Superstition plays a big role in many sports. People cherish their lucky jerseys, athletes swear by pre-game rituals and some fans refuse to speculate about the outcome of the big game – or in this case, race.
On the fifth day of this year’s Race to Alaska, race co-founder Jake Beattie was tight-lipped about any predictions he might have for the day’s finish.
“We don’t like to speculate on the crazy finishes, because we don’t wanna jinx things,” he said. “We knock wood a lot at the Race to Alaska headquarters. Really, we’re just hoping everyone makes it as far as they safely can, and as far as within their ability.”
Beattie also serves as the executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center. He started the 750-mile Inside Passage race three years ago with his friend, Daniel Evans. There are only two real rules for the two-stage race: one, it must be completed without a motor; and two, racers must be self-supported along the way. Despite the general lack of restrictions, Beatty said, those two rules make for a uniquely challenging race.
“No one does the Race to Alaska by accident. So, it is not something that you take lightly, and it’s something that every single team in the race has thought about for a very long time and prepared for – for slightly less time,” he said.
The Race to Alaska website describes itself as born through “the spirit of tradition, exploration, and the lawless self-reliance of the Gold Rush.”
Beattie said it better.
“A big reason we started the race was to highlight this coast, to connect the two communities at each end of the course and to really inspire people to whatever level of adventure was that next step for them, whether that was racing to Alaska in an engineless sailboat or just getting out on a kayak and going to that next island that’s out there, or even just doing the fun run. Whatever it is, we try to really showcase the full spectrum of human potential and that – your horizon of capability is probably a little bit farther than you thought,” he said.
This year’s race was won by Team Freeburd – three brothers from the East Coast sailing a trimaran called “Mama Tried.” Second place went to Team Big Broderna, a group of four sailors also manning a trimaran. The difference between the two teams’ finishes was six minutes. A team called Bad Kitty sailed in a day later to take third place.
The close first- and second-place finishers’ times are remarkable, but so is the separation between first and whenever the final team sails past the finish line. Beattie said there are two kinds of people who do the Race to Alaska: those who race to win, and those who race to simply finish.
“You know, the thing about each of the races is that it’s kind of the personalities that come out of the woodwork to participate,” he said. “And it’s not like most highly competitive races in that, I think, maybe 10 to 15 percent of the people who are in the race are actually racing; the rest are just using it as a catalyst to do something incredible.”
Beattie said that about 10 teams usually have to quit before reaching Ketchikan. Sometimes it’s due to weather and sea conditions, but Beattie said that’s not always the case.
“There is a little bit of epic hero in all of these folks, and so there’s always the fatal flaw that people show up with their own reasons that they finish, and they show up with their own reasons why they don’t finish,” he said. “So whether it’s overconfidence, lack of preparedness, a little bit not enough preparation…there’s this phrase that, ‘the sea finds out what you did wrong,’ and usually that’s true.”
The race starts in Port Townsend, Washington. There’s a stop in Victoria, British Columbia, before it ends in Ketchikan. Beattie said Ketchikan holds a special significance for him.
“One of the greatest things of this race for me personally is just really how much it’s been embraced by the Ketchikan community. We start the race in Port Townsend, but I really think of Ketchikan as the hometown of the race,” he said. “We have folks that, at 2 in the morning, in the pouring rain, there are Ketchikan folks that come just to say congratulations to these teams that have made it all the way, and that, that’s like a warm hug even if it’s raining.”
A warm, wet Alaska hug.