Akeyla Behrenfeld: SEVENTY48 Is Only The Beginning

Kelsey BrennerAll

Speech by Akeyla Behrenfeld from Navigator Night Out 2021

Hello, my name is Akeyla Behrenfeld. I am 14 years old, and I participated in two of the SEVENTY48 races the Maritime Center has put on. 

My first race was in 2019 in a two-man skiff with my dad, and the second race I completed solo in 2021 in a Collin Angus Expedition rowboat I built last year.

By the time I reached the South Worth ferry in this year’s SEVENTY48 race, I had already rowed an hour and a half in some pretty choppy waters in the dark and I didn’t know if I wanted to cross to Blake Island if it got any worse.

Halfway to Blake it did get worse, but oddly, by then, I had gained trust in the boat I had built and found myself to be completely relaxed—not a bit nervous or worried at all. In fact, given the conditions, I actually began to get a little concerned as to why I was not feeling nervous or worried at all.

About a half-mile from Restoration Point, on the south tip of Bainbridge Island, the large, frequent, cresting waves often spilled over my stern causing my boat to take on some water into the cockpit. 

I could see my dad and his boat continually disappearing and then reappearing between waves, but I was in this really weird state of just rowing and enjoying all the action and getting soaked. I figured that there was nothing I could do about the conditions I was in, so I just enjoyed the darkness, the lights of Seattle, and the wind—never afraid.  

The decision to attempt the 2019 race all started because I just wanted an adventure. I have had a lot of adventures with my family, like road trips and overseas travel, but now I wanted something that was much different than everything else I had done.

I had never done anything like the SEVENTY48 race before, and it sounded really fun. A bonus feature was that the race took place right here in my home waters.  

At the start of that first race, I was just so excited to be out there doing it, but, after finishing, I realized that it was definitely the type of crazy adventure I craved and decided right then and there that I wanted to do it again the following year, but in my own boat. 

For some reason, I have an innate desire to try and take anything I do to the next level—to see where it can take me and where my limits might lie.

At the starting line of this year’s race, even though I had done it before and had developed a knowledge of the course, when that one-minute warning horn blew, it all of a sudden struck me that, again, I was going to have to row the 70 miles, non-stop, through the night, and under deteriorating conditions in my own boat.  

Right then questions like “Is this really a good idea?” and “Is it too late to turn back to the dock and go home?” entered my mind, but the starting horn blew and the answer to these questions instantly became a definite YES!  

So, after the crossing to Restoration Point, a heavy rain came and soaked me through. By the time I reached Port Madison, halfway to the finish, I had been battling a southwest wind and some fairly big following seas for hours in the dark, but now my back started to hurt and I became acutely aware of some fairly large blisters developing on the palms of my hands. Again, questions like “Why am I doing this? and “This is so stupid!” started to pop back up into my brain.

Surfing the big waves was fun, battling currents and high winds was challenging, but I enjoyed every second of it. The hours I spent sheltered at Mats Mats Bay were cold and wet, and the row over to Little Oak Bay State Park, back in the dark again, was painful and exhausting. My friends and family cheering me on at the Port Townsend Canal, and rowing that last five miles to the finish line in calm water amidst phosphorescent glow was amazing. It was everything an adventure should be.

The girl who started this race was not the same girl who crossed the finish line—it forever changed my life the instant that starting horn sounded. Though I was not in control of the wind, the waves, and the rain, I found that I was in control of my direction, my pace, when I ate or pulled over to rest. I was also in control of whether to be fearful or not and when to stop if it became too dangerous to go on.  

The level of confidence in my navigation and rowing skills as well as what I can physically endure has been exponentially ratcheted upward—never to come down again. It has already affected adventures I have participated in since.  

I am able to rely on other people less and more on myself and know that I can accomplish greater challenges. I am now considering doing Washington 360, or the Race to Alaska at some point in the near future.  

I think it’s important for kids to get outside and do things that aren’t necessarily fun but are physical and require some hard work to prepare for and complete rather than having other people do it for you or just sitting about waiting for it to happen. I hope my participation in this race has inspired other young people to do things they really want to do.