A week ago, as I sat in my canoe on the starting line of the Seventy48, I asked myself, “Are we ready for this? Will we finish this race? What are we even doing here?”
Around me were 112 other human-powered watercraft: surfskis, SUPs, rowing shells and sculls, kayaks, canoes, rowboats… even a prone paddleboard. Sitting behind me were the five men who I’d spent the last eight months with, training and planning to get us to this start line. It was almost 5:30pm on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma, Washington, and we were about to start a 70-mile race through the Puget Sound to finish in Port Townsend. We were paddling our six-man outrigger canoe ‘Elepaio, and we were here to race.
There was $11,300 on the line for the first place finisher, and nothing for second. The wind was forecasted to be in our faces - a headwind for the length of the course. Our main competition was Team Epic, a double surfski, led by Greg Barton, the greatest American paddler. We knew they had the ability to be faster than us… but we felt like we might have an advantage that they didn’t.
Our plan from the get go was to paddle the 70-mile course without stopping. We had a craft that would handle any ocean condition; we could bring all of our water and fuel along with us; and our ace-in-the-hole was that we could always be moving. Even if one of the six of us needed a short break, the other five would keep pulling us forward. Even as we refueled and hydrated, we’d still always be getting closer to the finish.
We are Team 6x600, based out of Sand Point on Lake Washington in Seattle. We started preparing for the Seventy48 in November of 2017. We got together as a team, paddled, made equipment lists, planned training sessions, paddled, rewrote equipment lists, tested fuels and hydration systems, paddled some more, and most importantly spent our effort building the trust in each other that were going to need on race day. Based on performance in our training sessions we set a 10-hour finishing time as our goal. We decided to always recognize that challenge to ourselves and we incorporated it into our name, Team 6x600: 6 paddlers x 600 minutes.
For the first 180 minutes of the race, three watercraft shared the lead. For 23 miles, Team 6x600, Team Epic, and Team Way Two Close, a rowing pair, pulled away from the rest of the field. In three hours we cleared the slight shelter of Vashon and Blake Island, and were now paddling into a north wind on the open Puget Sound. The tide was with us for another couple of hours and we were paddling well, pacing ourselves - and our competition was so close we could touch them. But at that point, the rowers decided to make a move. We were one third into the distance of the course and they went for it. We decided to keep our pace with almost 50 miles still left to paddle. But the double surfski answered them back and picked up their speed. We watched both boats quickly put distance on us, and eventually the rowers had to back down. But Team Epic didn’t stop. They had found a new gear and kept pulling away. They pulled away until they had a sizable lead on both boats. And as the sun went down, they became just a moving white light in the distance. As nighttime bore down on us, we were able to steadily catch and then pass the rowing pair, but we spent the rest of the evening fighting a flooding tide, paddling into the wind, and racing in the dark against what was for us, an unbeatable opponent.
We knew Greg Barton and his partner would be faster than us. We did our best to stay steady and run at maximum sustainable effort for ten hours, and hope that we would get the opportunity to capitalize on any mistake or shortcoming they might have. We ran our race the best we could, and they never presented us with a chance to catch or overtake them. In the end we finished 19 minutes after they did. We arrived in Port Townsend at 3:28am… 598 minutes after we started.
This race was really something special. I have pride in and respect for every racer who was on that starting line, whether they finished or not. Tackling this distance, overnight, (in some cases TWO nights!) and on the open Sound is a feat of strength in itself. Some racers finished 33 hours after we did. In many ways, that’s a much more difficult task than what we faced. Greg Barton finished in less time than anyone else and he called it one of the hardest races he’s ever done.
A special thanks that doesn’t need to be said but should be recognized goes to my teammates: Gavin Godfrey, Ernie Wong, Erik Scharffenberg, Patrick Hwang, and Troy Nishikawa. I'd do this race again with you guys in a heartbeat.
And to KIALOA Paddles…. We took 35,000 strokes each during the race. And every one of them connected us to each other through the water and our paddles. We absolutely could not have done this without you.
- Alan Goto
Comments will be approved before showing up.