Few races have captured our imagination here at SAIL as much as the recently announced Race to Alaska (R2AK), which kicks off on June 4 in Port Townsend, Washington, and takes competitors to Ketchikan, Alaska, a distance of 750 miles, with a one-day pit stop in Victoria, British Columbia. The R2AK is open to any vessel that doesn’t carry auxiliary power or rely on a shore-based support team. Otherwise, racers can bring unlimited crew, provided each person completes the entire course. The only other major requirement is that all entrants must finish before the “sweep boat” arrives in Ketchikan. The event is being run—and insured—by the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend and was the brainchild of Jake Beattie, the center’s executive director. We recently caught up with Beattie to learn more.
SAIL: What was the inspiration for the R2AK?
Jake Beattie: Like all good ideas, it happened over a beer, at the 2013 Port Townsend Wooden Boat festival. There’s a group of “go small, go now and go big” sailors here, and we were talking about how we could propel the thing we love into the greater conscious. Ideas were pitched, but I walked away thinking that there wasn’t enough sizzle. So with Josh Colvin and Collin Angus, we decided to “X-Prize it”: Nail $10,000 to a tree and see who gets it. We want to keep it as simple and wild as possible. We tried to stay true to this principle, and we have a committed board at the Northwest Maritime Center.
SAIL: What do you think are the biggest risks for the racers?
JB: Over-confidence, fatigue and cold water. There’s shipping traffic, but it’s visible, and you can use VHF. I think that the biggest risk is for someone who’s unfamiliar with big tides and cold water. I worry a lot about the amount of driftwood…and there are a lot of bears on the beaches. There’s a lot more “damn the torpedoes” in the race than yacht-club energy. There are a lot of unknowns—that’s the riddle.
SAIL: What about the biggest challenges?
JB: I think that fatigue will be the biggest factor. It’s a long enough race that it’s not safe to gut it out. In my small-boat adventures, I’ve learned that fate, irony and hubris are what do the most damage.
SAIL: What percentage of the starters do you expect to see finish?
JB: I’m excited to monitor the people who opt-out after Victoria, and to also see who opts in for the second leg after completing Leg 1. One of the beautiful things about the course is that there are a lot of chances to opt out in the first 300 miles, from Port Townsend to Port Hardy. That helps me to not freak out so much!
Images courtesy of R2AK/Jake Beattie