Village Girl sailboat headed for Ketchikan in R2AK race
The Race to Alaska is an unique boat race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan. “It’s like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear,” reads the official race website.
Participating in this race is Nome’s own Megan Hahn, as a member of Team Wingnuts. She and her teammate Alex Whitworth of Australia are sailing a 23-foot sailboat called Village Girl, which can be rowed and also has a propeller turned by pedaling a stationary bicycle.
“They’re in the Georgia Strait right now,” said Sue Greenly, Megan’s mother. “That’s 16 percent of the way and it should take about three weeks to get to Ketchikan.”
The first stage of the race is from Port Townsend to Victoria, B.C.
The second stage began in Victoria on June 6. The boat is Megan Hahn’s and was built in the 1960s.
To raise money for the race, Megan spent the winter working at Builders. She has a cabin in Homer and divides her time between Alaska and Australia. Her grandmother Bonnie Hahn was one of the first women to transit the Northwest Passage by boat back in the 1980s. So sailing is something the family does.
The Wingnuts had to drop out of last year’s race when their boat broke its keel near Nanaimo, near Vancouver in British Columbia.
The Race to Alaska, called R2AK, has almost no rules. The boats must be powered by wind or human muscle. Other than that anything is allowed. Racers have to be self-supporting. They can’t have dad flying his Twin Otter along the route delivering fresh barbecue and The New York Times. Crews may pull into port to buy supplies but there are no food drops. The entries in this year’s race include a 51-foot sailboat and a 14-foot kayak.
The winner gets a prize of $10,000, the runner-up gets a set of steak knives. That’s as deep as it goes. There are also awards called “side bets” by the race organizers. An example is “Most in Need of a Stiff Drink.” The race finish is in Ketchikan.
One of the more rational stipulations in the race rules is that boats must carry a location tracker and a VHF radio. And crews are supposed to know how to use them so that they are not run over by a large boat such as a freighter. Race officials suggest a course close to the shore so as to avoid cruise ships, tugs, fishing boats. “But then your are closer to the bears,” they add.
Megan’s teammate Alex Whitworth has an extensive sailing background. He was born in an air raid shelter on Malta during World War II. His sailing exploits include a number of difficult long distance races and sailing from Australia to England via the Northwest Passage. He has twice sailed the passage. “Alex has been family friend for years,” said Sue Greenly.
“I expect you are all wondering why we seem to be wasting hours of good tide and parking for the night,” writes Alex in the ship’s log, which is published on their website. “It’s all about taking no risks at this point of the race. This evening the wind dropped to about 3 kts and we had a big tidal flow and nowhere easy to get to if things got pear shaped later so again we compromised.”
Their estimated arrival date in Ketchikan is June 24.