Quite likely the craziest race in the sport of sailing — with hands down the most hilarious press releases — has officially started. Back for its second year, and with nearly double the entries at 65, is Northwest Maritime Center’s Race to Alaska. Beginning yesterday in Port Townsend, WA, the fleet sailed the qualifying leg to Victoria, BC, some 40 miles away across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The second stage, 710 miles from Victoria to Ketchikan, AK, will begin on Sunday, June 26, at noon. First prize is $10,000, second is a set of steak knives.
What makes the R2AK so incredibly unique is the no-engine, no-ratings, pretty-much-no-rules format which allows anyone on practically anything to enter the race. The diverse mix of craft includes trimarans, catamarans, monohull keelboats, various paddle-powered craft and even a stand up paddle board. Every vessel in the race has been set up with some type of rowing equipment.
More an extreme human- and wind-powered odyssey in the wilderness than a proper yacht race, the Race to Alaska takes competitors to Alaska via the Inside Passage between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, with just two waypoints on the course, the first being the Seymour Narrows, where currents can reach 20 knots.
John Sangmeister’s Long Beach-based ORMA 73 trimaran Tritium was entered as the scratch boat, but had to bail after a problematic delivery. Multiple pieces of gear broke in the Channel Islands, the weather window between L.A. and Seattle was dead upwind, and the calendar had too few days on it. After the bowsprit broke off in the middle of the night near Point Conception, the team turned around and hightailed it back to Long Beach at speeds up to 30 knots before procuring a modified-to-foil Farrier 32 trimaran from San Diego.
Up from the Bay Area are Team It Ain’t Brain Surgery, Mark Eastham’s F-31 Ma’s Rover, and Team MAD Dog Racing, Randy Miller’s Marstrom 32 catamaran, which is one of the quickest boats in the fleet and should be a force to be reckoned with even in the no-wind portions, thanks to a custom pedal-powered propulsion unit on the trampoline. The MAD Dogs led the way to Victoria, tearing up the 40 miles in 3 hours, 50 minutes. Their top speed, according to GPS, was 24.5 knots.
Organizers report that 58 teams made it past the start line and 55 made it to Victoria. "All racers are safe and accounted for."