Frequently Asked Questions
No rules, really?
Yes. Well, mostly. Bring a boat to Port Townsend, finish in Ketchikan, don’t have a motor, be self-supported along the way. Other than a single waypoint the route choice is yours.
Do you vet the racers? Will you say no?
Why yes, in fact we do. Every aspirant seeking fame, glory, and sunburns must submit an application, which includes adventure resumes and a pitch as to why we should think you’re ready for this thing. The vetting team takes it pretty seriously, so if you don’t have enough real-world experience for them to think you can try this thing without the direst of consequences, they will say no. In 2023, the vetting team rejected 11 applications – 20% of those who applied.
When is the race?
Yeah, good question. Sunday, June 9, 2024 at 0500 in Port Townsend. The big party for everyone is the day before.
What does self-supported mean?
Teams may resupply food / equipment, rent a room, do laundry, eat at restaurants, even service their boats along the way. The intent is to be unsupported between towns, and function self-supported when in towns. Any services utilized must always be available to all challengers and not pre-arranged. No private resupply, support boats, food drops, etc.
Can I have pre-arranged food drops?
Still no, but you can resupply in towns along the way, go fishing (get a license), or eat nothing but kelp you’ve pulled off your rudder.
What if someone cheats?
First, just don’t do that. Let’s try to be better than the people who think a win is more important than integrity. This ain’t professional cycling.
What is the best boat for R2AK?
Great question. We have no idea. We intentionally picked the start date because the winds are of unpredictable strength and duration. There is an ongoing debate on whether the optimal boat will favor sail, oars, pedals, or paddles. If you’re trying to win, you should know that it’s always been a sailboat. If you want to win a marathon you should wear shoes, if you want to win this you should probably sail. But, how many people enter marathons to win? Our best advice is to choose a boat design based on your skills, then go for it.
How long will it take?
If past results are any guide, this race can be finished between 4 days and never.
What if my boat breaks?
Fix it. Duct tape doesn’t work great in saltwater so if you can’t fix it yourself or live without it maybe you shouldn’t bring it. You can use outside resources to help you; other boats, people who live along the route, etc. As long as the assistance was not prearranged in any way it is in the spirit of the challenge. Be prepared for anything. Check out our Unofficial R2AK Damage Control Kit list.
What if I use my satphone to call my logistics crew/wife/boyfriend/etc who then arranges a repair/food drop/anything else for me?
Poor form and a disqualification. This is about self-reliance, the only people arranging things, obtaining food or making/arranging for repairs should be members of your onboard crew and only after the race starts.
What if I change my mind?
- Cancellations must be received in writing (email ok) 60 days prior to event. We’ll keep 30% to teach you a lesson.
- Cancellations made less than 60 days prior to event will not be refunded.
- If NWMC cancels, 100% of fees will be refunded.
Who are you people?
Don’t worry, we’re legit. Race to Alaska is a project of the Northwest Maritime Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to engaging people in the waters of our world in a spirit of adventure and discovery. To learn more about us and the other things we do visit our website: nwmaritime.org
I’ve got a great job and am not sure I can take the time off. Any advice you could offer from a movie star sailor?
Funny you should ask:
“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of “security.” And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.
What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.
The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Where, then, lies the answer? In choice.
Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life? ”
Sterling Hayden, Wanderer
Shouldn’t there be more divisions?
Probably, but we only have one prize. OK, two if you count the steak knives, and those are for fastest passages within the given rules. There are also “Sidebets” that our sponsors put up to reward one type of behavior or another.
Can I portage my boat?
Sure, but remember this is a boat race so as long as you portage it under human and/or wind power it’s totally inbounds. We’ll take a dim view of portages done on the roof rack of a Subaru.
What’s to stop Larry Elison’s foil-riding multihull from entering?
$10k is a lot to most of us, but probably not enough to have people risk high twitch boats that break a lot and need a ton of support. The prize is real money but somewhat self-limiting for the high end yacht set…but we hear he might be interested in a set of steak knives.
How do I not get run over by a freighter?
Each boat will be required to have a location tracker and a VHF radio. You should be proficient in their use prior to the race so you know how to make sure big boats don’t run you over. Also, routes closer to the shoreline should reduce the exposure for smaller vessels that require less depth than cruise ships, tugs, fishing boats, etc.
But then you are closer to the bears, so choose your poison…
How do I not get eaten by a bear?
Here’s a link to a website by the state of Alaska that talks about bear safety.
I’ve read the website, now I’m scared of bears.
We don’t know how to answer that, it’s not a question.
I’ve never done a trip this long- should I enter?
It’s the longest race of its kind in North America, so most people won’t have done a race that is this epic. A better consideration for whether or not you should enter is your fitness, ability to make hard decisions (IE, quit if that’s the smart choice), tolerance for hardship, and your ability to operate and repair your boat safely with no support and in a variety of adverse conditions.
Are there books about similar trips?
Yes, there are books about everything. Here is one on the care and breeding of Poison Dart Frogs, but we digress. There is also a list of folks online who have done the trip in engineless craft. There are also a bunch of articles about the race online, at least some of them are on the R2AK media page. Oh, and the forum.
Do I have to go at night?
You don’t have to, you don’t have to do anything, but at least some crews will travel at night at least some of the time. If you have never traveled by boat at night it is highly recommended that you become competent in operating your vessel in the dark prior to attempting it during the race. If you plan on this being your first go at night nav, the vetting team will likely wag their finger and direct you to the nearest remedial sailing course taught by a couple high-schoolers.
But isn’t there a lot of driftwood floating around? How will I see it at night?
Yes, there is, and we don’t know. There is a lot of driftwood along the race route, sometimes floating just under the surface of the water. It is definitely something to consider if you are attempting night travel- especially on boats with high-end speed like multihulls, planing sailboats, etc. In all seriousness, hitting a log that puts a hole in your hull is probably more of a safety risk than the bears.
Wait, how do I get my boat back from Ketchikan?
Great question. So far we have thought of the following answers:
- Turn around and do the same trip in reverse
- Get a tow from a southbound boat
- Put it on the Alaska State Ferries
- Go to this forum about getting boats back from Ketchikan and let the community help figure it out.
- Put it on deck of a fishing boat
- Have someone meet you in Alaska with a trailer (trailerable boats only)
- Deflate it and put it on your carry-on luggage (inflatable boats only)
- Sell it to someone up there—Alaskans need boats, too
- Just keep going. We call that move “The Moitessier” (Google it) and it’s probably better than finishing first. We should have a prize for anyone who does that.
If it’s really stormy can I just get a hotel room for a month or so and finish the course in August?
It’s a race. We won’t wait for you forever. As a matter a fact our sweep boat—nicknamed the Grim Sweeper—will leave Port Townsend either as soon as the first racer crosses the finish line in Ketchikan or on June 21, whichever happens last. The sweep boat will travel north at roughly 75 miles a day as it heads to Ketchikan. If they pass you on the way north you will be “tapped out” and will be officially out of the race. They will come by, collect your SPOT tracker and say hello. They probably won’t be able to tow you to Ketchikan, but can help in figuring out which way you want to go next.
Where do babies come from?
Ask your mother.
Are we not specific enough for you?
Check out the 2023 Race Packet here–the packet for 2024 is coming soon, but this one is at least 11% true. Other than ditching a waypoint and requiring that each team have a PLB, not much has changed from years past. Unless you want to go dance in the open ocean, then you need a bunch more gear.
Go to the Race Forum and find all your questions answered…not really, but this is where we are hashing out a lot of the details. There are also a bunch of other helpful people who might be able to answer your questions there.