R2AK: Thomas Basin, here we come

Published on June 19th, 2022

After the race was cancelled in 2020 and 2021, the 6th edition of the 750 mile Race to Alaska (R2AK) began June 13 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 16 to Ketchikan, AK. Here’s the day four report:

Team Pure and Wild continues their downwind romp after passing Bella Bella in Day Three’s early morning hours. God and driftwood willing, it looks like they’ll mow down the miles and arrive in Ketchikan midday today. Since mileage-wise Bella Bella is effectively the halfway mark, in the spirit of learning together we’ve arranged a quick mid-term quiz:

R2AK 2022 Midterm
1. As of right now, how many teams are still in the race?
2. Things are changing fast, how many have exited since the last question?
3. On a scale of 8 to 10, how great is our new tracker?
4. If a train traveling at 10 miles per hour left Victoria at noon on June 16, and another traveling at the same speed simultaneously left Ketchikan, would they make it to Bella Bella at the same time? If your answer is yes, please describe how trains would make it to and from islands with no bridges… or trains. Also, why?
5. Choose what answer best completes the following sentence:
“In R2AK 2022, the ______ was the worst it has ever been.”

a. Weather and sea conditions in Stage One
b. Amount of driftwood in and around Vancouver Island
c. Amount of time it took for any of these updates to get to something relevant
d. All of the above

Pencils down.

Regardless of how you answered #5, our thinly veiled need for approval is doing fine. We made national NPR, Ayesha Rascoe, and everything. We’re sending them an R2AK tote bag to say thanks.

While we spent the morning drunk on four of our 15 minutes of fame, Race to Alaska’s fourth day was seemingly less crazy than pretty much any others: only three teams dropped out, and a racer was kicked off his boat for having some non-pandemic-related illness.

Working backwards, WA360 Champ and R2AK veteran Shad Lemke, captain of High Seas Drifters, was put ashore on forced medical leave in Port McNeill—because apparently, we’re to the point when people can get sick without it being COVID. Lucky us.

Shad’s in good hands and on the mend, and his team is soldiering north without him. R2AK rules say that while you can’t add fresh horse crew members along the way, you can always drop a crew member—a rule made for situations like this. Get well soon, Shad, the Hallmark card (and potentially a tote bag) is forthcoming.

Team Stern Wheelin’ retired from the race after some soul searching. Talking with Lionel, it sounded like things just weren’t feeling right. They were miles behind their plan, they were still pretty beat up from Stage One, not to mention the pedal fest that followed. He was worried that they weren’t going to make the schedule to get him back on time to his newly minted doctor gig. Things were adding up in the wrong way.

Joint Rescue Forces Canada’s perpetual plea to the racers is to bow out at Campbell River if there is any doubt. Team Stern Wheelin’ had at least two to three and made the responsible decision. We’ll miss their spirits, their immaculate contraption of a paddlewheel, and our opportunity to dive into how they were using paper charts from Lionel’s dad’s last trip up the Inside Passage… in 1978.

Our sincere hope was that their trip would have been as historic as their charts. Hard cheese. Silver lining: son and dad got to spend dad day together making good choices. Rah!

Deliberately lying in pursuit of a punchline, Team Shear Water Madness decided that Seymour Narrows was so cool that they wanted to do it again. A team that thrives on challenge, this time they upped their game and did it with only half of their sails.

As the old phrase we just made up goes: “half rigs begat half truths,” and the other half is that their mast broke right as they were entering Johnstone Strait. No one was hurt, but the mast snapped right at the tabernacle and their R2AK was mourned at half staff.

They were able to save the sail but not the mast. More impressive: while some would have called for help and gotten a tow, Team Shear Water Madness made it to civilization unsupported, sailing to safety with just half of the rig their boat was designed for. Not as fast, and they were out of spares if something else went wrong, but they made it back to Campbell River under their own power. How R2AK is that? Proud to know you.

Dealt a similar hand of big weather and breaking boat, Team Ruf Duck followed suit a few hours later. After biking their yellow trimaran through a pitch black, flat calm Seymour Narrows, Team Ruf Duck poked their nose into a full 30-knot headwind and wicked currents in Johnstone Strait only to find rips developing in their mainsail and sought the nearest anchorage of refuge on the Strait’s northern shore.

