KETCHIKAN, ALASKA — After two weeks of long days and nights waiting for his Race to Alaska competitors to reach Ketchikan under wind or human power, Race Boss Daniel Evans is beginning to relax a little in his northern race headquarters.
He’s able to catch his breath now that the majority of non-motorized vessel racers have rung the bell at the finish line. He’s waiting for the last teams to arrive to hoopla and fanfare and hugs all ‘round from Ketchikan locals and visitors.
As of Friday, six teams were still in the competition: multi-hull teams Lost Boys, Kairos, Ravenous, the kayak Oaracle mono-hull Dock Rat, stand-up paddleboarder/veteran Josh Collins and Operation Torrent.
“The deadline for all participants to reach Ketchikan is July 10 at noon, before the ‘Grim Sweeper,’ logging 75 miles a day, can catch up and pass a boat. If that’s you, you’re disqualified,” Evans said.
“Dock Rats is the only team in danger of that happening to. They have been waiting out the weather.”
This year’s winner, Team Sail Like A Girl, rang the bell at 12:17 a.m. last Sunday, completing the fourth annual race form Port Townsend to Victoria to Ketchikan in 6 days, 13 hours and 17 minutes. The team won $10,000.
Second place Team Lagopus arrived at 2 a.m., winning a set of steak knifes.
Team Wildcard drifted in at 9:22 a.m.
All times are Alaska Standard Time, a one-hour time difference behind Port Townsend.
“Team Sail Like A Girl’s members are role models for young girls,” Evans said. “What they did is significant on so many levels.”
The weather is always a major factor in these races, and no two years have been the same. According to Evans, this race had unusual conditions.
“The first couple of days, the leaders did 18 hours straight of rowing or peddling,” he said.
”In Johnstone Strait, where it usually blows hard with gale force winds, it was flat. This is the first time we had fog in Queen Charlotte Sound. Teams were dodging a lot of wood in the water.
“Team Global kept track of the logs they saw or slightly encountered, named them, and created, ‘The Log of Logs,’ a video clip we’ve put on the website” at https://r2ak.com/, Evans said.
”It’s humorous, but also quite serious.”
Team Sail Like A Girl reported being “kissed” by a large log in the dark and stopped until they could assess if there was any damage at first light. There was none, and they peddled on to victory for the last several hours in non-existent winds.
In its fourth year, R2AK has developed an almost cult following around the world, according to Northwest Maritime Center organizers, who say that fans follow the tracker and blogs throughout the race and place side bets.
Evans said it’s like climbing a watery mountain, this race. It takes knowledge of the sea and waves and tides and wind. Courage is important. It helps if you know yourself and how to read the sky, he said.
“It takes integrity and fortitude. It changes you mentally. I’m proud to be part of that mechanism that changes them,” he said.
The event is manned by the Northwest Maritime Center staff and its many volunteers. They offer status reports via social media, with cleverly written narratives posted daily. Videos offer a reality check into the highs and lows. An artist has been embedded into the race to create cartoon commentary.
The harbor in Ketchikan is buzzing this time of year as it hosts city-sized cruise ships from Seattle with some 20,000 passengers a day who have never head of R2AK. Evans sees this as a positive thing.
“They see the boats coming in and hear us on the dock yelling encouragement and they get caught up in it. They are unexpected fans,” Evans said.
Once the teams have reached the finish line and rung the bell, the next phase of the event takes place: how to get crafts back home.
“The larger boats are sailing back” Evns said. “The mid-range boats are sailed to Prince Rupert then trailered out. The smaller watercrafts are shipped on a ferry.”
Evans said that when he and Jake Beattie, executive director of the maritime center, first proposed this idea four years ago, they thought maybe six teams would enter the race.
“We were astounded at the response,” he admitted.
Each year, at least 25 teams have shown up to challenge themselves for $10,000 or a set of steak knives.
The majority go home with strained muscles and Kodak moments to last a lifetime — or until next year when they try again.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]