Stage 2, Day 14: SLAM Takeover

Greetings, race viewers and tracker fans! Brianna, from Team Sail Like A Mother, here for a friendly Daily Update takeover. We thought you might like to see a snapshot of the finish line from a racer’s perspective.

First, let’s set the scene: the home stretch. Racers have been crammed together aboard a small vessel for days on end. The cabin emanates suspicious and foul odors. Our bodies are dotted in a kaleidoscope of weird rashes, bumps, bruises, and calluses. Our clothes and bunks are damp at best, wring-outtable at worst. The bilge is full of lost trinkets including cell phones, forks, and important bits of hardware. Our brains are working at one-third of normal capacity due to sleep deprivation. Usually, the crew still likes each other. Collectively, we comprise one mostly functional human.

As we exit the grueling ocean swell in Dixon Entrance and enter Nichol’s Passage toward Ketchikan, racers pop a beer and celebrate. Until we realized the last 20 miles of the course might actually take F O R E V E R (and three more sail changes), especially if you’re fighting an ebb current at a spring tide when the wind dies (luckily, we were not).

Aboard Wild Card, our team decided to push hard for the last 100 miles. Perhaps it was because we “smelled the barn,” as Team Tips Up described that so-close-yet-so-far feeling of having the finish line in (relative) sight. We slept only two of the final 40 hours, and arm-wrestled the tiller until our arms were jelly to keep from accidentally jibing in following seas with 20+ knots of wind. By Dixon Entrance, we were too tired to haul out a new water jug to slake our thirst and lacked motivation to make yet another tasteless yet spicy dehydrated meal. The result? A bunch of dehydrated and hangry zombies careening precariously toward the finish line. 

As the light faded on Day 10 of our voyage, the three of us took turns accidentally nodding off. Katie slumped over the tiller, Melissa snoozed while on the pedal drive, and I passed out spread-eagled on the pile of sails atop the bow, oblivious to the cold rain on my face. 

It seemed nothing could rouse us from our stupor…until, finally, we heard faint cheers emanating from the dark night. 

We struggled to contain our mainsail with slippery sail ties, then blindly pointed the boat toward the cheerful sounds onshore. Like dolphins homing in on prey using echolocation, we nosed up to a small dock where dark shapes were huddled under raincoats. I stumbled off with a bowline, squinting into a burst of cell phone flashlights as the crowd clapped.

It was overwhelming and completely amazing to discover 30 people waiting for us in the post-midnight drizzle. What valiant and steadfast fans! What dedicated and caring fellow racers! We hugged people. They hugged us back. 

Then we noticed all the cameras and microphones. Eek! But the owners of the cameras handed us delicious beverages, so we fortified ourselves with malt and sugar then reluctantly ponied up to the stage. We tried desperately to remember how to talk to humans other than ourselves, but mostly failed: our answers for the media team were as fuzzy as our brains, and about as scintillating as the bottom of our bilge. 

Encouraged by the Race Boss to “complete our last official task,” we wobbled on unsteady legs to ring the R2AK gas-canister-turned bell. Then we wobbled back aboard to move our boat to an overnight moorage before gobbling down warm-ish burritos. Katie fell asleep standing up at the hotel’s reception desk. I peeled off several stick-on warming pads that still covered my body like ticks, then fell asleep in a miraculously dry and comfy bed. 

Until leaping out of bed a few hours later, convinced we had to swap the genoa for the jib because the mattress was heeling too much. Ahhh, the joys of reacclimatizing to land.

The next day, we pawed through mildewed mounds of clothes in search of an outfit that wasn’t rank—why didn’t we pack an extra pair of jeans? We wandered wide-eyed into town, fumbling for money to buy coffee—where did the credit card get stashed? We startled at loud noises in the busy street—where did all these combustion engines come from?

Fueled by food and caffeine, we finally took stock of our boat. Yup: very, very (very) smelly. We disemboweled ropes and socks, boat cushions and stray bowls, wet sails, and bits of discarded meat sticks. Foulies and underwear decorated the boom. Sodden hats and salty boots were strewn along the dock. It looked like Wild Card got seasick and vomited all over herself. The only redemption? Our neighboring race boats looked just as shit-showy.

Once we got things kind of ship-shape again, we hit the town. Or tried to. But we were blocked in every direction by thousands of cruise ship passengers taking selfies with dead salmon or orca-shaped crepes. The massive ships that docked a football field from us were jarring, their gigantic motors and poolside chaise lounges the exact opposite vibe of the R2AK. Ketchikan’s daily tourist bedlam definitely made the transition back to reality more surreal. 

Luckily, we could easily retreat to swap sailing tales with our fellow racers in their colorful and (slightly) less stinky boats. Plus, there was always another racers’ arrival to look forward to. The best part of completing this race? Welcoming the next teams to the finish line in Alaska. Camaraderie is prioritized over competition among the R2AK participants, which is a big chunk of what makes this crazy race so special. 

On that note, let’s give a big hip-hip-hurrah for Team Bonesaw’s Revengeance Rising, which exacted their revenge on the course by finishing it. Bonesaw arrived yesterday afternoon to receive pie from Team Loose Screw and a few primal screams from Team Norepinephrine

Five teams are still chugging along toward their own R2AK finale. And while the details of their transition from seapeople to landlubbers will be unique to each racer, one thing is shared by all: an appreciation for the warm welcome and energizing hugs at the finish line, cameras and all.  

Header photo by Amy Arntson

R2Ak Playlist

Despite early race urges to flee to the USA, Texas romantic and R2AK Cowboy Laureate Wayne Tater is having second thoughts about returning home.

Clips From Course Copy
06.25 06 1
06.25 16
06.25 15
06.25 14

Photos by Taylor Bayly