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    August 2018

    Young and Hungry: How 5 Teens Entered the 2018 Race to Alaska

    This race isn't for everyone

    Sailing 750 miles is not that impressive. Compared to distances sailed by the sailors in the Volvo Ocean Race, Vendee Globe, or even the Clipper races, 750 miles does not even put a wrinkle in the possibilities of where the boat can take you.

    Now let me take a couple steps back here… My name is William Blouin-Comeau. I’m a 21 year-old full-time business student and full-time sailor and adventurer. I started my journey in the world of sailing over 12 years ago and quickly fell in love with the emotions and feeling that this sport provided me. After spending a handful of year competing in regional, national, and international events, I switched my effort to adventure sailing and extreme sailing to attempt pushing the limits of this sport on the West Coast of Canada. And this year, I got served…

    Sailing 750 miles is, in some case, a huge challenge. Put yourself in a situation where you have to navigate some of the most complex waterways in the world, take your engine out and replace it with paddles, and now you have yourself a good serving of a stupid and challenging 750-mile race.

    This is exactly what the Race To Alaska (R2AK) is all about. Plain craziness.

    The Race 2 Alaska describes itself as follows: “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. There are squalls, killer whales, tidal currents that run upwards of 20 miles an hour, and some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. If this sounds like your brand of whiskey, R2AK is the race for you.”

    Starting in Port Townsend, Washington, the race drives participants all the way north, to Ketchikan, Alaska. What stands in between the two is a variety of narrows, tidal currents, unmarked islands, unpredictable weather patterns, and bears. Yes, you heard it right, bears. Those brown cute fluffy things that you see in movies and documentaries. Except, in this case, they are real and they are dangerous.

    So, why? Why do a race where most of the odds seemed stacked against you? A sane individual would most likely just laugh at the thought of it.

    Good thing I am not sane.

    Skipper Sean enjoying a good time on the boat

    Skipper Sean enjoying a good time on the boat with the crew he brought together.

    I committed to completing this race exactly one year ago, after competing in the “proving leg” of the race. A 30-mile prerequisite, so to say, that enables the race organizer to weed out those who would most likely not be able to make it all the way. I didn’t know when I’d be able to do it, but the opportunity came to me much faster than anticipated.

    Back in February 2018, I was contacted by another young, slightly insane sailor. Sean Grealish, an up and coming sailor from the US, was looking to build a team for this year’s edition of the race. Not only just a team but a team crewed by youth, all under 21 of age. If our team was to compete and complete the race, we would become the first and only youth team ever to do so.

    So of course, being young and dumb, Sean built a team and we set our sights on the wild adventure that we were about to embark on.

    Team BlueFlash on a J/88, a 29’2” monohull sailboat

    Team BlueFlash decide to undertake the R2AK on a J/88, a 29’2” monohull sailboat: this particular J/88 had already campaigned 8 major offshore races and won 5, making it one of the most successful in the world.

    What if we sink the boat?

    Preparation for this type of adventure is always a huge undertaking. Given that I was based in Vancouver, Canada and the boat (and rest of the crew), were mostly based out of Tacoma, Washington, the main preparation work was left to Sean and the rest of the crew. And boy, did they do an incredible job of getting everything ready.

    I’m not just talking about cleaning and polishing hulls here. I’m talking about hours and hours of preparation. From charting, food, boat modifications, and route planning, they covered it all. Our self-propulsion systems took many attempts to get working (remember, no motors in this race, only human power) and we only got it working days before the beginning of the race. Supplemented by 4 rowing stations, this pedal drive system, which replaced the inboard engine that was taken out, allowed us to travel at a respectable 2.5 knots. So, if there wasn’t any wind during the duration of the whole race, it would only take us 13 days to get there.

    Team BlueFlash chose rowers to propel the sailboat in the absence of wind

    Team BlueFlash chose rowers to propel the sailboat in the absence of wind. Photographer/racetoalaska.com

    Another important preparation piece was the holy “bailout” folder, a 20 page-long laminated set of instructions regarding the best places to abort the adventure in case things went sideways. Although we hoped never to use it, it was an important document to have on board as safety (it also basically highlighted the nearest island or rocks to swim to in case we hit a big enough log or ran aground…).

    So, we knew what we were up against, we had prepped for almost anything. Now we just had to jump in, set our sights to the north and go…

    Keep an eye out for Part 2 of Young and Dumb: How 5 teens completed the Race to Alaska (spoiler alert)! 

    Cheers and good vibes,

    William

    Team BlueFlash’s J/88 patiently awaits the start of the race at 4am

    The calm before the storm: Team BlueFlash’s J/88 patiently awaits the start of the race, at 4am the next morning.

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    Skagen Collection

    Tags: Sailing, Race to Alaska, R2AK, sailor, J88, monohull, youth, Team BlueFlash, racing, offshore

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