June 7 – Race day, start of Stage 2
The Inner Harbour of Victoria is a vibrant and stately place where the Empress Hotel and the Provincial legislature stand sentinel, and despite the haze of hollandaise and maple syrup they still remember the Queen’s last visit (2002) and still separate the two sides of the legislature by the length of two swords, just in case. Yep, swords.
Outside of the legislature, tourists gawk at street performers on the waterfront, cruise ships spill forth their human cargo into bars and whale watching boats, and in the heart of it all the weird, rugged world of the R2AK found a home. In the day between the finish of Stage One and the start of Stage Two, teams shopped and celebrated, tweaked, stowed and repaired- were a cocktail of body odor, polyester, Crown Royal, and optimistic anxiety.
As high noon approached, hundreds of spectators gathered, drybags were stuffed through watertight hatches as families gave last kisses then watched with resigned diligence as final race instructions were barked to racers through an old fashioned shouting tube. Five bells were rung as the five minute warning for a Le Mans-style start – every member of a crew would run from under the shadow of a bronze Captain Cook to their boats tied to the docks below.
Four bells – Teams shook hands and got in one last selfie with their GoPro companions.
Three – Several teams began chanting their own version of a Maori haka to ready themselves for what was to come.
Two – Nervous chatter turned to shifting, pacing and short hops – the pressure release valve that is apparently shared between Olympians and sailors alike.
One – A crowd chanted down the last ten seconds then, with the rapid ringing of the bell and ship horns of celebrations and departure, the crews streamed pell mell down the docks and in a flurry of activity the boats were underway in flat calm air. The Soggy Beavers 6-man canoe quickly outpaced the fleet, the rest resembled a kinetic punchline that needed no setup. Racing cats rowing out of the harbour – waterbugs 50? wide being cheered on by masses from on shore. It was as glorious as it was ridiculous, and the race was on.
At time of posting the wind is still light and the Beaver boys have gained a lead (at a quick 5.9 knots) and have diverged from the fleet – allegedly learning German through an onboard speaker as they go. The rest are catching the wind and some are sailing over nine knots – most looking like they intend a route out and around Saturna. Tortoise vs hare? 6:5 and pick-em at this point, there is a long way to go.