Stage 2, Day 8: French, Non-disasters, the Danger of Strangers, and We Use All the Words

The finish line was active for roughly the last 36 hours between Team Stranger Danger’s Day 6 finish and the early morning finishes of the High School Armada. (They got in too late to make the press deadline, more on them tomorrow.) 

Working backward from time of arrival, here are the rest: 

Day 7, 22:43, Team Narrows Minded.

The three Frenchmen of Team Narrows Minded finished in the late-night dusk that happens at 10:43 in Alaska on the eve of the summer solstice. Backlit and perfectly framed by the full moon, they bicyclette-ed to the dock singing an excellent rendition of the French national anthem. The crowd on the dock did their best to “Nanaa, nananaa” back, then showered them with baguettes, macarons, wine, and rolls du cinnamon from the finest of Ketchikan’s French bakeries. “We’re never leaving!” They were out of cheese and were down to their last sausage. No word on the silver see saws. 

The biggest question at the tip of everyone’s curiosity: what was up with “that move”? 

If you haven’t memorized the tracker, scroll back to 21:30 on the 16th and let it run. There’s a quizzical 360 on the backside of Aristazabal, then a right turn, then four hours wandering around Hecate Strait before returning to Principe Channel. People wanted answers, even us. We assumed that they were seeking answers to the greatest of French questions: Où est la bibliothèque? It apparently was not in Hecate Strait. 

In truth, Hecate was wild and dangerous and it was midnight. They were worried about their boat breaking in seas that seemed to build in the darkness. After hours of trying, they turned around. C’est la vie. 

Damage during the trip was minimal. They rewilded a floating VHF radio that is now free in the waters of the BC coast. Thirty miles to the finish, the masthead shackle that held up their screecher decided it had functioned long enough, parted, and sent the sail into the water. Within minutes of a jury-rigged harness, they were up the mast, swapped it out, and were sailing again.  Operationally, like at least one other team in this update, power was an issue. For most of the race, they didn’t have navigation instruments. Relying on the hope and a prayer of cell service and the existing charge on their iPhone, they finished the race at 1%. 

Despite the lack of power and cheese, they could have spent another week just sailing. “It was so beautiful.” They saw humpbacks, gray whales, bears, porpoises, but ironically never saw the narrows for which they named their team. It was pitch black when we crossed Seymour Narrows. We could literally see nothing!”

Talk quickly shifted to the two teams of les enfants—for how incredible they were accomplishing the Race, that they were only hours behind them, and because in a small world coincidence, one of their daughters is on a sailing team with crew aboard Team Rock the Boat. “She’s very passionate about sailing. She cried when I left, not because I was leaving but because she was not aboard.” Dry your eyes, 2026 is just around the corner. 

Day 7, 17:14, Team Natural Disaster

Speed metal, hakas, Wagner: the soundtrack for the extreme conditions for most of the Races to Alaska tends towards the dramatic. Team Natural Disaster’s Day 7 finish looked a little closer to ironic yacht rock as they sailed into Thomas Basin in 8 knots of sun-filled breeze, then stepped off their boat in good spirits, all smiles in matching team shirts. True, one admitted to not changing it since leaving Victoria. “At one point I put on long underwear underneath, but yeah, I’ve worn it for seven days. I’m pretty smelly.” We congratulated them from an upwind position. 

Visible stench aside, Team Natural Disaster’s run for Ketchikan was one defined by low-key, good-natured intensity from the 30-something, oldest cousins at R2AK’s unofficial kids’ table. But it almost wasn’t. 

24 hours in they had snapped the forestay on their Olson 30, itself an R2AK veteran (Team Monkey Fist, 2023). They pulled into Nanaimo and spent 12 hours finding, then installing a new one and regaining mental reserves. “Racers had told us that even a two-hour shore stop would be a reset for us mentally, and it totally was.” They had lost ground on their race pack and had thoughts of just cruising from there. Race fans got them back in action. “People were like: ‘These are your conditions, get back out there!’” They did, throttled down on a downwind kite run to and through Seymour Narrows, then proceeded to make up 30 miles, eventually mowing down 10 teams, including some faster boats. Well done, Tracker Nation. Good pep talk. 

The next days were spent duking it out and then walking away from Teams Roscoe Pickle Train, Juvenile Delinquents, and Rock the Boat who they had been battling since Stage One. “We came in literally 10 feet ahead of them in Stage One, but they beat us in the customs race for sure.” Competitive even in paperwork, once they were back in it, Team Natural Disaster wasn’t going to give up easily. 

