Race to Alaska


It’s a long shot. In September, when I applied to enter the 2019 Race to Alaska, May seemed far enough away for preparations, and I was – and remain – delighted to have been accepted.
See details about the race here: https://r2ak.com

The biggest complication to making this happen is that the Race to Alaska (or r2ak) is on the west coast, and I am 3500 land miles away in Maine, with a certain number of complexities to the prospect of getting across the country. When this past December rolled around, with some clarification of who was interested in being part of this crazy trek, and who was (very sensibly) not, I one day decided that, realistically, 2020 would be my year, and not the upcoming 2019. But the universe apparently has other ideas.

The evening of that very day, after my grand decision to wait for 2020, I happened to check the statistics page for this blog, which I had not done in quite a while. That page shows how people have come to look at the blog, with links to other pages that have referenced Sailing AUKLET; one of those links was to a not to be named sailing website. Now, I ordinarily, these days, refuse to look at that particular site, having to do with massive sexism and very obnoxious email exchanges between the person who runs it and women who have written to encourage a more inclusive approach, including me. But there it was, that link. When I followed it back to the AUKLET reference, I happened to read the somewhat secret information, apparently disclosed only at the previous fall bash for r2ak racers, that 2019 would be the last year that the Race would be put on in the way that it has been for the last four years. At least that’s how I heard it. This statement, in the version confirmed a couple of days ago by Kate Philbrick, one of the race contacts at the Northwest Maritime Center, is that “There will be an announcement this fall about a change in the race for 2020.” It’s more ambiguous than how I took it at first mention, but you never know.

Now, I have been preparing for the Race to Alaska, in its current form, for at least five years, since it was first proposed and its rules were made public. AUKLET has been outfitted, and I have been developing my sailing skills, all with that race as a guiding theme. The idea of actually doing it has always been far-fetched, given some of the assorted obstacles, but nevertheless, as we now say, I have persisted.

Quietly, the various requirements have been ticked off the list: night sailing; heavy weather capabilities (the junk rig has been part of this); building, testing, and becoming comfortable with the yuloh, as no motor is allowed to be on the boat for the race, but you still need a way to move around when the wind dies.

Furthermore, on the yuloh subject, human power is required to get in and out of Victoria Harbor, because raised sails are not allowed past a certain point by the Port of Victoria harbor authorities. This restriction means that one must do something else for the last mile from the harbor entrance to the dock in the inner harbor, where the bell that marks the finish of the qualifying leg of the race is located. My entire effort toward becoming a motorless sailor, though interesting to me anyway, has been particularly inspired by the motorless aspect of the r2ak.

The list of race-inspired undertakings goes on and on: water collection; the boat farm; the trip in 2013 with enough stores for five months, and no shore support at all for six weeks (because if you are going to make the roughly three-week trip to Ketchikan, you might as well sail further into Alaska after the race is over). The Race has been a fantastic guide.

So I have not been excited about the prospect of postponing to 2020, with some kind of unknown changes to how it might be run.

A couple of issues had been bothering me, thinking about the 2019 possibility. One is the pesky stairs at the beginning of the Victoria start. But here’s the real laugh: I’d gone from seeing them in a video a couple of years ago; to building them up to truly gigantic in my mind, and an almost insurmountable obstacle; to the point of being completely confused even about their actual location. Then the 2019 race information came, and referred to the start being from the seawall above the marina, and I thought, “how cool, no stairs!” But this was also not correct. In checking about the above-mentioned changes to the race for 2020, I also threw in a question about the stairs, and which part of the seawall would be the starting point for the 2019 race. Answer: top of the stairs. So I went to find them again online, to get a good look. Although they are not tiny, they are not the gargantuan sweeping staircase from my mental image. And they have a fantastic railing, looking quite doable (at an appropriate pace, after the crowd has passed). You can see them here:

Another issue that had been bothering me was the last stretch of the main leg of the race. Ordinarily, after you cross an international border by sea, you are not allowed to “touch land” – whether the shore itself, or the bottom underneath the water (say, with your anchor) – before presenting yourself to the border authorities at an official check-in location. Ketchikan is the nearest one of those locations, after crossing the BC/Alaska border, but it’s a solid (so to speak) 40 miles from the closest anchorage on the Canada side, to get to that port of entry. That’s a bit of a long coastal run, especially solo, in the best of conditions. And crossing Dixon Entrance – the open water that helps define the British Columbia/Alaska boundary – is known for horrendous weather and seas. It can be hard sailing, both strenuous, and long.

