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R2AK 2018: Northward Ho!

by Norris Comer

Team Wright Yachts on Ruf Duck. Photo: Jan Anderson

By Norris Comer
The Race to Alaska (R2AK) 2018 begins on June 14 at 0500 hours in Port Townsend, Washington. What’s the status of Team Wright Yachts and our managing editor who’s a team member?

SSometime during November of 1785, Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the poem To a Mouse from which John Steinbeck drew inspiration for his American classic Of Mice and Men over 100 years later. A farmer accidentally destroys a mouse’s den in the field with his plow. As the “wee, cleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie” runs to and fro in apparent disbelief and horror at the random destruction of her well-crafted burrow, the farmer reflects (modern translation):

That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!”

So goes that mouse’s burrow, so goes Team Wright Yacht’s original R2AK schemes as we adapt our plans. Now the R2AK starting gun is upon us! To the reader, there’s a good chance that you will read this when we are fighting a nightmarish tidal swing in the fog somewhere off the British Columbia coast. In a sense, this entry of our ongoing R2AK adventure is a time capsule from our team’s status and inner workings from the few weeks before the race begins. I look forward to reading this again from the finish line, but I also nervously bite my lip at the thought of eating my words after washing out despite our best laid schemes.


Followers of this saga will recall that much of the last entry from the April 2018 issue feature The Journey was spent training with hospitable members of the Northwest Multihull Association (NMA) while our racing vessel was coming together in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) in Vietnam. Our boat, a Corsair 970 Sport, is one of Corsair Marine International’s newer racing builds with roots in Farrier designs, which have done well in R2AK’s of yore. The Journey summarized an exciting trip to Vietnam in March where I finally got to see our trusty build, dubbed Wright 1 by Wright Yachts owner and team sponsor Rob Wright; its completion and shipping to the states imminent.

As I write this mere weeks from June 14, Wright 1 is a handful of days off the West Coast in a shipping container on a cargo ship. What’s with the delay? Part of it is the reality of life as a yacht broker. Our team is essentially taking Wright’s inventory for a 750-mile joyride for this race, and we are subject to the same paperwork themed delays that yacht brokers reading will empathize with.

“It didn’t help that I fit a Corsair Pulse 600 onto the order as well,” says Wright. “As a broker, it’s nice to save on shipping costs, but I certainly didn’t anticipate all the additional behind-the-scenes delays in getting Wright 1 over here!”

Wright 1

Wright 1 is seen here at her birthplace in Corsair factory in Vietnam with a brand-new wrap job to look extra sporting. Red is also a highly visible color in case we need the Coasties (knock on wood).

Fortunately, once Wright 1 does get here, we’re all hands-on deck for commissioning and have the logistics squared away with iconic Ballard boatyard CSR Marine Services in Seattle, Washington.

“Nigel Barron [a manager at CSR] heard I was doing the race,” recalls Team Wright Yachts teammate Scott Wallingford with a grin. “He just shook his head and said, ‘You ****ing idiot.’ Ha!”


Although it is tempting to sit on our butts and stress inhale beers in our unofficial office, the Sloop Tavern, while we wait for Wright 1, we’ve been advancing our chess pieces as much as possible in the meanwhile. We even raced NMA Commodore Jeff Oaklief’s trimaran Ruf Duck too hard in the Blakely Rock Race of the Center Sound Series race back in March and tore the jib and main. Readers who were involved with that race will recall the 25+ knot gusts, heavy fog, and drizzling rain. Although a disaster for an owner’s pocketbook, as far as R2AK training value is concerned, races like this one are ideal. Throwing in reefs during high winds, wrestling with jib sheets on the loose, learning to communicate loudly yet calmly, and maintaining an unconquerable upbeat attitude are all vital R2AK skill sets.

With Oaklief’s Ruf Duck out of commission, NMA’s Vince DePillis stepped up to get us on the water and our trimaran hours up. Many an afternoon was spent at “Vince’s Sailing School” where I learned the subtle art of the butt scootch with the extra-long tiller in-hand, the quirks of running downwind in a tri, how to pop the sails to free when the long batons catch on the rigging during low-wind tacks, what a Barbara hauler is, and the list goes on.

Spinnakers were raised and lowered on a whim and reefing maneuvers called spontaneously. Feedback has become nitpicky, the tricks more advanced. Multihull greenhorns, we no longer be.


Once upon a time, I wrote our R2AK team announcement feature article in the January 2018 issue Team Supreme and I exalted the human-powered contraption that we were cooking up. At the time, our teammate and local genius Li Sung, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington’s Ocean Engineering program and Navy officer, was in communication with the ace Australian and Vietnamese craftsmen at the Corsair Marine International factory. Elaborate, multiple-peddle drive systems were envisioned as the sketches piled up.

“This thing is going to rival the International Space Station!” I’d declare to anybody who was curious. Wee tim’rous beastie, indeed.

Northwest Multihull Association

The Northwest Multihull Association is a nonprofit club for sailors, builders, racers, and dreamers of multihull sailing craft. The active community holds monthly meetings with potluck faire and relevant speakers at the Puget Sound Yacht Club on the first Tuesday of every month. The annual membership due, only $30 for first-timers, includes a Fisheries Supply discount, access to the club’s racing community, cruising rendezvous, and membership into a family united by a love of multihull sailing of all stripes. If interested, check out their website at nwmultihull.org.

Northwest Multihull Association

Flash forward to now, and our lofty ambitions have come to Earth. Turns out, PhD students are a busy lot and factories across the Pacific are difficult to coordinate with. What we have now is a more basic, but certainly effective, transom-mounted unit that relies upon a pre-fabricated Sea Cycle Water Bike drive.

