PORT TOWNSEND — June’s Race to Alaska has been canceled for this year, as has been September’s Wooden Boat Festival — unless the fall celebration of boats is conducted online.
Also canceled is the SEVENTY48 race in June; and the Salish 100, Pocket Yacht Palooza and the Palooza Crooza in July.
The nonprofit Northwest Maritime Center has scrapped for this year “anything that was big and public,” Executive Director Jake Beattie said Friday.
“Everything else is on standby.”
The cancellations are the result of Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders to slow the spread of COVID-19 that include measures such as social distancing — people staying 6 feet from each other — and a prohibition against large groups.
“It was not worth bringing the exposure to our coastal communities between here and Ketchikan,” said Daniel Evans, race boss for the Race to Alaska (R2AK). The first leg of the annual race of non-motorized vessels is to Victoria and the second leg is to Ketchikan, Alaska, for a total journey of 750 miles.
“It brings people from all over,” Evans said. “It seemed really reckless.”
The Canadian government has extended its border closure and the Heiltsuk Nation, which includes the R2AK waypoint of Bella Bella, issued a bylaw closing its territory to non-Heiltsuk populations.
With state parks closed, the SEVENTY48 race site at Blake Island isn’t available, and social distancing is just about impossible on a small boat, unless one is alone.
It’s a shame, Evans noted, because early registrations have flooded in this year, with 125 already signed up for the SEVENTY48 and more than 40 ready compete in the R2AK.
“It’s more early registrations than we’ve ever had,” he said, adding that he thought the entries into the R2AK had been shaping up to be “the highest ever.”
Those who have registered for any of the races can get a refund, defer the fee to 2021 — when they will be automatically approved — or donate it to the maritime center, Evans said.
So far, donations have been the top choice, Evans said Friday. Out of 30 responses that day, 25 were donations, four deferred to next year and one asked for a refund. And two inquires asked how they could donate not only the race fees but a bit more.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Evans said.
Beattie is looking ahead.
“Like most of the organizations and businesses everywhere, this is a shock to the system and one that will be a hard storm to weather,” he said.
“We’re doing what we can to make sure that when we can, we can serve our community again.”
Among the ideas in the works is an online Wooden Boat Festival.
“Because everyone’s online, everyone could come to an online Wooden Boat Festival,” Beattie said.
A piece of good news: The maritime center was the recipient of a payroll protection program loan from the Small Business Administration and has been able to bring back 45 employees, Beattie said.
They are working on recreating the center’s offerings.
“We‘re a public service information agency that works with schools and gathers the public. None of that can happen now,” Beattie said.
So the center is providing online learning, such as a recent online boat-building workshop that involved 13 families from all over the nation.
“We’re planning another one,” Beattie said.
“We have a full slate of summer programs for youth and adults,” so the staff are working to find ways to safely have those, he added.
School programs are canceled through the rest of the school year, but “if school comes back differently in the fall, how can we continue to do programs?
“We’re looking at how they may be adapted to this COVID-19 world,” Beattie said.
“Some version of today’s reality will be with us long enough that we need to learn to work differently.”
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].