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Racers in the Seventy48 this year fought against gusting winds, choppy seas and uncooperative tides through the night as they used only their …
Racers in the Seventy48 this year fought against gusting winds, choppy seas and uncooperative tides through the night as they used only their physical and mental strength to carry themselves to the finish line.
The starting gun for the solely human-powered race rang out in Tacoma at 7 p.m. Friday. Racers had 48 hours to travel the 70-mile course from the head of the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma, up to the finish line in front of the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend.
Just under 10 hours later, at 4:54 a.m. Saturday, Carter Johnson crossed the finish line in first place.
Johnson holds multiple world records in distance paddling and he said the race conditions were ultimately favorable for his rig, a Huki S1-X kayak. It was specifically built for surfing atop the waves — also known as a surfski.
“The weather was great; it couldn’t have been better,” Johnson said. “They were really organized, surf-able waves. I’m in a purpose-built surfing boat, so for me, it was very nice.”
Johnson likened paddling amidst the waves in the middle of the inky night as something akin to reading Braille.
“It was pitch black,” he said. “The speeds kicked up to like 8 to 10 miles per hour for about 30 miles. So for me, specifically, it was just the perfect scenario.”
Johnson also gave kudos to third-place finisher Andrew McEwan, who he called a “radically talented” kayaker.
“If it was a flat race, I’m confident he would’ve got me,” Johnson said. “The weather would’ve easily gotten me, too, if it was flat. I had the right tools.”
Racing for Mustang Survival’s Team Ocean Watch, Karl Krüger was the first paddleboarder to cross the finish line Saturday, just shy of 10:30 a.m.
While Johnson couldn’t have been better equipped for the conditions, Krüger said he couldn’t have picked a worse craft for the race.
“The spread of conditions last night were just absolutely brutal for a stand-up paddleboard,” Krüger said. “Most often we’d have slop on the port quarter, so I ended up paddling on my right side for miles and miles.”
After completing the race, Krüger said he wasn’t sure a stand-up paddleboard was the best option for someone looking to take home the first-place prize.
“This is the third time I’ve done this race and I think where I’m at — as much as I hate to say it — if you’re in it to win it, I don’t think a [stand-up paddleboard] is the way to do it,” he said. “In the conditions we had last night it was the wrong craft to place a little further up. It was a real grind.”
Krüger was one of a handful of Seventy48 competitors who took a short Sunday rest before immediately jumping into a sailboat to compete in the inaugural Washington360 race.
Krüger and his crew of three — Molly Howe, Emelie VanVleet and 13-year-old Dagny Galen Krüger — will be navigating the course in a Melges 24.
“I’m feeling pretty good about it, actually,” he said. “I’ve got a great team pulled together.”
Switching from paddleboarding to sailing, Krüger said, helped to keep him from becoming too disheartened at the prospect of getting back on the water.
“I think if I was jumping right back in on a [stand-up paddleboard] it would be crushing,” he said. “The comfort level is definitely much greater. And then, I’ve got a great crew with me. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
As finishers continued to cross the line Saturday morning in front of the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, they pulled their boats ashore and began de-rigging them to be taken home.
Amy Byers and John Dye, who paddled aboard a tandem kayak, were among the groups of paddlers staging their boats nearby after completing the race.
Byers had previously completed the 444-mile “Yukon River Quest” solo, but she’d never quite experienced weather like what she found in this year’s Seventy48.
“The Yukon [River Quest] is long and hard. These were very challenging conditions, so having the skillset for the conditions was really important,” she said. “Luckily, we each had a change of clothes because everything was wet. We just kept getting smashed by waves.”
After enduring wind gusts estimated at 25 to 30 mph and being pummeled by waves, Byers said team “Working Title” made for the Port Madison shoreline.
“There were different places where there was a lot of big water and a lot of heavy moving water,” Byers said. “Port Madison, there were big waves. So trying to get across [was difficult] … When it picked up I actually thought I was going to lose my paddle,” she said of the gusts.
Once ashore, Byers said she and paddling partner Dye started a fire and warmed up.
Another unique challenge presented by the Seventy48, Byers added, was paddling during the night.
“Yukon’s during the solstice, it’s further north, so it’s really paddling under the midnight sun,” she said. “This was really, really challenging.”
Affixed to the aft deck of her kayak, was a Godzilla figurine, decked out in kayak-related regalia and complete with a paddle.
“That’s Zilla,” Byers laughed.
Byers added that she was thankful Team Working Title’s mascot survived the arduous journey. Considering the conditions, she was honestly surprised Zilla had managed to hang on.
Patrick Hwang of team Ono Grinds brought with him a sort of good luck charm, too. As he made the journey to Port Townsend from Tacoma, Hwang carried aboard his kayak a burger from Seattle’s favorite drive-in: Dick’s.
