The Race to Alaska

No, S/V Aurora is not racing anywhere and not even going all the way to Alaska. We’re completely slowed down, gaga over the Race to Alaska, a human-powered trek up the Inside Passage with basically no engines, no support, and almost no rules. The first prize – which should be claimed by the time this blog is posted – is $10,000. The second prize is a set of steak knives, and it will be hotly contested. After that a bunch of singular triumphs.

Normally we’d have left on our summer cruise north mid May. But this year the pull of the race start, of seeing the boats and meeting the teams, kept us in Port Townsend. And although we’ve now definitely cast off, we’ll be nursing this Race to Alaska obsession for the next few weeks, until the last competitor crosses the finish line in Ketchikan.

We’ve been riding the buildup to this singular competition for months, ever since NW Maritime Center Director Jake Beattie announced it at the Wooden Boat Festival, long before the $10,000 prize was crowdsourced on Kickstarter. The original hope was for a handful or two of teams but in the end, the spirit of adventure and a great deal of innovative boat-building took over.

On Wednesday, June 3, Jack and I worked the information tent at the welcome Ruckus for the 57 teams that eventually showed up, their motley craft laying about on the grass at Pope Marine Park, on the beach and along the Point Hudson docks. Before dawn Thursday morning, 600-700 Port Townsend folks showed up on the waterfront to see them off. On Friday, S/V Aurora sailed to Victoria, entering the Inner Harbour along with the last competitor in – two old guys from PT in an 11’11’’ SCAMP they built themselves! On Saturday, we hung out on the docks in front of the BC Parliament taking it all in. Throughout the four days, 90% of the utterances heard were almost uniformly ‘I’m so excited!’ or ‘This is really exciting!’ The other 10% were ’They’re nuts!’ or ’This is crazy!’. Upon learning the race was on the front page of the New York Times sports section, Jake Beattie, in whose fertile imagination the plan was hatched, sat down on the toerail next to S/V Aurora to enjoy the infectious excitement and anticipation as it spread. On Sunday at noon the 31 full-race teams gathered under the statue of Captain Cook for a LeMans start, racing to their boats and rowing them, paddling them, peddling them through the Harbour until the point where those with sails could put them up. Then out into the roiled, confused waters of what Jack calls Cape Victoria, the southern tip of North America’s largest Island.

Here they come out of Victoria's Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

Here they come out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

How's this for innovative boat building.  Char crew member lying down to pedal while made rows from rear pontoon.

How’s this for innovative boat building?  Kohara crew member lies down to pedal while mates row from rear pontoons and a competitor in an out-rigged kayak follows.

Team Discovery is a multihull built of wooden by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew.

Team Sea Runners is a multihull built of forest industry by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew. (Yes, these cropped pics are blurry. Don’t worry; it’s not your eyes.)

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has  neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but “shunts”.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Version 2

Team UnCruise is a father, his daughter and her boyfriend. Race has got to be good for family cohesion. Note comfortable pedal stations on back of pontoons.

And then there's Team Soggy Beavers, all Canadian students under 25. They'll go the distance.  With attitude to spare.  On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loud speakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

And then there’s Team Soggy Beavers, six Canadians under 25. They’ll go the distance. With attitude to spare. On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loudspeakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member.  Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member. Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

Everyone thought there might be a winner in a week or so. As it happens, Team Elsie Piddock pulled into Ketchikan this afternoon after a mere 5 days and 55 minutes at sea. A couple of other boats are safely around Cape Caution. A few are struggling through the wrong way wind tunnel of Johnstone strait. Most are hunkered down waiting out 40+ knot winds in the Strait of Georgia. There have been drop outs at every stage, saving boats, limbs, lives. There’s been the odd rescue but most tough it out one way or another.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard?  No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard? No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Right now we’re sitting in a cafe on Nanaimo’s Diana Krall Plaza (next to a Portland Loo, the third we’ve already visited this trip). waiting out the 40+ knot winds on the Strait too.

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2 Responses to “The Race to Alaska”


  1. 1 ayidah June 12, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    Sounds wonderful!! Thanks for the information on what and where you’re doing these days!! xo Your sister and sister-in-law, Barb


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