Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Third Race to Alaska Underway

Early setup and blocking of the road access to the Northwest
Maritime Center and Point Hudson Marina.
I volunteered again (second year) for the Race to Alaska (R2AK) and have to admit I was disappointed at the overall turnout. Not just the turnout for the Ruckus, the pre-race party, but the local public support (people wandering around and meeting folks) was diminished from the previous year.

It appeared to me that the race itself was lacking any Significant Sailors, those with regional, national or world-wide competitive skills to create a draw. Not that those who have elected to compete are Insignificant, not by any stretch! But for an event to have continued sponsor support and public support, there has to be interest.

Quote from the R2AK site: "It’s like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear. There are squalls, killer whales, tidal currents that run upwards of 20 miles an hour, and some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.

It's sitting on a wet platform for hours on end, (or standing if you are going it on a SUP) with no engine, no resupply lines (or repair shops) for over 700 miles (whoever sailed in a straight line?).

Last year there were 15 world records established (or broken) and the reward for the winner is $10,000 cash, nailed to a tree, with a set of steak knives for second place and a sigh of relief for all the rest who make it. Out of 44 racers in 2016, 26 completed the course. Perhaps the locals are under-whelmed or had other things to do, but this is an amazing race by any standards.

I was on duty from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Chandlery (same as last year) and although we had some visitors, my impression was that we were lacking in folks who wanted to purchase R2AK gear (t-shirts, caps, pins, pocket flasks) whereas last year there seemed to be more demand.

Chart of the race course posted on the Cotton
Building gave everyone info about the race.
This year there definitely was better organization around the race itself, with plenty of good information for newcomers to learn about it and the racers. But the street was not filled with boats as it had been the year before, so it was a lot harder to talk personally to any of the racers in a casual way. And so it lacked the energy of "We're all gathered here to launch ourselves into this challenging event" feeling (in my humble, retired-PR, opinion).

In 2017 there were 64 entrants to the race, and of those 21 only had plans to go as far as Victoria. The tremendous gale  that blew up after the start (and all were forewarned of it's approach) and huge waves in Puget Sound eliminated at least 10 contestants for Ketchikan through various damages, (some of which may have been psychological as well as physical) although no one was lost at sea.

It was a battering that some will not care to repeat. (You can read about it here:

Stand-Up Paddle boarders have my utmost respect.
That left 34 boats to go the distance. I say 'boats,' but five of the vessels are actually stand-up paddle-boards (SUPs) (3), a rowing vessel and a kayak (the first ever to take on this task) and nine of the rest of the boats are 20 feet or less in length. So almost half the fleet is made up of small boats. That in itself is challenging since it is hard to provision a vessel for even a week with so little free space and this could be a three-week journey.

I follow the race on the Tracker (located here: and cheer for all the competitors because as a life-long sailor, I know it takes tremendous courage, stamina, resilience, and  hopefulness to do a long race, much less one like this. Here is another link for some updates by some of the racers firsthand: 48 North.

So I hope my readers will go to the R2AK website, get the tracker and follow some of these indomitable folks, comment on their progress, and give them the encouragement they will surely need to make it all the way to Ketchikan.

UPDATE: The third Race to Alaska was won by three brothers from Marblehead, Mass., as Team Pure & Wild/FreeBurd and the steak knives went to Team Broderna about five minutes later. It was a close and exciting finish by two awesome teams!!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Sands of Time

The scent of wild roses mixed with ocean air is heavenly.
 Since I arrived on the Olympic Peninsula, I have enjoyed some wonderful walks on natural lands. One of my favorites has been the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, also known as Dungeness Spit.

When I first came here in 2013, I was taken for a walk along the bluffs and was transfixed with the fragility and the beauty of a place that is in a state of constant change.

I walked these bluffs several times that year and often each year I come back at least a few times, sometimes to share it with visitors. Below are some pictures taken from 2013.

In 2013, there was still some walkway left near this post.
Now the post is gone, the tree is gone, the paths are gone.

This was in July 2013 and there was still a path to the right
of the photo. That path was eroded last year and is gone now.
All of this bluff shown here is gone now. I'm estimating at
least 20 feet has been taken in the past four years.

This was a previous path; the Rangers have their work cut
out from underneath them...
Another view of the previous path... gone in 2017.

And today when I went for a walk to remember my friend Cynthia Little who has crossed over (one month ago today) as she was the first one to show me the bluffs with her dog, Keena, I was shocked to discover that in the last year alone, we have lost ALL the walkways!

And areas that were inland by 25 or 30 feet and were tree-covered are now open to the Sound with the encroachment threatening those walkways as well. Here are the photos from today.
The barrier prevents anyone from walking along the bluff;
that SW path was open last fall but I knew it was eroding fast.

A new sign, a new blockage preventing any foot traffic to
the east on the bluffs of Dungeness Spit.

Overstating the obvious; there's a 100-ft. drop there.

If you look closely, you can see a huge piece
of bluff is about to drop off.
While the view is still impressive, this view opened up this
last winter. Previously it was trees and undergrowth.
The light reflects off the Sound and this path may only be
here for another summer. This used to be thick with trees
and undergrowth. Ever-changing beauty.
Another view of the wild rose.
(I've done two other blogs on this area: "Hot Night on the Spit" and "The Dungeness Spit" if you want to read more about it and see some other photos.)
We have had a lot of gale force winds this last fall and winter, and also stormy seas. Both of these elements are part of the erosion of the spit. No matter how much the Rangers try to arrest the action, it will continue. The sands of time... sliding away.