After the open water crossing there are 30 miles of narrower channels (read: no naps), which depending on the wind might be easy, or also long and tiring, before one actually gets to Ketchikan. With poor wind, the sailing time could be measured in days, rather than hours. Very good-looking anchorages exist on the Alaska side, in that extended stretch before Ketchikan, but then there’s that border rule. In a second bit of excellent news, the race organizers have worked something out with the US authorities, so that boats participating in the Race to Alaska are allowed to anchor on the American side before they check in at Ketchikan.

The evening that I read the piece about unknown changes to the race after 2019, I ditched the postponement idea, and designed and ordered T-shirts. (In a break with the usual routine on this blog, I might actually receive something from sales of these shirts.) https://www.zazzle.com/team_auklet_front_and_back_t_shirt-235152640063835820?rf=238511339488396072

Not too long after the T-shirt fun, I discovered that my imaginary gigantic staircase was not quite such an issue, as well as the piece about anchoring being allowed on the north side of Dixon Entrance. The possibility of actually doing the 2019 race became quite a bit more real, though getting across the country remains the largest complication. On this too, there have been developments.

Once the T-shirts were designed, I delightedly showed off the link to a friend who also has a T-shirt project going, related to her own sailing efforts. She declared herself part of Team AUKLET on the spot, sweetly asking what she could do to support this expedition. Things have since developed, and we have a tentative plan for driving across the country, and sailing together for at least the first part of the race! See what Janine has been up to here: https://www.janinegeorgette.net/blog/

Enthusiasm and offers of help have been coming from numerous directions, all contributing to the possibility of this crazy idea actually going forward. My dear friend Kate will be on summer break from her work in the school system when it’s time to come home, and likes the idea of driving back from Washington state together. “Driving together” is a euphemism – I actually don’t drive at all nowadays, and these driving friends are gamely signing on for all of the time behind the wheel, 3500 miles one way notwithstanding.

Getting AUKLET across the country is yet to be sorted out, but I would not have even thought this overall idea was possible without another friend, Luke, who initially suggested that it would be perfectly easy for him to haul the boat with a truck, and he would be happy to do it. Scheduling constraints are not working out for him after all, but when he said it in early September it really opened the door to the overall possibility, and his original offer seriously contributed to my putting in the race application in the first place. There are definitely other ways to get AUKLET across the country, with many boat transport companies out there; alternatively, if anybody knows a reliable person with a full-size truck capable of trailing 6000 pounds over the Rocky Mountains (expenses/fee paid), and time for doing that in early May, there is also that opportunity to be part of this crazy effort.

Further inspiration has been provided by Tim, who comes to Maine during the summer, and has been particularly enthusiastic about this race proposition. He and his wife Jane travel by RV, and he was already familiar with the RV campground that sits right on Point Hudson, overlooking the Port Townsend start of the r2ak. Not long after we talked about it all, he wrote to say that he had reserved a site for most of the week before and up to the start of the race. That certainly made it real!

Here at home, boatyard projects have been proceeding with the possibility of all of this in mind. Suzanne has generously been out in the shed with me, drilling new holes in the boat for proper eye straps for the solar panel tiedowns, which up until now have been less than ideal, and Chubba came over to help with the installation. Other projects are ongoing, some of them now waiting for the winter cold to break.

Inside the warm house, I’m studying charts, and working out plans. Earlier this month the r2ak registration went in, which is cheaper if done by January 15, and we are now official:

https://r2ak.com/2019-teams-full-race/team-auklet/

The whole prospect is still far-fetched, but if the pieces keep dropping into place it could happen. I’m approaching it with openness to cosmic guidance, and thoroughly enjoying the ride.

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Photo from the Facebook page for Team KELP, two women who did the race – and did science along the way! – in 2017. This is in Johnstone Strait, inside of Vancouver Island https://www.facebook.com/teamkelp/