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J/24 completes Race 2 Alaska

by J/Boats 22 Jun 06:38 PDT
Day 1 - J/24 European Championship at Patras, Greece © Christopher Howell

With its lack of handicaps, lack of rules, and Wild West attitude, on the surface it would seem the Race to Alaska is a setup to disappoint just about everyone. If you're focused only on the capital "W" win, it's a forgone conclusion that bankrolled teams of sailors with better-than-Olympics credentials will grab the prize, grab the glory, and leave the everyone else in the dust.

To the surprise of no one close to the race and paying attention, that preconception is as true as it isn't. While the only prizes were given out some five days prior, recognition of the valor and dedication of those who simply finish could be seen at the dock today as throngs of teams who came before were on hand to welcome finishers.

Sometimes it's about standing on the podium, most of the time it's about standing with yourself and the satisfaction you've done something extraordinary— whether or not people applaud.

The two teams bookending today's Ketchikan finish line embody the second kind of accomplishment and seemingly represent a time-lapsed view of Canadian lives well-sailed.

The "Teen Beat" sleeper cell sensation of Team McGuffin Brothers Racing completed the course and earned the honor of being the collectively youngest team to ever finish this thing. If only to revel in the incredible, in a way they probably won't, we'd like to point out that the new bar for youngest team boasts an average age of 19.25 years!!

If Team Pitoraq's victory was rooted in a lifetime culmination, Team MBR's landed solidly in the "Are you kidding me?" envy of a teenage rite of passage, with everyone greeting them on the dock in Ketchikan wishing they'd had the parents and the courage to have done this in their day.

The cherub-cheeked, "aw shucks" everything of the three actual and one honorary brothers won the day and the hearts of fellow racers and Ketchikan fans who came down to welcome them.

To a person, the onlookers were in awe of a life path, so well started, and largely yet to come.

"This trip is something that the rest of us built towards, this is their baseline— imagine what else they'll do."

The crowd was as impressed as it was filled with questions, and the brothers deferential answers were those of the humble, their sparse words offered in the rare brand of taciturn that lies between shy and polite. They hit the dock with uniformly bare feet and matching grey sweaters with MBR patches hand sewn on the breast.

How did you pick your uniforms?

"Well, I like Stanfields, and Callum likes Stanfields so we thought they would be pretty good."

How was the boat?

"Pretty good." They had leaks from the forward hatch, main hatch, lazarette hatch, the toe rail, and the mast boot. "Pretty much everything leaked." The only time they begrudgingly conceded things might have been less than ideal were the times when they woke up for watch in the 1am darkness and waded through the damp clothes they had drying below. "There was a big wave, we had our hatch open, and we got pretty wet I broke the leeboard and ended up in Duncan's bunk, but other than that, it was pretty good."

What did you eat?

"Baked beans, chia pudding, and canned sprats." Sprats, for the un-indoctrinated are the tins of fish that they would crack open and share for lunch, dinner and sometimes breakfast.

Three times a day and for eight days straight; unabashed, unresentful and recounted with a smile. The tins were the gift of their grandfather in Ottawa who bought them and sent them; apparently making the rounds and clearing the shelves of Ottawa's strategic reserve of tinned fish to send his boys north. The fact that they were eating canned fish bought in Canada's inland capital 3,000 kilometers east, then sent to the heart of it's seafood industry was an irony that only occurred to them after the question was posed.

They had food; they ate it gratefully, and had enough leftover that they were planning to eat it for their return trip south. Sprats north, sprats south, and on the way back they were going to meet up with their grandfather, Granddad Sprats himself. There'd be plenty for him, too.

What did you miss?

"None of us drink coffee or beer, so we're set on those." They settled on hamburgers, and after climbing the dock to the racer party they set into a four identical plates of burgers and fries, appreciatively consumed at a politely moderate pace.

What do they do for fun?

"Well, we mostly just sail." They replied to the question of whether or not it felt weird to be done, with the unintentional punch line, "Well, we still have to go all the way back..."

They were planning on shore leave of no more than a day. They needed to get back, so were going to limit their wild and crazy to picking up their outboard, restocking some fresh food, and that's exactly it.

Duncan was hoping to make it back in time for his last day of school, the rest were going to get ready for their canoe trip down the Mackenzie River.

For the teams that came before, and likely those to come, the finish line is at least a reprieve and at most an ending. For Team MBR it was the beginning of a "no-parents summer" that starts with R2AK and culminates in a canoe trip to the Arctic Circle.

The trip to K-town wasn't a hardship, it was fun; not the vice fueled Spring Break binge of excess of their peers to the south. It was the adventure version of a jigsaw puzzle and a cup-of-tea type enjoyable.

So, it was the trip back that couldn't start soon enough. They had their granddad's sprats, the last thing they needed was to hang around on shore and stress. Or, consume beer in order to cope with a hardship that for them doesn't even exist. They are the very definition of "Pretty good."

Whether you are more or less than their average of 19 years, imagine where you would be after eight days and 700 miles of non-stop sailing?

Would you gloat in self-satisfaction? Would you crave the indulgences of civilization, movies, girls, or at the very least a temporary antidote to the banal inconveniences that brought you here: a dry bed, a hot shower, a plated meal, ice cream—anything other than the steady state diet of less sleep and more canned fish?

Would you offer a tinge of anything less that the honest and holistic optimism of "Pretty good?"

For the McGuffins, and to the envy of everyone, their answer was true. They were pretty good, and their smiles were only rivaled by those on the adults at the dock who had found in them the role models for youth they were too late to follow.

They had just sailed to Alaska, alone and unassisted as young as 16, and with as little as 6 months sailing experience. They weren't self-impressed or particularly jubilant, and it didn't seem to dawn on them to be as proud as everyone else was.

They were "pretty good," but better than just about everybody.

McGuffin Brothers Racing finished 13th at a very convenient 7:21 PM on June 14. And have the new record for Youngest Team at a combined age of 19.25 years old. They beat out the 2018 J/88 Team Blue Flash; remarkably, their combined ages were 19.5 years old!

It's blowing strong out of the north in Johnstone Strait, making it very difficult for teams to get to the Queen Charlotte's and beyond. However, those teams already there are seeing some light winds mixed with some real southerlies moving them quickly to their goal.

Follow TEAM MBR's exploits on Instagram here and on their Team MBR Facebook page here. Here is Team MBR's website. Click here for more about R2AK sailing information and tracking information.

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