Stage 1, Day 3: Water is different, the Great Canadian paddlewheel race

Field Report
photo: Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage by Lynnette Oostmeyer

To state something that sounds as stupid as it potentially is, water is different than land.

Go ahead, smart-aleck away with all the versions of “No shit, Sherlock” that are running through your head right now. We earned it.

Once you’ve got it out of your system, scroll down and keep going. We’ll wait.






Welcome back.

The point we were trying to make is that the same stretch of water, especially the tidally driven and wind-swept kind, can be vastly different, unrecognizable depending on the day.

If there was land between Port Townsend and Victoria, it could be windy, really windy, and the transit would be largely the same. Unpleasant? Sure. Harder? A bit, but other than a forward lean and a ruined umbrella, walking to Victoria in 30-knot winds wouldn’t be that different than if it was calm.

…and water is different.

The third day of Stage One saw a Strait of Juan de Fuca that was unrecognizable from the violence it wrought on Day One. Wind went from 30 to nearly negative, seas were non-existent; Godzilla downgraded to Geico Gecko. Starting with the 0430, Coast Guard approved crossing, the wind waned from pleasant to what the uncouth might classify as “gnat’s fart.” (Not us, the uncouth. We’d never say that. We’re classy.)

Monday’s seafoam mountains had fled the scene, and the glassy flat, insect flatulent expanse to Victoria downshifted the challenge of the remaining miles from danger to the most boring kind of hard/most exciting kind of relatively easy depending on whether your intent was to mostly sail to Alaska or you were one of the blistered and chiseled who signed up to pit your meat against the Inside Passage. While the sailors biked, rowed, and cursed up to their same-named reputation, the meat people had their best day on the type of water their boats were meant for. The other best day: the United States Coast Guard. Even in Victoria, you could hear the government issued and elated cheers as the last boats entered Canadian waters and exited their jurisdictional requirement to care. As the uncouth put it: they flicked the booger of the R2AK onto Canadian fingers, and they couldn’t have been happier about their aim.

All 19 of the teams who set out yesterday morning made it before the 5 pm cut-off, and all of them were welcomed to the docks with the cheers of their compatriots who paused whatever they were doing to celebrate. No one got a louder cheer than Team Fire Escape who brought up the rear in their Cal 20, with only minutes to spare.

Team Fire Escape joined an inner harbor menagerie of final preparations. Repairs, provisioning, erupting of gear out of boats and onto docks in what looked like the soggiest version of a yard sale if yard sales traded primarily in sails, camping equipment, and moist beef jerky.

More than a few teams found water where it shouldn’t be. Sealed bags of beef jerky, trimaran amas, boat cabins. Hatches were proved closer to “water-resistant” than the advertised “watertight” after being submerged at speed, telescoping bowsprits became intermittent cold water showerheads as bows plunged into wave after wave, soaking the interior. Victoria is the last best chance to secure a dry future, and tubes of various versions of wonder goo could be seen being applied liberally throughout the harbor.

Highlights from the dock:

  • Team Loustic Supersonic continued into the third day of their Repair2Alaska. It’s sometimes said that the sea finds out what you did wrong, and Stage One’s military-grade fault finder worked the weak points on the Santana 20 that they had been sailing for a full week and a half. They’re from France, their boat’s from Portland, and after the sea found a weak connection between the deck and the hull, it opened up a 6’ seam then did its damnedest to fill their boat. How high was the water? “Up to here,” he said pointing just below his knee. They bucket bailed for an hour, then made repairs dockside in Sequim. Yesterday their efforts were fiddling with oar locks, through bolts, and filling the holes in their deck they had made on purpose.
  • Team Rho Your Boat inspected the damage from hitting bottom on Day Two. A grounding is when the very bottom of your boat high fives the seafloor and maybe hangs out there a while. Beaching is more severe, usually implying that you might be able to walk around your boat without getting your feet wet. Did they go aground or did they beach? “The ground was the beach.” So both, maybe. Semantics aside, they were only unified with terra firma for a few minutes before an assist vessel happened by and pulled them off. The damage? Some superficial scratches at the waterline port and starboard. “We flopped back and forth, but the rocks were really round.”
  • While it was unclear if they informed their would-be competitor, Team Stern Wheelin’ was rubbing their hands for the paddlewheel vs paddlewheel drag race out of the Inner Harbor: “We set up right next to them to have a bit of a race.” With 20’ less boat and at least two less Olympic medals, in virtually any other scenario their MacGregor 25 with a well-honed and R2AK proven paddlewheel contraption hanging off the stern would be no match for Team Pure and Wild’s 44’, Paul Bieker-designed racer. But paddle wheeling the Inner Harbor? “We’re going to smoke ‘em!”

Winning the Oscar for being themselves, the rolling social hour that is Team Fashionably Late spent their time distributing team-branded coasters and Earl Grey infused mixer for their signature team cocktail. The “Fashionably Late” is two parts gin, one part lemon juice, one part Earl Grey simple syrup, and a custom playlist scanned from the QR code on the coaster. It’s the full package, delivered in matching outfits… then they dumpster-dived pizzas. No, it’s cool; they shared, sometimes forcibly, all in matching outfits.

Looking ahead, the Stage Two forecast is looking light and behind, turning into an in-your-face insult of a heavy headwind predicted to build for both the inside and outside routes over the next few days. We won’t know who will attempt 2022’s newly approved western, open ocean route until today’s left turn/right turn moment at the harbor mouth, but of all the teams who have been approved to head up the outside of Vancouver Island, only one is thinking about it, at least out loud. Big weather and infinite searoom, Godzilla waves and a legendary boat breaking lee shore vs the complexity and tidal gates of the inside? Our guess is that only the guy who started this thing is laughing.

Stage Two’s Le Mans start is high noon. Our recommendation: play along with the R2AK home game. Mix up the cocktail, put on your rain gear, then run to your exercise bike, and pedal like mad while eating moist beef jerky. It’s cheaper than Peleton, more comfortable than the R2AK.

It all restarts today. R2AK out.


Middle photo by Jim Meyers; others by Race to Alaska

From the Field: Team Seas the Day

By Lynnette Oostmeyer, Field Reporter

Team Seas the Day is all about family. The only team competing this year from Oregon, they have decades of combined experience sailing. They are an all family team featuring Brian Satterwhite (Captain Funcle), his son Chris Satterwhite (Chief Engineer) and daughter Lynsi Moon (Chef/Quartermaster), along with their cousin Melissa McKarnan (Medic Mel). They have all spent most of their lives on the water. Brian even spent a four year stint in the Coast Guard. The kids all basically grew up on sailboats, and their family photo albums are full of tips to places like the San Juan Islands.

There are two big differences between the kids and their connection to sailing, and that’s gender and experience. Lynsi and Melissa say that they took sailing for granted growing up, whereas Brian was really taught the ropes and leaned into it. “I grew up sailing but always took it for granted,” Lynsi said. “I knew how to contribute a bit, knew some basics, but realized that this is part of my childhood I want to carry over now.” Over the years there had been many all-guy sailing trips in the family, so Lynsi and Melissa have pushed themselves to learn how to run a boat since they heard about the race in 2015… Keep reading.