After a short sleep, they rubbed their eyes, took stock, took heed, and prudence won the day. With forecasts predicting full force winds on the nose for at least the next hundred miles, multiple ripped sails, and fatigue setting in, they made the smart choice to turn around.

They’re on their way back to Port Townsend for a hero’s welcome. Live to fight another day. Cold comfort, but if doing Seymour both ways was the race, these guys would get the steak knives.

Which brings us to the race part of the Race to Alaska. As we type, there are still more than 50 miles between Team Pure and Wild and the rainfall-infused finish line in Thomas Basin. Given R2AK 2022’s history of carnage and mayhem, we’re not counting our chickens. There’s destruction lurking in every sea mile, but at this point (knocking wood) who will win doesn’t feel all that interesting. When is where the action is.

Pretty sure it’s too late to buy in on the Alaska State sanctioned chance to gamble on this thing, but the urge to speculate is real. If Team Pure and Wild continues its pace, our guess is that they’ll cross the line right about the time you read this—whenever that is.

R2AK doesn’t have handicaps, time corrections, or classes for so many reasons, but a big one is that we are just bad at math. Definitely check our work on your own fingers and toes, but when we carry the one and multiply by pi and a half, it looks like while the win is more or less in the bag, most of the records are off the table.

Fastest time to K-town was set by Team MAD Dog Racing’s 2016 head-shaking and sleepless, one strike and you’re out, adrenaline romp of 3 days, 20 hours, 13 minutes. The monohull record was Team Angry Beavers’ 2019 run; 4 days, 3 hours, 56 minutes.

If you trust our tarot card, 8-ball, Cow Bingo, and Ouija Board’s predictions, when Team Pure and Wild finishes at +/- noon on the 20th it will be +/- 5 days; faster than our inaugural winners, faster than Team Sail Like a Girl’s 2018 win fueled by endless biking in days of heat wave flat calm, but slower than the Beavs.

Unless some pirate curse gets them in their last miles, odds are the records TP&W nab will be these:
• First and fastest team to complete the outside route.
• Matt Pistay will become the first racer to win back-to-back R2AKs. Someone get that guy a bigger hat, he’s earned the swelled head. Twice.

There’s a race that’s glowing hot between the darkhorse bids of Team Elsewhere and Team Fashionably Late for the coveted second place steak knives. As words hit the page, both teams are converging on Bella Bella from opposite approaches, and it’s looking like they’ll nearly be within sight of each other when they do. The battle for the steak knives is as ridiculous as it is real.

This is a surprise, and maybe to no one more than the teams themselves. The everyman sailing pros onboard Team Elsewhere’s Soverell 33 are the regular kind of awesome. Sailing pros, unadorned by Olympic medals or big wins from marquee races, they’re sailing a cult classic that on paper is seriously under-gunned compared to the trimaran fleet who they started against.

Team Fashionably Late have matching outfits, seem to take as much time feeding their social media as they do sailing hard or distributing joy and cocktail fixins. Their Dash 34 is punching way above its weight class and punching through the log jam of the inside seemingly unscathed.

Our emerging theory on their success is either that sailing fast is actually fueled by having a good time and matching outfits, or it’s all a ruse to downplay their skills in the most entertaining, cutthroat-with-a-smile rope-a-dope we’ve ever seen. It’s like if Mike Tyson gave his opponents Beanie Babies instead of biting off their ears.

Not for nothing, but the likelihood of three monohulls taking the money, the knives, and the first team to be showered with glorious amounts of nothing is brain melting, even to us. After the first years, everyone wrote them off. It was going to be tris all the way. Now monohulls are possibly not just winning, but sweeping the podium with a 1-2-3 finish. Brain. Melting. We’re putting in earplugs to see if we can keep it all in there.

Our advance team has made it to Ketchikan and reports that finish line beers are standing by at their traditional lukewarm, the Ketchikan community is ready and notably warmer, and as the sun sets in Ketchikan the rain continued to practice shining its liquid sunshine down on the finish. Thomas Basin, here we come.

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Race to Alaska, now in its 6th year, follows the same general rules which launched this madness in 2015. 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. Here is the 2022 plan:

Stage 1 Race start: June 13 – Port Townsend, Washington
Stage 2 Race start: June 16 – 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.

In 2019, there were 48 starters for Stage 1 and 37 finishers. Of those finishers, 35 took on Stage 2 of which 10 were tagged as DNF. There were no races in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Source: R2AK

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