Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Third Race to Alaska Underway

Early setup and blocking of the road access to the Northwest
Maritime Center and Point Hudson Marina.
I volunteered again (second year) for the Race to Alaska (R2AK) and have to admit I was disappointed at the overall turnout. Not just the turnout for the Ruckus, the pre-race party, but the local public support (people wandering around and meeting folks) was diminished from the previous year.

It appeared to me that the race itself was lacking any Significant Sailors, those with regional, national or world-wide competitive skills to create a draw. Not that those who have elected to compete are Insignificant, not by any stretch! But for an event to have continued sponsor support and public support, there has to be interest.

Quote from the R2AK site: "It’s like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear. There are squalls, killer whales, tidal currents that run upwards of 20 miles an hour, and some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.

It's sitting on a wet platform for hours on end, (or standing if you are going it on a SUP) with no engine, no resupply lines (or repair shops) for over 700 miles (whoever sailed in a straight line?).

Last year there were 15 world records established (or broken) and the reward for the winner is $10,000 cash, nailed to a tree, with a set of steak knives for second place and a sigh of relief for all the rest who make it. Out of 44 racers in 2016, 26 completed the course. Perhaps the locals are under-whelmed or had other things to do, but this is an amazing race by any standards.

I was on duty from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Chandlery (same as last year) and although we had some visitors, my impression was that we were lacking in folks who wanted to purchase R2AK gear (t-shirts, caps, pins, pocket flasks) whereas last year there seemed to be more demand.

Chart of the race course posted on the Cotton
Building gave everyone info about the race.
This year there definitely was better organization around the race itself, with plenty of good information for newcomers to learn about it and the racers. But the street was not filled with boats as it had been the year before, so it was a lot harder to talk personally to any of the racers in a casual way. And so it lacked the energy of "We're all gathered here to launch ourselves into this challenging event" feeling (in my humble, retired-PR, opinion).

In 2017 there were 64 entrants to the race, and of those 21 only had plans to go as far as Victoria. The tremendous gale  that blew up after the start (and all were forewarned of it's approach) and huge waves in Puget Sound eliminated at least 10 contestants for Ketchikan through various damages, (some of which may have been psychological as well as physical) although no one was lost at sea.

It was a battering that some will not care to repeat. (You can read about it here:

Stand-Up Paddle boarders have my utmost respect.
That left 34 boats to go the distance. I say 'boats,' but five of the vessels are actually stand-up paddle-boards (SUPs) (3), a rowing vessel and a kayak (the first ever to take on this task) and nine of the rest of the boats are 20 feet or less in length. So almost half the fleet is made up of small boats. That in itself is challenging since it is hard to provision a vessel for even a week with so little free space and this could be a three-week journey.

I follow the race on the Tracker (located here: and cheer for all the competitors because as a life-long sailor, I know it takes tremendous courage, stamina, resilience, and  hopefulness to do a long race, much less one like this. Here is another link for some updates by some of the racers firsthand: 48 North.

So I hope my readers will go to the R2AK website, get the tracker and follow some of these indomitable folks, comment on their progress, and give them the encouragement they will surely need to make it all the way to Ketchikan.

UPDATE: The third Race to Alaska was won by three brothers from Marblehead, Mass., as Team Pure & Wild/FreeBurd and the steak knives went to Team Broderna about five minutes later. It was a close and exciting finish by two awesome teams!!

No comments:

Post a Comment