Human power triumphs in qualifier for Race to Alaska
Published on June 9th, 2017
Four small craft propelled entirely by human power took top honors in the first stage of the 2017 Race to Alaska, with three rowboats and a pedal powered craft finishing before all sailboats.
The third annual Race to Alaska (R2AK) is a 750-mile race open to all engineless vessels, and has no handicaps or classes. The first to cross the finish line in Ketchikan, AK wins a $10,000 prize. Second prize is a set of steak knives.
Vessels of all kinds crossed the starting line on June 8 in Port Townsend, WA at 5am in light winds. The 40-mile qualifying stage to Victoria, BC crosses the Strait of Juan De Fuca, a notoriously rough body of water that opens to the Pacific Ocean and separates the U.S. from Canada.
“In past years the start of the race has been really windy,” commented Daniel Evans, ‘Race Boss’ of the R2AK. “This year the wind built to over 30 knots in the afternoon and caused havoc with a number of the boats, but the morning was incredibly calm.”
In the calmer conditions the steady speed of smaller rowboats were able to overcome the top end speed of larger, high performance sailboats. “This is really incredible, no one predicted this,” admitted Evans.
First to ring the bell in Victoria’s inner harbor was a French double rowing shell of Team Liteboat, crewed by Dominique Preney and Mattieu Bonnier, Liteboat CEO and finisher of the R2AK in 2016.
Liteboat was followed by Team Take Me to the Volcano in a custom pedal powered trimaran and it’s sole crewmember, Matt Johnson of Seattle. Next was National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and 2-time R2AK participant Colin Angus rowed across the line minutes later. Fourth place was gained by Team Oaracle, a Canadian double sliding seat rowboat.
As of the wee hours on June 9, only 33 out 57 racers who started have finished Stage One. Eighteen are still underway while 6 have exited the race safely. To qualify for the full race, teams must make the crossing in 36 hours without assistance. The deadline to finish in Victoria is 5pm on June 9.
Stage 1: The Proving Ground – June 8
Port Townsend to Victoria BC (40 miles): R2AK starts with an initial race across open water, two sets of shipping lanes, and an international border. The first stage is designed as a qualifier for the full race and as a stand-alone 40 mile sprint for people who just want to put their toe in.
If you want to be a part of R2AK but don’t have the time or inclination for the full race- join for a full day of all out racing across some of the biggest water in the course. Racers continuing on will clear Canadian customs in Victoria.
Stage one winners get to bask in the glory for a full day and a half.
Stage 2: To the Bitter End – June 11
Victoria, BC to Ketchikan, AK (710 miles): Racers start in Victoria and continue until they reach Ketchikan, accept their mortality and quit, or lag too far behind and are tapped out by the sweep boat. Other than two waypoints along the way, Seymour Narrows and Bella Bella, there is no official course. To quote the bard, You can go your own way.