SEVENTY48 is a 70-mile race with a 48-hour time limit from Tacoma to Port Townsend with intentionally few rules: no motors, no support, and no wind. Human power only, pedal, paddle, or row.

This was my second time completing the race on a stand up paddleboard as TEAM SEASTR and, again, the journey was quite an adventure.

The race start on Foss Waterway was at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, June 10. In preparation, I left Olympia on Thursday, picked up my father in Seattle and drove back to Olympia. We loaded the van the next morning, picked up my 9 year old son from school, and headed to Tacoma. Once at Foss Waterway the weather was restful and a bit muggy, then the drizzle came. Teams were wet, the water was tame, and the community of racers was strong.

Putting a wet race number on a wet board before the start.

Still 3 hours from the start and with limited shelter from the elements, I knew my son would not make it much longer. He could not be on the dock with me and help with any of the absolutely fascinating things I was doing down there so we said our goodbyes. Before long, it was go time. 

Anticipation at the starting line.

Part of my plan after the start was to get into race pace quickly and I held a steady stroke to the first way point. After checking in near Point Defiance I readied myself for what I call the ‘Lazy River’, Colvos Passage. I set out alongside a three-man kayak, Team Dumas Bay Brethren. They were very charming and asked if I would like to stay with them for a presentation of the audiobook Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Again, I adore this community. This was also a bit of a Talisman for me as I am a rower and the book has some family history. I also quoted George Pocock in the documentary “Stand Up“ made the previous year about the SEVENTY48. Here we go!

As dusk came, vessel lights were still clustered and we had a bit over 60 more miles to go to the finish. I broke away from the group to find my line north and off my port beam the backs of several whales glistened in the failing light. My solo adventure had officially commenced.  With darkness settling in, lights began to disperse. I heard a boat approaching and was delighted to see a friend following alongside me! He wished me well and advised me to stay alert up ahead, with a sly grin. Several miles along and fireworks cascaded over my head.  They of course were following the tracker and had decided to send me off into the night with, what I hope will be, a new tradition for the setting of the sun on the start of so many racers’ journeys.  

This next section was charted territory for me. Not only because I had trained in this section a handful of times but because I had found myself here with my surf buddy Jeannine Mackie only a year ago. I beelined it to Blake Island. I had a plan to beat the cold before it could play its hand and had packed a Mustang Survival drysuit. I heaved my boat, a 16X14 Splinter Stand Up out of Port Townsend, onto the dock and set about changing gear. I knew that with a wool base layer and a drysuit I would be perhaps too hot but I did not want to reach a point of no return in regards to body temperature.

I set off past Blakely Rock without any troubles and the sky was so well lit from Seattle. It was only after Eagle Harbor that the light faded considerably and sleep became an issue. I had gone to my knees (stand up paddling is a misnomer ) and I literally nodded off! This was a safety concern and I wanted to make sure that this was going to be a sustainable paddle that would get me across the finish line within my goal of 24 hours. I stood up, hugged the shoreline and started scouting for a safe beach to take a cat nap. I was paddling with the weather and got in a wee downwinder. With every stroke and push of the board the bioluminescence would react. It was like surfing on celestial clouds. The squid darted left and right like a synchronized water ballet, making me giggle with the realization of the ‘how’ and ‘where’ I was at that moment and the beauty of it all….and they kept me awake. It was 3 a.m.

I landed on the northeast facing beach of Yeomalt Point to find two other Splinter Board Teammates sitting and staring out at the water. They too were trying to beat the point of no return fatigue and were recharging for a moment. I cozied up to a large piece of driftwood and set my timer for 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes later I heard the 16 person crew of TEAM USDB calling out strokes and it lit me up. I think we all cheered on the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind with our hearts and smiles this past weekend. With that, I was back at it.  

