PORT TOWNSEND — This year’s Race to Alaska Blazer Party hosted laughs, drinks and plenty of “world records” made by participants in the fifth annual contest.
The Blazer Party, the final celebration for the Race to Alaska teams before the next race in June, was hosted by the Northwest Maritime Center on the first night of the Wooden Boat Festival, which began Friday and continues today.
“It was great,” said Steve Moore, volunteer captain for the Blazer Party. “Everyone here is hanging out, I can’t complain.
“It really gives you as someone who isn’t a racer a fun look into what the culture is behind the race.”
The racers all wore sport-coat blazers with either the sleeves on, signifying that they completed the race, or the sleeves cut off, meaning they were unable to finish.
The Race to Alaska is a 750-nautical-mile race that starts in Port Townsend. The qualifying stage is to Victoria. Those continuing for the rest of the journey, 710 miles, head toward Ketchikan, Alaska.
This year’s race had 45 teams accepted into the race — which was the biggest turnout yet, organizers said — and 25 were able to finish. The winning team was team Angry Beaver, who completed the race in four days three hours and 56 minutes.
Team Angry Beaver set the record with the fastest time by a mono-hull boat by eight hours.
The team that finished last, but still completed the trip, was team Wee Free Men, who also set the record for longest time it took to complete the race: 19 days 20 hours and seven minutes.
The Dirt Bag award — given to the team that spent the least on outfitting for the race — went to Team Yankee Peddlers. The team, which was not in attendance, spent $600 on its monohull, which was the 17th vessel to cross the Ketchikan finish line in June.
This year’s race was rough on the competitors, as several days had brutal weather. This was the second year the race had double digit dropouts at the first stage of the race in Victoria.
One team gathered several records, the most notable being oldest vessel, largest age gap between vessel and youngest crew member and youngest crew member.
Team Ziska sailed on a 116-year-old vessel, with 16-year-old Port Townsend High School student Odin Smith as a one of the four crew members, and finished the race in 22nd place with a time of 15 days 20 hours and 14 minutes.
Smith has been sailing for almost two years, and this race was the first time he had competed and he almost wasn’t on a team.
He wanted to join late, and didn’t think any team would accept him, but a happy accident had led him to joining the team.
Smith said long story short was “Thai food at the right time.”
He and his father were at 123 Thai when they met up with Ziska captain Stanford Siver and Smith’s father realized he left his card at the Pourhouse and left Smith there talking with Siver.
Smith and Siver talked, and Smith discovered Siver needed another crew member and he quickly joined the team.
During the voyage the waters were rough, but Smith shared his favorite experience on-board.
“While going through a massive wave a big ol’ orca jumped out of the water 50 feet in front of our bowsprit,” Smith said. “I was the only one on deck to see it though.”
Smith was the youngest racer at the Blazer Party.
“I felt a little out of place,” Smith said. “I’m 16 and everyone is their 20s and older.”
Smith wants to sail with an all high schoolers team in the 2020 race, with the planned team name of “Young, Dumb, and Broke,” but for that to be possible they will need more sponsors to be able to afford the race.
“There’s no way we can fund it with a bunch of 16, 17, 18-year-old kids, just trying to sail to Alaska,” Smith said. “No matter what, next year will not be my last race.”
The Race to Alaska in 2020 will be on June 8, and the organizers announced a change to this year’s course: racers are no longer required to go through Seymour Narrows to reach Bella Bella.
“We now have an open relationship with Seymour Narrows,” said Jake Beattie, Northwest Maritime Center executive director and founder of the Race to Alaska.
Racers can start to register their teams soon, and the Race to Alaska now has a “punch-card” for frequent racers. After participating in four races, a team’s fifth race registration is free.
The Wooden Boat Festival wraps up today and here is a schedule of the day’s highlights:
• 10 a.m. — Bell Tolls.
• 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. — Japanese Boat Building Techniques (Boat Building stage).
• Noon — Taiko Drumming (Bar Harbor); Pirate’s Treasure Hunt (Cupola House).
• 12:30 p.m. — Shinto Launching (Marina Basin).
• 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. — Preserving Japanese Crafts & The Gifu Academy (Technical stage).
• 1:30 p.m. — Edensaw Boatbuilding Challenge and Awards.
• 3 p.m. — Sail By.
For a full list of events, and to purchase tickets, see woodenboat.org.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].