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All Manner Of Waterborne Entries On Starting Line Of Race To Alaska

It was so memorable they had to do it again. The 750-mile Race to Alaska is back for a second year as 43 teams of sailors, rowers and paddlers prepare to set off from Port Townsend, Washington at 6 a.m. on Thursday.

As was the case last June, the Race to Alaska takes place in two stages. The first stretch from Port Townsend to Victoria, B.C., serves as a qualifying segment. Racers must finish this stage in timely fashion and without help to proceed to the re-start at noon on Sunday for the onward race to Ketchikan.

Any size boat with any size crew can compete as long as it has no motor and can get to Ketchikan without support. Entries range from racing catamarans and comfortable trimarans, to sloops, veritable dinghies, several kayaks and one stand up paddleboard.

Then there's the 28-foot, open dory Jill Russell will help row to Alaska as captain of Team Kraken Up. Russell said the eight member, all female crew is prepared for hardship.

"For us it was more about pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone and really embracing the adventure,” she said. “So we thought, what is the most ridiculous, hard way we could do this race? We found the boat that kind of matched our paradigm."

Last year’s winner reached the finish line in five days. Russell hopes to row there in around two weeks.

Race co-founder Jake Beattie last year made the comparison to another great Alaska race.

“It’s the easiest way to sum it up still, yeah,” he said Wednesday. "It’s the Iditarod with a chance of drowning.”

Beattie directs the Northwest Maritime Center, which organizes the Race to Alaska.

“What’s still true is that even though the faster teams are getting faster -- we have some really fast boats and we have some incredibly elite sailors -- we still have a lot of folks who are entering the race not to win, but just to do something incredible,” Beattie said.

Beattie said the first sail or human-powered team to reach Ketchikan again wins $10,000. Second place gets a set of steak knives.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.