Olivia Lord, R2AK warrior

The crew of Mongoose underway. Photo courtesy Olivia Lord

September 2022

By Marilyn Pond Brigham

Shortly after I was asked to review the “Race to Alaska” movie for Points East, I came upon a bit of serendipity. My yacht club’s weekly email included a brief note that not only were a couple of members participating in the 635-mile Newport Bermuda Race, but one of the Club’s members was participating in the slightly less-known 750-mile Race to Alaska (R2AK). What a “small world.”

Olivia Lord was one of three R2AK sailors in Mongoose, which began the race on June 13th at 5 a.m. and completed it on July 7th at 11:45 p.m. By way of background, Olivia honed her sailing skills at Quissett Yacht Club, became one of their sailing instructors, competed as an undergrad with the Brown University sailing team, participated in Sea Education voyages in the South Pacific and currently is a licensed captain and lead instructor for Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Spruce Head, Maine.

We connected via email just after Olivia and her crewmates on the team “Sockeye Voyages” completed the race. She emailed me from the Ketchikan Fish House about her travel plans to return home to Cambridge via air and relax with family. Then she’d be back to work at Outward Bound in Maine. When we finally spoke, I could have chatted with Olivia all evening. She was very generous with her time, explaining with great enthusiasm her motivations for embarking on the race, her boat and its features, and some of the highs and lows of the excursion.

Olivia was anxious to participate in the R2AK to challenge herself. “No matter the individual’s life experience or background, the Inside Passage and the rules of the R2AK require participants to push their limits and accept a degree of uncertainty in the outcome of their pursuit,” she said. She hoped that through her participation she’d become a better mariner, benefit from a deeper understanding of nature’s patterns, and be empowered to share with others her experiences to encourage them to deepen their curiosity and seek out challenges towards self-discovery.

Olivia and her two teammates, Sockeye and Tara, sailed Sockeye’s Mongoose, a 23’ 6’’ Bolger Scooner, which was modified by adding amas outriggers that turned Mongoose into a trimaran. A sliding seat rowing station for the human-powered propulsion was installed forward. Remember, the race does not allow motorization.

Olivia indicated they rowed 90% of their race days. The amas improved stability in heavy winds and seas, preventing the boat from heeling and taking water over the rails. With a small boat, they had the advantage of being close to the elements and the ability to stay in tune with subtle shifts in water and wind. They often anchored to rest at night; and with a small boat, they could beach to make any necessary repairs.

Olivia found the company and support of loved ones, fellow R2AK racers and total strangers met along the route to be the best memories and experiences.

Friends and family traveled to Port Townsend, Washington, to “send her off” at the start of the race. She said, “Each racer’s journey is made possible by a community of support and belief in the endeavor, and each individual entering the race has people rooting for them to succeed whatever that form of success looks like to them.” Fellow racers also offered camaraderie and shared in the spirit of the race. While no formal support is allowed during the race, the unscheduled support of total strangers is. For Olivia, that support was both inspiring and rejuvenating. Warm soup, cheesecake and a beer or two offered by a couple of Nordic tugs in the Inland Passage were most appreciated. And their conversation, encouragement and camaraderie were treasured.

She shared, “Hard moments are impossible to avoid in the R2AK, and so every racer enters with the knowledge that they will be stepping into discomfort and experiencing growth through hardship. The hardest moments are born through the exhaustion, vulnerability, and inevitably, the fear that every racer faces at salient points in the race.”

Olivia believes, “The time we spend in the wild, outdoor places allows us to connect with nature, but also allows us to become better observers, problem-solvers and caretakers of our world and ourselves.”

It sounds like Olivia has returned to Maine from Alaska with some wonderful memories, a sense of accomplishment, and probably, though she did not mention it, some new calluses from all that rowing. Hearty congratulations to her and her teammates, for a successful race and challenges, met.