Please select your home edition
Edition
Vaikobi 2021 FlexForce - LEADERBOARD

Reimagining the Race to Alaska

by David Schmidt 17 Sep 2019 08:00 PDT September 17, 2019
Angry Beaver during the Race to Alaska 2019 © Drew Malcolm

Life sometimes finds interesting ways of making people rethink what they previously accepted as the gospel truth. For example, wisdom has long held that the key to winning the Race to Alaska (R2AK), which runs 750 nautical miles from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska, and which is open to any vessel so long as it does not carry an auxiliary engine, involves being the first boat to clear Seymour Narrows, a tight spot between the British Columbian mainland and Vancouver Island where the current can run up to 15 knots. Clearing this hurdle first, and ideally as the changing tide slams shut the door on fellow competitors, has spelled victory for the fortunate few while shattering the dreams of myriad other racers.

But what if Seymour Narrows wasn't a required waypoint?

This is precisely the bombshell that the R2AK race bosses recently dropped, and which has been commanding dockside conversations up and down the West Coast - and beyond - ever since.

A small rewind. Traditionally, R2AK racers have begun their journey in Port Townsend and then sailed a 40 nautical-mile qualifying leg that takes them to the seaside city of Victoria, British Columbia. Once recovered, teams then restart in Victoria and head north, passing two additional waypoints, namely Seymour Narrows and a point off of Bella Bella, B.C., before punching it to the finishing line off of Ketchikan, Alaska. The first team to arrive collects $10,000, while the second-place team takes home a set of steak knives; for everyone else, there's the memory and the t-shirt.

While racers will still tussle over the grand-prize loot and the consolation cutlery en route to Alaska, starting in June of 2020 the R2AK will only have three mandatory waypoints, namely Port Townsend, Victoria and Bella Bella, en route to the Ketchikan finishing line.

This of course means that racers are welcome to try and skip Seymour Narrows and instead attempt to negotiate Vancouver Island's wet and often-woolly West Coast, a place that's typically marked by long-fetch waves slamming onto a massive lee shore, and by the often storm-battered Brooks Peninsula. And that's not to mention the lack of onshore lights come nightfall, or the fact that the last bit of terra firma that some of the waves touched was in Japan.

Mind you, the R2AK race bosses are only mildly crazy (not full-boat... yet) and are wisely requiring teams interested in taking on the West Coast routing option to indicate this on their race application, pass additional layers of vetting, and adhere to US Sailing's Category 1 Offshore crew and vessel requirements (read: no stand-up paddleboards, beach cats or oar-only vessels; teams wishing to contest the R2AK using these kinds of craft must stick to the inside passage and Seymour Narrows), minus the bits about an auxiliary engine, of course.

But, for anyone who thought they had the R2AK's strategy playbook dialed, there's no question that this calls almost everything back into question. Just like any great news bombshell should.

Here in Seattle, some 31 nautical miles from the R2AK race headquarters in beautiful Port Townsend, it was almost possible to feel the aftershock of this announcement. Previous race winners and other t-shirt holders are already returning to the conversation with refreshed eyes and attitudes, while first-timers can feel less hemmed-in by the rules and regulations (and, quite possibly, a bit more intimidated by the possibilities that this new-found freedom affords).

And, for everyone else who is addicted to the R2AK's race tracker (your editor's hand is proudly raised), this also means serious question marks, tougher dockside wagers, and straight-up daydreaming.

Which, of course, is exactly the magic that the R2AK was founded on, and which continuously helps to keep this run-what-ya-brung adventure race alive, breathing, and commanding attention, even some nine months before its June 8, 2020 start.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

Related Articles

A Q&A with Mark Wheeler on the 2021 J/111 Worlds
An interview with Mark Wheeler on the 2021 J/111 Worlds Sail-World checked in with Mark Wheeler, regatta chairman of the 2021 J/111 Worlds, via email, to learn more about this One Design championship. Posted on 14 Oct
Spain SailGP debriefing, U.S. Youth Championship
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA While early October is always a great time for racing in North America, last week's sailing news cycle was dominated by the Spain SailGP event, which unfurled off Cadiz, Spain, on the country's southwest coast. Posted on 12 Oct
Jumbos rule
B&G gave us Nemesis, and this was a pretty cool piece of kit indeed. Not all the world's jumbos got retired and parked in the Arizona desert at the beginning of 2020. Boeing's venerable bus had served us all - so, so well… Later on that same year, B&G, gave us Nemesis, and this was a pretty cool piece of kit indeed. Posted on 10 Oct
Nancy Pearson and Buttons Padin on the Viper640 NA
David Schmidt checks in with the event co-chair and class administrator Sail-World checked in with Nancy Pearson and Ed “Buttons” Padin, event co-chair of the 2021 Viper 640 North American Championship and Viper 640 Class Administrator (respectively), via email, to learn more about this One Design regatta. Posted on 5 Oct
What's happening in America's Cup land?
Like it or not, it is the pinnacle event in yachting A lot is written about the America's Cup, and a huge amount of it is speculation. Like it or not, it is the pinnacle event in yachting, and for those who try to win it, it becomes an all-consuming obsession. Posted on 4 Oct
Hinman Trophy, offshore sailing, and Mini Transat
Summer may have handed the baton off to autumn, but the sailing scene hasn't been cooling off Summer may have handed the baton off to autumn, but that certainly doesn't mean that the sailing scene has been cooling off in North America, at least not yet. This past weekend gave the sailing world multiple great events to follow and participate in. Posted on 28 Sep
Hooray for the hundredth!
Here is our card to the J/99, which will soon enough have 100 vessels sailing all around the world. Now if you're a British subject that means you get a letter from HRH QEII. If you're French, maybe you get one from President Macron. Certainly POTUS does to US citizens. Posted on 26 Sep
James Keen on the Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge
An interview with James Keen on the 2021 Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge I checked in with James Keen, chairman of the 2021 Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge, via email, to learn more about this exciting regatta. Posted on 23 Sep
Square peg, round hole. Round peg, square hole.
One thing is pretty clear with fluid dynamics. Smooth and flowing wins the day. If you think about fluid dynamics for just a second, one thing is pretty clear. Smooth and flowing wins the day. Posted on 23 Sep
Mixing it up
A few sailing events which are a bit 'out of the norm' As we head towards the end of September, I've been thinking about which events, and days out sailing, have been the most fun this year. There are a few to choose from, and overall it's been a good year for time on the water. Posted on 21 Sep
Cyclops 2020 - SmartlinkNano - FOOTERUpffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW FOOTERRS Sailing 2021 - FOOTER