Field Report: Crossing the Finish Line with the Kindness of Strangers and a Lot of Luck!

June 29, 2022
By Rebecca Ross, Field Reporter

One by one, the racers make their way across the finish line in Ketchikan, Alaska. And while I’m accustomed to hunting down racers for their stories, it just so happens that Boris and Nathalie of Team Loustic SuperSonic have some time on their hands—waiting until July 2nd to head back home to France.

I imagine every team by now, whether they left the race for any number of reasons, already finished, or are still out there eager to make it to the finish line, has stories to tell. And with Team Loustic—they certainly have stories worthy of sharing. Though they’ve probably already told their story several times in passing during the race, they graciously take a moment to share it with me—bouncing the details from one to the other seamlessly, as if it happened yesterday.

Boris and Nathalie walk me through the first mishap they encountered only hours into the Proving Ground as they headed towards Dungeness Spit. “Everything was very nice,” Nathalie recalls. “We were going so fast. We were even thinking about having fish and chips after arriving in Victoria.”

I watch Boris’ reaction, almost an inaudible chuckle, as Nathalie continues. “Ah, we were too confident. I hear this sound coming from the boat, then as I try to steer right, something about the boat wants to go left.”

Boris chimes in, “I can feel the boat start to drag”—something was off. Nathalie continues, “About 15-minutes later, I check underneath. My blue duffle bag is floating in the water. It looked like soup,” she says as she points to her knee where the water level was.

Boris’ first thought was that something was wrong with the keel. A sailing newcomer, I stare blankly at Boris, prompting him to explain the repercussions, “If it is the keel, we are finished,” he simply states. 

Nathalie emphatically nods, “It happened only three hours into the race. I look at Boris and thought, ‘This is the end. Even though this isn’t even the race, it’s only the Proving Ground.’”

But Boris continues, explaining that as he takes the wood panels off to check the keel, he sees a hole in the boat causing waves to enter directly inside. The two quickly jump into action, taking turns bailing water out of the boat for about one hour. Boris laughs as he shows me a collapsible bucket they had used and mentions how ineffective it was. But at least it wasn’t the keel that was affected, and because of that, it gave them a chance to stay in the race.

The more I listen to Boris and Nathalie, the more I realize they may have been just as lucky as they were unlucky. The two arrived at John Wayne Marina in Sequim Bay where they met Caleb and Sam from Team Goldfinch—the two loaned Loustic their cordless drill for repairs. The loan zapped their batteries dry. But clearly, no hard feelings as the two teams remained friends throughout the race.

“We didn’t know how to get to a hardware store—because it’s not our country,” Boris says. “But then we thought, ‘Okay, we are in the US, so what do we do? We hitchhike!’” Catching a ride both ways, which only took one hour, they returned and were able to repair their boat and continue on.

“So, was that the worst event during the race?” I naively ask. Nathalie rubs her bandaged forehead and smiles, “Well…” she begins, explaining that on the second day from Victoria, the winds were similar to those infamous gusts at Dungeness Spit—receiving 35 knots of wind—constantly changing directions. “As the wind died, I went to do something, and it suddenly picked back up. I saw the boom come at me, but I couldn’t duck fast enough.”

Boris jumps into the story. “There was blood everywhere,” he says, pointing around the deck.

“But I didn’t feel anything. I was fine,” Nathalie explains.

The expression on Boris’ face, showed the contrary as he describes the situation, “I don’t like gore and am not a nurse,” he says. “So as she covered her head, I told her to let me see but only briefly—quickly uncover, then cover.”

Nathalie was still in denial until she felt warm liquid run down her face. “We thought I needed stitches, but we were too far from Ketchikan, so again, I thought this is the end of the race.”

Luck again intervened as they plotted their next move. Boris describes the area where luxury homes dotted the beaches, with private docks and jet skis—figuring they’ll know what to do if they find someone. And they did. A random guy named Ryan had all of the medical equipment necessary to clean and bandage Nathalie’s forehead.

“Oh, did he mention anything about stitches?” I ask.

Nathalie and Boris look at each other before shrugging, “No. He said, if I go to a hospital, then I would get the same treatment,” Nathalie says.

“And besides, we only had three hours before the tide in Johnstone Strait,” Boris replies. “We were in a rush.”

“So… Ryan was a medical professional?” I inquire.

Boris shrugs again, “We don’t know. We never asked.”

“But he was very confident, so we trusted him,” Nathalie added.

I shook my head in disbelief that they survived two significant mishaps that could have quickly taken them out of the race. Team Loustic SuperSonic’s tale has a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s a wonder that they have a boat intact and for Nathalie to have “apparently” not needed stitches or broken her nose. Not only that, Team Loustic finished the race at a faster pace than they had anticipated. Maybe the universe owed them some good karma, and since they out sped their fellow racers and new friends on Team Goldfinch, Goldfinch owes Loustic a beer. Boris and Nathalie will be in Ketchikan until July 2nd to collect.

Rebecca Ross, field reporter
Rebecca is a freelance writer and outdoor photographer based in Longview, Washington, who spends time backpacking, traveling, and summiting peaks.

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