R2AK: Out of the darkness, into the light
Published on June 10th, 2019
The 5th edition of the 750 mile Race to Alaska began June 3 with a 40-mile “proving stage” from Port Townsend, WA to Victoria, BC. For those that survived, they started the remaining 710 miles on June 6 to Ketchikan, AK. Here’s the June 10 update:
The remoteness of the British Columbia coast has always been key to this thing. A big part of why the R2AK needed to exist was to get more people into the self-supported adventure that can only happen when you’re outside of your comfort zone and in a place where no one will hear you scream.
There’s a fleeting rarity and holiness to being beyond the reach of communication. Doubt us? Gurus are supposed to be in seclusion at the top of mountains—would you trust any clay tablet commandments that Moses got from on top the hard wall at the climbing gym?
Being out of touch somehow makes the adventure more real. Everest used to be the unknown reality whose impenetrable secrets quickened the pulse and spurred the imagination. Now you can send a selfie from the summit. Sure, you can still die doing it, so still adventurous, but somehow less cool. Unknowing has magic in it.
Whether you’re one of the two people buying the lemonade we are trying to make out of our continued inability to know where Team Pear Shaped Racing is, or you’re more like the rest of everyone who spent the day and way too much of the night alternately hitting refresh on the tracker and reaching for another quarter to put in the swear jar, Day 4 was a day of unknowing.
Without a camera crew on scene, a reliable tracker, and no #R2AKmom for miles, the story of Day 4 has to be recreated crime-scene style from the various threads of whispers and rumors carried to our ears by our informants, expert witnesses, and that very confident, close, and drunk guy on the plane.
With Team Pear Shaped Racing sending their 10.6m custom trimaran downwind in a gale from when they were last seen through ‘Go dark thirty,’ it’s hard to know their speed or state of repair. The informal poll of the staff at Fisheries Supply who had to close the tracker to ring us up put 3pm on June 10 as the over/under finish time for the winners.
A multihull maestro with R2AK street cred puts it closer to 4pm. While we might not have eyes on reports, we do have our little birds who whisper us the goods.
If we’ve claimed the mantle of R2AK’s redux of Varys, Master of Whisperers, Team Pear Shaped Racing is clearly Khaleesi, Breaker of Trackers, Sailor of Dragon, and on Day 4 we can only guess the Game of Thrones level destruction they unleashed as they tore up the north half of the coast. Ketchikan is coming.
It was also a day of all out racing. From the back to the front the matches are forming and teams are sparring in close quarters and making strategic big moves to distance and outpace. In the presumptive fight for one and two, at midday Team Angry Beaver reported being within a mile of the Pear Shaped tri. A mile after some three hundred miles—.3%; a drop in the bucket, a rounding error, a lower-cased fart in a windstorm.
While they both have female skippers, Jeanne and the women who sail as the girls played to their strengths and their inshore designed Melges 32 and no thank you’d the Hecate Strait gale in favor of the route up the more protected waters inside of Aristazabal Island.
Natalie and her all-dude crew on Team Shut Up and Drive doubled down on their offshore pedigree/experience and the ocean racing nature of their Figaro 2 and jammed out into the teeth of it. Their crew’s collective resumes are impressive (seriously, check out their bio, we wrote it, so facts start near the end) but we can only imagine the right-now nausea and future night terrors that a pitch dark run in big winds and 9-foot seas is causing on the pro-cyclist half of their crew who were selected for their output as bike meat over any time at sea.
Fatigue, fear, and confused seas has long been a favorite recipe for a boomerang dinner that will make newbies low with seasickness and put a strain on the rest to pick up the slack. Inside vs outside? Who knows, but as long as their trackers hold up (EVERYONE, KNOCK WOOD RIGHT NOW) it will be exciting to see how it all plays out.
It was a day of damage. What we know is that Team Narwhal splayed open their headsail along the foot, and the last image we saw had them barrelling along with an ragged, open-air jib window that nature volunteered for them. (Easier to see logs?) They have other headsails, but each one that goes away reduces the options and optimal speed. Plus they’re expensive. As they say in jolly old Frenchie town: c’est damage.
In a more definitive crunch in the night, Team Givin’ the Horns bowed out of their sparring match with Team Sail Like a Girl when they broke their rudder nearly in two on the approach to Bella Bella. They jury rigged the remnants to limp into one of the few marinas in almost nowhere Canada.
The locals who met them on the dock were tracker junkies too, and already knew what was happening and were willing to help. Out of the running for line honors, but wanting to continue, they were faced with a choice: Fix it or source one and import?
From the people on the dock to the scores of online fans, people from all over the US and Canada rallied in a surge of internet support; reaching out to them to offer help in whatever way made sense. A sailor in the lower 48 offered to build one overnight, others offered to rip the rudder off of their boat to send it to them. Pilots offered to fly it up for for free.
In a moment of clarity, they looked at all of the totally in-rules help that lay at their feet, looked each other in the eyes, and decided that rather than finding the most expedient solution, they would live up to the spirit of R2AK’s high bar self-reliance and opted to build one themselves out of locally sourced materials.
Since it wasn’t prearranged, it would have been completely legal in the eyes of the R2AK to have a prefabbed one air-dropped in, but they’ve drank the R2AK suck-it-up and git-er-done Kool-aid and wouldn’t have it any other way.
They are headed to the local hardware store to get what plywood and epoxy they can find and build a locally sourced rudder themselves. Their goal is to finish with their honor and to make the racer party and KYC Burger Night potluck on June 14. Couldn’t be prouder if we were their #R2AKmom.
Unless they make a left at Dixon entrance and wow us with their Mortissier streak, Day 4 was probably the last before we emerge from the unknown and have some sort of eyes on Team Pear Shaped Racing, and all of the conjecture will be replaced with their stories. Enjoy the unknown when it lasts, our bet is that today someone is taking a selfie at the Ketchikan summit.
UPDATE: Team Angry Beaver wins R2AK, ringing the finish line bell at 2:56 pm AK time. Onboard the Schock 40 was team members Matt Pistay, Gavin Bracket, Brent Campbell, Alan Johnson, Mats Elf, and Simon Miles.
The Daily Fix by Boldly Went
The R2AK Daily Fix is a podcast following the 750 mile Race to Alaska created and produced by Boldly Went Media.
Race to Alaska, now in its 5th year, follows the same rules which launched this madness. No motor, no support, through wild frontier, navigating by sail or peddle/paddle (but at some point both) the 750 cold water miles from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.
To save people from themselves, and possibly fulfill event insurance coverage requirements, the distance is divided into two stages. Anyone that completes the 40-mile crossing from Port Townsend to Victoria, BC can pass Go and proceed. Those that fail Stage 1 go to R2AK Jail. Their race is done.
Stage 1 Race start: 0500 June 3rd, Port Townsend, Washington
Stage 2 Race start: 1200 June 6th, Victoria, BC
There is $10,000 if you finish first, a set of steak knives if you’re second. Cathartic elation if you can simply complete the course. R2AK is a self-supported race with no supply drops and no safety net. Any boat without an engine can enter.
Last year 37 teams were accepted and 21 finished.
Source: Race to Alaska