What was their clutch move? Was it their gamble on the outside route to Bella Bella? Was it their near-shore route in Hecate Strait? Was it that their twin pedal drives gave them the edge in their estimated 40 hours of pedaling in Stage Two? Was it that they had years more experience, a faster boat, and were effectively playing dodgeball with kindergarteners? At least some of those, and at least a little bit that they had sailed the route to Ketchikan not two weeks before, in their house. 

Seattle sailboat liveaboards, one of their crew had delivered their house to Ketchikan, flown home, then started the race a week later. More than that, the delivery crew included two members of two different winning teams; Teams We Brake for Whales and Sail Like a Girl. R2AK dojo run with the pros. 

It’s a rare team that sails 750 miles to meet up with their house. Now that they are here, and hopefully after they shower, their plan is to sail their house around Alaska, another crew cruising their race boat south. We’ll leave it to the Tracker Nation to convince them to keep tracking their vacations. After Nanaimo, we think you deserve it. 

Day 6, 17:36, Team Stranger Danger

Team Loose Screw keeps losing pedal dives, Team Natural Disaster organically lost a forestay, Team Mr X still lives in mystery. 24 hours earlier than everything else in this update, the first monohull/first prophetically named team, Team Stranger Danger crossed the finish line in downwind sunshine. 

They were lured to the bell with a trail of Skittles, offered the beers, and were greeted by the usual cast of Ketchikan irregulars and the three teams that had already finished. They were thankful to be done, in more ways than one. There were cracks in their underpinnings and they white-knuckled it to Ketchikan on a number of fronts. 

“If anything is going to happen, it’s going to happen out there” – Captain Ron

Team Stranger Danger was born of enthusiasm for the race from a collection of newcomers and one of R2AK’s most seasoned veterans. This was her 6th race. The team found each other through the magic of the internet and met in person for the first time just days before the race. On the docks in Port Townsend, they appeared to have the optimistic energy of newly minted college freshmen—traveling in groups, swapping get-to-know-you stories, jello shots, the whole thing. 

Their boat, a Schock 40: a fabled oddity that propelled itself to R2AK legend as it carried Team Angry Beavers to victory in 2019, besting Team Malolo’s foiling trimaran, and vindicating an internet full of multihull haters. It’s a monohull, but it’s a weird one. It’s the only boat we’ve ever seen with fore and aft rudders. You read that right, one’s in the front and one’s in the back. Its canting keel is controlled by a hydraulic ram that allows you to crank it out and up windward—effectively creating a 1,800-pound lever that keeps your boat flatter and allows you to sail faster and closer to the wind than conventional sailboats. This particular boat was a barn find that the team found a year ago at an estate sale for $11,000. A great deal, but a cheap boat often proves the most costly. (foreshadowing)

Hopes were high.

Time-lapse forward to the last days of racing. There were cracks, worries, and differences of opinion. The most visible issue was the crack that opened in the mast. It’s likely that it was there before, but the ravages of the race opened up a 12’ vertical crack that had gone unnoticed. A previous owner had “fixed” it with some wonder goo that was stronger than chewing gum but not strong enough. Cosmetic for the sale, but not adequate for sailing. The reduction in strength from a crack that big was unknown, but real, and kicked off a train of worries that left the station at full speed. 

There was also the pedal drive. First, it was beautiful. The best designed and built four-person system we have ever seen. Early in the race, they were the envy of all and the talk of the town. Then they broke one of their belts, taking out one of the two drives. After checking pants pockets and couch cushions, twice, they realized they lacked a spare. Even shaking down a passing megayacht’s massive inventory failed to produce a belt that would work. They spent the rest of the race half-strength and worried that the last belt would break too. 

There was also the rudder. The forward rudder worked fine, both for directional ability and also as an A-1 kelp catcher that was impossible to clear from the deck. The designers of the Schock 40 saw clear to build in a viewing port so you could see what was caught on the rudder, but not a way to clear it. The crew stopped looking because it was effectively just a single-channel television featuring a 24/7 broadcast of Frustration TV. 

There was also the other rudder. The after rudder developed a groaning sound on port tacks, likely the bearings. “It groaned. Super unnerving.” Other than hauling out or only sailing with the wind on the starboard side, not much to do other than earplugs and fret. 

