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Third Time Proves To Be The Charm

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  • Third Time Proves To Be The Charm


    June 18, 2024
    The world of media coverage needs things simple. Life is complicated. Depending on how you tilt your head, today’s top story was both. After somewhere between five days and nine years of hard-fought effort, Team Malolo crossed the line and rang in their rightful place in the annals of R2AK.

    It would be easy to chalk up Team Malolo’s early afternoon 5 day, 3 hour, and whatever minute victory of this year’s R2AK as a moment in isolation; yes they rang the bell, yes they only officially joined forces in a “You in? Sure!” moment just weeks before the race’s April 15 application cutoff. Truth is, the bell ringing moment on the dock that we’ll get to a few paragraphs down was parbaked in 2016 when a wet and bedraggled Duncan Gladman hit the dock after a 5th-place finish with Team MOB Mentality. Whether he knew it or not in the moment, after riding a southerly gale up Hecate Strait, he looked up, exhausted from his waterlogged dry suit, and set his sights on something more.

    Not long after he had warmed up and showered off the adrenaline, he and a syndicate found a boat halfway across the globe they thought would be the ultimate R2AK steed to ride to glory. They brought it to the PNW, then raced it to almost-glory in 2019 when a log strike at 20 knots in Hecate cost them the lead and was the difference between first and steak knives. In 2022’s year of record logs, they stove in a hull and were forced to tap out in Comox, less than 100 miles from where they started.

    Any normal person would swear loudly, drink heavily, sell the boat, walk inland, and find a new hobby. Rather than taking up crochet, golf, or model trainery, Duncan and crew kept grinding, working out the kinks—years of training, maintenance, and running the trapline of local races. For years, a pandemic, and then some.

    Today, after five days and change, 15-hour stretches on the bike, and some of the most violent seas they’ve ever sailed in, Team Malolo found themselves 90 miles ahead of the closest competitor, sailing downwind, in the sun on one of Ketchikan’s allotted four non-rainy days a year—as close to an R2AK Triple Crown as one can get. The only thing between them and Ketchikan was the fleet of Baranof Fishing guide boats (R2AK sponsor since day one, and the best fishing guide service in town) that deviated their course to offer cheers of adulation, the Dubai oligarch megayacht who denied claims of being a support boat, a humpback whale, and two deer swimming to Metlakatla. Alaska AF. Through it all, Team Malolo was full send, flying their 1.5 spinnaker, “White Death,” at 13+ knots in Nichols Passage, then rounded the corner into the finish line at Thomas Basin.

    The scene in Ketchikan was expectant, if sometimes surprised. If you haven’t been, K-Town is filled with two types of people:

    The 13,000 residents
    The daily load of 13,000+ bumbling, slow-walking, selfie-sticked tourists who offload and reload daily from the cruise ships.
    The 50+ people who greeted Team Malolo’s finish on the docks ran the gamut. Long time R2AK race fans, R2AK family and friends (including several R2AK alumni from the class of 2016), and the enthusiastic newcomers who learned of the race and became instant fans within the previous 15 minutes. “This is so dope!!” acclaimed a new-found fan and cruise ship excursion bus driver who was dragged down by his friend and became an instant groupie. “I got to go on their boat, my coworkers are going to be so jealous!’‘ exclaimed another KTN seasonal who went from “My mom told me to come” to superfan within 50–100 nanoseconds of the finish.

    There were the fish guides, the longtime fans, and the one partially drunk guy who bombed the photo shoot to hand out drink tokens to a local bar in a supportive, but light slur: “I followed you all the way from Port Townsend.”

    Malolo greased the landing, rang the “bell,” and downshifted from five days of being an insular race crew focused on one single thing to Ketchikan’s newest public figures. So much media, so many fans, so many questions.

    How was the race?

    A lot of biking. A ridiculous amount and in a bad way. There was so little wind that they biked for 15 hours straight around Cape Caution. Unheard of, as it’s known for its storms and seas. This year: Peloton de Mar. They switched out every 30 minutes, for 15 hours, and their knees are feeling it.

    While their last two attempts were stopped by logs, this race they were more fortunate: “Dodged a few, took a couple between the hull and the amas, but never hit one.”

    Last time you raced you had three people, now you have four. Why, and how did you make up for the weight?

