Stage 2, Day 7: The First of the Regular

Before the already finished watched champion sailors accept a stack of Benjamin’s nailed to some firewood, before they after party-rallied over to the Sourdough Pub where Team Jungle Kitty produced sharpies and started adding whiskers to the occasionally willing faces of racers, community leaders, and sponsors alike—before all of that, most of these whiskered faces had sailed with and against each other for years, decades. With the mix of familiar faces (and the welcomed absence of others) the R2AK’s only official party felt like a new reunion for the region’s top sailing set. Even the Reno based Team Golden Oldies was part of the tribe, even if they were less familiar as people, their boat alone had enough notoriety and pedigree to make them a jigsaw fit. Nine teams over the line, sweet Jesus: accomplished sailors and boats created and secured out of a singular desire to go fast.

The arrival of Teams Fly, Hot Mess, and Salish Express turned the page and started the next chapter of the R2AK. They said it best, “Now we get the regular boats!”

The boats that finished today were regular boats sailed by regular guys. Sailing more or less off the shelf, production boats a few tax brackets more affordable than the everything that came before. Their meat and potatoes were sailed well past their potential by talented sailors who have the chops to make it to Alaska without an engine faster than last year’s steak knife winners but weigh in a rung or two down from being a stable pony for established racing programs. These were regular guys, at least most of them. Packing their seabag was at least a small exercise in figuring out what to bring. The early finishers still had their bags packed from the last campaign.

These regular boats had an extraordinary race, and had been crossing each other’s wake since. converging on a single tidal gate at Seymour Narrows. For 500 odd miles Team Hot Mess and Team Fly were locked in a tight battle that would end within an hour of each other at the Fish House Dock. Dissimilar boats that seemed to be chosen under a design requirement that each generation represented onboard get its own hull, and other than being regular guys with Canadian passports their crews were radically different. Team Fly’s three generationed trimaran were sincerely nice guys, calm and with the sense of prudence. “We anchored up when we heard the gale predicted, glad we did too—we could only hear the Coast Guard half of the conversation with that guy on Brain Surgery. Sounded pretty bad.” Team Hot Mess was a boat load of recent university graduates whose rolling frat house was equal parts sailing maniacs and the good natured can-do of a dude-bro still close enough to their collegiate accomplishments that their newspaper clippings have yet to yellow. Two different team DNA, two different boats, but they had non-stop racing for 500 miles.

So many decisions and opportunities along the craggy coast, infinite ways this could have played out, but in the end they were within sight of each other after rowing all night making sometimes as little as .6 knots against an ebb tide. An overnight of rowing that served as a capstone of 36 hour continual stint in a drysuit that was half admitted tenure of underwear of at least one in their ranks. Get it? Rank?

In the home stretch Hot Mess opted to paddle chase an eddy that never panned out and three hulled Fly pulled away. It wasn’t an unknown dynamic. Fly’s sweeps and sliding seat rowing stations were predictably faster than Hot Mess’s cobble job of SUP paddles. If there was any wind at all the big sails of Hot Mess would pull away, if it was flat; advantage Fly. “We pretty much underestimated the entire human power aspect…” not to mention one of their paddle board paddles had gone missing within sight of the dock. No one was clear if that had been an accident or an act of someone self-advocating their limit for human powered miles.

Team Fly’s stories were harder to hear over the Messy enthusiasm which were happily absorbed by all of us in earshot:

Team Hot Mess “We were running straight downwind, hitting 10s and 14s, we’ve got a great sail. Big red one.”

Team Fly: “I wanted to ask you about that great sail, what do you call that one?”

Team Hot Mess: “Candy, and our big one is Roxie”

Laughs all around.

We heard of the unsetting way their “Beam of Destiny” kept the spreaders from crushing the boat, whined and groaned during Dixon Entrance heavy weather. All fin now, but unnerving as hell.

Three everyman efforts on obtainable boats—how incredible that their races were all faster than last year’s second place steak knife winner, by significantly more than a day, even for the slowest! Our hats are off and thrown in a graduation celebration. Y’all did great, a regular spectacular.

To give the day its due, we’re going to hit the pause button and bring you the stories of Salish Express and Alula’s courageous reentry in to the R2AK tomorrow. The rocket ships are in the barn, we’re still racing heavy for 500 miles one week in, and things are just getting interesting.