R2AK Time Machine Day 14/25

Published on June 29th, 2020

For five years, the Race to Alaska, a 750-mile course from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska, proved that journey trumps destination, and while COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 edition, the Organizing Authority is, for 25 days, sharing their fondest memories from the previous races. Enjoy!

Repeat offenders can be human and can be boats. Today we look at Team A Pirate Looks at 30, a So-Cal brother/sister duo plus 1, who brought an Etchells which, along with the infamous Santa Cruz 27, would become a repeat vessel in R2AK.

The team also committed the first known R2AK mike drop, landing in Ketchikan and immediately giving the boat to the Ketchikan Yacht Club—home of the Friday night weekly carnivore feed and racer debauch—as they repacked their duffel for the next flight home. The Etchells lives today, and you could be its next R2AK shepherd.

The human repeat offender is Katy Stewart, Captain of Team Onism, Team Global Diving, Team Global, and Team Razzle Dazzle (x2). She has hustled out anyone she can find to race with her: sister, co-workers, and Elan, the husband, who in a flash of genius realized he could do the race in a different boat and be his own Captain. Or Katy may have just decided to race solo for any number of reasons (see yesterday’s intro).

Regardless, in 2015 Team Onism (above) was a set of sisters plus 1 Jenny that made up the all-woman crew who boiled hands, sailed savaged coastlines, and would not, ever, stop laughing and making jokes. They began a legacy involving ukuleles, broken boats, sequins, and pickled teeth. They win every year, but I’m still unsure of what or who they are beating.


2016 Day 12: The Family of Community
While classless snark might be the lingua franca of the kingdom of bumper stickers and cheap t-shirts (Honk if you’re horny, Easy does it, Free Leonard Peltier), sentimental sayings are de rigeur of the more elemental media (God Bless this mess, Smile more, worry less, Love makes a family); stencil-painted wood and laser etched rocks you only can buy though inflight magazines (Skymall, R.I.P.) and stores that are frequented exclusively by grandparents and vacationing evangelicals.

Laser etched emotional sayings—it’s as if rocks largely possess horrible souls and the rebellious teens from the Precambrian era act out by getting them as tattoos of defiance. “It takes a village to raise a child” may be the tramp stamp for the igneous and sedimentary.

While it’s likely we should have eaten only half of the brownie that got us here, and by in large reading those rocks make our lunch come up half-way. The sentiment of a village raising a child, that family and community matters and is part of connective tissue of our society? We love that, and the two finishers of the R2AK’s 13th day, Team A Pirate Looks at 30 and Team Onism’s finish embodies the idea of community to a tee.

The Pirates’ trip was epic in the usual way, “We rowed for the last 48 hours” yadda yadda, still smiling. “We are tired and tired of dehydrated food” blah blah, still smiling. “We rowed like 50% of the time but for 10% of the miles.” Yeah, we’ve heard it, but we’ve never heard it through such beaming whites.

Team A Pirate Looks at 30 seems to have had the best kind of hardship. They prepped well, rowed and sailed well, rowed some more, finished tired, in good spirits, and with the appropriate amount of sea stories to last them a lifetime.

The second to last one is the real shocker—they were in good spirits. Such good spirits, as good as when we met them a few months back at their SoCal yacht club and we convinced them/they convinced us that this race was a good idea. Compared to the rest, they were roughly as prepared, roughly as skilled, but their real advantage to finishing and finishing well: community.

It helps that two of the three are related. Maryilyn and Paul are one of five sibling duos in the race (Vantucky, Onism, Bunny Whaler, and Broderna) and Andrew grew up down the street. That’s a leg up for a tight crew. Add to that they picked up their Etchells from Julie and Jeremy from R2AK 2015 Team Grin, who lovingly refer to the Pirates as their “kids.”

For that math to work the love that made that conceptual family would have had to been successfully consummated at an age young enough to make Amish and Appalachians raise an eyebrow—but just go with it, that’s not the kind of family making love those rocks are talking about.

Julie and Jeremy didn’t just sell them the boat, they helped them get it set up, went over the race route, pitched in on some repairs and improvements, and even put up the three “kids” in their Port Townsend home for a couple of weeks before the race.

The crew that finished today on that Etchells had actual family onboard, new family rooting for them in Port Townsend, and a crowd of Ketchikan regulars waiting for them with open arms. Family and community, how could they be anything but smiling?

The other smiling sibling pair that hit the dock on the border between late last night and early this morning was the laughing trio of Team Onism who cackled through their finish line storytelling session, laughing enough that the celebratory beer nearly came out of their noses.

It was 1am, thirteen days and 750 miles of epic and they were laughing their asses off, and the community on the dock of teams still in town and Ketchikan Yacht Club who stayed or got up to greet them, all of them were laughing right along with them.

Onism gushed about the humpbacks that swam with them in for the last five miles, then theorized that this cross-species community had been built with bilge chocolate they had thrown over the side on their way in. “Evolutionary game changer.”

They laughed through the rowing; their percentage of 15% of the time, maybe 20 miles. “We were getting pretty good at it…rowing and going backwards.” They often rowed to stem most of the tide, slowing their backwards progress more than speeding their movement north. One time they rowed for six hours and made two miles, astern. They laughed with Team Ketchikan who met them on the dock.

The source of excitement for Team Onism a few days back when a late night look at the tracker discovered the word Ketchikan only a few miles ahead of them, ”Guys, we’re almost there!” They were nearing Bella Bella, a detail they couldn’t see because Team Ketchikan was already there, their team name betraying false hopes and some untapped “potential” in the realm of navigational awareness.

They even laughed about their constantly leaking boat “We got really good at bilge pump yoga!” and the amount of driftwood they were able to physically verify. “We only call them foils when they hit something.”

Their finish line smiles could have been the forced variety of etched rocks, but none of the folks who came in today were forcing it. These teams were community and family wrapped all into one. From the brother, to the kid down the street, to the company at KYC burger night, to the 0100 gab session that lingered for too long for an exhausted punctuation to the R2AK.

Teams A Pirate Looks at 30 and Onism’s victories weren’t the flame-out blaze of glory (we’ve seen those), these were tight crews getting tighter, and while they might have been done (so done) they weren’t done with each other. Other than the etched rocks that their moms snuck onboard, who knew that love makes a crew, too? Cue the rainbows and the soaring music, pan back to the sunset, and get Hallmark on the line—we think we’ve got a winner here.

There are still a couple more family affairs out on the water, but barring catastrophe in a few short hours we’ll greet our first “only child of the race.” Colin Angus will be this year’s first solo finisher. That’s worth a story in itself. Rest up, it’s likely to be a good one.



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What was to be in 2020:
Race to Alaska, now in its 6th year, follows the same general rules which launched this madness. No motor, no support, through wild frontier, navigating by sail or peddle/paddle (but at some point both) the 750 cold water miles from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.

To save people from themselves, and possibly fulfill event insurance coverage requirements, the distance is divided into two stages. Anyone that completes the 40-mile crossing from Port Townsend to Victoria, BC can pass Go and proceed. Those that fail Stage 1 go to R2AK Jail. Their race is done. Here is the 2020 plan:

Stage 1 Race start: June 8 – Port Townsend, Washington
Stage 2 Race start: June 11 – Victoria, BC

There is $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.

In 2019, there were 48 starters for Stage 1 and 37 finishers. Of those finishers, 35 took on Stage 2 of which 10 were tagged as DNF.

Source: Race to Alaska

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