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No-motor race to Alaska begins, with $10,000 and steak knives on the line

The race's first stop is Victoria Harbour — you can see the boats at the docks in front of the Empress on Wednesday, before contestants depart for Alaska at noon on Thursday.
Kayaker Scott Macdonald is aiming to complete the 1,200-kilometre race to Ketchikan, Alaska, in about 18 days. VIA SCOTT MACDONALD

The 7th Race to Alaska starts Monday in Port Townsend, Washington, with the first leg putting competitors in Victoria before the long journey to the 49th state continues on Thursday.

The brains behind the event, which requires that entries have no engines, is Port Townsend’s Jake Beattie.

Beattie, chief executive of the non-profit Northwest Maritime Centre, said the race attracts a tough bunch of people — but not him.

“It’s a horrible idea,” he said, laughing. “I’m the kid who dares people to lick the flag pole, I don’t lick it myself.”

The race is a 1,200-kilometre challenge that ends in Ketchikan, Alaska, and this year has 39 teams in the mix. Creating the event came out of Beattie’s affection for the beauty of this part of the Pacific coast.

“We live in a pretty special part of the world,” he said. “It’s an amazing thing to experience this coast, and to do it without an engine is really to be in concert with it.

“It’s to have a relationship with all the natural forces.”

Sailboats have always won, with an assortment of kayaks, rowboats and other means of transport also part of the field.

The winning team gets $10,000, while the second finisher gets … a set of steak knives.

“There’s a lot of people who are actually racing just for the steak knives,” Beattie said.

One person who could use another set is 29-year-old Scott Macdonald of Victoria, who will take on the race in a kayak — a 17.5-foot NDK Explorer loaned to him by Blue Dog Kayaking of Mill Bay.

“I’ve got a set of knives but some new ones would be good,” he quipped.

He said he has been keeping an eye on the race for awhile and finally decided to take it on.

“This is the first year I felt like I actually had the skill set to complete it.”

That’s thanks in part to taking up kayaking in earnest about two-and-a-half years ago, and it doesn’t hurt that he used to be an aspiring Olympic rower.

“I have some comfort in open water and rough water,” said Macdonald, who works as an optical engineer at the Herzberg Institute in Saanich.

He said that the course tends to take three to four days by sail, but he is aiming for about 18 days in his kayak.

“I’m hoping to do about 60 kilometres a day.”

There is a significant attrition rate in the race, he said, and it is highest for solo entrants. In 2022, 19 of 41 entrants finished.

Winning or losing is not the point, Beattie said.

“It’s a real challenge to get there, and getting there is the prize.”

This year’s race will be the first that sees the top-finishing human-powered vessel, like a kayak or rowboat, in line for $1,000.

Beattie said that the real meaning of the race was shown a few years ago when a paddle boarder wound up in an impressive 13th place.

“That’s all anyone talked about that year,” he said. “No one can tell you who won, but everyone knows Team Heart of Gold did it on a paddle board.”

He said that Monday’s opening leg requires competitors to get from Port Townsend to Victoria in 36 hours without getting rescued. Start time is 5 a.m.

Completing the 64 kilometres from Port Townsend to Victoria — known as the “proving ground” — is all some people really want to do, Beattie said

“Not all of them are even trying to get all the way to Alaska.”

Entrants will be at the docks in front of the Fairmont Empress Hotel on Wednesday for a 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. public drop-in, then will be back on their way Thursday with a mass start at noon. All of them will start from Government Street and make a quick sprint to their vessels, Macdonald said.

“I’ve witnessed the start a couple of times and there’s great energy,” he said.

He is using his participation to raise money for KidSport Greater Victoria, which helps youth needing financial assistance to get involved in sports.

Donations can be made at

[email protected]

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