One Sidney man, his tiny boat, and 750 miles alone on the water

Tim Penhallow will take part in the Race To Alaska next week with an engineless boat.

Tim Penhallow rebuilt and modified his boat last year

This year boater Tim Penhallow will take part in the Race To Alaska by himself in his engineless boat.

Last year Penhallow rode with Pat Buntain and the two finished 13th out of 15 — but only 15 had finished out of the 40-plus that started.

“It was a war of attrition.”

Put on by the Northwest Maritime Center, the race started last year with 60 boats during the qualifying leg from Port Townsend, Washington State, to Victoria.

That leg starts this year on June 23. Once people reach the inner harbour, and thereby qualifying for the big event, they get to rest up before  leaving Victoria on June 26 for Ketchikan, Alaska.

There are two waypoints on the racers’ journey. One is at Seymour Narrows and the other at Bella Bella. Other than that, there is no official course.

Anyone is welcome to compete in the race if they have a boat that is powered only by wind or by muscle.

“There was a guy in a kayak (last year). This year there’s a guy on a paddle board. There’s 60 foot yachts that have taken their engines out …” said Penhallow.

Last year Penhallow and his friend Buntain won what’s called the dirt bag award for the cheapest ride to make it to Ketchikan — the southern most town in Alaska.

“So we actually got a bag of dirt,” he said with a grin.

So why would Penhallow want to do this again, hundreds of miles in the cold water alone?

“It’s a great challenge. I’m a boat builder and we did it last year,” he said, adding that his friend can’t make it this year.

Penhallow said the boat he’s in has a sail but he just cant travel with the mast up. It’s the same vessel he and Buntain restored and modified last year, with some altercations for this year.

The race is simply a race, not a fundraising effort. The first place winner will receive $10,000 while the second boat in will win a set of steak knives.

“The winners last year did it in five days, we took 21,” said Penhallow.

When it comes time to sleep, Penhallow said there’s room in his boat, so there is no need to go ashore.

There will be somebody who leaves a week after the race starts, moving at three knots, catching up to anybody who can’t make it.

For safety precautions, Penhallow said each vessel gets a tracker. From the start of the race, the event website (r2ak.com) records minute by minute information on each boat, so people can follow their particular team.

With teams from all over the world competing, Penhallow said it’s the only race like this on the west coast.

“It’s very unusual to have an engineless boat race.”

Competing under his team name Can’t Anchor Us, Penhallow, despite riding solo this year, is ready.

“I feel that I’m fitter, I feel that I’m smarter and I feel that it’s going to be a much bigger challenge.”