Local sailors on race to Alaska

Gulf Islands team is youngest competing in endurance event

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A team of young sailors from the Gulf Islands are taking part in a 1,200-kilometre sailing race from Port Townsend, Wash to Ketchikan, Ala.

McGuffin Brothers Racing, made up of twins Callum and Cianan McGuffin along with their older brother Finn and friend Duncan MacDonald, set off early on Monday, June 3 for the fifth edition of the Race to Alaska. The event is “winner take all,” meaning the first team that arrives in Ketchikan gets a $10,000 USD cash prize. The second team gets a set of commemorative steak knives worth about $25. Besides a series of side bets that incentivize racers, all other finishers will come home with bragging rights.

“It’s a bit of an unusual race; you’re not allowed to have any motor in your boat at all,” said Callum McGuffin. “You can be human powered or sail powered, that’s all you’re allowed.”

The race is one of the longest such races in North America. Racers must be completely without help, and have to find their own route through the Inside Passage. Often, high winds and bad weather cause boats to drop out of the race. Racers spend much of their time alone, often without sleep.

The team is the youngest team in the event, with an aggregate age that is one-quarter of a year younger than their nearest competitor. Finn McGuffin is 23, Callum and Cianan are 19 and MacDonald is 16 years old. While the twins have spent considerable time on the water competing in sailing races across the coast, the other two members of the crew are relatively new to the sport. MacDonald hails from Wells, B.C., approximately 700 km from Vancouver, and started sailing around six months ago.

“It’s about as far away from the ocean as you could get,” MacDonald said. “I haven’t spent too much time on boats except for training with them, but I think it’ll be good.”

Traveling 1,200 km without a motor is a daunting task. The team will be sailing in a J/24 sailboat, which is 7.3 metres (24 feet) long. They will be using predominantly wind power to make their trek, but also have a human-powered propulsion system for when the wind stops.

“We got a pedal drive system, where we have a little pedestal set up on the side of the cockpit with a flexible driveshaft running to a propeller in the back,” Callum said. “When we’re pedalling hard, we can do around two knots on good days, 1.5 on bad days.”

During the race, the team will need to do all necessary repairs to their vessel, as well as keeping on top of all navigation, food supplies and anything else they may encounter. Despite the challenges, the team is confident in their abilities to finish in good time.

Once they reach Ketchikan, their journey will only be half over. Ketchikan is on a remote island in Alaska and the team will not have a ride home waiting for them. After arriving, they plan on turning back around and making the same trek home.

When asked what they plan on doing with the prize money if they win, the boys said they will use the money to buy a bigger boat. However, if they come home with steak knives, Cianan stands to benefit the most.

“I used to work as a meat cutter, so they said they would hire me back with extra pay if I got the steak knives. So there’s extra incentive.”

Those interested in following the race can do so using the live tracker at https://r2ak.com/.

For more on this story, see the June 5, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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