2018 Pre-Race Prologue: The Year Like Any Other Never Got to Be

This all started as an idea; a punchline with a waterline: a few boats, a few laughs, a collective adventure that we figured no one outside of a self-selected few would really give a rat’s ass about. We were one and done and full of, “Come on, no one really cares,” sort of freedom to dance like no one was watching. The first R2AK posed a two-part question: “Can you?” and, “How fast?” and we truly launched without an idea about what the answers would be. It turns out the answers are currently: yes, and 3 days 20 plus hours on an M32—a beach catamaran with a pituitary problem sailed in 2016 by top gear sailors whose pituitaries seemed to work just fine.

Each year there were teams to beat—and we knew who they were at the opening bell. In the time it took a clear-thinking person to say, “Multihull,” and another to say, “Olympian,” the R2AK went from a riddle-wrapped conundrum to a knock-knock joke that everyone still enjoyed despite knowing the punchline: most of the chickens crossing to Ketchikan weren’t doing it for the $10,000 we gave to the first team to get to the other side. By the second year, when the boats started rolling in for their pre-race assembly, we had a pretty good idea on the top couple of teams we should put our chips on.

As the R2AK hype factory switched on the power and dusted off its back stock of metaphors, we looked through this year’s teams and had a single thought: It’s back. The uncertainty, the tension, the riddle, the all of it. Four years in, it looks like the race shook the etch-a-sketch for a clean-slate look at possibility.

From where we sit, there’s not a single team with the, “Oh, them,” it factor that comes from being dead center of the convergence of the R2AK success Venn diagram: hot boat, elite-level sailors, tons of preparation, and the steely-eyed intention to win at time of application. There are teams with two, maybe three, but without the complete fourfecta, Vegas is having a hell of a time handicapping this one. Absent the bogeyman of custom boats filled with Olympians and endorsement deals, it’s entirely possible that this year’s big money gets handed to an ecstatic and slightly bewildered team that had no expectation of winning when they threw their hat in the ring.

Cool.

We could have an eight-way race for the money/steak knives.

If you just looked at the silhouette of the team, Team Wright Yachts looks like they have the stuff. They’re rolling north with a fresh out the box Corsair 970. It’s head and shoulders faster than any other boat in the fleet, but “fresh out the box” may be one of the few sentences in the R2AK’s entire written history where we mean exactly what we said: they literally just rolled the boat out of the container and starting taking off the factory bubble wrap on May 26, barely enough time to ask, “Did we really tighten all of the bolts?” let alone double check, pack food, or put the boat through the paces a time or two. The crew is solid but have day jobs, and despite their solid sailoriness, to our knowledge don’t compete elite. Sheer boat speed makes them the team to beat, but entropy and deadheads tee them up as not too many bad moments from being the team to be beaten.

The rest of the teams that are slowly realizing they are front of the pack are teams with preparation and time in the seat, but with a boat that wouldn’t turn a head outside of an Olson 30 regatta (Team Lagopus and Team Dream Catchers); the kind of dogged determination that can only come from being 20 years old and not knowing any better (Team Blue Flash); and a couple of speedy trimarans from the great seafaring state of Colorado (Teams Ptarmigan and Swan Song). Then there are First Federal’s Team Sail Like A Girl’s offsetting incentives to well and escape their children for as long as possible. Their Melges 32 is a speedy one, but takes more than most of their eight-woman crew to keep it flat and fast, and eventually someone has to sleep.

The fleet is filled out with its share of inspirational and impressive, the questionable and bizarre—god we love these merry lunatics: a prone paddler paddling for addiction awareness, a SUP paddling for Veterans suffering from brain injuries and PTSD, the custom pedal drive of Team Take Me to the Volcano, the kayakers of Team Oaracle who started their race by spending the two days leading up to the R2AK racing the inaugural running of SEVENTY48—just to tack on 70 miles of long to what is already a long way to go. There are fathers and daughters taking another shot at Ketchikan, solo maniacs who traded up to beach cats from windsurfer, boats that look like they sailed out of a Jetson’s episode, and a custom French design that is le version deux they took two years to develop after their run in 2016.

Then there is Team Perseverance, the guy we told no back in November because he seemed outside of all of the Venn diagrams: no real experience and the wrong boat for someone who tipped the scales at over 300 pounds. He could have given up, but after a new boat and a hard-charging winter of training, he’s got salt in his veins and dropped over 100 pounds from all of the effort. Heart of champions. Statistically speaking, his solo bid on a Hobie Adventure Island has somewhere between no and a snowball in hell’s chance of winning, but damn if he didn’t do it already.

Welcome to the R2AK 2018: everyman heroes pushing the envelope of their threshold of possible, rowboats, paddleboards, regular boats with extraordinary people, and absolutely no clue who might win this thing. Four years in and this year’s race finally looks like the one we thought we started, which means we gloriously have absolutely no idea what’s about to happen.

Vegas be damned, it all starts tomorrow. Ready or not, R2AK.