The cancellation of R2AK for 2021 was the right thing to do.
Still, we’re dismayed that we’ll miss the Race to Alaska for a second year in a row now because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 R2AK cancellation was announced Thursday by the Northwest Maritime Center, which in 2015 launched the first edition of what became an annual race of non-engined vessels from the starting point of Port Townsend, Washington, to the finish line at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin.
Born from a 2013 beer-tent conversation, the R2AK concept is simple.
“We organized it around this idea that somebody goes to Ketchikan and nails a stack of $100 bills to a tree and then fires a starting gun,” NMC Executive Director Jake Beattie said in a 2014 interview with the Daily News. “... The rules are pretty simple in that, you get a boat without an engine, and you start in Port Townsend, and you finish in Ketchikan. And, if you're first, you get $10,000.”
A second place? A lovely set of steak knives.
“We tried to stay as true to that organizing concept as possible,” Beattie said.
Driven by Beattie’s brilliantly humorous vision and promotion, R2AK drew 40 full-race participants for the first event in 2015. Over the next four editions, R2AK steadily drew participants that ranged from highly experienced sail racers aboard super-fast trimarans to solo adventurers on stand-up paddleboards.
Encouraging people to dream big and providing a challenge has always been the point.
“We just really want to inspire people to adventure, even if they don't ever do the Inside Passage with an engineless boat,” Beattie said back in 2014. “They at least see what's possible and maybe (be inspired) to do something that's adventuresome to them.”
Ketchikan had the great fortune to be the destination for the 750-mile R2AK. It’s been fun publicity for the First City, and a chance to show hospitality to the racers, race staff and all the family and friends who’ve journeyed north to greet the racers arriving to ring the finish bell at the Baranof Fishing Excursions dock in Thomas Basin.
We’ve met wonderful people, cheered on hardy souls and generally had a wonderful time with R2AK since 2015.
We sincerely look forward to the opportunity to welcome the Race to Alaska back to Ketchikan, hopefully in the very near future.
In the meantime, we wish the Northwest Maritime Center well with their new event, the Washington360 race that incorporates the engineless, unsupported event ethos of R2AK.
“Like R2AK,” wrote Race Boss Daniel Evans in Thursday’s announcement, “we hope that WA360 is a moment to leave other realities behind and rediscover the strength and resilience we each hold within ourselves so we may return to a world, in whatever form of disarray we left, and help make it better.”