Even before Magnolia teen Sebastian Dougherty and the other three members of Team Mustang Survival’s Rite of Passage embarked on the Race to Alaska from Port Townsend June 13, they had already made history as the youngest team on record to compete in North America’s longest sailing competition.
Almost 11 days later, the teenaged sailing enthusiasts set another record as they became the youngest team to successfully complete the 750-mile race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska.
While Dougherty said making history sounded “really cool,” their ages compared with those of their competitors were not motivating factors in the competition, nor was setting any records.
“That wasn’t really any of our goals,” Dougherty said. “We knew going into it, we were going to be the youngest team, but our goal was to promote youth sailing and encourage other youth sailors. It’s great we were the youngest team, but we really want that record to be broken next year.”
At 18, Dougherty, a recent graduate of Bishop Blanchet, is the eldest of his teammates, Nadia Khalil, 17, and Enzo Dougherty, 17, and Francesca Dougherty, 15, who are siblings but not related to Sebastian.
And while all of their competitors were older and some were a great deal more experienced, the four teens were hardly landlubbers going in. Between the four of them, they brought with them a combined experience of thousands of nautical miles sailing recreationally and competitively.
Dougherty and his teammates also put in plenty of work to get ready for the race. They began practicing and preparing last October, which included taking many day trips sailing around the San Juan Islands, and one over-night trip. They also spoke to and sought the advice of numerous people in and out of the sailing community, including past winners of elite offshore and the Race To Alaska, plus Coast Guard retirees, medical professionals and an Olympic cyclist. They also worked out rigorously and familiarized themselves with their 27-foot Santa Cruz monohull vessel and learned how to make any number of fixes to prepare them for any setbacks during the race.
Luckily and a bit surprisingly, Dougherty said their boat made it through the race without requiring any serious repairs. The team members also made cautious, and it turns out wise, decisions, like postponing their first day of travel by 24 hours thus avoiding dangerous seas and high winds that cost some of their competitors dearly in serious boat damage and one capsizing that resulted in a helicopter rescue of one team.
And except for Sebastian experiencing a serious case of seasickness that had him sidelined for eight hours, the team avoided any serious challenges.
The cumulative effect led them to be in better shape than they realized by the end of the race, and in fact, they edged out another team within the last two miles to claim ninth place overall out of 45 total teams, although some had to drop out early and never made it to the finish line.
“It was just incredible. We completely just blew past our expectations,” Dougherty said, adding they hadn’t set their sights higher than finishing in the top 20. “Our expectation was to finish, and if we had been the last boat to finish, then we would have been so pleased with ourselves.”
Although he doesn’t plan to compete in next year’s event, Dougherty, who will be attending the University of Washington in the fall, said he hopes to again someday.
Before they became a team in the Race To Alaska, Dougherty said he and his three teammates were casual acquaintances through the Seattle sailing scene before they agreed to compete in the Race to Alaska together, but now they are fast friends because they bonded over their love for sailing, successfully completed a grueling but rewarding challenge because of teamwork and, ultimately, shared a fun and exciting adventure they will never forget.
That’s what he would like other teenagers to experience, Dougherty said if hearing about Team Mustang Survival’s Rite of Passage and their exploits inspires other teens or youth to try sailing recreationally or competitively or just get out on the water, then that will make the whole experience even better, Dougherty said.
He also said the sailing community is full of very welcoming and kind people, as a whole.
When his boat passed his competitor’s to edge them out, Dougherty said there was never any hard feelings.
“We were really pushing ourselves to be as fast as we could, but when it was over, we were just so happy for each other,” he said.
Dougherty said it was also great to see and then join a large crowd of supporters at the end of the race, even in the middle of the night, and to be offered help and support by so many other people along the way.
“We’re in the race to Alaska family now, “ Dougherty said. “There’s a whole community surrounding it, and it’s really special to be a part of that. That’s a great feeling.”