A Marshall Cat Takes on the R2AK

Racing an 18-foot catboat to Alaska solo, SAIL Technical Editor Adam Cove ups the adventure ante.

- BY ADAM COVE Adam cruises in the Marshall 18 with his brother, Ryan (left), and dad, Paul (right).

Grizzly bears? Check. Tidal currents at up to 15 knots? Check. Wild weather? Check. This is the Race to Alaska (R2AK), 750 nautical miles of unsupporte­d racing through Canadian wilderness from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska. Oh, and you can’t have an engine…at all, even if it’s disabled.

Instead of studying the Gulf Stream for another Bermuda race, I’m preparing for a different challenge this summer. Offshore racing is a blast, and there is nothing like seeing land emerge from the horizon after being at sea with an endless horizon for days or even weeks. But I’ve always found coastal racing to be more challengin­g. There are simply more variables, more traffic, and the looming threat of land. Most coastal races are over within a day, though, and don’t require the endurance and preparatio­n of an offshore race. The R2AK has all of it.

I wanted a more complex race; the Northwest Maritime Center has delivered. I’m in.

There is even a twist to this race: auxiliary propulsion is allowed, as long as it is human-powered. When the wind drops off, I’ll be rowing. And there are also no restrictio­ns on the type of craft used. So, when I tell you I’m sailing an 18-foot sailboat to Alaska, it doesn’t sound so bad when you learn someone else intends to get there on a stand-up paddleboar­d or a kayak. Everything is relative, right?

First place gets $10,000 cash nailed to a board, second place gets a set of steak knives, that’s it. Any sort of rating system is tossed to the wind in favor of simplicity (for once, there won’t be any complaints at the bar about unfair PHRF ratings). Throw up as much sail area as you want or even add pedal-driven propellers–the

R2AK encourages endless creativity. It’s a grassroots type of race that I imagine harkens to early sailboat racing, decades or centuries before my time on the water.

I’ve opted for a bear-proof hull and a comfortabl­e ride: a Marshall 18 catboat. This comes with a few distinct advantages, including a comfortabl­e place to sleep, simplicity in outfitting her, and a pretty boat to impress the wildlife. But my favorite part is that Marshall Marine is a half-mile from my house and my brother, Ryan, runs the yard. It means we get to spend even more time together as I get Wildcat ready.

That theme has carried through much of the preparatio­n as friends have joined in the effort. I’ve come to realize that this race is so much more than the 750 nautical miles I’ll cover, starting June 9. The adventure started the day I announced I was accepted into the race, and it has been an opportunit­y to enjoy time together with family and friends and build community.

I should mention that I’m singlehand­ing. And if this wasn’t already one of the more complicate­d races I have prepared for, that certainly raises the bar. With gates at Seymour Narrows and Bella

Bella, the course squeezes us through the Inside Passage. Navigation­al vigilance isn’t an option; it’s a necessity if I don’t want to play bumper boat against the hard edges of the narrow passages.

The tides would also be better measured in fathoms than feet, and that equates to strong currents. Combine all these factors and it means my game plan is to push ahead hard while the current is with me and anchor and rest when it turns. Seymour Narrows tops out at around 15 knots, whirlpools and all. If I time this right, I may be able to set a catboat speed record.

June throughout the West Coast of Canada and into Alaska has plenty of daylight—over 17 hours by the time I finish, and it still never gets completely dark. Outside of rainy days, that should provide me with plenty of solar power to keep the tunes going and Wildcat on track. Combine that with some Jetboil meals and morale will be in a good spot.

I won’t have the fastest boat on the course, but this is a test of endurance for my body and the boat and truly an adventure in itself. While it’s hard for me to lay down my competitiv­e side, a part of me also doesn’t want to rush the beautiful views along the way. The true challenge is making it to Alaska, entirely under wind and human power, and the reward, I believe, will be the people I meet along the way and stories I will share with you soon enough.

Follow the adventure at teamwildca­ and

SAIL Technical Editor Adam Cove is a marine consultant, naval architect, and former CEO of Edson Marine. He repowered his 1969 Luders 33, Ben-varrey, with electric propulsion and sails the U.S. East Coast and offshore to points south and east. Follow his travels at covesailin­

 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States