxiliary propulsion? That’s what we thought. Yet it looks like nearly half the R2AK fleet will be sporting them—some purchased off the shelf and others custom fabricated. Pedal drives are always finicky and often fragile, so we’re skeptical they’ll be a reliable option at this distance if winds are light. Better pack the oars just in case.

• Superhero Underdog: It tells you something about the quality of the racers in the R2AK (world record holders, Olympians, etc.) when you consider that National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Colin Angus and his pull-up exercise champion crew, Steve Price, are one of sleeper picks to win the race. Even if they are somehow able to row and sail day and night without stopping, will their little 150 pound boat be fast enough to keep up with the ultra-fast race boats and Goliath multihulls?

• The Slinky Effect: Seymour Narrows (northern inside part of Vancouver Island) tidal current runs at up to 16 knots, switching directions without almost no slack at specific times each day. Engineless R2Akers will be forced to wait for favorable conditions before attempting to transit. Even in less challenging narrow sections the fastest boats will struggle to go anywhere against a strong foul current. As a result, faster boats who race ahead are likely to be caught by slower boats as they sit waiting for a window. Boats who can plan to catch the last of a fair current just as they arrive at tidal passages might gain half a day or more on those who miss it.

• Additional Firsts: We’ll all be excited to hear who wins the race, but just as interesting might be the competition for other “firsts”: First monohull, first solo racer, first rowing boat, smallest boat to finish, etc. And because it’s the first year, there will be a slew of records established.

Whatever happens, it will be fun to follow the action!

More information:

Fifty-six teams will depart Port Townsend, Washington, this Thursday, June 4, at 5 am, heading for Victoria, BC in Stage 1 of the inaugural Race to Alaska (R2AK), a unique, non-motorized, 750-mile marathon geared toward long distance rowers, paddlers and sailors.   
The race departs Port Townsend, Washington on June 4, and finishes in Ketchikan, Alaska whenever the first finisher arrives; estimated to be 7-10 days after the start.  The first person or team to finish wins $10,000.  Second place will be awarded a set of steak knives. There are 36 teams registered to do the full race, with 20 additional teams registered to complete the Port Townsend to Victoria leg.  Teams hail from all over the US and Canada. The race is being hosted by the Northwest Maritime Center. 

For more information visit: http://r2ak.com/

Team bios available at http://r2ak.com/registered-participants/



Discussion2 Comments

  1. David Dckson says:

    Unfortunately, Colin and Steve lost their awesome looking boat too close to race day to make repairs. I was looking forward to following them along with the other brave/crazy adventurers.

  2. Richard Dandridgedandr says:

    Also sorry to learn that Ron Mueller’s Merry Sea II design Biscuit Girl has dropped out.

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