2015 June 23 – The sweep boat cometh


We thought it would be simple. Like the rest of the rules of the R2AK, we tried as hard as we could for the “when does the race end?” solution set to be elegant. Not in that lace and candles sort of way, but in the same way that Euler’s Identity (e^i?+1=0) or the Pythagorean theorem (a^2+ b^2= c^2) can reduce complex concepts into something most people can remember even if they can’t really remember why, we thought our sweep boat equation (in bastardized Excel code: =IF(‘date of first place finish'< June 24,’sweep boat leaves June 24?,(10+’date of first place finish’)) would be a simple and functional way to solve the complex problem: “How do we end this thing?” The R2AK ‘s E=?mc?^2.

We were wrong, dead wrong. After a year we are still explaining it on a daily basis, even to our spouses, who are smart. So on the day the sweep boat is scheduled to leave Port Townsend (“Yes, today…” we say in the same clenched-jaw sigh Señora Mitchell gave us when we never figured out the difference between “embarrassed” and “pregnant” en Espanyol) we thought we’d do a little explaining.

The idea: Like the Gonzo energy that inspired it, this race is a weirdo. With no checkpoints or required stops, after the restart from Victoria 700 miles is a long way to get spread out. We knew that the challenge of crossing the line first wouldn’t apply to most of the participants, but to make it a challenge for all of the fleet we created a time goal for completion that sounded hard for us (a month to Ketchikan) and massaged it to a day when we could save money in the “last boat celebration budget” by co-opting some fireworks (July 4th).

Deadlines are boring, being chased is exciting. Hence the sweep boat was born as a rolling disqualification line. It would end in Ketchikan on the last day of the race. It would start in Port Townsend. If it catches you, you are out. You might get a ride, some supplies, a hot cup of coffee or a cold beer – no promises – but you are out. Harsh? Maybe. Unfair? We’re not sure. You can always continue your trip, but you’re out of the race… whatever that means. You still get the t-shirt.

When does the sweep boat leave Port Townsend?

Today, June 24th.

 We had no idea what the weather was going to do or how fast people were going to finish. One of the potential scenarios ended up playing out (really fast multihull catches some monster wind and finishes in a week or so but others don’t). We wanted to make the sweep boat’s departure relative to the first place finisher in case the weather was horrible and people were stuck on the beach for a month, but also gave teams who’d be more like us (read: “slow”) a shot at completing the challenge.

So our theorem was this: “The sweep boat leaves Port Townsend either whenever the first boat finishes OR June 24th, whatever happens last.”  From there it heads along the race route making approximately 75 miles a day, ending in Ketchikan ten days later. Teams it catches up with along the way are out of the race.

Simple? Easy to understand? Apparently not, and we are slightly embarrassed (or pregnant, still not sure) by how far from elegant we were on that one; like a doily covered dog turd on a silver tray.

Regardless of what it could have been, the sweep boat leaves Port Townsend today.

Sort of.

The application: Like the scores of volunteers wearing shirts labeled “Minion” who welcomed the racers to Port Townsend and Victoria and helped create a couple of the best parties we’ve ever attended, or the pilots who volunteered their time to capture images of the race from the air, the Sweep Boat is a vessel and crew whose talents are inversely proportional to their cost. The MV Cruise-On raised their hand to be the not-so-grim reaper of the race, supporting this crazy notion and getting to cruise to Alaska in the meantime. Despite the fact that the Sweep Boat is supposed to head out today, make about 75 miles (Nanaimo area) and then stop, Captain Craig and crew correctly surmised that they would likely not have to disqualify any active racers for the first couple hundred miles of the trip and puttered out early.

Before you cry foul, before you get confused and make us explain the whole thing again while our Corn Flakes get soggy, the line of rolling disqualification doesn’t change. Racers will still have until July 4th to get to Ketchikan, and you can walk back the 75 miles a day to see who’s in danger of being swept by the crew of the Cruise-On.

What that means for the racers still out there: There are up to ten days left for the Race to Alaska, and on each of those days one tenth of the course will be consumed by the rolling disqualification line traveled by the Sweep Boat (even if only conceptually). Nanaimo-ish tonight, Campbell River-ish tomorrow, repeat 8 more times until the mighty Cruise-On reaches Ketchikan.

It’s hard to say whether any team risks getting tagged out, but if it took 16 days for Teams Boatyard Boys and Barefoot Boats to reach the halfway point (ish) of Bella Bella they’ve only got 10 more to get to the end of the line. It could be a race to the finish.