Stage 2, day 10: Racing because of things; Dynamite Required.

[record scratch]

Here on Day 10, the sequitur-less stylings of the masked scrivener of R2AK must give way to my far less metaphorically-driven reportage. Notice a shift: less meandering BS, more facts. And maybe a couple hundred fewer words. —Race Boss

[resume play]

The happenings on day nine of this Alaska Race provide a punctuative note to the frenetic, punk rock pace of the first days of team finishes. A steady blues soundtrack echoes from the next racers down-course, still over a hundred miles distant. Across the line came two teams: Team Guardian Sailing in the early hours, and miracle mad-people Team Tips Up, arriving mid-afternoon—both to howls, cheers, and jaw-drops from the dock and across the R2AKosphere.

New Finish Line Guardians

6:16 am in Alaska, and a bass-slapping groove pulsed from Team Guardian Sailing’s J24 as it appeared around the Ketchikan breakwater to fishing boat horn-blasts and cheers from the dock. Fans, friends, and recently-arrived and sleep-deprived racers roused themselves for the TGS victory. 

The J24 is on loan from a friend, and is decked out with one of the most bomb-proof pedal drives on the course. It was built by team member Eric who said “I’ve never built anything like it, but it worked pretty good.” The boat is colorfully tattooed like an old wrinkled sailor—each new image an homage to a completed adventure, and TGS has yet to settle on what their next addition will be.

The traditional bell ring (now played on a quickly fabricated gas-canister-turned-instrument) was, for Captain Michael, a bell-toll ceremony for fallen friends, as he called out five names to be remembered. Guardian Sailing is his brainchild— cooked up when he was on deployment in Afghanistan. It came to life not only as an R2AK team, but as a non-profit with a mission to create healing experiences for veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD.

There’s a lot to be processed in the first few minutes on the dock. The team was getting their legs back and starting to relearn how to talk to anyone but themselves. Before long, team member Emily was able to sum it up well: “It was the best experience of my life.”


Down course, the hopeful crowd was thinned by two. As a birthday present to himself, beloved aussie Derek, of Team SKOFTIG, tossed the towel, gave his knees a break, and decided to join Team Barely Heumann on the C2PT (Cruise to Port Townsend). Derek shared some highlights:

Going together through Seymour Narrows at a very uneventful 5 knots peak. Seeing my first humpback whale passing at 15 meters just outside of Browns Bay. Dolphins swimming with me in Johnstone Strait. Watching whales breach from the boardwalks in Kelsey Bay. But mostly sailing together with some remarkable human beings.” 

A few hours later Kayleen and Sylvia of Team Orca made the same call:“The Johnstone Strait humbled us quickly as reality set in that we are at the mercy of the current and the strong NW wind against ebb that creates harrowing seas. We soon fully accepted this while belting Celine Dion at anchor waiting out the winds.” SKOFTIG, ORCA and nearby still-racing Team Hornblower all got together for Derek’s birthday in Port McNeill.

They kept their tips up.

After the early morning arrival of TGS, the Ketchikan crowd largely put themselves to bed for midday naps—resting easy in the knowledge that Team Tips Up couldn’t possibly arrive before 9pm. They had been sailing for 70 hours or so with one 4-hour catnap.


A casual 3pm tracker glance was followed by an adrenaline shot as Race Boss himself jumped back into pants and down to the finish line as the 9pm prediction evaporated, and beer needed handing out.

At 3:44 pm Team Tips Up became the first to complete the Race to Alaska aboard a Hobie 16—a boat so small and exposed that calling it a “vessel” is generous. John Ped and Kaila Pfrang, the duo comprising TTU, arrived in great style, with sail changes inside the breakwater and only one small bump into the dock.

Members of several teams still remaining in Ketchikan: Rock the Boat, Juvenile Delinquents, Sailor Swift, Spare Parts, Guardian Sailing, Roscoe Pickle Train—all had a simultaneous re-think of how hardcore they were. Gasps. Literal, audible gasps, were heard. “Wait.. what?!” “How the f%k?!” “Where do they keep everything?” Immediately, accusations of performance enhancing drugs. There’s just no damned way that two people on a boat so small and exposed it might as well not exist could have done the same trip they’d just completed.

And what was the sum total assessment of the race from John and Kaila? “That was fun!”

The words “full send” barely capture their journey. They became the first team to complete R2AK in a Hobie beach cat, a feat most deemed impossible—or certainly inadvisable. Their final run of well over 100 miles included a seventy-mile stretch where the wind died and their pedal drive took over. This pedal drive, engineered by the MIT grads themselves, propelled their boat to speeds upwards of three knots. Sure, the master link in the drive chain broke on day three, but they fixed it with chewing gum and dreams and it worked.

John’s folks greeted them on the dock and whisked the couple—who seemed either oblivious to their exhaustion or operating on another level of endurance—up to Cape Fox Lodge for some much-needed sleep. We fully expect them to go for a daysail in the rain tomorrow.

And as we marvel at their achievement we’re putting out a call for dynamite technicians and stone masons: the Mount Rushmore of R2AK legends needs some additions.


Header photo by Amy Arnston

Cuts From Course@200x

R2AK Greatest Hits: Gloria and the gang laid down a track to dance off the grossness of the last few teams to finish R2AK. The bassline is full stank- enjoy!