XTRATUF | JUNE 12, 2024

Notoriously rough and relentlessly beautiful, The Race to Alaska route is not for the faint of heart. R2AK shares the risks and rewards of this journey best, “You, a boat, a starting gun. $10,000 if you finish first, a set of steak knives if you’re second. Cathartic elation if you can simply complete the course. R2AK is a self-supported race with no supply drops and no safety net. Any boat without an engine can enter.” This week marks the official kick-off of the Race to Alaska and we’ll be rooting for all brave enough to take on the challenge, but we’re undoubtedly partial to Vancouver Island-based Team Orca in their Tufs. We caught up with the crew of two on their pre-race shakedown sail in the Howe Sound.


Kayleen VanderRee:

Kayleen grew up on her parent’s sailboat cruising the inside passage with the most remote waterways as her playground. Over her 32 years, she’s earned a few swallows. Most recently she’s completed the Clipper Route from Mexico to Canada in a 44-day passage on her sailboat. Most sane people ask “Why didn’t you stop in Hawaii?” Her response: For the challenge? Aside from tackling sailing challenges head-on, Kayleen works as a commercial scuba diver, meaning she spends more time on and in the water than on land. Salt runs in her veins.

Sylvia Watkins:

Sylvia joined Kayleen’s family on sailing adventures in her youth, including circumnavigating Vancouver Island, which she puked her way down the outside coast, all with a smile on her face. In more recent years, Sylvia is now Bridge Watch for BC Ferries northern route and a bear guide in the Broughton Archipelago. Sylvia knows the northern coast inside and out and has the certs to back it up. Don’t let her blonde hair and innocent blue eyes fool you, her grit and tenacity are feared by the saltiest of men.


Orca is a Santana 20, commonly used for day racing in lakes across North America. They are great light-wind sailors but sturdy enough to handle the beating the race course is going to give us. Our criteria when looking for a boat was to go small and simple, but big enough that it has a cabin that we can get out ofthe weather in.


Noting that this is their first race with this fair warning pre-signup - it’s a bit of insight into how passionate, dedicated and skilled these two sailors are. “This isn’t for everyone. It's like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear. There are squalls, killer whales, tidal currents that run upwards of 20 miles an hour, and some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.” Kayleen shares, “what better way to break into the competitive world than a multi-week 750 nautical mile endurance race?”


Sylvia and I were out for a bike ride and talking about having a new goal to work towards. Things escalated quickly and by the end of the bike ride we were discussing the Race to Alaska. By the end of the evening, over a bottle of wine, we found the boat, Orca, on Marketplace.


I’m (Kayleen) most excited about the huge satisfaction of completing the race. I’m also looking forward to being fully immersed in the experience, only a few inches from the water, surrounded by all elements of the coast.


This race is a huge undertaking, especially if we want to do it without stopping as much as possible. After our shakedown cruise to test all our systems, we realized getting enough sleep is going to be challenging. Even in June, the coast is cool and wet, so another thing we are nervous about is staying warm and dry enough. Luckily our feet will be dry with our XTRATUFS!


Staying warm and dry is a huge part of safety and success on the water so we can focus on sailing and rowing! Xtratufs were the obvious choice to withstand both the elements and the physical abuse of rowing and wearing these nearly 24/7. The neoprene also gives us some warmth and the tall boot makes sure we stay dry.

If these two don’t scream capable in the rough PNW waters we don’t know who is. Their boot of choice? The Men’s 15” Legacy boot in black to match. We look forward to following along and hearing the official recap from these two over the coming weeks via Instagram, Youtube, and website.

Words and photos by ProTeam member, Abby Cooper @abbydells.