I wanted so badly to take my drysuit off; I run hot and I was paddling my toosh off. I told myself I could at least peel off the top and tie it around my waist at Fay Bainbridge State Park. Once there, I stared out across the water. Port Madison is my nemesis. I think once you have a bad go at a stretch of the course it never really leaves you. Not only is it a sizable crossing (roughly 3 nautical miles) but you haven’t made the big left turn yet so you are still literally and figuratively far from ringing that bell.

Dawn unfolded, the water was manageable and never having looked at the tracker myself at that point it was awesome to start pinpointing other teams and water friends. I tied the upper half of the drysuit around my waist awkwardly and again set off. I was not going to take the time to change out of the thing until Point No Point. You gotta have goals.

As I passed the Kingston Ferry I heard it rumble to life and begin its transit to Edmonds. I knew my 9 year old son would be on the return ferry and it killed me to have missed him by less than an hour, but it meant I was ahead of my voyage plan!  

Apple Cove Point is a good mile marker, as you start to turn to port here. I really got into a nice pace singing to the water and feeling synchronization with mind, body, paddle, and board. I murmured a hello to the eagle, I knew it was the same one I spoke with last year. I felt beyond present, I felt connected and was having the time of my life. In the distance, the sweeping shoreline and crisp lighthouse of Point No Point came closer and closer and I could hear “Momma Bird, Momma Bird, this is Baby Bird, come in…” (now I’m crying)…my son and I had agreed to use Channel 68 to make contact and to see his stoked little windblown face running along the beach cheering me on meant so much at that moment. Pause.

Regrouping at Foulweather Bluff.

Back in fresh two millimeter neoprene pants and a hooded UV shirt I was feeling like a horse to the barn. I had met all my waypoints, was fueling correctly, and had the bit in my teeth. I headed to Foulweather Bluff to consider my track. I had to figure out what my line would be and weigh my options as Admiralty Inlet, Hood Canal and Oak Bay all react to one another. I stared at the distant entrance to the cut leading into Port Townsend and could not help myself. As the crow flies, so shall I. Halfway across the channel a safety boat passed me and mentioning I looked strong, I asked if I was making headway as well as showing grit. It was a slog. But the sun was out and as I came closer to the cut, Channel 68 lit up again and my No.1 fan pushed me through…luckily I made the cut in time for a splendid swift ride to the other side. 

Shooting out through the Port Townsend Cut

At this point I had a plan. I had told myself that if I got that far and the conditions were ‘doable’ I would make a statement. The SEA in SEASTR (the non-profit I founded) stands for Socio Environmental Advocacy. I am an activist with the hopes of making the maritime world and beyond accessible to all and to bring people closer to their environment. This means starting a dialogue about equal rights, giving others a voice and a seat at the table. About realizing that there is a direct correlation between the state of humanity and the state of our environment. I pulled off into one of the beyond words beautiful beaches just after the bridge, disrobed, stowed all my gear and donned a bathing suit. I then proceeded to write a message on my body. Big breath. Homestretch.

Crowned, a SEASTR tradition in the making, by Angela Hewitson of the Northwest Maritime Center.

Hugging the western edge of Indian Island as legally as possible I made another port hand turn and headed as perpendicular as possible to the finish line across the bay with another 2.5 nautical miles to go. SEVENTY48 this year had 95 teams,16 of which were Stand Up Paddlers (including a tandem SUP, Team Couples Therapy). My team, SEASTR made the voyage in 20 hours and 38 minutes. My goal was to race in less than 24 hours. Stand Up Paddle times ranged from 14 hours and 12 minutes to 43 hours and 16 minutes. Job well done, everyone. I landed on the beach, rang the bell, hugged my loved ones, headed to the campground and crawled into bed clothed and unshowered…the sea was still my blanket.

Thank you so much for all the hard work and strong hearts at the Northwest Maritime Center for offering adventure racing here in the Northwest that captures the imagination of so many and reunites us with our environment in a way that forces us to ask the question, ‘what if and why not.” Here’s to our watermen and waterwomen. See you out there in the wild.  

Editor’s Note: Feature image courtesy of J.Ruffo.