PORT TOWNSEND — Stiff winds in the “proving grounds” of the fifth Race to Alaska gave Team Pear Shaped Racing an early lead during the qualifying leg of the 750-mile journey while creating problems for others.
Fifty teams lined up in the Port Townsend Harbor outside the Northwest Maritime Center, and by sunrise Monday they began a 40-mile trip to the Inner Harbour of Victoria.
Thousands lined the shores in Port Townsend to watch the 5 a.m. start, and music from the Unexpected Brass Band could be heard in the harbor.
“They are embarking on something huge,” said Race Boss Daniel Evans. “It’s the start of an adventure. I love watching them as they come up to Point Wilson; that’s a pretty great moment.”
The first leg, the “proving ground,” is 40 miles to Victoria. Fifty teams are signed up for that, including sail boats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Forty-three crews are in it to reach Ketchikan, Alaska — which promises $10,000 for first place and a set of steak knives for second.
Racers must make it to Victoria within 36 hours to qualify for the 710-mile journey to Ketchikan. That part of the race will start at noon Thursday in Victoria.
On the way to Alaska, racers will have to go through two waypoints: one at Seymour Narrows, B.C., and another at Bella Bella, B.C. Other than that, there is no official route.
Other than those two waypoints, racers can travel any way they want, as long as there’s no engines and they are self-supported, he said.
According to the rules of the race, as long as the boats lack motors, they can carry a crew as large — or as small — as they wish.
Evans said the wind — which was expected — helped Team Pear Shaped Racing get to Victoria by 8:52 a.m. Monday, only two minutes shy of the record speed.
Team PT Watercraft, which was only going to Victoria, was the second team to make it to Victoria and had the same exact time they did last year. PT Watercraft was in Victoria by 9:10 a.m.
But the wind that helped the sail boats voyage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca made it difficult for the human-powered vessels to get much of a start.
“Some of these small boats were finding themselves needing to bail and … turn around,” Evans said.
By Monday evening, 24 teams had reached Victoria while many human-powered teams were preparing to camp out for the night, waiting for better weather.
Many teams chose to camp at the Dungeness Spit while others chose Protection Island or spots on Vancouver Island. Some remained in the marina.
Evans said it is “unprecedented” for so many racers to camp out on the first night.
“I think everyone acted really responsibly,” he said in the early afternoon. “None of the challenges ended up being deal-breakers. No one is out of the race.”
By 6 p.m. Monday Team Ace was out of the race due to a broken rudder, a bent autopilot and waterlogged radios. He made it within one mile of the finish line.
Competitors include teams from the world’s coasts and inland waters: Team Angry Beaver from Port Ludlow, Team Extremely Insain from the Netherlands, Team You Either Do Stuff or You Don’t from Nashville, Tenn., Team Wingnuts from Australia, Team Funky Dory from Walpole, Maine, and Team Quilbillians from Quilcene.
This year there are three teams from Port Townsend planning to go all the way. They include the five-person Team North2Alaska, which boasted a 10-day finish in 2017; paddleboarder Randall Aldern; and the four-person Team Ziska: Sail like a Luddite, sailing in the recently-restored Lancashire Nobby.
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 Martime Center on Facebook.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.