PORT TOWNSEND — Cue the surf guitar.
Carter Johnson, solo kayaker, appeared as a black dot on the water just as the sun was rising over Port Townsend on Saturday morning. Paddles flashing, he sliced toward the dock outside the Northwest Maritime Center to win the Seventy48 at 4:54 a.m., not another racer in sight.
What’s his secret? Surfing.
“There were spectacular waves,” Johnson said of the route from Tacoma’s Foss Waterway north to the Quimper Peninsula.
His kayak, a Huki Surfski, is made to surf those swells. And Johnson, who’s from Underwood in Skamania County, has trained to paddle the race’s 70 miles in a lot less than its allotted 48 hours. He finished the course in nine hours, 54 minutes.
His team, Gorge Downwind Champs, was acknowledged the winner — to take home a $4,800 cash prize — by the small group of spectators on the dock. Then Johnson paddled toward the beach, wondering aloud if there was any drinking water nearby.
“I’m so thirsty,” he called out.
Northwest Maritime Center staffer Barb Trailer and her crew handed him a pitcher full, and after a good quaff, Johnson picked up his boat.
Bystanders tried to help, but “I got it,” he told them, toting the sliver of a craft to its parking spot beside the maritime center.
“I ran out of water two hours ago,” Johnson, 45, admitted.
After a hot shower at the center, he walked out on the dock to await the next dot on the horizon: rower Ken Deem, who glided his 24-foot Maas Aero shell in at 5:20 a.m. Deem, who is from Tacoma, is the rower of Team Wave Forager, and had his wife and family members cheering his 10-hour, 20-minute voyage.
Minutes later came rain, wind and more finishers: Team Dad, aka Andrew McEwan of White Salmon, brought his Thunderbolt X kayak in at 6:19 a.m. Team Ono Grinds, Patrick Hwang of Seattle, pedaled his outrigger canoe in at 6:47 a.m.
The next half-hour brought five more teams to the dock including Seattle’s Tamatoa Northwest, with six people paddling a Malolo OC6 canoe, and Justin and Sienna Schaay of Charleston, S.C., paddling their Epic double kayak.
Mignon Fontonelle, 49, of Seattle was the first solo female to finish the race, paddling her outrigger canoe straight to the dock at 9:18 a.m.
A little over an hour later came the first standup paddleboard racer, Karl Kruger of Mustang Survival’s Team Ocean Watch. The Eastsound resident propelled his 17-foot-6-inch Bark SUP to Port Townsend in 15 hours and 26 minutes.
The Northwest Maritime Center, at the foot of Water Street in downtown Port Townsend, is hosting the 96 teams in the all-human-powered Seventy48. Rowers, paddlers and pedalers will continue coming in today. The race officially wraps at 7 p.m.
With COVID-19 safety protocols in place, there are no parties like the Race to Alaska’s Ruckus in past years. But the public is welcome to come to the maritime center to cheer the participants, said race boss Daniel Evans. A race tracker, map and details about teams are found at Seventy48.com.
Next on the maritime center’s agenda is the brand new WA360, which starts at 6 a.m. Monday from its dock where the Seventy48 finished.
Among the teams in this 360-mile, counterclockwise race to Skagit Bay, Bellingham, Point Roberts and back to Port Townsend are a few participants who just got warmed up.
Deem, for one, is slated to bring his shell back out for the event. And Kruger, the standup paddleboarder who conquered the Seventy48, is in the WA360 as part of a four-person crew on a 24-foot Melges monohull sportboat. Pedaling with him will be Dagny Kruger, Molly Howe and Emilie Van Vleet of Eastsound.
A race tracker and team list are found at nwmaritime.org/wa360.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]