A2AK: The Adventure Begins

Published on June 7th, 2015

A total of 53 boats started the first stage of the 750 mile Race to Alaska on June 4, which provided a 40 mile qualifier from Port Townsend, WA to Victoria, BC. The first finishers were in Victoria in just under 4 hours, with a total of 13 teams not finishing. Twenty-seven teams made the start of the second stage on June 7 from Victoria, BC to Ketchikan, AK (710 miles), currently led by a 6-man outrigger canoe with sail. The race is open to all types of non-motorized craft, with teams fully self-supported during the duration.

Race detailsTracker

Stage 1 Report from Race Central:
We’ve seen what the starting line would look like in our heads for months and the actual start was every bit as improbable, stirring, celebratory and bad ass as we imagined. Hundreds of onlookers waded through a R2AK related traffic jam to cheer the 53 teams across the starting line in inky darkness.

There were spectator boats, wind on the beam at 20 knots, a guy on a paddleboard serving oatmeal, a bonfire, and loudspeakers booming the Red Army Choir singing the Soviet National Anthem. The weather was ominous and beautiful, the crowd was dauntless, the boats were rockstars, the scene was epic, cinematic, and over almost as soon as it began.

Calamity fell soon after the horn as teams bash into the wall of wind and waves advancing around Point Wilson. Some Teams took the bravest route- assessing the condition of the weather and their boat, they stared down their year long desire to be in the race and exercised the better part of their valor, reconsidering the launch or returning to shore shortly after experiencing the first cycle of the washing machine that was occurring just down the beach.

There is triumph in the retreat. It takes resolution and a special kind of courage to back away when everyone is watching, and our hats are off to everyone who chose to fight another day. On behalf of Race Central and your loved ones, thank you.

Over the day there were teams that fared less well, affirming the phrase that “the sea finds out what you did wrong.” Masts came off, boats were swamped, boats were capsized, crews disintegrated under pressure parting company when they hit the beach, exhausted their physical capabilities or got themselves in harms way that they couldn’t get out of. In all 13 teams exited the race before Victoria, some of our favorites, but other than bumps bruises and disappointment all arrived intact of body and soul.

The teams that finished in Victoria spanned the allowable 36 hours. Wind conditions favored the large sailing vessels, the first of which rang the bell in just under 4 hours. The last competitor to finish came in with 30 minutes to spare and won the award for maximizing the value of his entry fee.

Each of the teams had a story to tell. Our favorites: high performance multihulls rowing in Victoria Harbor, Team St Brendan’s persevered for 25 hours after being swept by current 20 or so miles in the wrong direction, that at one point a windsurfer looked like it might beat a 38 foot catamaran, that one guy gave himself stitches on his thumb, twice, that Team Soggy Beavers took time out of paddling to change into dresses for a dramatic photo op at the finish, that a gold medal rower got beaten by an amateur crew on a nearly identical boat because they read the current wrong; on any given Sunday…

There were more, of course there were more. Things broke, tempers flew, mistakes were made at least once, but all were over come enough. It was the appropriate amount of chaos and on the day before they’ll depart for Alaska the race crews are checking things off lists, talking to the public, basking in the accolades and attention of the media (did you read the NY Times?) and eyeing the horizon.

What will happen?

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