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First boat across

A team of three brothers from Marblehead, Mass was first across the line in Ketchikan at around 1500 today. Minutes behind was the big boat from Anacortes, Wash. They had been racing head-to-head for the last 24 hours at least. The winner gets $10,000. Second place gets a set of steak knives.

Obviously, those in row boats and on paddleboards aren’t in it for the money (which can be eaten up just to get your boat back home). The bulk of the fleet is holed up along the east coast of Vancouver Island waiting out gale-force winds, but a few made it through into protected waters and are moving along. They’ll be crossing tonight and tomorrow. There are plenty of good stories for the next couple of weeks.

No matter when you cross, every racer has the option to sell their boat for $10,000 to the race committee, but the offer (just one) only stands for 30 minutes after you finish. Someone (maybe several) will say “I never want to touch that boat again”.

Right now I’m watching three millenials from Vancouver in an old boat in fourth place but far ahead of the rest and have been executing the race in perfect order.

Back in Chimacum

Dang. I hate leaving every place, but leaving Pt Hudson was painful.

The Race to Alaska is going extremely well. There are actually close races happening within the main race. There are some broken boats, some broken spirits, but no broken bodies. First boat across might be tonight or tomorrow.

I had a few days to meet about a quarter of the racers, so when I watch them I have a name to place with the boat, which makes following the race particularly fun.

Some bad weather is coming in, but only for a day or two, then it gets nice…

R2AK is slow going

Since the start on Sunday from Victoria, the winds have been from 0-10 knots, mostly 0. Hence, advantage goes to human-powered vessels. But there has been a little bit more breeze lately and the trimaran sail boats have started to move a bit. Behind the paddle boards and row boats are the monohull sailboats.

Should the winds cooperate, the trimarans should finish quickly. But it’s a possible big story if someone finishes the race under human power alone, and that looks very plausible. Big waves and the limits of human endurance will determine.

Hanging in PT

All the racers made it to Victoria, but a handful of boats were broken. The real start of the race is Sunday at noon.

Besides being stormy yesterday, the marina was empty and this place was lonely as hell. But that was yesterday. Today a motor-yacht club has filled up the slips. They seem to be all in the 30-50 feet range. I’m sure they are nice people, but they won’t be as much fun as the R2AK folk.

Meanwhile it’s SteamPunk weekend in PT, which I don’t understand or can explain. Adults dress up in a fashion style that is Victorian/Industrial/HG Wells. I recently encountered another town that has a SteamPunk festival, but that’s all I’ve seen. Good for people-watching, though.

R2AK Start

First, a follow-up. I had a red tag on my truck for having a second vehicle in my space, and I owed $5. Team Sistership moved it this morning, but now were on their way to Ketchikan. I know the lady who runs the marina and all was cool. Team Sistership better do well…

I woke up at 0330 to steady rain. Port Townsend has very minimal lighting, so folk were running around with flashlights getting ready to go by 0500. It was dark and gloomy but I didn’t hear any crashes or profanity as the boats left for the start.

My guess is a few thousand people showed up to line the shore and piers, despite the downpour. Since position at the start means nothing in this event, the big techie trimarans went first for the crowd-pleasing effect. Then, I was surprised to see the paddle boarders and rowers catch and go past the big guys.

The crowd left immediately after the start, the sun had managed to light the clouds a bit and I had before me a completely vacant marina and not a sole to be seen. The rest of the day was heavy rain, then the wind came up. Ugly.

The participants go from here to Victoria, BC, and lay up for a couple of days. If you can’t make PT to Victoria in a couple of days, you are disqualified from continuing. They’ll then have another start for the trip to Ketchikan. About half of the starters this morning intend to go only to Victoria, likely to enjoy the world-famous parties that accompany events like this in Victoria.

The route from PT to Vic is a straight line over open water, almost visible from Port Townsend. The weather forecast was formidable, though. A kayaker and some paddle boards headed straight for Dungeness spit to wait out the storm, everyone else continued on. My friend Hodge with a home-built plywood boat capsized, but self-rescued. Another small boat required a rescue, so they’re out. A trimaran hit some driftwood and knocked out the rudder. They are building a shelter out of driftwood on an island to spend the night.

The first four to arrive in Vic (after about 7 hours) were paddle boards and rowers without sails. An excellent demonstration that this is not a sail boat race.

As soon as the fleet entered the shipping lanes I heard some whining from the monster container ships about the race. Pilots with local knowledge board and control the monsters, so they are familiar with the waters. Then, they are warned by Vessel Traffic. But they always register their annoyance with the Coast Guard. You can’t run over and kill people because you are bigger. And that canoe rower doesn’t want to be in front of you.

Since the marina was empty, several otters came up on dock and played around. The storm has passed where I am…

This will be one of my favorite R2AK stories

One of the most friendly teams I’ve met is Sisitership ( The boat is a totally tricked out trimaran, from watching the crowds on the docks it’s a favorite. Sistirership is an organization in the loosest sense of the word, but is totally dedicated to getting women on the gnarliest machines and in the worst conditions possible on the sea.

