The first time we did the Seventy48 race, I knew our chances of finishing would largely depend on the weather. When I say, “the weather,” I really mean the wind. In 2018, it started calm. We had a headwind Saturday morning, but then the winds died down and it was calm again. Sunday morning’s sunrise revealed a strong quartering tailwind. But again, the winds calmed after our first few miles, and we were able to finish the race. In the 2019 SEVENTY48 race, the weather was about as perfect as could be and we finished nearly 5 hours faster than in 2018.
Starting with a Front
The weather forecast for the 2021 Seventy48 was ominous. A weather front was predicted to bring strong south to southwest winds in the first few hours of the race and then continue for the duration of the race. We were hoping to paddle through the night and into the morning and get to the north end of Bainbridge Island before the wind speed got too high. If the forecast and reality were the same, I think we could have done it. But the wind came early… and stronger than the initial forecast. By the time we reached the north end of Vashon Island, we had 4-foot following seas. By the time we reached Blake Island, the seas were big enough, and we were tired enough, that it didn’t seem like a good idea to continue.
Out of the Frying Pan…
After a short sleep on Blake Island, we checked the weather forecast. It has gone from bad to really bad. As we looked out at the water, it was a wave train of 4-footers with some sets of 5 or 6-footers thrown in for good measure. We decided it was too risky to try to cross to Bainbridge Island paddling broadside to the wind and waves. We decided instead to head directly into them, and to get close to shore and hopefully out of the full force of the wind.
West Side Story
Our original plan was to go north up the east side of Bainbridge Island. After battling the weather to get off Blake, we were close to the entrance to Rich Passage. The west side of Bainbridge offered a lot more protection from the wind and the tides would be helpful if we could paddle fast enough. We navigated our way through Rich Passage at the beginning of an ebb tide and headed north up the west side of Bainbridge. We made it through Agate Passage just as the tide turned. Once clear of the flooding current rushing into Agate Passage, we stopped at a park to take a much-needed break. As we had a snack and assessed our situation, we decided to sleep, warm up, and wait for the tide to turn.
We Pushed On
We left the park and headed towards Jefferson Point. As we launched, the water was the calmest we had seen for the entire race. But that lasted only 30 minutes or an hour before it became increasingly bouncy. By the time we rounded the point, we were in 1-2 foot seas with some complicated interplay between the current and wind waves. We continued to just past Kingston and took a break. We were feeling fatigued from hours of paddling in high winds and waves.
Again, we got ourselves launched and headed north towards Point No Point. As we approached Eglon, we talked about whether we could finish or not. We had previously covered the remaining distance in the time we had left. But only in better conditions, and only when we were much fresher. We decided to push on to Hansville and reassess there. The moment we made that decision, the wind intensified and the waves got bigger. The weather said, “no,” and this time we listened.
The End of the Line
We turned to shore at Eglon and retired from the race. A half-hour after we called in our surrender, the wind died down and the water was calm. By the time our safety crew arrived to pick us up and we got the kayaks loaded, the wind was at it again. If we had continued, that weather would have come up about the time we started the longest open water crossing of the race. We had paddled about 50 miles of the race in almost continuously rough conditions. Of the 93 teams that entered the race, only 43 finished.
While we didn’t finish the 2021 Seventy48 race with an official time, it didn’t feel right to leave the course unfinished. So we have since gone back and launched from Eglon and paddled to Port Townsend. We did finish, just not while anyone was watching. And not in 48 hours… it took us 8,633 hours and 29 minutes that time.