Please select your home edition
Edition
ETNZShop-SUPPORTERRANGE-728x90 HR Top

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

Olympians and UK dinghy champions clash
Bashes and banter in eSailing Demonstration Event We're all stuck at home, we're all itching to go sailing, yet our boats are out of bounds. There was only one thing for it - virtual sailing! Posted today at 4:03 pm
Calling clubs and classes
All sailing organisations encouraged to share their 2020 plans It's true there is little racing to look forward to at present, but Sail-World.com still sees this as a great time for class organisations and sailing clubs to publicise their news and plans for 2020. Posted today at 3:17 pm
Olympic postponement creates new challenges
Latest Sail-World newsletter from David Schmidt in the USA After much debate, hand-wringing, and tough decision-making, the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese organizers of the XXXII Olympiad have announced that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be postponed by one year due to the novel coronavirus. Posted on 31 Mar
What does sailing mean to you?
We'll be publishing the most inspiring stories to help weather the storm Things feel pretty strange at the moment. We're going through unprecedented and tough times. Haven't we all dreamed about getting on a boat and sailing away from it all? Sailing is what keeps us going! Posted on 30 Mar
The newest fast 30, by Farr
The Mumm 30 as it was originally known, was designed by Farr The Mumm 30 as it was originally known, was designed by Farr. This is another crackerjack 30-footer from Farr Yacht Design; this time in conjunction with Bret Perry's Hyperform Yachting. Posted on 29 Mar
Calling all boat bimblers!
Show us what you've been up to this winter, or are doing now! If you have spent the winter engrossed in boat DIY, whether it was small modifications or massive rebuilds, Sail-World.com would love to hear from you. We think it's time to share your story with the world. Posted on 29 Mar
Dave Wilhite on the Double Handed Farallons Race
An interview with Dave Wilhite about the 2020 Double Handed Farallones Race I checked in with Dave Wilhite, race chair of the Double Handed Farallones Race, via email, to learn more about this year's event. Posted on 27 Mar
America's Cup reset after tumultuous fortnight
Here's how the rest of the Cup could unfold, after the cancellation of two of the three ACWS events The second event ACWS Portsmouth was cancelled Tuesday (NZT) by organisers. It came a week after the Arbitration Panel called off the first event in Cagliari. Both were nobbled by the coronavirus. Here's how the rest of the Cup could unfold. Posted on 25 Mar
Pondering a life afloat: My first night at sea
David Schmidt recalls being a ten-year-old boy absolutely infatuated with sailing The year was 1987, and I was a ten-year-old boy who was absolutely infatuated with sailing and specifically with wanting to join my dad on his yearly offshore trips with "the boys". Soon, the lessons began. Posted on 24 Mar
Hannah Mills podcast
Sarah Heron talks to the Olympian about the Big Plastic Pledge A few weeks ago I spoke to Hannah Mills, Olympian and eco-crusader whose initiative Big Plastic Pledge aims to eradicate single use plastic in sport. Posted on 24 Mar
ETNZShop-SUPPORTERRANGE-728x90 HR BottomSydney to Auckland 2021 - FOOTEROfficial-Collection-Navy-alt1 728x90 BOTTOM