R2AK, the motor-free boat race up the Inside Passage, is back for...

R2AK, the motor-free boat race up the Inside Passage, is back for a second year

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A competitor in the first annual Race to Alaska in 2015. Nick Reid photo.
A competitor in the first annual Race to Alaska in 2015. Nick Reid photo.

Story by Oliver Lazenby

Jake Beattie wanted to come up with a more rugged boat race that captured the spirit of marine adventure – a response or maybe a revolt against such commercial events as the America’s Cup, with its carbon fiber, corporate logos, safety gear and billionaire
boat owners.

He succeeded. Oddballs and Olympians alike competed last year in the inaugural Race to Alaska, an unsupported, motor-free boat race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan – nearly 750 miles. They raced in canoes, kayaks and sailboats ranging from high-tech foiling boats to vessels made from dumpstered materials with tarps for sails. One racer, an Alaskan woodsman, paid his $650 entrance fee in beaver pelts. (Beattie still isn’t sure what he’s going to do with the pelts.)

The race isn’t just weird; it’s also difficult. The Inside Passage between Port Townsend and Ketchikan is a puzzle of straits and channels, with tidal traps, masses of logs, shallow shoals and changing weather lurking in the maze. Eight racers dropped out in the first day and just 15 finished out of the 36 that tried to go all the way. The fastest boat arrived in Ketchikan in five days, the slowest in about 21.

Racers will set sail on the second Race to Alaska on June 23, 2016. The race is basically unchanged, but more teams are signed up and race organizers specifically challenged billionaire Larry Ellison’s Team Oracle USA, previous America’s Cup winners, to enter. Despite setting up a hotline just for Ellison, they haven’t heard back,

Local racers include teams from Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Anacortes and Port Townsend. Follow along at www.r2ak.com. First place wins $10,000, second place gets a set of steak knives.   x