They’re local. The leader of the group provides her Toyota pickup for the team’s use (decorated with team’s logo; she’ll do anything to hype the cause) which is usually parked next to me, outside my dining room window. They come and go, but always parking next to me.

When I got up this morning the truck’s windshield was “Port Townsended”, bombarded by seagull poop. At 0600 I was drinking coffee reading the news, and she came up to take the truck out. I opened my window and handed out a bottle of window cleaner and some paper towels.

The truck went out, with a windshield you could actually see through. Then the crowds came, with no parking to be found for a mile, especially here.

I was taking pictures, and when I turned around the truck was parked under my bedroom slide. She knew it would be cool, and I was glad she knew that.

Geez, these are my friends that are going on a most dangerous endeavor…

R2AK starts tomorrow

The last of the entrants arrived this morning. As I write I can point to and identify the team names of about 30 boats, 4 of which can be considered amongst the favorites. I’ve made it a point to meet each of the crews and found some really interesting people. And some real nut jobs. Internationally-recognized professional teams, and local rowers.

Pedal power seems to becoming the preferred alternate power source when a system can be designed for the boat. (Without a motor, you can either row or pedal when there is no wind. Sailboats can’t be steered without wind.) Some boats (primarily Canadian) are being designed to accommodate pedal power, which is really only necessary for this race.

Several of the trimarans are bare-bones. Three hulls with a net stretched over them, a mast, and appropriate rigging. No shelter, no bunks, no galley. Navigation is done with a smartphone. I was watching the safety inspections today. The bare-minimum Coast Guard requirements were checked, but it was obvious several had just bought a package of required stuff (Flares, signal lamps, etc).

This afternoon was the pre-race party, and a couple of thousand people from the region came to walk the docks and look at boats. A large number of the teams were extremely courteous and informative. Spectators went away happy, but it was a constant flow of folks through my RV spot.

Tomorrow at 0500 is the start. Rain, possibly heavy, is forecast, with light winds. The worse possible forecast. I’ll be up at 3 AM as the boats try to unravel the marina with no motors.

Boats of all kinds

One guy remarked how I had a front-row seat overlooking the marina. The R2AK participants began flowing in today and I had a great time meeting the people and looking at the boats.

This will be the third R2AK. The first year it didn’t attract much attention. Last year it got the attention of a lot of people. Now, understand that the race organizers are extreme professional hypers, cleverly and humorously pushing their idea.

So it was no surprise a few minutes ago that one boat that did fairly well last year came into the marina ostentatiously decorated straight into their reserved slip at the primo part of the marina. I’m expecting a couple more like it tomorrow.

It seems to me it’s a bit over the top to celebrate a sailing team that took twice as long to finish than the winner, 6 days versus 3 days.

Usually, in sailboat racing, you can handicap the race by looking at the boat and crew and past performances. What matters in this event is weather and luck.

I am impressed with the number of teams consisting solely of women. Back in my racing days, girls would be good as crew, provided they cooked.

Meanwhile, it’s the hottest day of the year, but the start of the race looks like rain.

Point Hudson

I’m at my favorite spot at Pt Hudson. Before I got here I had to go to Seattle for an ultrasonic exam of the arteries in my neck and head, which I am presuming is the target of my cardio doctor’s interest. I’ll find out in two weeks. It was fun to see the same technician doing the exam as 2 years ago, when she did the survey of the arteries since taken out and used for my bypasses. When she said “See you later”, I said “I hope not”.

Over and back for a one-hour procedure took 6 hours without extra delays. Not bad.

The R2AK start line is just a hundred yards away, and the pre-race party is here tomorrow. I expect to be surrounded by people for the next couple days. The weather is splendid.

R2AK and SUPs

I spent 2-3 weeks on North Padre Island in Texas last fall, parked at the windsurfing campgrounds on the inner channel. My neighbors were a mix of beginners there to take lessons, extremely competent boarders from all over the world, and professional boarders and snow skiers. While I sat in my chair with a book gazing out on the water, my neighbor was getting paid from a sponsor to sail around with the logo in my vision.

Another neighbor from Montana was re-learning the sport of stand-up paddle boarding, essentially standing on a surf board and using an oar for propulsion on flat water. SUPs are what they’re called. Once you master the techniques, it’s a fairly good way of getting around when conditions are favorable.

When I mentioned that I was from Port Townsend, a lot of the folk recognized it and brought up R2AK, even knowing more than I and I followed it pretty closely. R2AK is a challenging endeavor considered to be an “extreme sport”, of great interest to the people I was hanging out with. During the second drink, the question of running the race on a SUP was possible came up.

Under great conditions an SUP can do about 2-3 knots. Tidal currents under your board can be typically 3-5 knots. Along the race course currents of 15-20 knots are common. When the wind blows you become a sail, worth about 3-5 knots. When you are going 750 miles, making an ideal total of 20-30 knots is great. An SUP can do it.

But, tides go the other way half the time, and the winds could just as easily go the wrong way. You could be making 3 knots north with your paddle, and wind and tide could be moving you at 30 knots southward. So you stop if you are sane. But, you cannot cover 750 miles when stopped.

There are SUPs in the R2AK, and they’ll be watched closely. My friends from North Padre will be watching, no doubt learning and plotting how best to do it…