Stage 2, Day 6: Dixon Entrance, Revelry & Kitten Whiskers for Ketchikan

Dixon Entrance. For the uninitiated its name sounds benign enough. Entrance, an opening, an opportunity, the beginning of a path to the end. To the fish-boat fleet that ply these waters Dixon is a place to be feared and respected—notoriety perhaps betrayed by the fact that both Canada and the US of A seemingly tried to cede as much as possible to the other before settling on a tie; the border line that despite the politics of territory, tells a stalemate story of fear-driven deference. You take it. No, you. Ok let’s split the difference. We’ll take care of our side of the line, you take care of yours, and we promise that we’ll pray hard on the safe passage of all who attempt it. Deal. 

For the teams already snug in their Ketchikan berths, and the teams who arrived today, everyone had a story of peril and wide eyed respect of the Dixon forces they just endured. For all of the attention to the tidal gates and massive whirlpools of Seymour Narrows and the predictably mast breaking maelstrom of Johnstone Straits, Dixon Entrance is nature’s under heralded middle finger to the R2AK. The 20-mile stretch from Dundas Island to Duke is a rough piece of work for any boat that transits. Dixon is an open air market of converging currents and the inflow of Pacific storms—all unfettered by land or the good manners to leave the bedraggled and exhausted boats of the R2AK well enough alone. Its confused seas routinely stack up to 10, 15, even 20 feet. Steep and confused, hairy and remote, so close to the finish line and then thrashed by Dixon? To trade on a phrase Coppola made famous: just when they thought they were out, Dixon pulled them back in. For the tired teams of the R2AK, Dixon Entrance is the convergence of two tides, the outflow of rivers, and the terrifying frustration of sailors too tired to deal.

Ready to fall into a dry soft bed that lacked the salty damp and dry suit taint of the their last days, on the sixth day of the R2AK’s second run, two teams arrived sobered, damaged, and humbled. No worse for wear, but slightly worse, and desperate for the 300 thread count sheets of the Cape Fox Lodge. They were here, thankfully and barely.

In a campaign exceeded in length only by their name, Team “It Ain’t Brain Surgery, it’s BINBA!”’s F-31 graced the Alaska Fish House dock at 0330 (ish). Dixon had taken its toll.

It’s hard to describe the scared dark calamity of a midnight trip through a near gale and confused seas of four sets of six-foot waves converging on the same tortured piece of water as you hurtle along in the darkness. But the dazed, perished looks of the brain surgeons half-hearted beer swills of the traditional finish line longnecks told the story. It was real, and something they hadn’t anticipated.

As the early light of the high latitude summer turned dark into ambient gray, the tattered remains of their bowsprit mounted boxing glove told the story before they opened their mouths—a leathered thumb and shreds hung in limp and in incomplete pieces, dangling from whatever duct tape remained. This fight had been fought to the finish, and they had come out victorious even as they punched through their glove. Dixon? “It was a caldron of misery.” Even ignoring the death of their pugilistic effigy, the seas found unknown leaks that transformed their onboard beds into a wet petri dish—at least one of their crew fell prey to a damp infused head cold. This was worse than his lifetime of snow camping. For the last days they bailed on their waterlogged cushions and slept hard through the swells. Bare plywood sleep, only comfortable to the dog tired and desperate. They made it in respectable time, all of them with Dixon weighing heavy in their minds.  

Team Golden Oldies/Ghost Rider arrived battered, waterlogged, and buoyed twelve hours later—rowing in on their six oars against the tide and light headwind on a boat meant for the races of the trade winds. Their last 24 hours encompassed the everything of the R2AK—rowing in light and reefing in heavy. In the raging confusion of Dixon Entrance their three feet of freeboard shipped green water in the 30 knots of wind that were advertised at 20. “Oh, we stuffed it. It was hairy…” Charging ahead at 20+ knots they submerged their bows, t-boned a floating tree, smashed their hull, blew out the sail track at the second reef point, and tore a headsail on the spreader trying to spill wind. “Do you know the best thing about dry suits? You can crap your pants and no one can smell it.” We think this was a joke of a tired sailor. Probably. At least we can hope. Knowing that they sailed it hard enough to get one of the hulls of this 4,500 pound monster to take flight, we have our doubts. Think about it. A ton of boat plus a crew of five, three feet out of the water? Regardless of your opinions of their dreams to create sailing opportunities for buxom slingers of hot wings, you have to appreciate their nice pair.

Their boat, “Nice Pair”, a 38’ Crowther Super Shockwave, is a notable veteran of the Chicago to Mackinaw Great Lakes campaigns. After relocating to the west coast their original idea was to get and train a crew of Hooters employees (not kidding) to race in and around the Americas Cup. Sponsors bailed, and it sat in their driveway for years before making its way to last year’s R2AK and retiring after a halyard parted in Seymour Narrows. Their sum total of time on the boat amounted to six hours before, two days into the race of 2015, and a week or so leading up to the race this year. Two big hulls and similar sized cojones got them to their second attempt. Hoo-rah. Credit maxed and options leveraged so they could make the run north, while we type the boat is on eBay already casting for its new owner. It could be you.

While the attention of the finish line party focused on the recent arrivals and handing out $10k and the placeholder for the steak knives that were held up in traffic six degrees of latitude to the south, the spirit of the R2AK exuded in the reading of a racecourse text from Alula: They are losing a crew, and while they know it will disqualify them from the race they are casting about for a replacement. Their words: “I realize this will take us out of the race, but we have always been a race of one. This had been more than a race to Alaska for us. Can you help us find a crew member to carry on? …we love the race and everything it has thrown at us.” Not bad for a crew of wheelchair bound sailors.

The guys of Alula are inspiring, and as the text was read to the finishing crews there were more than a few who calculated speed vs. their remaining time off in the hopes of matching their schedule to spirit of Team Alula. We’re hours into the search, but there are more than a few here in Ketchikan who want to make it happen. “Those guys are inspiring, let’s get them home.”

The party raged, while just over the horizon the boys from Team Hot Mess and Team Fly were trading tacks within a mile of each other on their final approach, with the joint Port Townsend/Ketchikan effort of Team Salish Express just a few miles behind.

Dixon Entrance was a daunting obstacle, but the intrepid spirit of the race prevails. Take that nature. (Knocks on wood.)