PORT TOWNSEND — When the gun goes off at 5 a.m. June 8 to announce the start of the 2020 Race to Alaska, one team of high school students expects to begin the journey of a lifetime.
Team FAST (Freaking Awesome Sailing Teens) has been conditionally approved to compete in the sixth annual Race to Alaska (R2AK). If it is officially approved, it will be the first all-high-school student team in the history of the race sponsored by the Northwest Maritime Center.
Since the boat is new to the team and hasn’t been tested, the team will have to run trials to gain official approval to compete in the June 8 race, said race boss Daniel Evans. After gaining approval, teams then must register for the race by April 15.
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. The primary rule is that the boats are human or wind powered — no motors are allowed. No support is provided. The first team to cross the finish line gets $10,000. Second-place finishers get a set of steak knives.
So far, 32 teams have registered for the full race. Thirty-eight have been approved for the full race and seven for the Port Townsend-Victoria leg only, Evans said.
Evans is confident Team FAST will get everything together to compete in the race.
Led by skipper and junior Odin Smith, 16, the team also is composed of fellow Port Townsend High School students. They are senior Luca Gesinger, 18, first mate; senior Dylan Tracer, 18; junior Willow Hoins, 17; and sophomore Oscar Levine, 16.
“We’re the overall youngest team to ever do the race,” Smith said.
The team purchased its vessel — which has not been official christened, but has been nicknamed the “Limey Bastard” — on Monday off Craigslist for $6,500. That included its trailer and three sets of sails, Smith said.
The vessel is a nearly 50-year-old Santa Cruz 27-foot masthead sloop with a dolphin nose and asymmetrical spinnaker, Smith said, adding that the team plans to keep the boat’s lime-green hull.
Smith, who was working on the boat on Wednesday at the Boat Haven shipyard replacing chain plates, said that some of the work that the team has to do to get the vessel race ready includes replacing the main bulkhead and interior furnishings as well as fixing electrical problems.
“This is pretty much my life now until it’s finished,” Smith said. “Once it’s finished, my life is going to be sailing it.”
The team has been getting help from others at Boat Haven and the Lower Hadlock Shipwrights, Smith said.
Smith made R2AK history last year as the youngest participant in the race so far; this will be the second time racing for him. Gesinger has passed through the inside passage of the Seymour Narrows on fishing vessels, but hasn’t participated in the R2AK, Smith said.
“The rest of the team is pretty green,” Smith said.
A change to this year’s race rules is that teams used to have to go inside the Seymour Narrows on the way to Bella Bella, but now have the choice of other routes to get to the Bella Bella way point.
Smith has decided that his team will go through the channel, as the vessel will have a safer time fighting the waters there then in the open Pacific Ocean due to its size.
Smith built the team, starting with Gesinger, and adding fellow students who were “wanting to put in the time and effort” to complete the race. All the team members have had previous sailing experience.
Since they are all students, finding sponsors has been crucial to raise enough money to fund their participation in the race, Smith said.
So far they have sponsorships from Admiral Ship Supply, ACI, Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op, Haven Boatworks, Satch’s Autoworks, Stanford Siver, Josh Smith, Sea Marine, Lower Hadlock Shipwrights and the Port of Port Townsend, but they need more support to fund the endeavor, Smith said.
In addition to purchasing and updating their vessel, the registration cost for R2AK for the team is $1,450, and there are other supplies and materials the team needs to acquire, Smith said.
People interested in sponsoring the team or buying a sticker can call Smith at 206-892-8689.
More information regarding the R2AK can be found at r2ak.com.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]