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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
Kermit might be one of the best sailboats around town.
Named after Kermit the Frog, the green Santa Cruz 27 held its own during the Race to Alaska. And for the past 5 1/2 days, it handled the water through the Johnstone Strait, and again through the Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance like a pro.
Well, the crew might have had something to do with that. All three members, Mackenzie Dahl, Brian Lieb and Mike Firari, were trained to sail by Dahl’s dad, Jim Dahl. And they have spent years around sailboats.
But after being knocked over from a 16-plus-foot wave Tuesday morning in the open water, all the credit went to Kermit.
“It rights itself, thankfully,” Firari said. “It’s a great little boat. (It’s) a beautiful boat. It’s as strong as you want a boat, and it just handles everything — very responsive. Extremely responsive.”
It was more than just one wave that greeted Kermit’s crew Tuesday morning. And in the moments afterward, with Mackenzie Dahl below, Firari and Lieb reacted quickly.
“You can’t see what‘s coming behind you because you have to focus on what’s in front of you,” Firari said. “And sometimes you get turned sideways. And this one just kind of rolled at the touch.”
But Kermit righted itself, and the Ketchikan Yacht Club safely reached the finish line for the Race to Alaska at Thomas Basin, at approximately 4:43 p.m. on Tuesday.
The Race to Alaska is in its fifth year, and began on June 3 from Port Townsend, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia. The race revved back up on June 6 for the second leg from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Ketchikan. No motors are allowed. Only wind and human-powered vessels are permitted.
And after traveling 750 miles Dahl, Lieb and Firari could finally touch home base — and sturdy ground — and crack open a beer to celebrate
“I think this (race) touched on every aspect of sailing,” Firari said. “It was light; it was heavy — tides, surf. You can’t have a much better time with a spinnaker, running 11 knots on a 27-foot Santa Cruz than we did. But if you add in surf to that, and you can surf all the way down Hecate Strait into Dixon Entrance — wow. Impressive.”
Yep, the Ketchikan Yacht Club surfed part of the Race to Alaska.
“You don’t surf a sailboat,” Firari said. “And we were for — I don’t even know how long — it had to be almost two days. We were surfing a boat — a sailboat. Riding up to the top of a wave, and just shooting down. It was awesome.”
That route landed Kermit in ninth place out of 35 vessels that planned to make the full trek to Ketchikan. Although, there are currently 32 teams participating.
Ketchikan Yacht Club, sailing Kermit, finished just five minutes behind the eighth-place Dazed and Confused team, sailing an Olson 30. The two teams were neck and neck nearly the entire way.
“It was competitive — definitely competitive,” Firari said. “We were trying. I mean, we were doing our best to stay up with them.
“I think, it’s got to go down as one of the best finishes in the R2AK,” he continued. “I mean, within five minutes they come up. They take the west channel; we take the east channel of Pennock Island. We gave each other competition, and they’re great guys.”
Known as the race within the race, Dazed and Confused and Ketchikan Yacht Club passed each other several times throughout the 750-mile trek.
But it was all in good fun, of course.
“It was really friendly,” Dazed and Confused’s Barry Crist said. “We were cheering each other on. On the one hand, the word race is used. But I don’t really view it as a race. It was so fun. They would cheer us on; we would take pictures. They’re awesome guys.”
The team from Seattle, Washington opted to take the longer route around Pennock Island, but it paid off as they reached the finish line at approximately 3:38 p.m.
“We wanted to make sure that all of the sponsors had a very, very interesting event, right up to the end with the race within the race,” Crist said with a smile of the strategic move. “And I think we delivered on that.”
But moments after the race within a race played out, the competitors hugged and congratulated each other. And family and friends intertwined sharing stories of the past week.
Firari hugged his son.
“To see my son was special,” he said. “Because you think about those situations — life, your day-to-day life.”
But he’s glad he did compete.
“I was kind of busy in life (when Dahl was looking for a crew),” Firari said. “And I kind of (told him), ‘I’ve kind of been there, done that.’ But it wasn’t a ‘been there, done that’ this year. I’ve never done this. I’ve never done what I just did. And it was a hell of an experience with great people. And I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I put life aside to live life.”
Those are true words for all of the participants.
“There are a set of things that happen to you in your life, that you know you’ll take with you your whole life,” Crist said. “This is, no question, one of those things — I think for all of us.”