    Their team motto: “Every ounce counts and light is right.” Trimarans are as weight-sensitive as small planes—every pound is crucial. Serious tri sailors will saw the handles off their toothbrushes to save weight and pack perforated toilet paper. Team Malolo made a conscious choice to support human fatigue by adding a full human’s worth of weight, bold move. Adding another person doesn’t just add the +/- 150 pounds of the meat of a fit human and their allotted half of a toothbrush, but also the rest of their gear, food, and water to support them for a five-day trip. Around the buoys, Team Malolo races with three people, four water bottles, and (if possible) a cabin filled with helium balloon animals. Swap the balloons for an extra human and all their stuff for five days, and the added weight detracts from the designed performance of Dragon dramatically. At their weight, Team Malolo was not only going to sail 15% slower, but the added weight loaded up the rig and hulls beyond design specifications. Long story short: they were going to go slower, and more likely to break, but they would have the benefit of more crew to spread the load.

    They had calculated food and water weights, but not for the biking they ended up doing. Cycling burns more calories and sweats more water, and they ran through most of their water by the time they got to Campbell River. As much as one can take advantage of something they hoped to avoid, they watered up when they missed the tide gate at Seymour.

    How was Dixon Entrance? Why were you going so slow? Were you pedalling?

    Bad, waves, no. Dixon Entrance funnels the worst of the North Pacific swells against the outflow of several river systems, and the effect is bad on its best days, and boat-breaky/blow-chunky on its worst. On Team Malolo’s last night, it manifested in 8 to 12-foot, short-period seas. Winds astern, Malolo was dropping into troughs and stuffing their bows. It was so gnarly they throttled back to increase survivability. It was nasty, they were ahead, they knew they had to get the boat back to Victoria after and it would be for sale. With a horizon or two of lead between them and Team Brio, they made the prudent choice and sailed slowly through the moguls (the skiing kind, not the jackass on the mega yacht).

    What about this boat? What’s its story?

    Dragon is the best kind of New Zealand idea. A Kiwi Frankenboat of the highest order. Built in 1997 with a custom set of Steve Cochrane hulls that utilise a canting adaptation of an f-31 mast, lifting foils, and a cabin made from a sailing skiff turned upside down and glassed in. It’s the pinnacle of G’day mate innovative utilitarianism (and yes, Facebook, we did know “G’day mate” is an Aussie, not New Zealander phrase; we just thought we’d get a rise out of you. Fair dinkum).

    Why do the race at all? What will you do with the prize money?

    Other than “unfinished business,” Team Malolo never offered more to the “Why R2AK?” than a fancy tapdance amounting to: because it’s there. Save one, which is unlike any we have ever heard. Beyond the boat expenses, Duncan has a dog named Oscar, who, after several expensive processes from X-rays to CT scans, was recently diagnosed with elbow dysplasia in both front elbows. While it wasn’t expressed to the public beforehand, this race was a self-described “Race for Oscar,” and as of this afternoon, there are two of Oscar’s elbows that have the budget to be undisplasia-ed.

    What are their plans now?

    Team Malolo’s initial plans were to eat some Fish House fish and chips, drink a beer, then sleep—and that was all before 6 PM. Civilized and well deserved. They looked tired enough to sleep all the way to the finish line party 24 hours later, but they were up at 4 AM to welcome Team Brio across the line.


    When was the last time you spent seven years and several massive, public disappointments to reach a goal? As much as it was to skill and boat speed, Team Malolo’s win was a testament to tenacity. It was also a win for the people who “should” win on at least three fronts:

    They are great sailors, with day jobs. Despite the fancy veneer of their boat, it’s 30 years old. The members of Team Malolo grind out a living like most of us, so much so that Becky took a couple of work calls on the approach to Campbell River to keep her customers at Raven Marine Services happy and her 15 or so employees in paychecks despite her racing to Alaska. Like most of us, these are folks who find time to sail in the margins.

    They are legit nice people. In the history of this race, we’ve only met three assholes, and these folks aren’t among them. Standing invitation to Sunday dinner as far as we’re concerned. People on the docks kept coming to talk to them, and they kept interacting—bone tired as they were. Even the dog that peed on their hulls (not joking) was met with pets and ear rubs. Nicest set of winners you could hope for.

    They are Canadians. We called this thing Race to Alaska because “Race Through Canada” seemed as rude as it was accurate. The fact is that a conceptual 85% (don’t check our math) of the R2AK is Canadian, yet we have never had a single one stand in glory as the hands-down winner. Today we have four in an all-Canadian team. Pretty cool and about time. We’re voting for another national holiday.
    At time of writing, it’s 0-Dark-Thirty and the Team Brio pickup team just hit the dock in Ketchikan and ascended into the warm glow of steak knives. The 4 AM coffee is wearing off, and they deserve their day in the sun. More on Team Brio and the rest of the Day 6 finishers later. For now, bask in National Malolo Day.


    **We know the phrase is “Third time’s THE charm” but when have we ever followed the rules?

    Header photo by Rachel Bradley
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