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Sail, Row, Paddle, All The Way To Alaska


Shane Perrin will be competing on his custom stand up paddle board and he is the world record holder for most miles traveled by SUP in 24 hours (more than 160 km). (VerticalOar.com)

Shane Perrin will be competing on his custom stand up paddle board and he is the world record holder for most miles traveled by SUP in 24 hours (more than 160 km). (VerticalOar.com)


We are less than three weeks away from the first-ever ‘Race to Alaska.’ A large group of adventure seekers will be racing from Port Townsend, in the state of Washington, up the Inside Passage to Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska. What makes this race different from other sailing events? No engines are permitted. The event will be a true test of the racers’ maritime skills.

Jake Beattie's is the main organizer for the Race to Alaska. His day job is director of the Northwest Maritime Center, a non-profit group. The 1,200-kilometer boat race was, in large part, his idea. He says one of his central beliefs is to keep things simple, with as few rules as possible.

"Get a boat without an engine, any boat, doesn't matter what size or number of crew. Be self-supported, meaning that you can't have pre-arranged support or boats chasing you around to fix you if you break. Start in Port Townsend, finish in Ketchikan. If you're first, we'll give you $10,000. If you're second, we'll give you a set of steak knives."

Everybody else who enters the race gets a T-shirt. The "no motors" rule leaves sailing, rowing, paddling, pedaling or some combination of those activities as the way to victory.

"Embedded in the race is this sort of tortoise versus hare bet between the choices that favor human power or the choices that favor wind power."

Most of the teams entered in the race plan to use sailboats. But Jake Beattie says the winds can be unpredictable in June. He says this means the winner could be a small, human-powered craft.

"There's one kayaker, a couple of different ocean-going rowboats and one guy on a standup paddleboard who is going to do the entire 750 miles."

One of the racing teams includes the former world record holder for the number of pull-ups done in one day. At least six teams had a boat specially-made for this race. That includes world-class sailors Joe Bersch and Dalton Bergan of Seattle.

Their new seven-meter long outrigger sailboat looks like a Polynesian boat called a proa.

Bergan: "Both ends of the boat are the bow and the stern. It never tacks or jibes, which is what most sailors are familiar with. It just reverses."

Bersch: "The boat is going to be a handful. It is quite fast and quite powerful."

Some other unusual qualities of the sailboat include a pedal-powered propeller. It also has a sleeping area that looks like a large box in which a dead person is buried. The two co-captains have already nicknamed it, the "sarcophagus."

"There's a tendency to look at some of these boats and say, 'Why are you doing it? You should never try it in that.' Or, 'You'll never win. Why are you doing it?' I think the opportunity to sail up the Inside Passage in a small craft and challenge yourself is a once in a lifetime experience."

Jullie Jackson of Port Townsend has a similar answer.

"Having a small crew on a boat, you know, you are responsible to those people and they are responsible to you and being able to have a common goal that you are all working toward is really amazing. And it is an absolutely beautiful part in the world."

Jullie Jackson and her two crewmates plan to compete in a smooth and shiny, racing sailboat called an Etchells 22. The boat is usually considered a daysailer and offers little protection from the winds and rain.

"I completely understand how people would see it as crazy... But if you understand what your limitations are and you understand what risks you are going into, then it can be approached in a way that is safe."

One way Jake Beattie explains this event is as the Pacific Northwest's answer to the Iditarod, the famous Alaskan sled dog race.

"Yeah, we've been calling this, 'the Iditarod with a chance of drowning.' Or 'the Iditarod with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a bear or run over by a freighter.'"

More than 30 teams from the United States and Canada have entered the full race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan. Jake Beattie predicts the winner of the Race to Alaska will cross the finish line in less than 14 days, but it could take as little as one week.

I’m Marsha James.

Tom Banse reported on this story from Port Townsend, Washington.
Marsha James adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

adventure – n. danger or excitement

maritime – adj. relating to sailing or the sea

pre-arrangev. to plan or decide (something) before it happens

embedv. to be or become fixed as an important part or quality

tortoise n. a kind of turtle that lives on land

hare n. a fast animal similar to a rabbit

jibe - v. to cause a sailboat to change direction by swinging the sail to the opposite side of the boat

jibe – n. insulting or critical comments

propellern. a device with two or more blades that turn quickly and cause a boat or aircraft to move

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