More muscle than wind in Phase 2 of Race to Alaska

Winds die down, force sailors to alternate with human power

VANCOUVER ISLAND — Teams pushed up the east side of Vancouver Island on the second day of the second phase of the Race to Alaska while one team led the pack by about 30 miles.

At midday Thursday, trimaran team Malolo was the farthest north of any of the 32 teams that left Victoria Harbor on Wednesday.

According to the race’s live tracker, Malolo was pushing past the Vancouver Island community of Courtenay at noon Thursday while the second-place team — the monohull team Stranger Danger — was just passing Lasqueti Island some 30 miles to the south.

Race Boss Jesse Weigel said in a previous interview that Malolo had the fastest boat in this year’s fleet, but he noted they’d been damaged out of the race before.

Teams are bound for Ketchikan, Alaska, where the first to arrive will be awarded $10,000. But many racers are drawn to the race not for the prize money but for the challenge of competing in a 750-mile, nonmotorized race from Port Townsend to Alaska.

A windy start during the proving ground phase from Port Townsend to Victoria knocked several teams out of the race, hitting the human-powered teams the hardest.

More than 1,000 people turned out in Victoria to see the racers off Wednesday, when teams scrambled to get themselves out of the harbor, where sailing is prohibited. The winds quieted down Wednesday afternoon and several sailing teams alternated between sails and human power.

“The rest of the fleet made the most of the least nature had to offer,” Thursday’s race update said. “Sails up until it doesn’t make sense, then to the oars and pedals. Then sails again, then back to the muscles. Then back again. And again. And again.”

“If you’ve never rowed a racing sailboat, it’s a little like washing your only pair of underwear in your motel room’s bathroom sink: you can do it if you have to, but it feels like exposed failure, and at least a little shameful,” the update said.

Of the 32 remaining teams, only three are human-powered, but as of midday Thursday, none of them were in last place.

The four-person, pedal-powered catamaran team Boogie Barge was in sixth place Thursday, and the solo-rower team Barely Heumann was in 26th, with solo-kayaker team Let’s Wing It in 10th place.

In last place was the solo tandem kayaker team Mr. X, whose kayak is equipped with a small sail.

“We think it’s the nautical equivalent of entering the Iditarod with a chihuahua,” the race’s description of the team says. “But if anybody can mush the (kayak) to glory, it might be this guy.”

Hosted by Northwest Maritime of Port Townsend, this is the last year the Race to Alaska will be held annually as the center plans to move to a biennial schedule, alternating R2AK with the Puget Sound-based WA360 race.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached by email at peter.segall@peninsuldailynews.com.

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