Stage 2, Day 8: Pick up Games

Remember the power structure of recess? That kickball driven caste system where the cool and the fast get snapped up in the daily draft and the rest of us try anything we can not to be last. Last. Ronnie from the Res., Kenneth with the lisp, that kid who always took off his pants. If they got picked at all, those kids played back-up right field, shoving beans up their noses just to get attention until they ended up taking their mom to the prom. Even if those same mom-prommers ended up studying IT, attracting venture capital, and cashing in before they were 35, they were still last on the playground. You don’t want to be picked last.

Modern day social media has disrupted the Brahmin control of top-down team picking and replaced it with peer to peer selection. Tinder, Grinder, and now the R2AK have ways for people to find each other and swipe right for a wet ride (to Alaska…what did you think we meant?) and the story of the R2AK’s latest finisher, Team Salish Express Beat Sarcoma who hit the dock at 0822 on July 3rd, stands firm with a foot in both playground politics and the matchmaking terra nueva of the internet. (No, not Grinder.)

Mack Dahl was the fourth pick of a three-man team assembled to rep the Ketchikan set. Team Ketchikan were chasing down two boats—a SC-27 (3 crew) and an Olsen 30 (4 crew). The Olsen 30 fell through and all of a sudden Mack was off the boat, playing back up right field. It must have been awkward—all of their boats are literally within 100 feet of each other on the same dock in Ketchikan. Rather than measure his mom’s wrist and go corsage shopping, Mack packed a seabag and found a pick up team through the crew forum; “Desperately seeking transom” (or whatever). Team Salish Express was formed by Mack (Ketchikan), Michael (Port Townsend), and Satchel (Bay area) who we like to think of as sailing for the United West Coast.

Pausing here, recess is different than the R2AK. A pick up team of complete strangers for an unsupported race where you are stuck onboard and your life is literally in their hands? We might rather shove beans up our nose for a while before we closed the airlock and shoved off on an unknown boat with three complete strangers, but this is the R2AK, misery loves anonymous company, and compared to a paddle board it sounded pretty sane. Hell with it, sign us up.

Team Salish Express were our Bad News Bears heroes of the race. Their planning was done via the internet, their boat was a long-shot for a better than average finish, and with a rag-tag crew of randoms it was a long-shot for a finish at all. Sure, it could work if it was smooth sailing, but what would happen when they were soaked to the skin and engulfed in high pucker seas in the middle of a Hecate Strait amount of nowhere?

If the ads are true, E-harmony makes some happy couples, and Team Salish Express’s answer to what happens when Hecate hits the fan was as obvious as it was badass: they’d survive and emerge for the better, even if they were down a few sails. They lost four in total, a blown out reef in the main and three headsails that were swept off the deck and ground to imperfection—lashed in but no match for the hydrostatic pressure that comes when your bow splits the waves into the half below your boat and the half that rolls over the deck, clearing off everything in its path. This was no joke sailing, a 20+ knot wind off the stern had their speedometer pegged at 10 for hours at a time—they could have been going 20 for all they knew. “I was nominated as ‘Broach Coach’! Satchel claimed it was around 20 times, I think it was more like a dozen.” For the uninitiated a broach isn’t an additional gift for your mom and/or prom date, in sailing it’s the equivalent of a jackknifing semi-truck, where the wave accelerates the back half of the boat past the front and the whole business ends up on its beam ends, sliding sideways and scared, half-submerged down the face of a following wave; a good deal of the exterior is submerged, and a good deal of the interior is rearranged. We don’t know what caused all of them, or what caused a certain member of the crew to be washed to the wrong sides of the lifelines, twice, but it seemed it was happening all around them too. “All you would hear on the radio was maydays and Pan-Pans.” They hit the big weather and rode it for all it, and their destroyed sails, were worth. They finished over a day ahead of the second place mark from 2015, and a day or more ahead of Team Ketchikan—not that anyone was counting.

Mack Dahl’s victorious homecoming was heralded by a parade and fireworks (technically true, but also possibly because of the Fourth of July), and the even greater reward of being the first person who finished the race and then got to head up the road to sleep in his own bed. After a big breakfast and a long sleep he was back in the action. “I got everything I wanted out of the race, I got my ass kicked!” This wasn’t a grudge match for him, but an affirmation that left him as full of energy as he was at the start. After he cleaned the boat he tried to rally the crew to go sailing, just for the day, and just maybe to sail down to say hi to Team Ketchikan and beat them to the finish line, again, and for old times sake. Not bitter, victorious, and willing to deliver a six-pack to prove the point.