Last July, I sailed Maravilla (my F27 trimaran) over to Port Townsend WA for the start of the Race to Alaska (R2AK). I wandered aimless around the boat basin before the start absorbing the carnival atmosphere. Boats and crews prepared, compared notes with competitors, nervous but resolute. I walked past a young man being interviewed before a video camera in the lot above the docks. His upper torso was huge, chiseled – his long blond hair pulled back, blue eyes sparkled and challenged, he glowed. His name was Bruno Hansen and he was a member of Team Alula. He was in a wheelchair.
Team Alula was the brainchild of skipper Spike Kane, who gathered two of his pro-surfer mates from the Adaptive Surfing circuit and charmed them into joining him on his trimaran to race 750 miles up the Inside Passage from Port Townsend to Ketchikan Alaska – no support – no motor – human or sail power only. Aside from Spike and Bruno, one more member – the photogenic Zach Tapec – made up the team.
Alula is the name of Spike’s boat and is Latin for “winglet” or “bastard wing” – the thumb of a birds wing. My first F27 trimaran was “Little Wing” – she and Maravilla are almost identical sisterships to Alula. I could relate. Spike got it.
I spoke a bit with Bruno, wished him and the team well, and watched as he and Zach maneuvered around the boat preparing her for the ordeal ahead.
How in the hell would these guys – tough as nails to be sure, quietly confident beyond belief – get this boat to Alaska? In the 2015 edition of the race, a full-on gale in Johnstone Straits clobbered the racers, sending most to seek shelter in whatever nook or cranny they could find. My friends on Brodurna were dismasted at 2AM in 35 knots and 6 foot seas, barely escaping disaster as the RCMP towed them off the rocks in the howling pitch black night.
Just anchoring Alula in calm weather would be an ordeal. Anchoring in an exposed cove off a rocky beach in the middle of the night beset by gale winds and ripping tides would be horrific. Their rowing set up was rudimentary at best – long sweeps lashed to the shrouds. To row for any length of time at all would be dreadful, abominable – damn near impossible. They had good sail handling gear – good quality roller furlers and such – but if any of it came tumbling down, they would be screwed. Even if everything went well – an F27 is an athletic ride for a quadraped let alone a parapalegic. I wished them well.
The next day, the fleet departed Port Townsend to cross Juan de Fuca in a drizzly grey blustery dawn fraught with race jitters. I followed, then peeled off to Anacortes and watched the fleet roll down the grey/blue sea to Victoria – Alula among them.
Its easy, sometimes, to think we have lost all capacity for grace, humility, and love. All evidence tells us we are more demon than angel. Then, something happens or somebody comes along to disprove that shit and teach us what it really means to be alive. Flawed humans stumble against crazy, impossible odds and goddamn if they dont pull it off. We apprehend the astonishing event; special and magnificent and crack up inside. So THAT’S what it means to be human – I remember now. Love and art and joy and hope glitter with this magic and so does Team Alula.
Enough words – below is their story.