Race To Alaska: Why It’s So Cool

Published on July 27th, 2015

The inaugural Race to Alaska launched a unique 750-mile marathon in June from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, AK. Fifty-three entrants took the bait, bringing forth all forms of boating solution and embraced the adventure that was described as being “like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning…being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear.”

Joe Cline, Managing Editor of 48° North, actively covered the event and provides here his assessment of the experience…

I’m not exaggerating when I say this: With the exception of the foiling boats and close racing of the San Francisco America’s Cup, I believe the Race to Alaska (R2AK) is the coolest thing that’s happened in sailing since I’ve worked in the industry. It’s done something that almost nothing in sailing manages to do – it’s captured the attention of non-sailors, and crossed the often divisive lines drawn in the sailing world.

It’s inspiring to racers, it’s engaging to cruisers, it’s drawn the eyeballs and Facebook clicks of big boat sailors, dinghy sailors, wooden boat enthusiasts, passage makers, Olympians, and average Joes. R2AK drew a few boats from out of the area, but thousands of fans from around the country and beyond. The idea was spawned in one of our bars, and it’s happening on our waters. But, it’s much bigger than that now.

I wanted to start with that – an acknowledgment of the surprising and enormous success of this event. It’s a testament to a good idea that’s been very well executed by the team at Port Townsend’s Northwest Maritime Center. The courageous men and women who have set sail in small boats on a great journey, and pointed their compass needles to “N” towards cold, rugged waters have become our inspirations, heroes, and friends. R2AK’s success is assurance that the spirit of adventure burns in people from all walks of life, and that traveling our waters in a little boat fans the flame.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks pondering what exactly it is that has been so captivating to so many people, and especially why the momentum has carried on after Team Elsie Piddock won the race in convincing fashion. This is important to me, because replicating the successes could be huge for the sailing community at large.

The biggest thing I’ve come up with is that R2AK has the unique condition where racing success takes many forms. I’m not aware of another boat race where there’s so much pride to be taken in finishing. It’s like a marathon. Have you ever encountered a marathoner who felt like a failure because they didn’t win? They accomplished something great.

That’s the distinction between R2AK and a lot of sailboat racing. While many “normal” racers might be out there to have a good time, there is generally a great emphasis placed on winning. And, the alternative to winning, in most races, is losing, which has an element of failure.

In the R2AK, the alternative to winning is finishing. There’s no element of failure in this. Like the marathon, if you set out to finish and actually finish…massive success! If you set out to finish and aren’t able to, the challenge you set for yourself was great enough that the vast majority of your competitors aren’t competing against you. They’ll support you. Because you accepted the challenge, you’re a winner.

R2K stories published in the July 2015 edition of 48° North:

Why It’s So CoolThe CarnageHow Elsie Won The West

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