R2AK: The speed of inevitability

Published on June 15th, 2015

(June 15, 2015; Day 9, Stage 2) – With a time of 5 days, 1 hour, and 55 minutes, Team Elsie Piddock (F-25c) handily won the first-ever Race to Alaska, almost 40 hours ahead of the second place finisher. The second and third place teams, Team MOB Mentality (F85SR, a 28′ Farrier “Super Racer”) and Team Por Favor (Hobie 33), battled for over 24 hours for the coveted second prize – steak knives – with MOB today beating Por Favor in the end by a mere 4 minutes.

Seventeen teams remain in the field and are now racing the sweep boat, which will come along and start tagging teams out who are too far back to finish in the allotted time. The weather has changed dramatically from last week’s unheard of high winds and 10′-15’ foot seas; seas are now glassy and winds are blowing 6-7 knots, suddenly putting the kayakers, rowers, and paddlers in an excellent position to make some headway in the next few days.

Additional report:
The grand experiment of the inaugural Rave to Alaska (R2AK) has had its share of surprises. Highly skilled mariners on purpose-built boats succumbing to the elements and hasty preparations, Roger Mann on Team Discovery catching up to Team Un-Cruise’s F-27 on a solo effort on his unadulterated Hobie Adventure Island (wow), the Soggy Beavers 6-man paddling juggernaut making miles to windward at speeds even the Piddock crew found impressive, Team Kohara cobbling repair after repair and still maintaining a shot at 4th. We’ve followed along with all of you and continue to suck the marrow out of every scrap the Internet throws us.

The biggest surprise today: just 48 hours since we nailed one hundred Benjamin Franklins to a piece of firewood and handed it to a team named after a children’s book, the thing on the minds of the R2AK faithful was the close proximity race-to-the-finish by the mismatch of Team MOB Mentality and Team Por Favor.

After 700-ish miles who isn’t surprised that a 30 year old trailer-sailer is giving a rocket ship that rolled off the showroom floor in 2014 a run for its money. If this were a movie we’d know how it ends before we entered the theater. Team Por Favor would run the picket fence, hit a homerun that shatters the stadium lights, deploy the whomper, or any other movie reference that indicates a come-from-behind victory for the underdogs. This ain’t the movies, and sometimes boat speed trumps the power of a compelling narrative – but today, only barely.

Team Por Favor’s dogged campaign has sailed with the hopes of everyone who owns a “regular” boat, has a hard-to-explain aversion to the sailing speed and trailer-abilty of Farrier trimarans, and the hearts of everyone who loves an underdog…which, if we are being honest, is pretty much everyone.

In the usual races with the PHRF ratings that apply a system of handicaps that attempt to level the playing field for boats of dissimilar speeds, Team Por Favor would have won, or at least come in 2nd (honestly we didn’t fact-check this but it feels like it would be true) but with the R2AK’s unfair impartiality they came in third; or as they said when they hit the dock this morning: “We’re the first team not to win anything!”

From the time Team MOB Mentality’s application hit our desk we knew they would be a force. A fast boat, pursued and secured after searching the globe then sailed by a crackerjack crew of PNW sailing veterans who didn’t just find triumph in the other signature races of the region, they invented them. These guys started as favorites for a place on the podium and through good choices of alternating hard charge with self-preservation they stayed within striking distance of the steak knives until taking the lead Sunday afternoon.

With the deck stacked their way, Wayne Gorrie and the MOB crew could have rested in the inevitable, kept their heads down and waited for their moment to bask in whatever glory came their way. But before all of that, their concern for the rest of the R2AK’s ragtag and disparate fleet trumped outright competition and MOB made sure that everyone had a safe place to land when it hit the fan.

The BC coast is wild and remote, so MOB marshaled the resources of BC’s fish farming community to use their floats as safe havens for vessels in distress or the tired and bedraggled crews who needed a place to tie up and sleep. They started the competition by helping the race and the teams who signed up for this aggressive piece of folly. Hard to cast them as the bad guys in this picture.

The language of the R2AK tends towards the ironically militant and bravado. We call our leaders “Boss,” our “Mobile Command” is a crappy GMC van with door magnet logos and rattles around Ketchikan with two outboards on the roof, fans of the race have called this unevenly-matched race for second place a “battle for the steak knives,” or a “knife fight.” One even offered that Team MOB had brought a gun to that knife fight.

To the ear these suggest an animosity, a struggle of paramount importance. There is no question that this was high competition, and we can only guess at Team Por Favor’s slow agony, or the slow boil of Team MOB’s rising elation – both teams glued to the tracker and watching the gap evaporate slowly from 25 nautical miles to nothing over couple of days. Did they talk to each other when they were in shouting distance? “No” was the short answer. This was all business. This was race-on until the very end.

In the jovial sharing of stories on the dock this morning (“Every day I wanted to quit.”) or the light-air match race in the last hours for the final and most absurd prize of the race, we didn’t see animosity. Competition to the end, competition so hard-boiled that both teams ended the race rowing for hours through the darkness, and the chess match continued until there was only one move left to make.

Knowing that there is victory never comes from doing the same thing slower, Team Por Favor took a winger and headed the long way round Gravina Island in the hopes of better wind and current. They found it and closed the gap considerably, in the end finished within four minutes of Team MOB at 0449 this morning. Four minutes over 700 miles – an amount of time only significant in terms of who gets the cutlery.

The good vs evil, underdog vs archenemy plot lines that we are so trained to apply simply did not apply here. This wasn’t the Bad News Bears, Star Wars, or a documentary about animals that almost get eaten. Last night, in the impossibly long and beautiful sunset that served as the backdrop of their final contest we didn’t see defeat or victory, but two sailboats playing every wind shift, reading the current and the eddies, and taking to the oars for the final stretch – each team sailing their race like it was only theirs – and trying to beat that other bastard.

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Reports by Race Central.

Background: The inaugural Race to Alaska is a unique, non-motorized, 750-mile marathon geared toward long distance rowers, paddlers and sailors. The two stage race began with 53 teams in Port Townsend, Washington on June 4 and finished at Victoria, BC (40 miles), with this first stage used as a qualifier to continue. If approved, competitors started the second stage Victoria, BC to Ketchikan, AK (710 miles) on June 6. The first person or team to finish wins $10,000. Second place will be awarded a set of steak knives.

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