With awards being given out, beer flowing and lots of laughter going around the Race to Alaska’s annual Blazer Party during the Wooden Boat Festival, there was also a big announcement to be made about the future of the race. Quiet murmurs of what it might be were being floated amongst the assembled masses and when the moment came for race creators Jake Beattie and Daniel Evans to drop the news, the lights were dimmed, the rowdy crowd fell silent and this video played:

Whoa. No more Seymour Narrows as a checkpoint — and the R2AK course is suddenly thrown wide open to the west, allowing racers to head outside and up the west coast of Vancouver Island! The thing is, there is still a checkpoint at Bella Bella, which means those going inside and outside will likely meet again after starting hundreds of miles south in Victoria. To be sure, intriguing tactical decisions will come from this.

I’ve waited to post this because I wanted to see how the reaction would play out. In the days following the announcement, most armchair-R2AKers are focusing on what the ability to go outside means for the race and what type of boats and teams this new wrinkle will bring. But as a race finisher in 2018 — and someone who has sailed north and south up the west coast of Van Isle before — I’m seeing the change through a slightly different lens.

1) It’s going to take the right boat and crew, coupled with an amazingly perfect weather window, to make the outside payoff.

2) Getting rid of Seymour Narrows also opens up Surge Narrows and Okisollo Channel, Yuculta and Dent Rapids as options, which is just as intriguing to me as the outside, and will certainly play into decisions for the majority of the fleet.

For an in-depth report on the change and what teams can expect, find the December issue of 48 North magazine when it hits news stands around the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s what R2AK world headquarters has to say about the new rule change:

We like to say around here that simpler is harder, and we’ve made R2AK 2020 even more simple/hard than it already was by removing Seymour Narrows as a mandatory waypoint on the way to Ketchikan.

There’s still a qualifying stage from Port Townsend to Victoria, but when you leave from Victoria your next thing is to make it engineless to Bella Bella by any means necessary.

You can still go via Seymour Narrows, you just don’t have to. Consider it an open relationship.

Are you a tidal Jedi who’s found a current hack to shoot through some back channel like it was a log ride?
Have at it.Feel like bashing into the full force of the Pacific Ocean and clawing off 200 miles of a rocky lee shore?
Be our guest.Are you going to skip the complicated part and just portage your kayak the length of Vancouver Island before heading north?
You’ll find your reservation under ‘Crazy person, party of one.’

There is still one race, still one prize (plus steak knives), and we still finish in Ketchikan. Now you can get there by going outside, inside, or inside-er; just make sure to pass through Bella Bella at some point and you’re good.

The Fine Print

With open ocean wave trains that start building strength in Japan, a rocky coast, and absolutely no people or rescue personnel, the west coast of Vancouver Island is even less of a joke than the bear-infested cold waters of the Inside Passage. While we like audacity, we also consider ourselves Darwin’s bouncers and try not to encourage bad judgement. Teams wishing to have the option for an outside route will be vetted under an additional layer of scrutiny, and will need to comply with US Sailing’s crew and equipment requirements for a Category 1 offshore race (other than the having an engine part.)

In other words, a hard no for SUPs, Hobie Ocean Islands, and the rest of the rowboat navy.

If you are applying and want to be considered for an outside route, you’ll need to indicate that on your application.

The other thing is that now all teams, even the ones on the inside routes, are required to have a PLB or an EPIRB onboard. Because Canada said so.

Read to apply? Click here.