BOYNE CITY — It’s known as the “Iditarod on a boat,” and the grueling 750-mile Race to Alaska is the next challenge for two area sailors.

Adventure sailors Heather Jankens of Omena and Homer Williams of Boyne City join four other crew members in the race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Starting guns go off June 5.

The no-motors, no-support criteria tests crews to the limit.

“It’s about getting out there and pushing yourself and seeing what you can do.” said Jankens, the Unsalted Nuts team skipper.

The first 40-mile leg from Port Townsend to Victoria, British Columbia crosses open water, shipping lanes and the international border. After that, the course is up to individual teams.

Jankens acknowledges the unforgiving waters are fraught with danger. Hazards range from extreme weather to whirlpools, killer whales, floating debris and tidal currents. But the course is equally soaked in stunning scenery.

All race applicants must demonstrate competency in order to compete for the $10,000 prize.

“They want to make sure it’s not your first rodeo,” Jankens said. “You have to have sailing experience and an adventure resume on or off the water showing you can handle changing conditions.”

Homer Williams was given his first sailboat at age 7 and has been sailing ever since. He describes high sea sailing adventures as a balance of thrills and the amazing.

“When you do something like this, everything else in life seems easier,” he said.

In 2019, Jankens, Williams and Greg Flanigan of Baltimore participated in the eight-day Kraken Cup racing from the tip of Zanzibar Island to mainland Africa. The Unsalted Nuts full crew shared connections-by-experience crewing the Draken Harald Hårfagre, the world’s largest Viking longship built in modern times. The ship tours the world keeping alive the Viking legacy.

Baltimore residents Greg and John Flanigan, Michael Breske of Florida and Pelayo Secades of Norway complete the R2AK crew.

Their vessel for the race is the Sabrosa, a 2006 Henderson 30 which the crew defines as a lean, mean, speed machine. The plan is to sail nonstop with the expectation of reaching Ketchikan in seven to nine days.

The land support crew includes Jenny Newell.

Newell is a former Beulah resident currently residing in Los Angeles and will transport Sabrosa’s trailer from Port Townsend through the wilds of British Columbia to meet the crew in Ketchikan, a 1,100-mile journey.

Newell pointed out that the event is a challenge on both land and sea.

“Life is short,” she said. “Anytime you’re given an opportunity, you should seize it.”

The Unsalted Nuts estimate the cost of participating in the R2AK is roughly $20,000, excluding the vessel purchase. They hope for support in raising funds to benefit Traverse City’s Maritime Heritage Alliance. Donations will specifically support the Alliance’s schooner Madeline, built, crewed and maintained by volunteers. Since being launched in 1990, the Madeline has served as Traverse City and Michigan’s goodwill ambassador traveling to more than 80 ports to bring awareness to maritime history.

“Expenses for wooden vessels have gone through the roof,” said Jankens who serves as MHA’s executive coordinator. “Supporting Madeline is supporting the power of a dream we all have for passing on the tradition.”

Donations may be made directly to MHA or at

Follow the team’s race progress beginning June 5 at the Race to Alaska website, or check out the team Facebook page for updates.

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