Adventure sailing might be the purest form of our sport, testing the skills of the mariner against the power of the wind and sea. Many people have been captivated by the Race to Alaska (R2AK), which traces the route and spirit of the Vancouver Expedition up the Inside Passage. Competitors put their skills and human- or sail-powered craft to the test in desolate, remote areas, where technology often fails and you go way beyond the safety net. More than the event itself, R2AK presents a venue for creative boat design and innovation. Selecting or adapting a boat “requires imagination, earnest effort in solving the riddle of what is the right boat,” said Jake Beattie, Executive Director at NW Maritime in Port Townsend.

Watch a video about the R2AK boats:


The design challenge is a complex one. Criteria for a good adventure boat include:
• Light weight
• Good stability in rough water
• Protection from the elements and place to sleep
• Stowage for keeping belongings dry
• Traveling well under sail and human power

The most curious aspect? What strategy is best to get a person from point A to point B efficiently—but also in safety.


This kayak-turned-windsurfer is ready for the R2AK.

Modified Multihulls

Looking at the R2AK race tracker, mid-race, multihulls appeared to be the best performers. And there are plenty of people choosing this boat type – from the Hobie, C-Class, Windrider 17, and Nacra 570 catamarans, to the Multi 23, L7, and F-boat trimarans. Check out some of these multi-hulls here). It's obvious why. They have low drag and light weight. Adding human propulsion is relatively easy with either a recumbent-type bike setup driving a propeller, a Hobie Mirage drive, or sweep oars. The netting also provides a large area for solar panels, to charge the sat phones and nav gear.

mirage drive

The innovative Hobie Mirage drive has been installed here, on the stern of Team Uncruise’s F24 trimaran.

Pacific Proa

This is the modern version of the traditional outrigger boat typically associated with the islands of the Pacific. With a main hull and an outrigger, the Proa provides lower weight, and less wetted surface. Paul Bieker, who designed the foils for the Oracle America’s Cup boat, designed the Proa in the Race to Alaska with small cabin to leeward and propeller drive unit fitting into the centerboard casing.


This schematic of the Proa shows the innovative single outrigger and sail-plan. (Image courtesy of R2AK).

A radical concept that’s hard to get your head around is that the boat does not tack. It ‘shunts’ back and forth by rotating the rig, not the boat. This one’s so unusual, it’s easy to become enamored with the audacity of this craft.

Rowing Camp Cruiser

Not to be outdone by the crazy multihulls, there are also some more traditional boats that I think of as at the heart of adventure sailing. They are not unlike the boats that Shackleton used to row for help out of the frozen ice pack. We've reviewed several of these boats, called Camp Cruisers.

Some of the craft that made it the start line in Port Townsend included a Mirror dinghy, Core Sound 17, West Wight Potter, and the renowned east coast workboat designed Swamscott Dory. One standout boat that caught my eye was the Montgomery 17. Equipped with sliding rowing position and oars that look like they were stolen from the local rowing club, this is a slower but likely a more reliable option.

montgomery 17

A Montgomery 17 camp cruiser at the dock, along with sweeps and oarlocks attached.

Sailing Kayak

For the complete madman, try the single-person sailing kayak setup. The Hobie Adventure Island is the main choice in this category, but there are also interesting unique designs like the Triak S2. These boats are simple and lightweight, with sail and paddle or pedal options. They seem like the best overall craft on paper—so long as the participant can stomach long periods of being alone and sitting in damp conditions.


This modified Hobie Adventure Island is stuffed with provisions and gear, ready for the R2AK start.

Comparison of the adventure boats shows quite a difference in their specs:
BoatPacific ProaFarrier  F-25c CatamaranMontgomery 17 monohull Hobie Adventure Island kayak
Length32’ 8”26’ 11”17′ 2″16’ 7”
Beam21’19’7′ 4″9’ 6”
Draft min/max1’ 2” / 5’ 7”10” / 4’ 5”1′ 9″ / 3′5”
Weight1863 lbs1760 lb1600 lb142 lb
Sail Area313 sq ft440 sq154 sq ft65 sq ft


Final Thoughts

Now that the race is complete, it's clear that the catamaran ended up being the best bet for the R2AK. Perhaps this was a safe prediction. But while these boats are fast, they are also delicate and require constant attention to avoid going turtle or breaking the gear. Completing an adventure successfully can be as much about seamanship and quality of the build and equipment as about top boat speed.

Read more about these innovative craft on the Race to Alaska website.