Race to Alaska: ‘Soggy Beavers’ Slog Into Ketchikan

Teams continue to arrive at the finish line in Ketchikan for the inaugural Race to Alaska, an engineless boat race that started in Port Townsend, Wash. By late last week, all the finishing teams had been on sailboats. But Team Soggy Beavers relied almost 100 percent on human power.

Team Soggy Beavers was all smiles as they were cheered at the finish line Thursday. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)
Team Soggy Beavers was all smiles as they were cheered at the finish line Thursday. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Imagine paddling.

It’s not easy, right?

Now, imagine paddling for hours at a time.

Now imagine paddling for hours at a time every day for 11 days, sometimes facing 35-knot headwinds and 15-foot swells.

That’s Team Soggy Beavers: Six young, obviously energetic, potentially crazy Canadian guys, who paddled a small modified canoe for 750 miles.

When they paddled past the finish line at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin, they were all smiles, and delighted to crack open a six-pack of beer waiting for them on the dock, which they grabbed while officially ringing the arrival bell.

Team Soggy Beavers paddled into Ketchikan Thursday afternoon, the seventh team to finish the Race to Alaska. (Photo by Leila Kheiry.)
Team Soggy Beavers paddled into Ketchikan Thursday afternoon, the seventh team to finish the Race to Alaska. (Photo by Leila Kheiry.)

They held onto their cold bottles of Kokanee while talking to well-wishers on the dock.

“Did you get some sleep the last couple of days?”

Like three or four hours a day. We started doing short shore sleeps, but we didn’t plan on sleeping on shore, so we didn’t have tents, so we just had to do that during the day when it was warm and not raining. Then we slept on the boat, otherwise.

Tanner Ockenden said the euphoria of finishing had taken over, so he was feeling pretty good at the moment, despite the lack of sleep.

He says the race was more challenging than anyone expected, and the headwinds made a sail they brought along useless for much of the trip.

“We just kept slogging, having a good time and making horrible crude jokes. It just kept us going the whole way. We used the sail for the first time on the crossing from Vancouver Island to Cape Caution. That was exciting. After that, we used it a handful of times running with the wind, but I’d say 90 percent of our motion was paddling.”

One memorable moment was paddling through Johnstone Strait, where he said they pushed through 100 kilometers of solid headwinds.

“All of it was pretty neat. We paddled mostly at nighttime, actually. It was calmer and we had to keep warm in the night, so it was like, alright, we’ll paddle at night and maybe sleep on a beach for an hour or two in the sunshine. That was beautiful. We had phosphorescence the whole time. Every paddle stroke was like leaving a footprint.”

The team members say they all still like each other, and nobody got too cranky during the journey. If someone did get a little testy, the other just decided he was hangry, and would give him an energy bar.

Speaking of food, energy bars were a primary source of nutrition.

“We had a lot of energy bars. Occasionally, we’d pull over and grab some food at the marina if we had the chance, once or twice we did that. We brought a lot of dehydrated food, so if we had the chance, we’d make food on shore. But most of the time it was energy bars, sausage and cheese. I had two jars of peanut butter. That was nice.”

Team Soggy Beavers paddles past the finish line at Thomas Basin. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)
Team Soggy Beavers paddles past the finish line at Thomas Basin. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Among the greeters on the dock was Alan Carley of Team Por Favor. That three-person team was in second place for a long time, but in the end they were edged out for the second-place prize – by a margin of four minutes – by another sailing boat, MOB Mentality.

Carley, also a Canadian from Victoria, B.C., isn’t unhappy with the third-place finish.

“It was about comradery, it was about friendship, it was about the adventure of coming here. It was intended to be a little more of a cruise. It developed into a race. That was kind of accidental.”

Carley recalls one moment of the trip that stood out for him: a six-hour stop on a beach along the way.

“We stopped, we caught a fish, we barbecued it, and then we got three-hours sleep. That was definitely a highlight. For three hours, we were awake, catching fish and laughing, and got a three hour nap, which was really great, then we were back underway.”

That was the only time during their approximately 8-day sail that all of Team Por Favor slept at the same time. He says they each took individual breaks throughout the trip.

Carley adds that Ketchikan has been welcoming to all the arriving race teams.

“We’ve been tearing around in floatplanes, we’ve been running down here intermittently to cheer on the teams, and there’s even talk of more sailing.”

Speaking of more sailing, there are still Race to Alaska boats on their way to Ketchikan. The race doesn’t officially end until July 4th.