Too much dullness and dimwittedness recently. We need a break from that. We like the optimism of Team Blackfish and their fellow sailors:
PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — Scott Veirs and Thomas Nielsen have a little wooden plank mounted on their boat, just in front of the seat where they plan to take turns, for days on end, pedaling a bike-chain-driven propeller shaft all the way to Alaska.
“If in doubt,” the sign reads, “try some optimism.”
That could be the motto for the entire field of competitors in what is billed as the first race of its kind — human powered to Alaska — which set off Thursday morning from this city on the shores of Puget Sound, heading north across open water. The 54 entrants in the Race to Alaska— solo efforts and teams, novices and old-salt veterans — were fueled by a mix of determination, ingenuity and upward of 6,000 calories a day, but no motors.
Race organizers, in putting up a $10,000 prize for the first vessel to cross the finish line in Ketchikan, Alaska, 750 miles away, said they wanted to see what human imagination and muscle could do, with a little screwball humor thrown in. So the rules were simple: no support teams, no burning of gas — and, to the second-place finisher, a nice set of steak knives. After that, any and all options for getting from Point A to Point B could be on the table.
The route is long and treacherous: from here in Port Townsend, two hours northwest of Seattle, the competitors headed for the often rough and windy Strait of Juan de Fuca that separates the city from Vancouver Island, British Columbia. From there, they will follow the narrow, twisting path of the Inside Passage farther north into Alaska, where the water can be calm or ferocious and is often studded with obstacles like kelp or logs.
The destination, Ketchikan, is a popular tourist town where, according to the race organizers’ website, “they measure rainfall in feet, tourists by cruise ships loads, and parties by how many people dance.” Those who make it to the finish line are promised “a hot meal, a cold beer, a dry bed, and some well earned accolades.”
“Part of what’s intriguing about this race to people is that it’s a riddle,” said Jake Beattie, the executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center, a nonprofit group here that came up with idea of the race and organized it. “The rules match no other form that’s out there,” he added. “We want to demonstrate human capability.”
To adhere to the race’s rules and to increase speed, kayaks were augmented with sails, or, like Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Veirs’s Polynesian-inspired sailboat, with an added pedal and propeller.
Dinghies arrived with oarlocks, paddles and sails, like the 16-foot open-hull boat that Heather Drugge and her partner, Dan Campbell, set off in, racing alongside big sailing catamarans that had been outfitted with extra rowing stations. Roger Mann, a helicopter mechanic from South Carolina, set forth in his solo pedal-sail trimaran with water-purifying equipment, solar-powered lights and tubes of zinc oxide cream for the blisters he expected. A Canadian team calling itself the Soggy Beavers set out in a six-man outrigger canoe with a Canadian flag fluttering from a hockey stick at the aft…
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