There was also the keel. Start with the fact that of the 10 of these vessels that were made, so far two had the keel fall off. 20%. So far. “When the boat is banging, and the keel is canted out, you can feel the keel bounce.” 1,800 pounds at an extreme angle and held in by a single pin that seems to grow smaller as worry increases. What would it take for them to be the 30%? You can unclench, you’re not onboard. Breathe. 

Their keel didn’t fall off before they finished (“We think we should be sponsored by Boeing!”), but it was a source of nagging worry. To sail optimally, the boat was only really designed to perform upwind with the keel canted out to windward. This requires an electrically powered hydraulic ram, which drains a ton of battery power each time. Not a problem with enough electrons in the tank, but no power? Can’t cant. (See what we did there?) But this isn’t a problem unless the batteries run down. 

There was also the power. They had calculated their battery needs for the use case of Johnstone Strait: a classic slog through an upwind wave canyon where they knew they would need to tack and cant the keel every mile or so. They built their power storage system against that model, assuming they would have longer tacks in open waters for the rest of the trip. Maybe due to worries of, say, the keel falling off, they chose the more inside routes inside of Banks and Aristazabal Islands. “We ran out of power three days ago.” The solar would keep them up with nav lights and instruments during the day, but little else. 

There was also the water. They didn’t run out, but almost. A strategic choice was made before they left to rely solely on the boat’s internal tanks for drinking water and leave the additional portable tanks behind. They had a power-hungry watermaker, that worked—until they ran out of power. Then it didn’t. At Cape Caution, they traded a passing powerboat a bottle of wine for five gallons, and by the time they arrived in Ketchikan, they were low. Like low low. They weren’t quite to the point where they were spitting into cups and passing it around, but they were close. 

There was also the crew. Winning with strangers is fun, stressing with strangers is a pressure cooker. Added to that was the lack of water, fear of breaking the boat, one crew down for days with some unknown sickness, and a growing backpack full of “I told you sos” that lurked just under the surface with every new problem. “This is like reality TV, Real World R2AK: seven strangers thrown together with no hope for escape.” All of the tension and drama, but no sex, and no cameras—their GoPros had run out of batteries too. 

Add it all up and Team Stranger Danger’s last days on the course were far from idyllic. Concern for the boat set the team to sailing conservatively to make sure the boat didn’t break itself apart, a choice that risked breaking the team. 

From the long view, they were successful—a fourth-place finish is respectable for any team, but by most accounts, at least some of them were simply done. 

The moral of the story? Who knows. 

As much as Team Stranger Danger is an example of how well you can do with a boat full of randos, it is at least also a cautionary tale of double-checking assumptions, and running the calcs through alternate scenarios. That, and at least this year, teams of strangers are even odds of success or failure. Regardless of how you did it or what it feels like: welcome to done. 


Bits from the Back 

This Russian novel of a dispatch is too long already, but we’d feel bad if we didn’t zoom our spotlight a few horizons to the south and share at least a little from farther back on the course, a few bits from the back: 

Team Tips Up completed a near two-day sleepless run on their Hobie 16 and are crashed out on McCauley Island. 

Team Let’s Wing It withdrew from the race. He had spent a few days ashore with an ill-timed illness. The combination of not being 100% and the ticking clock of the Grim Sweeper caused the towel to be thrown. He was the last human-powered team in the race, so the bag of 1,000 Canadian Loonies (one dollar coins to you Americans) for the Team Oracle Blister prize will go unclaimed, living somewhere between the Race Boss’s desk and the nearest Canadian slot machine. Sounds like the sponsors are going to let it ride, and put in another 1,000 next time. Paddle in 2026 and double your money. 

Team Forget-Me-Knot. When Jo pulled her bid to be R2AK’s first solo female finisher she said simply this: “Unfortunately, due to some equipment malfunctions, I’m done.” The issues:

  • The boat was sinking at a more concerning rate than usual—unsure as to why. 
  • One of her amas ended up warped for unknown reasons.
  • She was wet, and water got into the bivy bag soaking her down sleeping bag. 
  • Her drysuit was a drysuit in name only. 
  • Every article of clothing she owned was soaked. 

“I had a great time overall except for the times that I didn’t. I will be back to complete it someday!” We hope she does, her mettle was apparent and welcome. See you down the road. 

OK, that only scratched the surface, but it’s enough for today. News from the kids tomorrow. 


Header photo by Taylor Bayly

Cuts From Course@200x