He took home the distinction of being the first outrigger to cross the line in 2021.
Shortly before 11:30 a.m. Saturday, the father-son duo Team Swanson crossed the finish line.
Despite their high spirits, Brook Swanson and his son Owen were tired after the 70-mile passage.
“It was really fun,” Brook Swanson said. “I’ve done a lot of big races; the Yukon River Quest and the California 100. This was the hardest boat race I’ve ever done. The conditions were just challenging. We got hit by a crosswind and we couldn’t keep the boat straight.”
“Forty miles in, we snapped our rudder,” Owen Swanson added.
As Team Swanson was celebrating their accomplishment, paddleboarder Chris Spencer was taking a little breather after he pulled up on the shore at Kala Point.
Racing under the team name SF Sea Lion, the Berkley native said it was his first time ever paddling on the Puget Sound.
“I think everyone was just trying to paddle to get to the good currents and winds on the course,” Spencer said. “We had a lot of wind and some pretty big swells.”
As for any gear he wished he’d brought along for the journey, Spencer said another cup of coffee certainly wouldn’t hurt.
“One more package of instant coffee is all I wish I had,” he said.
About 12 miles southeast of Spencer, Lee Warnecke had beached his Oxford wherry and tucked himself in on the southern shore of Foulweather Bluff.
“I was going pretty good and then I got a little spooked by the weather heading out across the canal,” Warnecke said. “So, I had to pull off and I’m inside of a bivy right now resting up, trying to figure out what my plan of attack is.”
Warnecke said so far the boat’s held up just fine and the conditions had actually seemed quite favorable.
His decision to come ashore was mostly guided by his 36-odd hours of being awake and not wanting to make the crossing with so little energy left.
Warnecke said he expected to catch some sleep before heading out again to complete the race, as he had no intentions of throwing in the towel.
“My head is there, my body’s just trying to get there,” he said. “There’s something about doing it at night, where you couldn’t really see, so you just went at it. Once daylight came, it was kind of a different story because you could actually visualize what you were going out into.”
Minnie Fontenelle, of team Hapalong, said she’d encountered some harrowing moments during the race and she was glad to have her first Seventy48 behind her and finally be back ashore.
“I was excited about the downwind, but it was from the southwest so it was kind of blowing on our ama [outrigger float],” Fontenelle said. “It got a little big out there. That created some complications. It was bigger, I think, than we all expected.”
Fontenelle said the conditions definitely left her outside her comfort zone.
“There were moments when it was just plain-ol’ scary,” she said. “It was good because I found some people out there to go over and down with and feel a little safer, but it was a challenge.”
Despite the harrowing moments, Fontenelle said she’d absolutely consider a second Seventy48.
“It was fun, scary and a new experience,” Fontenelle said. “I’ve never paddled that far, ever.”
Akeyla Behrenfeld of Team Tardigrade had the distinction of being the youngest competitor to complete the race solo.
Akeyla, 14, managed to tough out the rough weather and rowed herself across the finish line just after 12:30 a.m. Sunday.
It wasn’t her first young win, either. In 2019, Akeyla became the youngest competitor to complete the race, rowing with her father, Timothy Behrenfeld.
Timothy and Akeyla built a pair of Colin Angus Expedition Rowboats ahead of the 2020 Seventy48, but the race was later canceled.
As she rowed near the Port Townsend Canal she began to question whether or not she could complete the race under the grueling conditions.
“At about Foulweather Bluff, I got massive blisters all over my hands and they started to open up and it was really painful,” she said. “I was just about to call my mom and say I was in a lot of pain and I couldn’t make it, and she said, ‘All of your friends are here waiting for you and we’re cheering you on.’”
The teen decided to keep chugging along, but after seeing her friends cheering her on from the shore of the Port Townsend Canal, she got her second wind and ignored the pain as she made for the finish line.
“On the other side of the Port Townsend Canal, all the winds had died, so that also made me just want to go and get to the end,” she said. “We’d been battling winds and waves and currents the entire trip.”
With the race now behind her, she was happy she found the strength to finish.
“I think I really would’ve regretted it if I had stopped earlier,” she said. “I was just really, really glad I finished.”
By the 7 p.m. close of racing Sunday, 43 of 92 teams had crossed the finish line.
Team Wave Forager’s Ken Deem took first place in the “By Yourself” class. Rod Sternagel of Team Rodster took first place in the “Facing Backward” class. Kruger took home a first-place win for the “Standing Up” class and Johnson placed first overall.
Following the third iteration of the Seventy48, the inaugural WA360 popped off at 6 a.m. Monday morning.
To stay up-to-date on racers performances in the 360-mile race, visit nwmaritime.org/wa360-daily-updates/.
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