Sechelt sailors place 15th in Race to Alaska

Excited family were on hand June 22 to raise a ruckus and welcome home captain Tom McPherson and 17-year-old mate Ethan Hafey, both from Sechelt, on their return from Alaska.

The pair, sailing on the 41-foot Coast-built schooner Fast Eddy, were part of Team Seaforth Expeditions – a crew of seven competing in the Race to Alaska. They placed 15th out of 35 entrants.

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The 1,200 nautical mile race from Port Townsend, Wash., to Ketchican, Alaska was completed without any help from internal combustion, only backbreaking rowing power and wind. 

Team Seaforth and Fast Eddy made their maiden voyage just days before the June 3 start, which is remarkable as most other teams had been practising well ahead of the race.

Starting at 5 a.m. in Port Townsend, the team decided to wait out gale-force winds for an hour before crossing the Juan de Fuca Strait into Victoria for Stage 1, the “proving grounds” portion of the race.

They had quite the sail that fist day, and placed 21 out of 50 teams. This was the first year the race did not see any of the kayakers or stand-up paddle boarders make it through to the second stage due to the intense conditions in Juan de Fuca Strait.

After a couple days of preparations they set out for Ketchikan. The bell rang at noon on June 6, and the racers bolted down the stairs in front of the Empress Hotel to their boats and off they went, paddling, rowing and peddling – yes, peddling – out to sea.

After four days of rowing, Team Seaforth was among the top three in the second heat of boats to get through Seymour Narrows. Many of the faster racing boats made it through earlier but Seaforth was holding their own against boats that were similar to them in ability.

Rowing and sailing through Seymour Narrows was a highlight for the crew because although most of them have crossed this challenging passage with its extreme currents countless times, none had tried without a motor on board.

Once through the Narrows they were in a tight race with two other teams from B.C. but suffered a small mechanical issue that had to be dealt with in sheltered waters shortly after Bella Bella, the second and final checkpoint of the race.

They then passed through a narrow and shallow passage above Price Island and waited for currents and sunlight before getting underway again. This brief pause brought them a magical experience as they beheld a beautiful setting sun while welcoming the dark night and display of bioluminescence to the soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

The plan for the race was five hours on and two hours off for each crew member going day and night. The two hours off were spent making meals, attending to any issues and trying to catch some sleep.

It was a lot of rowing for the next few days after heading into an uncharacteristically calm Hecate Strait, keeping on at third place in their grouping and 15th overall. At this point 10 teams were already celebrating and exchanging stories at the yacht club in Ketchikan.

Seaforth, meanwhile, kept rowing and rowing and rowing – five on, two off, five on, two off.

Prayers for wind were answered on their last racing day. Fast Eddy was finally under sail and surfing at a thrilling speed of 13 knots as she crossed the Dixon Entrance. The team was having the ride they had hoped for after averaging 3.5 knots rowing most of the race. They were neck-and-neck with two other teams and crossed the finish line at 8:40 p.m. June 15, still in 15th place after nine and half days of continuous racing.

– Submitted by Jocelyn Eyre-McPherson

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