Team Sail Like A Girl rides the wind during the 2018 Race to Alaska. The deadline to sign up for this year’s event or the SEVENTY48 race from Tacoma to Port Townsend is Monday. (Katrina Zoe Norbom)

Team Sail Like A Girl rides the wind during the 2018 Race to Alaska. The deadline to sign up for this year’s event or the SEVENTY48 race from Tacoma to Port Townsend is Monday. (Katrina Zoe Norbom)

Annual Race to Alaska draws the hearty, courageous

Nearly 50 vessels sign up in record-breaking year

Brian McLean

By Brian McLean / Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Daniel Evans knows the Race to Alaska is crazy. It’s an engine-less boat ride — either human-powered or by wind — from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, 750 miles along the North American coast with no support along the way.

The former captain of the schooner Adventuress, now in a role he relishes as the “race boss,” Evans chuckled when he recalled the day five years ago when he crossed paths with the Northwest Maritime Center’s executive director, Jake Beattie.

As they were headed in opposite directions on a lunch break, Beattie pitched the idea to Evans. He wanted Evans to make it happen.

“It was the best worst idea I’d ever heard of,” Evans said.

Evans thought three teams would enter. Beattie upped the ante to six.

Their expectations were blown out of the water when 44 signed up.

“In general, neither of us thought it was going to be a thing,” Beattie said. “Maybe a media stunt or a joke or something nobody would pay attention to.”

Team Lagopus leaves Port Townsend early in stage one during the 2018 Race to Alaska. (Katrina Zoe Norbom)

Team Lagopus leaves Port Townsend early in stage one during the 2018 Race to Alaska. (Katrina Zoe Norbom)

As Monday’s deadline to apply at https://r2ak.com nears, organizers are seeing record numbers, with 49 teams registered as of Thursday.

Last year, 37 teams entered and 21 finished.

Evans said he has one response when people ask him if they should try it: “Don’t.”

The average time to complete the trek is eight to 16 days, and about half never make it, Evans said.

“When the wind blows, it blows 50 knots, not 10 to 12 knots,” he said.

Conditions often are rough, and sailing takes round-the-clock attention.

“There are two types of people who wait this long [to apply],” Beattie said. “Either they’re not quite ready, or they’re the competitive ones who don’t want anyone else to know they’re in the race.”

The winning team takes home a $10,000 prize, and second place earns a set of steak knives.

Yet Evans said it’s hardly about the cash.

“Almost everyone just cares about the journey,” he said.

Safety is a major concern, Evans added. GPS trackers are located on every vessel, and their location can be viewed live on a website that had more than 1.1 million views one year, he said.

Evans also coordinates daily during the race with the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies in case of emergency.

Anyone can call off their run at any time.

When participants apply, they are asked for an “adventure resume,” part tongue-in-cheek, and part serious business, Evans said.

“The first line of defense is the racers themselves,” Evans said. “They need to know adventure enough to know it’s a stupid idea.

“Thankfully, there have been no serious injuries in the history of the event.”

Team Buckeye races last year in the Race to Alaska event from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska. (Katrina Zoe Norbom)

Team Buckeye races last year in the Race to Alaska event from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska. (Katrina Zoe Norbom)

Beattie highlighted a couple who met when they were doing individual solo summits on one of the tallest mountain peaks in the world. Now they’ve become the first couple to ski across Antarctica.

They’ve also had captains who have circumnavigated the globe.

For the second time in the race’s history, one of the teams participating pulled its boat out of the bushes and rebuilt it just for Race to Alaska, Beattie said.

An all-female crew — Team Sail Like A Girl, from Bainbridge Island — won the 2018 race, the first all-woman crew to win the race and the first monohull that won.

A few years ago, a Port Townsend High School student completed the race as his senior project when he built an aluminum boat and added wood from trees he cut down in his own back yard, Evans said.

He added they’ve had participants from nine countries, including Australia, France, England, Belgium and Canada.

The record for fastest finish is three days and 20 hours, Evans said. The longest recorded finishing time was 23 days.

“It’s people willing to be courageous and bold, and to get into adventure in one of the most beautiful parts in the world,” Beattie said. “It’s truly incredible.”

The SEVENTY48 race — a shorter version of Race to Alaska, billed as a “pre-race” — will kick off the festivities from Tacoma on May 31, and the Ruckus, a free community party to celebrate the races, is set from noon to 8 p.m. June 2 at the Pope Marine Park and the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., Port Townsend.

The Race to Alaska will begin at 5 a.m. June 3.

This story originally appeared in the Peninsula Daily News, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.

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