VICTORIA, B.C. — A Port Townsend High School sophomore set out to make Race to Alaska history as he climbed aboard his crew’s boat in Victoria on Thursday.
Odin Smith — who turned 16 just two weeks ago — ran to his team’s boat, Ziska, as race officials vigorously rang a bell at high noon, marking the beginning of the second leg of the Race to Alaska.
If Ziska finishes the 710-mile journey to Ketchikan, Alaska, Smith would become the youngest person to have completed the race.
This is the fifth annual Race to Alaska, sponsored by the Northwest Maritime Center of Port Townsend.
Being first over the finish line is not an expectation of the four-person crew aboard the 116-year-old Lancashire Nobby, a 12-ton vessel that was recently restored in Port Townsend. Like many in the race, the crew on the Ziska are there for the adventure.
“Finishing is the goal,” Smith said.
It was no surprise when Ziska, the oldest and heaviest boat to enter the race, was one of the last boats out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. As of 3:45 p.m. Ziska was in 28th place.
“We should be able to row Ziska out of the harbor even though she weighs 12 tons and we only have two oars,” Smith said just before the race started. “We can do a full half-knot in no wind, so we’re hoping for wind the entire way up.”
Ziska was among 35 boats to leave Victoria. The teams had already completed the first leg of the Race to Alaska, the 40-mile journey from Port Townsend.
The rules of the 750-mile race are fairly simple. Teams must make it to Ketchikan using only human or wind power and they can have no outside support along the way.
On the way to Alaska, racers will have to go through two way points: one at Seymour Narrows, B.C., and another at Bella Bella, B.C. Other than that, there is no official route.
The qualifying leg of the race started Monday in Port Townsend. Fifty teams set out to make the 40-mile trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but rough seas and high winds prevented eight teams from meeting the 36-hour deadline.
Among those that were knocked out of the race were all of the stand-up paddleboarders and all of the kayakers.
The fastest teams are expected to make it to Ketchikan within a week while others will take two to three weeks.
A $10,000 cash prize awaits the team that gets there there first while the runner-up will receive a set of steak knives.
Race Boss Daniel Evans said to watch all the teams during the race. Some have a good chance at getting first, but every team has a story to share, he said.
Not everyone will make it. Team AlphaWolf lost a crew member and didn’t even make it out of the harbor.
“It’s a long enough trip that each team is going to get a little of every kind of weather,” Evans said. “There’s going to be breakage and there’s going to be people stopping and others going all the way through. It’s a little bit of everything.”
Evans said Ziska is one of the most unique boats to have ever competed in the race.
It was built in 1903 in England, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean by one man in the 1990s and then trucked across the United States to Port Townsend. It has never had an engine.
It took its captain, Stanford Siver, and his crew a year and a half to restore and was only finished within recent weeks. The Race to Alaska is its first real test since the boat was restored.
“We haven’t had anything close to it in size and type,” Evans said. “It’s been waiting for this moment.”
Evans said the team will face challenges as it makes its way to Alaska, but Ziska has “good bones.”
“What they have to figure out is how to work with it,” Evans said. “They are a strong crew, so that’s not going to take too long. I have a lot of faith in them.”
Team Pear Shaped Racing, which missed breaking the record speed for the first leg of the race by only two minutes, was in the lead after only three hours on the water.
Tom Kassberg, one of three people on Team Pear Shaped Racing, said that while the team’s first goal is to finish, he thinks they’ve got a good chance at winning the whole thing.
“I hope we do well overall,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we have a goal to win … but we have a good chance. There are many good boats here so we have to sail well and the conditions have to work for us.”
He said their boat, a 10.6m custom trimaran, operates best with winds of 15 to 20 knots. Where there’s not any wind, they’re forced to pedal.
“We’re a little under-powered on the pedal side,” he said.
Kassberg said that sleep management is going to be a challenge for this race and that he is expecting all sorts of conditions.
“It’s one of those things you do as more a life experience than a race,” he said. “It’s the adventure of it.”
GPS trackers are located on every vessel, and their location can be viewed live at tracker.r2ak.com. For more information on the teams and for results, visit r2ak.com or look for the Race to Alaska by Northwest Maritime Center on Facebook.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].