Sea Cycles are made in Michigan and, while primarily geared toward lighter day-use kayaks and catamarans, should get the job done nicely. We are hoping for breezy conditions this year, where the racing-oriented Corsair 970 Sport should be able to strut her stuff properly.

“We’re hitting the ellipticals,” says Sung. “I’ve been aiming to dish out 150 kWh per 30 minutes as a goal.” In other words, regardless of how we fair in the race, we should have some nice glutes to show off to the ladies at the Alaskan beaches.


While our absent boat and evolving human-powered element have kept our hands wringing, the other factors of the race are not to be neglected. These finer points, like what kind of food we’re packing, our personal gear items, sleep rotations, charting potential courses, strategies, and more are firmly in our immediate control.

“Scott is kind of the foodie of the team,” jokes Sung. “Let’s just get a bunch of freeze-dried stuff, add hot water, and boom! Think of all that saved weight, right?”

“I just want to eat right and stay in a good mood,” says Scott. “Boil a bunch of eggs, throw together some simple recipes. What’s wrong with real spaghetti and meatballs!?”

These kinds of details are largely in the Confidential folder as of now, as this magazine issue hits the racks with two or so weeks to spare before the starting gun. Rest assured, we will report on these finer points in detail post Ketchikan. As far as personal gear is concerned, we are cross-referencing the official R2AK recommended gear list with the official Swiftsure International Yacht Race personal gear list. These two resources, built out of years of collective on-the-water learning, should keep us as safe as we can realistically be.


When I talk strategy, I invariably drift again toward the Confidential folder. However, it is safe to say that we are taking notes from the experiences from past teams. For the curious, r2ak.com is an incredible resource for information about this year’s race to graphics of hard numbers from previous years. Kudos goes to Anthony Gould of Tableau Public for his visualizations of useful data from graphs to heat maps.

The top five teams of R2AK history (listed first to fifth: MAD Dog Racing [2016], Pure & Wild/Freeburd [2017], Big Broderna [2017], Skiff Foundation Jungle Kitty [2016], and Big Broderna [2016]) all had some key common traits and tactics worth looking at. Firstly, all of them have a length overall of over 30’ save for last year’s winners, Pure & Wid/Freeburd that was aboard a 28’ Custom Tetzlaff trimaran not unlike our Corsair 970 Sport. With a length overall of 31’10” and modern touches like large floats and a carbon fiber racing mast, our boat should be among her peers as a top performer. Big Broderna, that’s been a top finisher in both 2016 and 2017, uses a similar Corsair 31-R trimaran (skippered by Nels Stranberg) that Wright 1 should be comparable to.

R2AK 2018: Team Wright Yachts

Left to right: Team Wright Yachts crewmember Scott Wallingford getting a feel for the long tiller shaft; Li Sung picking up driving tips from NMA Commodore Jeff Oaklief; A cruel day training aboard Ruf Duck.

Interestingly, two of the top five finishers are not trimarans, although they appear largely surrounded by trimarans in the overall rankings. MAD Dog Racing, a 32’ Marstrom Catamaran, has secured itself as a R2AK legend as the top finisher.

R2AK 2018: Follow Along!

When I last wrote about this year’s race in the April 2018 issue, a total of 23 teams were registered. As I write this now in mid-May, that number has ballooned to 38 registered teams, making for a much more competitive field. Teams range from paddleboarders like Steve Rhoades of Team Extreme Sobriety on a Blakeley Board SUP to Team Ziska, the longest vessel at 38’ (a monohull Morecambe Bay Prawner). Check out the teams and their stories on r2ak.com! What’s more, every team carries a tracker that uploads their location onto a live-action map in real time on the website, so you can follow along with the action during the race from the comfort of home.

Big Broderna at R2AK 2017, Photo: Katrina Zoë Norbom

With no cabin and an extremely light, pure racing design, it really was first or last for the team when they made the record time of 3 days, 20 hours, and 11 minutes in 2016. MAD Dog’s time still stands uncontested, with Pure & Wild/Freeburd coming in second at 4 days, 3 hours, and 5 minutes last year. For context, Big Broderna came in a heartbreaking six minutes behind Pure & Wild/Freeburd last year, and the other rankings are all minutes or a couple of hours apart. For the curious, no, Big Broderna is not slated to race in 2018 in a third-time’s-a-charm attempt (at the time of this writing at least).

Another interesting statistic is that seven of the top ten finishers raced in 2016. To me, this suggests either a breezy year or a batch of exceptional teams (or both). For Team Wright Yachts, this translates to us training more to be exceptional and offering many sacrifices to the wind gods.

As far as strategy goes, the majority of the top performers spent no to minimal time at anchor and put in consistent progress at all hours of the day in all manner of conditions. For our three-man skeleton crew, keeping the boat competitive while getting enough rest to sustain us for multiple days will be critical to success.


By the time you read this, Wright 1 will be on Puget Sound waters, shiny and new. Scott and I (and Li if we can talk him into it) should be living aboard, fitting in sailing sessions before work in the morning and in the evenings before bed. We’ve got a few multi-day, against the tide challenges we’re scheming. We’ll be pouring over charts, checking weather, loading rations, and kissing our loved ones goodbye (hopefully not forever).

What’s a plan if not a work in progress, anyway? Sure, we may resemble the wee tim’rous mouse from Burn’s poem with our original schemes destroyed. But that mouse didn’t die in the poem, and I like to think she took a calm, reflective moment before building a better, plow-proof nest for an even more comfortable weathering of the coming winter. We of Team Wright Yachts endeavor to do the same. Wish us luck!

Read the full story on Issuu

Additional photos provided by Jan Anderson (Ruf Duck) and Katrina Zoë Norbom (Big Broderna).

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