(You can click the photos to enlarge.)
It’s been some time since I’ve written here to celebrate the creativity and courage of people in my beautiful little town at the tip of the country. During the 2013 Wooden Boat Festival some members of our NW Maritime Center decided to sponsor a boat race from here to Alaska, the longest one of its kind ever attempted under (mostly) scientific scrutiny.
The rules are simple. The race has two stages, a 40-mile qualifier across the nasty, rough Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Townsend to Victoria, and the other 710 miles from there to Ketchikan, Alaska. No motors. You travel solely by human and/or wind power. No pre-arranged resupply partners for race participants. You choose your own route, and pop into coastal towns or do your own negotiating with maritime traffic to get what you need along the way. The first entrants to arrive will win a $10,000 prize. A wad of cash has been nailed to a tree up there. A set of steak knives will be awarded to the second place finishers. Bragging rights will be allowed for all others who complete the course.
When the folks at the Maritime Center thought this up, probably after a few of our delicious local beers, they hoped perhaps as many as 10 teams would be inspired to accept the daunting challenge. But we have an abundance of guts, and an exceptional sense of the absurd here in the Pacific Northwest. More than 50 teams from all over signed up! About 30 teams are going all the way, with the rest satisfied to cross the Strait alive. Two dozen have already made it to Victoria by the time this article was posted.
The evening before the 5am start time, a “ruckus” was held down at Pope Marine Park with food and music, so the public could look over the vehicles and talk/celebrate with the boaters. The teams range from ones crewing high-tech multihulls, to various kayak and rowboat configurations, to a guy riding a 1980s wooden paddleboard. The weather looks good for the first few days up the coast, but the sea is notorious for unpredictable squalls. If the wind blows in the right direction, those with sails will have the edge. If the weather’s adversarial, paddlers and rowers could win the race.
Here are some links in case you want to read more about the event, or follow the heroic progress of the boaters in real time!
http://r2ak.com/faq/ (FAQ from the sponsors. Highly amusing.)
http://tracker.r2ak.com/ (Live tracking on a map.)
http://www.sailmagazine.com/racing/regattas/the-captivating-race-to-alaska-r2ak/ (SAIL Magazine’s article on the origins of the race.)
https://twitter.com/hashtag/r2ak (The Twitter feed)
(The Peninsula Daily intro article)