R2AK: We have a winner!
Published on June 14th, 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 finished within 36 hours, they were allowed to start the remaining 710 miles on June 8 to Ketchikan, AK. Here’s the Stage 2/Day 7 report:
Team We Brake for Whales crossed the finish line around 7am local time (June 14), finishing the race in 5 days, 18 hours, 59 minutes. The crowd cheered as they crossed the line, then pedaled, and pedaled, and pedaled into the dock. The seldom-seen, final invisible adversary was the outgoing current from the creek that flows out through Thomas Basin.
Hugs and laughs abound, a snuggle of a baby, then they rang the bell and drank/NASCAR-showered in beer and champagne as is the custom of all R2AK finishers.
Cameras of the local TV and newspaper were on the dock ready to roll in “3, 2, 1” and the local radio station could only have been more excited about a live finish during drive time if Ketchikan had more than 30 miles of roads end to end. Friends and family from down south, Hunter ‘The Kilt Guy’, and the rest of KTN regulars all crowded in to wish them well. It was part reunion, part laughter fused recounting of a race well run.
They sailed upwind, hard, for the better part of 400 miles, and their last 100 across Dixon Entrance—“We caught air off of every wave,” people sleeping caught air in their bunks. Even if you have never experienced that phenomenon first-hand, from the bags under their sleep-weary eyes to the group reenacting how they could ‘actually’ speak whale (of which they saw more than 50), it was obvious that they had slept little in the last 24 hours. That, and cinnamon rolls and beer are seldom a meal of the well-rested.
Team We Brake for Whales’ finish was flawless, or at least nearly so. Right boat, right crew, and well-executed plan. The one flaw was that they finished within minutes of our publication deadlines. So we offer a solid ‘hooray’, a promise of 10k to the team, and a promise of a more complete report of their race tomorrow. Until then, social media your hearts out.
We will say this: This Race to Alaska was longer than all but one other, and from the jump has been the kind of race that boat yards should love: the damage has been extensive, and well beyond superficial.
The last 24 hours saw the presumptive steak knife winners, Team Dogsmile, exit the race and attempt a retreat to Bella Bella due to damage to their bulkhead. In a bit of R2AK community spirit, they sailed south and shared an anchorage with Team Budgie Smugglers—the new presumptive contenders for the second-place steak knives.
Another day, another trimaran, another bulkhead.
This year, the wind and seas from roughly Johnstone Strait on have been bad, but not historically bad. Last year, the source of the violence was clear: logs. Last year the record rains on the BC coast swelled the rivers, caused landslides, and choked the waterways with more wood than anyone had ever seen.
If it was an actual thing, this year you could criticize the Ministry of Driftwood Production for over-correcting; preemptively burning thousands of acres of future driftwood in forests all across Canada. Not cool guys, not cool.
Weather and logs within historical tolerances, so what was it that was causing all of the structural failures, particularly in the trimarans? We rang up Wayne Gorrie, inaugural steak knife winner and guy who hates to be called a PNW multihull legend to get his thoughts. His take was instant, colorful, and definitive: “They got too much f#cking weight onboard.”
Trimarans are meant to be sailed light; someone once put it this way: “Think about sailing a tri the same way you would about flying an airplane. Every ounce matters.”
Their point was while there might be more room to cram stuff into the overhead bin, don’t. The more you load up the vessel with humans, water, and gear, the more energy you’re going to need to propel it, and the problem increases more the more overweight you are.
Energy harnessed in the sail is transferred through the rigging to the boat at the various attachment points and converted into motion. Load those points up with too much energy, with a too heavy boat pounding into too big of seas for too long and you increase the stress on every point in that system.
Wayne’s take was that Corsairs are great boats, but they’re designed and built either to be sailed heavy or in heavy conditions, but not both.
95% of the time that’s okay. A family trip with an extra friend, coloring books, and crab pots probably wouldn’t choose days in a row of bashing upwind and offshore into 40 knots of wind. In the other case, most racing is done with a light boat in order to optimize speed; sailors tend to leave their coloring books on the docks for the promise of an extra fraction of a knot.
Wayne’s theory is that the combination of larger crews (Teams Dogsmile and Mojo had crews of 4, R2AK’s winning tris have always had 3), all of the canned food and coloring books needed to sail without re-provisioning, added to the heavy conditions created a situation where all of that extra stress found the weak spots in bulkheads, beams, and rudders.
Is he right? Was that the cause of the great trimaran carnage of 2023?
No idea and it will remain forever unprovable, but if he is then it explains a fraction of the magic of the solo sailing sensation, Team Pestou. He’s one guy (and not a super big guy) with one guy’s worth of stuff, and we’ve never seen him coloring. The result: his boat is hundreds of pounds closer to optimal than those with larger crews. Less weight, less stress on the rig, has made for less sleep but better speed and surprising survivability (also he’s a sh#t-hot sailor).
So there you have it, the news of the day R2AK style—two paragraphs about Team We Brake for Whales’ hitting the beach, and a forever prattle about people not even in the race, some of them not even this year. Breathe deeply and untwist your knickers, we promise we’ll cover the winners tomorrow once we have time to actually talk to them.
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.