We just arrived in Port Townsend at the finish line of Seventy48, spoke with one of the race organizers and the second place finishers, and found a coffee shop with wifi, where we'll be posting up for the next few days to let you in on the action!
I'm someone who's never paddled more than 20 miles (with current) in a day, and who's secretly terrified every time I go out on salt water that something giant is going spring up and swallow me Moby Dick style. I'm not sure if that makes it more or less likely that I'm so stoked to be on hand for the inaugural Seventy48 and experiencing the kickoff and start of its older sibling, the Race to Alaska (R2AK) on Thursday.
If you're never heard of Seventy48, don't feel bad. Pretty much everyone is uninitiated to the event, because this is the first year, and it's being born in real time as I write. Not even the organizers are quite sure what it is yet. So our goal is to capture its spirit and share it with this corner of the outdoor community.
We ended up here because the event has been driven, in large part, by our friend Dean Burke, who's a big fish in the small pond that is the SUP boarding community and has been one of the biggest supporters of this Boldly Went project. After Dean became one of the first humans to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca last year on the first leg of the Race to Alaska (a story he told for maybe the first time publicly at one of our Tacoma events), he and some of the R2AK organizers conspired to create a fully human powered event with a lower barrier to entry, but the same spirit, and that became the Seventy48.
The R2AK is only on year four, but it has already developed a cult following and iconic status because it's a brilliant, simple idea: leave Port Townsend, WA in the upper lefthand corner of the Continental US and race via water to Ketchikan, in the lower righthand corner of Alaska. The sticky hitch is that you can't use an engine to get there. Any combination of paddles, peddles or sails are cool, but if your boat has a motor, it has to be physically torn out to participate.
It's $750 to enter, and there's a $10,000 prize purse for the winners, a set of steak knives for 2nd place, and nothing but glory and honor for the rest of the field. Anyone who can argue convincingly to race organizers that they won't get themselves killed or arrested can enter, so participants range from scrappy amateurs in boats they built themselves to pros in state of the art racing craft gunning for the prize.
The Seventy48 is a similarly simple idea: Race 70 nautical miles from the Foss Waterway in Downtown Tacoma to Port Townsend in 48 hours, just in time for the start of R2AK so you can keep going to Ketchikan if you want. In this case, no sails are allowed, so you have to get there by human power. Otherwise, you can ride a kickboard if you want. The prize amount was less determinate because it was based on number of entrants, but in its first year it upstaged its big brother and pulled together $12,000 for the winners.
First Impressions from the Finish.
I'm writing from the finish line, but we were also on-hand for the pre-race ruckus - boat safety checks, drinking, lectures, and the Skipper's meeting - and my initial outsider impression is that this things's got the potential to be iconic. Dean told us that they were hoping to get 30 teams in the first year, but they blew it because 117 showed up at the starting line. The Skipper's meeting was overflowing and participants were stoked.
Seeing the teams checking in was awesome and hilarious, because boats ranged from fiberglass speed racers to a dented aluminum canoe and a "kayak" that a guy built out of trash that washed up on the beach. There was a guy planning to prone board (you know that thing that surfers do where they lay on their board and paddle with their hands out into the waves? That's prone boarding.), and a large representation of SUP racers.
As with the R2AK, entrants had to apply and demonstrate to organizers that they weren't likely to get themselves killed or arrested, so the atmosphere wasn't like some novelty regatta. The crowd felt more like serious water people and adventurers who were keen to take on a creative challenge. The trash boat guy, for instance, is a seasoned paddler named Ken Campbell, who we've featured here before and is raising awareness about the impact of plastics in waterways, and the proneboarder is Troy Nebeker, the founder of The 24 - a growing event in the paddling community that raises funds for families dealing with cancer. These people are jokers, but they're badass jokers.
We've been interviewing participants (we already have so much fun audio!), and we'll be posting in different places, and tracking the stories of a couple of different participants to share the in race experience in coming weeks.
But for a bit of a taste of who the people in this race are, at the pre-race briefing racers shouted out reasons for participating in this race, including "there is nothing on TV", "To get away from my toddlers", "Because it's there", and "For fortune and glory". The race director said he thinks people are there because there's a small part of our heart that is looking for a calling, and that's what this kind of event is about.
One of our favorite teams is called 8 Oars, and is a group of 55 - 74 year old women paddling a five person rowboat. We also met the Stick Boys - a couple of Canadian brothers who live on opposite sides of the country and are coming back together for the race - and team Performance Anxiety who broke their paddle two hours before the race. And we are tracking our friends Dean, Troy, and Ken as they attempt to make their way to Port Townsend.
Based on our experience so far, the spirit of this thing manages to thread the needle between big, professionally run events and local DIY passion projects.
Social media and the website are slick and impressive, there is at least one former Olympian racing, and pre-race events featured presentations by two world record holders. Karl Kruger paddleboarded the 750 mile R2AK last year and Natalia Cohen who was a member of the first 4 person boat to row the Pacific. (Side note: that story that was told in the film Losing Sight of Shore (it's on Netflix at time of writing!)).
But the event was also pulled together by a scrappy group of organizers who are injecting the spirit of their local community into the event. There was a lot of gritty, cool, surprising Tacoma in this, with pre-race events at the Museum of Glass and local brewery Harmon partnering with the event for a signature beer. And seemingly half of the small community of Port Townsend was there for the start. Racers have to be self-sufficient - there is no support along the way, and the main rules listed were don't suck, be honorable, and stay out of the shipping lanes, and you get disqualified if you make the organizers think about getting legal advice.
The race is on as we speak: it started on Monday, June 11, 2018 at 530 PM, and it will finish on Wednesday, June 13 at 530 PM, so stay tuned. Winners are already in, and we're stoked to be at the finish line for the next two days. Wish you were here, but we'll do our best to fill you in on the good times!
If all of this paddling talk has you yearning for the sea, check out this playlist of podcast episodes featuring water people: paddlers, sailors, swimmers, and more. And don't forget to check out our Field Notes home page for the event here!