It was the best of tides, it was the worst of tides. It was certainly the age of foolishness. Here is the tale of two cities, Port Townsend, Washington and Ketchikan, Alaska, and surviving the waterways between them.
How to describe the epic adventure which is R2AK? Take your dolphins and seals and pleasant strangers, then flush them all down a tide pool and spit them out the other side of a gale storm. Later, invite them to breakfast.
The race organizers described Day One: The Proving Ground as best they could. “Try standing up in a pickup on a rural highway. Now put a bouncy castle in the bed, have oncoming vehicles throw buckets of water at you and you’ll get nowhere near what it was like to be out there.” 9 teams didn’t qualify. Freddy broke his rowing station and his pants. We hid behind an island, dodged whirlpools to get to shore, but were shunned by the breakers. The official sites reported 30 knot winds, but a lighthouse keeper on Trial Island reported on-scene observations saw sustained periods of at least 50 knots. Then, like a great yawn, the breath expired and we were left to row ourselves in at 3:30 the next morning feeling sufficiently humbled and terrified of the coming 14ish days.
Then R2AK wooed us with a noon start to Stage 2. A nice light wind carried us past about 30 dolphins and we were invited to dock at Thieves Bay Marina and stay for breakfast. Well-rested and confident, we sailed some strong winds on the Second Day until a wind shift at Lasqueti Island forced us to reef the sails and bounced Freddy around the bow while he switched to a #3 jib. The adorable puppy which had drawn us had grown up to be a rabid wolf, we have the bruises to prove it. But we managed to hold on to first place monohull by the days end.
Day 3 we were determined to hold onto our lead and our lifelines, making 8 knots with the spinnaker and wrestling some gnarly currents, but we missed the slack tide to cruise through Seymour Narrows, so we stopped and had dinner with Team Away Team and snuck out into the night to take on the harrowing narrows under the cover of darkness. Out of that darkness emerged a stranger who pointed out the missing pintle in our rudder. The wind and waves had stolen our steerage and we were forced to wait until morning to correct it.
Morning of Day 4 comes and we rig the rudder with a bolt like a boss and took the narrows like a CEO. The forecast smacked our confidence upside the head and we hunkered down to avoid the 30-40 knot winds gusting to 50 across the entire course. How dare this town have only one bar, which closes early? We bought a bottle of Kraken rum and sang shanties to ourselves to ease the pain while Team Pure and Wild/Freeburd grabbed $10,000 4 days 3 hrs 5 min, with Big Broderna just 6 minutes behind. Cheers and a swig.
The wind and tide were on our side Day 5, while the rain was in our face and “drysuits.” We pulled into Port Neville around 4pm. The ghosts of the abandoned post office were out to lunch. We spotted our first bear and stayed well away to avoid becoming lunch and ghosts, then rode the favorable tide to Telegraph Cove around 9pm. Freddy is becoming one big bruise.
Gizmo worked her way into Telegraph Cove in the wee hours of Day 6 and we had a wee rest before heading further north to Port McNeill. Solo Team Freya was racing against darkness with no nav lights, so we helped him dock and shook his huge, tatted hand.
Days 7 & 8 saw fluky wind and an intense downpour. We bobbed around like a child on the knee of a neurotic uncle, finally arriving at the second checkpoint of Bella Bella. We got all full of bravado and decided to take to the open water. This is also because we ate 3 course meals along the way and managed to deplete our provisions. We were quickly running out of Twinkies. We also ran out of power and were forced to tuck our soggy, stinky tails and return to Bella Bella in hopes to recharge.
We must have just not had enough sun in the dark weather to charge our panels, but we took on the next three days with a vengence. We sailed so non-stop for 3 days that we even kept moving when Sandy decided to bail. We tossed him overboard onto a water taxi and kept on trucking. We are running out of energy, power and provisions, and questioning our life choices. We may have had to eat Sandy had he stayed. He was beginning to look like a roast turkey in our maddening minds. With Team Sistership on our tail, we managed to ring the bell in Ketchikan after 12 days, 5hours, and 3 minutes.
In the words of Freddy, “It was a once in a lifetime experience.” Which is meant to be read, “There is no way in hell I would ever put myself through that again!” But we sure as hell are glad we did it! No motors. No Support. 750 miles to Alaska.