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Race to Alaska a test of skill, endurance

‘Just finishing is a major victory’

The Shearwater Madness team will be racing a 28-foot sailing ketch equipped with twin pedal drives in the Race to Alaska (R2AK) — an annual unpowered boat race that makes its return after a two-year hiatus due to COVID.

The race starts Monday, June 13 in Port Townsend, Wash. After a brief stop in Victoria June 16, teams make their way up the Salish Sea past Comox en route to Ketchikan, Alaska.

“This is an extreme event requiring teams to cope with the strong currents and tidal rapids of Discovery Passage, and then exposed sections of coastline after leaving the protection of Vancouver Island,” said Shearwater crew member Brian Muir of the Comox Valley. “The late spring weather can be variable and sometimes violent. With no engines to fall back on, this race presents a unique test of skill and endurance.”

The crew includes fellow Comox Valley resident Joshua Chan, along with Kevin Noel, Mederic Fermi and skipper Steve Rogak of Vancouver. Their boat is the only ketch (two masted monohull) in the race.

The two-stage, 750-mile R2AK was first held in 2015. Any form of boat is allowed, as long as the vessel has no motors. Typically, about half the teams don’t reach Alaska. The record time is four days, set in 2016.

About 40 teams have entered this year’s race. Crew sizes range from solo to groups of six. They will be racing all sorts of sailing vessels, including trimarans, catamarans, monohulls, rowboats and kayaks. As far as Muir knows, there are no stand-up paddleboarders, though he said it’s been done at past events.

The first stage, called the ‘Proving Ground,’ is a 40-mile race from Port Townsend to Victoria that acts as a qualifier. Participants need to cover the distance in 36 hours. The second stage continues to Alaska.

First prize is $10,000. Second prize is a set of steak knives. There is no prize for third place.

“The majority of the teams have entered simply for the challenge with no aspirations to win,” Muir said. “Just finishing is a major victory.”

The race site is

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