photo: Team Sockeye Voyages by Lynnette Oostmeyer
The last of the “Small Boat Nation” came in yesterday, roughly two hours apart, and ended the same way they began, racing against blips and trading leads until the final moment. After 21 days of tacks, hundreds of miles of rowing, boat repairs, countless meals, and campsites, Fix Oder Nix beat out Sockeye Voyages by just under two hours—making Sockeye, Olivia, and Tara of Sockeye Voyages the Final Finishers for 2022. Joachim of Fix Oder Nix nailed it when he said, “In British Columbia, you rarely have an easy day,” but these two teams quickly made the final few days. They came in fast. Now, when the first and final finishers are separated by 17 days—with these teams, some days, barely pushing the odometer into the double digits—it pays to take a broad view of what fast really means. “Fast has always been about getting here with the least amount of stress, controversy, mishaps…moving us forward safely…predictably, repeatedly, in a way you don’t burn yourself out,” said Joachim. Um…yup. We’ll use that definition here. Sockeye Voyages “piled on the sail” and rowed to gain an additional half knot of speed; though it didn’t change the race results, thoughts of not finishing passed with the flotsam.
Both teams sailed boats that had never existed until they made them. Joachim, who has completed R2AK 1.25 times before, with the pain of solo sailing still ricocheting in his psyche, sliced his Angus RowCruiser in half, added some hull, another mast, and a second “coffin cabin” so his paragliding partner would have a spot. Like so many who have come before her, his crewmate Zoë decided the only way to get Joachim to stop telling stories of R2AK was to make some herself. And she will now be known as the racer who said the race is “…tedious, incredibly anxiety-producing. I got tired of the trees. Why are they all the same trees?”
Sockeye had done the race before, on a boat equally ill-suited for a race to Alaska, but in the true culture of the race and under the advisement of the race’s shoddy website to ‘race what you brung’ took a Bolger schooner he picked up for $500, got some donated oars, added some modified Colin Angus amas and the Wooden Gaff-rigged Schooner Trimaran was born. An homage to Gene Roddenberry, a Klingon War Bird of the sea.
At this point in our storytelling, it may seem obvious that both teams had thoughts of quitting. Zoë dreamed of picking up a swing shift at the Shearwater Diner or, on the really long rowing days, thought she’d be better off becoming a graphic design teacher. (Honestly, we know the race was hard, but we never thought it would come to that.)
Twelve-mile days, rowing for 20 hours, windswept anchorages, little sleep, and crew rotations that included the “bailing station” were everyday experiences that ate up confidence and eroded determination. However, all three crew aboard Sockeye Voyages are Outward Bound instructors, the acknowledged masters of the ‘circle up.’ An arcane trick likely developed by Vikings, the circle up is the fourth stage of crew development, usually followed by the stage known as “go mad, eat your rowing mate, hope for rescue.” If it works, however, you can extend your suffering a bit longer. In this case, 21 days.
“You can always turn a lowlight into a highlight,” says Olivia, “We had some really tough talks,” (circle up!) and, “We were all making some sacrifices for each other.”
Sacrifice is a word on the tip of every racer’s tongue. No team ever has the same story. We think of these stories as tapestries, each finished product a different picture but woven with similar threads. When both teams took a moment to reflect on their 21 days, the responses could have come from any of them.
“This environment doesn’t give a shit about you, but it’s incredible.”
“Cape Caution was huge.”
“People shouting from cruise ships, alongshore, balconies”
“The kindness is unbelievable.”
Tomorrow we’ll end our racing and writing sojourn by taking a moment to think about this race in its entirety, but for now, we know. All teams are in. The Grim Sweeper is kicking sand, and everyone is safe in the fastest way definable.
Photos by Lynnette Oostmeyer. First and last Team Fix Oder Nix, second Team Sockeye Voyages.