Team Fire Escape

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Team members: Stuart Sugden, Stephen Colman, Robert Killip
Hometown: Kalaru, New South Wales, Australia
Race vessel: Cal 20 Monohull
LOA: 20′
Human propulsion: Pedal drive

TL;DR: Skinny jeans, extramarital affairs, military-grade explosives, and the existence of Antarctica

We all have that friend. Yes, the one who refused to evolve to “age-appropriate” behavior (trading Pokemon cards in their 20s, skinny jeans in their 30s, closing bars in their 40s, posting TikToks in their 50s), but also the one stuck in relationship samsara. The friend who can’t help hooking up with the same non-responsive, emotionally unavailable, all take and no give, can’t be tied down sort of person. They start off like fireworks, but pretty soon someone blows up a mailbox or a finger and they’re left standing there with a burnt-out Roman Candle; smoke and regret hanging in the air. Light the fuse, feel the heat of the sparks til it fizzles, find a fresh firecracker—barely legal at best.

What in the star-spangled glory are we talking about? Simply this: R2AK is quite possibly Team Fire Escape’s bad boyfriend… or vice versa… or whatever.

While it’s not how we understood it at the time, looking back it feels like Team Fire Escape broke up with us in 2019. It was Bella Bella. Back then, there was just one guy in a tiny home-built trimaran (see Team Three-Legged Cat bio from 2019). He ended his race in Bella Bella, his mid-coast hometown, because he wanted to “see other people.” To be fair, it was his wife, but the analogy holds: R2AK was the other woman, kicked to the curb.

He came running back in 2020, this time with friends. Stuart augmented a solo crew with two folks who breathe the rare air of the estimated 1% of the global population able to match his doctor/ultramarathoner/“Let’s sail to Antarctica with the family” brand of adventure experience. What do the new folks bring? Yes, Everest—but also ascents up five other 8,000-plus meter peaks, bike rides across America, more sailing trips to Antarctica, working up the ranks to owner of an outdoor adventure guiding business, firefighting, canoeing into the Northwest Passage—these guys are more ordinance than fireworks.

Their boat: a sawed-off, low-key race rocket. The Cal 20 isn’t the fastest boat on the course, nor the most (or least) comfortable, but it might be one of the most affordable. A proven veteran of the R2AK finish line, Cal 20s can sail three, sleep two–three (assuming #3 sleeps on piles of wet sails and gear), and can often be found for under $5,000. Thanks to large production runs in the 70s and 80s, there are aging fleets abound up and down the US west coast. Sailing a Cal 20 to Alaska is like cross country car camping out of a vintage Honda Civic, but slower, wetter, and fewer chances for truckstop diner biscuits and gravy.

Back to our reverse-engineered toxic relationship: Team Fire Escape signed up to race in January 2020; we led them on and then dumped them in April. We needed some me-time and/or a global pandemic was ravaging the planet, and the only responsible thing to do was to cancel the race. We both worked on ourselves in 2021, then Team Fire Escape came crawling back the moment we put ourselves back on the market in 2022. Of course we said yes—we can’t quit you.

Welcome to the R2AK, Team Fire Escape. If loving you is wrong, we don’t want to be right.