Race to Alaska sails to Victoria as contestants vie for $10K, steak knives

Race to Alaska sails to Victoria as contestants vie for $10K, steak knives
Photo: Race To Alaska/Facebook

Sailors and paddlers from south of the border are hitting the waters and trekking to Victoria, and then Alaska, in a more than 1,200-kilometre race that kicked off Monday.

Race to Alaska (R2AK) 2023 is in full swing, with roughly 40 teams in non-motorized boats gliding the Juan de Fuca Strait from Port Townsend, Wash., for 64 kilometres in hopes of qualifying for leg two of the competition.

Leg one, called “The Proving Ground,” started at 5 a.m., and by 11 a.m., sailors were already nearing the Inner Harbour. They have 36 hours to complete this leg.

Then on Thursday at noon, racers will sail another 1142 kilometres to Ketchikan, AK, via no official course, but with their eyes on the prize — $10,000 for the first-place finishers and a set of steak knives for those who come second.

“Today went really smoothly, it was a lovely crossing,” Jon Totten with the Dogsmile Adventures team told CHEK News when arriving at the harbour.

“As nice as I’ve ever had it sailing this route,” he said, noting it’s not his first time competing in R2AK.

“It was beautiful. Nice breeze and a favourable current, it was good.”

The second leg, “To The Bitter End,” wraps up no later than July 1, with an online race tracker pinpointing contestants’ current locations, including who’s in the lead.

“R2AK is the first of its kind and North America’s longest human and wind-powered race, and currently the largest cash prize for a race of its kind,” states a post on r2ak.com, which also dives into the event’s history.

In 2022, 41 teams were accepted, and 19 finished, according to R2AK. It says the intent is to be unsupported between towns and function self-supported when in towns.

“Any services utilized must always be available to all challengers and not pre-arranged. No private resupply, support boats, food drops, etc.,” states an FAQ.

Eric Pesty of Team Pestou is a one-man crew competing for the second year in a row.

“I’m doing it by myself because I like to make things harder than they have to be,” Pesty said with a laugh.

“It’s amazing to see how things went today,” added Team SeaSmoke’s Rob Hansen, who calls himself an R2AK “virgin” since he’s competing for the first time.

“It’s an unusual experience. It’s an amazing bunch of people.”

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, including last year when United States Coast Guard crews rescued four people after the vessels they were sailing in capsized while en route to Victoria.

READ MORE: U.S. Coast Guard rescues several people after capsizing in race to Victoria

Three people were pulled from the water by crews, while the other was rescued by a nearby safety boat, and all remaining participants took shelter near Protection Island, Dungeness Spit, or returned to dry land amid adverse weather conditions.

“We had nowhere those conditions this time, so it was no big deal,” Totten said with a laugh.

Follow racers’ progress here, or learn more about the teams here.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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