The Washington 360, an engineless boat race around Puget Sound, started this week.
Of the 56 teams, just one is from Alaska. Jacob and Jens Hammer are from Petersburg and they’re rowing the course. The brothers see the race as a way to honor their family history.
Vessels in the Washington 360 include sailboats, catamarans, kayaks and even a stand up paddleboard.
The Hammer brothers chose a handcrafted wooden rowboat called a “geit” boat. Jens said his family members would have used the same type of boat in Norway 150 years ago.
“It’s just an absolutely gorgeous boat, far too nice for the likes of us,” he said. “We’re dinging it up already and we’re having a good time doing it.”
He called from Port Townsend, where the route begins and ends. Teams have two weeks to finish the race. The Hammers hope they’ll do it in ten days.
“We know there’s no way we’re going to do well in this by the speed of our boat, or by any technological advantage we can gain,” Jens said. “We just have to row harder and row longer. That’ll be our advantage.”
The Washington 360 is a brand new race. It’s similar to the popular Race to Alaska, which was cancelled this year because of the pandemic. This race, all within Washington state, is drawing some of the same competitors. They can choose what type of vessel they want to sail. They just can’t use engines.
Jens said he and his brother learned to manage without an engine at a young age.
“Our dad was a big proponent of always knowing how to do things the old way first, no matter what technology you might use later,” he said. “If you wanted to go camping up at the cabin by yourself, up Petersburg Creek, before you could take the skiff, before you could go by yourself, you had to be strong enough to row yourself. So if you can row yourself up there, then you’re probably smart enough and strong enough to figure out how to get yourself out of a pinch.”
From strong currents to challenging weather, the Hammers could face plenty of pinches over the next two weeks. But this isn’t Jacob’s first time rowing in the area. In 2018, he rowed the first stage of the Race to Alaska from Port Townsend to Victoria, British Columbia.
“The tide is making it to where our normal speed is diminished,” Jacob said in a live stream on the team’s Facebook page on Monday. “But can’t diminish our spirits.”
That spirit comes from a drive to honor their great grandfather, John. Back in the 1920’s, he and his partner, Andrew Wikan, rowed back and forth between Petersburg and the mainland to deliver milk. The Hammer and Wikan store on North Nordic Drive celebrates its 100-year anniversary this year.
“We’ve always looked for excuses to adventure,” Jens said. “It seemed like a great way to celebrate just a little further, and row ourselves all around Puget Sound.”