The 2024 celebration of the weirdest, wildest, most wonderful adventurers has crossed Juan de Fuca and now heads north.

I love R2AK, have from the jump. I was fortunate to be on scene for the sunrise start in Port Townsend. Then I got to cross the strait in big, white knuckle conditions even for our nearly-30-foot media boat, before hanging out around the summer-camp-boat-yard-party that is the docks in Victoria’s Inner Harbor during the R2AK layover. Good fun!

I returned home after the Stage 2 start with the same cup full of inspiration and FOMO that I’ve happily chugged with each running of this fun, funny, fascinating event. This year is different, and the same. The set of boats and sailors is captivating as ever, with my eye being drawn toward some of the more bizarre human powered craft as well as the sexy and shiny big fast sailboats. The Proving Ground was burly. Stage 2 has been characterized by unusually light breeze until this morning when, at last, it started to pick-up.

The rip-roaring slow-speed Victoria start. Photo by Joe Cline

There’s already too much to tell, and way more story yet to be written as the lead boats are just leaving Johnstone Strait and heading out into Queen Charlotte at the time of this writing. Of course, the back of the fleet’s intrigue is at least as strong as the front’s. And it’s a worthy note that there have been no drop-outs since Victoria… yet. The fleet is dispersed back as far as Nanaimo, where Team Barely Heumann’s 12-foot pedal pod has pulled in for a well earned rest and change of scenery.

You know this and you probably already are, but keep up to date with the tracker and the daily emails.

I got to know the media team a bit, and they’re awesome, and putting out great stuff. Each email features one video, but there’s lots more on social for those who partake. Here’s the most recent—a sweet little feature about one of R2AK ’24’s two teams made up entirely of teenagers.

As ever, the writing from R2AK High Command is telling the story in fun, hilarious, and engaging fashion. Here are a few snippets that capture the spirit:

Team Boogie Barge at the Port Townsend start. Photo by Joe Cline.
From Proving Ground, Day :

Team Boogie Barge. Holy shit and thank god…

From the jump, Team Boogie Barge’s four-person, human-powered contraption-fest was either a Bad News Bears favorite or a WTF All-Star. The first of its kind, and a concept years in the making, Boogie Barge’s boiled-down algebra is roughly: muscle + concept = fate.

30-foot custom pedal/row catamaran, four people, no sails, self-built, big waves. What could go wrong?

Somewhere between the all-night construction leading up to the starting line and the 6-foot waves, a weld failed on the crossbeam that served as 50% of the hardware keeping the two hulls together. Six hours in and 15 miles from the nearest shore.

Curse words.

From Proving Ground, Day 2:

This leaves us with Stage One’s final finisher: Team Barely Heumann; the can-do, human-powered anomaly that is rapidly rocketing into low-key fame as the hands-down, fan-favorite, best-version-of-slow amazing.

Let’s start with his boat. No way around it, it’s weird.

Team Barely Heumann’s 12-foot pedal boat. Photo by Joe Cline.

12 feet long, the production-built Nauticraft Escapade is a pedal craft that strikes the eye as a charismatic cross between a floating set of ski goggles and a human-powered suppository. We mean all of it, and especially the charismatic part. We don’t know how, but it looks like it’s smiling.

For people who care about the quaint and official, other versions of Team Barely Heumann’s self-contained capsule have delivered adventurers to the pedal-powered speed record across the English Channel.

Golf clap.

Call us gluten intolerant, but what Jim just did over the last 36 hours seems more impressive than the milk run between scones and croissants: 60 plus miles in five to six-foot waves in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, without support, nestled in everything he needs to exist for the next month or so. Sure he was last, more than a day later than the front of the pack. The Nauticraft toddles along at 3 knots, and only when you pedal. All of that wind in the Strait, and Jim’s 71-year-old frame just kept pushing. Waves were big, twice as tall as his boat, he’d disappear in the trough and pop back up on the other side. He’d surf down some, bash into others, and eventually learn that he needed to take them at 45-degree angles to keep it going and not roll over. After the trip to Dungeness’s relative protection, Jim spent hours (HOURS!) pedaling in mostly the wrong direction in order to keep the waves at a survivable angle.

When he hit the dock in Victoria, Team Barely Heumann got the largest cheer of them all.

Is he continuing? “I think I’ll keep going, but I’ll let you know.” All around him, teams were making repairs to everything. How did he fare on the smallest boat in the fleet? “I almost lost my hat.”

Team Sailor Swift’s Ross 930 in the foreground. Photo by Joe Cline.
From Stage 2, Day 1

For the rest of the daylight hours of Day One, the rest of the fleet made the most of the least nature had to offer. Sails up until it doesn’t make sense, then to the oars and pedals. Then sails again, then back to the muscles. Then back again. And again. And again. Three hours into Stage One maintaining race speed called for humble flexibility.

If you’ve never rowed a racing sailboat, it’s a little like washing your only pair of underwear in your motel room’s bathroom sink: you can do it if you have to, but it feels like exposed failure, and at least a little shameful; especially when you go to brush your teeth. It’s necessary and practical, but no one wants it on their Instagram.

The exception to the rule might be Team Sailor Swift’s rare, but emerging practice of grilling while rowing. There aren’t many applications in competitive rowing where GrillrowingTM is possible, let alone practical, but it surprisingly is when you find yourself at the center of the Venn diagram of zero wind, on a Race to Alaska sailboat, before the chicken goes bad.

From Stage 2, Day 2:

Team Roscoe Pickle Train’s drive broke and was fixed. Twice. They also broke whatever hope and innocence was left in R2AK’s high command.

Let us set the scene: the final embers of a gorgeous sunset, in one of the most stunning bits of scenery on the planet. Sailing along and out on the trapeze, the talented armpit fart that is Team Rosco Pickle Train decided to enter themselves in the record books with three simultaneous firsts:

  1. Take a crap while in the trapeze.
  2. Film it.
  3. Send it to us.

It started ok, a well composed shot of someone’s silhouette backlit by the sunset.  Then the silhouette grew a silhouetted tail, then the tail fell off, and then we vomited.

It was the best executed version of The Worst Thing. Simultaneously innovative and reductive, it required a level of teamwork that until this point had never been considered possible. Someone had to sail, someone had to do it, and another had to film. Say what you will about Gen Z, but they are collaborative. And no, we are not sharing that video. Absolutely not. We’re throwing ourselves on that like it’s a grenade. We’re pretty sure we got pinkeye just from watching.

Team Roscoe Pickle Train. Photo by Joe Cline.

So, with it’s rare combination of sass and satire, heart and unambiguously riveting adventure, inspiration and irreverence—R2AK is off. And while it was great to see it live and in person, it’s also good to assume the natural R2AK fan’s posture: living vicariously from the armchair, one tracker refresh at a time.

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