R2AK: The Victoria lay day

Published on June 7th, 2023

The 7th edition of the 750 mile Race to Alaska (R2AK) began June 5 with a 40-mile “proving stage” from Port Townsend, WA to Victoria, BC. For those that finish within 36 hours, they are allowed to start the remaining 710 miles on June 8 to Ketchikan, AK. Here’s the Stage 1 conclusion report:

Let’s start with this: We hear you, we know, and we’re sorry. We feel it too.

In an age of internet ubiquity, when AI is poised to anticipate your every need, take your job and ply you with every fact and product ever created, R2AK is stuck in Windows 95. Today’s world operates at the speed of Amazon and Alexa. This year we’re struggling for even Clippy-level performance.

Blame solar flares, Russian hackers seeking revenge for the Ukrainian anthem we played at the start, or a guy named Shane in New Zealand, but one thing can’t be denied: the tracker suuuuucks this year.

It’s not heresy, the pain is real. For us too. Despite rumors and our need to make rent next week, so far there is no R2AK prime premium plus champagne room subscription package that gets you (and/or us) access to 100% reliable, accurate, and up-to-date information.

Our crew is working on it, but right now it looks like there’s a wellspring of suck that lies somewhere between the trackers, the satellite, and a guy named Shane in New Zealand.

We’ve called, urged, begged, and come as close to threatening as Canadian etiquette and our good upbringing would allow. The result: still broken. Boats dropped off the map with their tracker unit blinking green and totally functional.

While we would never ask R2AK fans to stone a witch or storm the capital on our behalf, MAProgress’s website does “welcome feedback to help make our system even better,” and in the spirit of togetherness we thought you might like to know that. Stand by and stand down, or just join us in rage screaming into a pillow. We’re in this together.

Even without the struggles of Shane in New Zealand, since all but two teams had finished Stage 1, Day 2 was a day largely free of tracker frustration. Just after midnight the tidally challenged passage of Team Supernautiloid rowed its way into the warm embrace of Victoria and closed the door as Stage 1’s final finisher of 2023 and joined the rest of the fleet in R2AK’s maple-flavored waiting room.

Since R2AK’s inception, the Victoria lay day on June 7 was designed as a buffer between racer enthusiasm and the lessons of reality. Unlike MAProgress, other than the voices in their head and the cacophony of social media, the only feedback loop that really matters is what happens on the course.

Author/sailor Francis Stokes put it better than most: “The sea finds out everything you did wrong,” and every year Victoria’s dockside lay days have been about responding to that definitive and sometimes violent performance review.

This year was no different. The docks were abuzz with repairs to boat and body alike. Dock to dock, wrenches turned on pedal drives, gear was burped out of drybags then stowed and restowed, hatches sealed, rigs checked and rechecked as teams crammed for R2AK’s final exam to Ketchikan.

The most visual display of Stage 1’s learning curve were the shavings of Team Unsalted Nuts, whose recently discovered deep hatred for their oars sent them to Lumber World to find the wood that they were whittling from board to oar shape in the hours before the skippers meeting; sawdust and shavings flying in the afternoon sun.

The only compulsory extracurricular of the day was the skippers’ meeting and send-off party. In a race where finishers reach Ketchikan between 4 days and never, the send-off is the last time this community of adventurers will convene as a group.

After the detailed logistics of the start, and the Canadian Coast Guard offered sobering words of just how little support racers could expect if they got into trouble on British Columbia’s remote coast, the evening downshifted into the kind of last supper celebration that found racers oscillating between swapping sea stories, rubbing their foreheads about a burly offshore forecast, and snapping some pics at the selfie station concocted by 2022 alumni Team Fashionably Late—who flew in for the party and arrived uncharacteristically early to set it up.

The last team on the course was Team Jackalope who were forced to throw in the towel after spending the full 36 hours of Stage 1 suffering through light winds and massive tides. With limited ability to sail and a pedal drive that could propel them at not quite two knots, they were swept north and miles away from the finish line on Day 1’s monster of an incoming tide.

On June 6, they clawed their way within 3 miles of the harbor mouth before the tide went against them again. Rather than getting swept back north, they threw out the anchor to wait.

Anchor? In a race? When the tide is running against you at five knots and you can only pedal two, in the face of going backwards the fastest option is to not move at all.

But the 36-hour time limit ran out faster than the tide would change, so a little after Stage 1’s deadline, Jackalope accepted their fate and called for a tow. Maybe next year.

In a moment that can only be described as apex R2AK, when news that Team Jackalope’s tow was entering the harbor, a squad of racers and volunteers left the skippers’ meeting to welcome and celebrate Jackalope’s efforts and drag them to the party.

When they entered the entire room offered a congratulatory and sustained applause. Rules are rules, and they won’t be advancing to the second stage, but their hard fought efforts are R2AK to the core. The hero’s welcome was far from performative; those guys gave it their all. Our hunch is that we’ll see them again.


Stage 2 starts June 8, and the five teams that are cleared and considered for the outside route (rules require approval) are looking at a forecast of 40 knots on the nose. 40 knots, upwind, off of the coast of Vancouver Island that is affectionately known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”


Alternately, the inside route transits past the somewhat less menacing “Sunshine Coast.” The choice is stark: 300 miles of getting kicked in the teeth by an open ocean gale while sailing over the ghosts of those who made the same choice, or take your chances with the bears, whirlpools, driftwood, and copious sunscreen of the inside route. We won’t know which flavor of horrible they choose until race day. The suspense is killing us.

Race start is at high noon. Ready or not, R2AK.

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The 7th edition of the Race to Alaska in 2023 will follow 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 2023 plan:

Stage 1 Race start: June 5 – Port Townsend, Washington
Stage 2 Race start: June 8 – Victoria, BC

While the Stage 1 course is simple enough, the route to Ketchikan is less so. Other than a waypoint at Bella Bella, there is no official course. Whereas previous races mandated an inside passage of Vancouver Island via Seymour Narrows, the gloves came off in 2022. For teams that can prove their seaworthiness, they now had the option of the western route.

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.

There were no races in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. In 2022, there were 45 starters for Stage 1 and 34 finishers. Of those finishers, 32 took on Stage 2 of which 19 made it to Ketchikan.

Source: R2AK

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