Last summer, Dean Burke, executive director of the Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission, set out to stand-up paddleboard 42 miles of open water from Port Townsend, Washington, to Victoria, British Columbia. That stretch was stage one of the Race to Alaska (R2AK), a 750-mile boat race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska, with simple rules: no motors, no support. Afterward, Burke knew he wanted to create a more approachable race for those who wanted a challenge without the same time commitment.

“Race to Alaska is like Wanderlust on steroids,” Burke said. “It’s really cool to watch, but we wanted to create an epic adventure race that was way above the norm yet still something that would allow you to have a job or not get a divorce because you’re sailing out to do a humongous endurance event in Alaska.”

Working with the Northwest Maritime Center and the creators of Race to Alaska, Burke co-founded Seventy48, a race from Tacoma to Port Townsend in which participants will travel 70 miles in 48 hours using only human power. Like R2AK, Seventy48 prohibits motors, support crews and supply drops, but it adds one more rule: no sailboats allowed. Any human-powered craft is fair game. Racers can bring anything that will fit in their craft and restock on provisions along the way as long as those items are equally available to all.

To add another layer of difficulty, the race begins at 5:30 p.m. With less than five hours of daylight before the sun goes down, participants must be strategic about their navigation decisions. The tide schedule is another factor to consider, with some tides rising 16 feet in six hours. “You can go out in this water 100 days in a row and have 100 completely different experiences,” Burke said. “Seventy48 is built to be a challenge. It’s meant to be disruptive and test your skills.”

As head of the sports commission, Burke also wanted to showcase the vibrancy of Tacoma and the dramatic changes it has undergone. The race starts at the head of the Thea Foss Waterway, once part of a massive industrial hub but recently transformed into a mixed-use waterfront area. “This area used to be like an undersea desert,” Burke said. “And then the city invested heavily in remediating that and now it’s thriving. Ten years ago, we had zero residents on the shoreline and now we’ve got about 4,000 people who live there.”

There will be six miles of programming along the race’s path, including a mobile DJ experience and support from local businesses. Racers are asked to stay within 100 yards of shore to allow for increased visibility to spectators. In addition to watching in person, fans can also track racers online and follow along through Seventy48’s social media channels.

The response to the launch of the race has been positive, Burke said. Less than a month after registration opened, teams from 12 states had signed up, and he expects the momentum to continue. “There’s a tourism component here, but from a cultural standpoint, from a Pacific Northwest standpoint, we have a lot of blood in this already,” Burke said. “We’re all staying up late to work on this. We love it.”

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