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Port Townsend boat funeral an epic send-off

The last adventure of the good rowboat James Robert Hanssen. #k5evening

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — At exactly 5 a.m., on a beach in downtown Port Townsend, Jordan Hanssen starts his morning with a bang, firing a small cannon launches the Race to Alaska. Dozens of sailboats, kayaks, even stand up paddleboards take off on a journey from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, powered only by humans. But the blast also marks the final day of another human-powered vessel: she arrives for her final trip down the boat launch shrouded in black.

"This is a rowboat funeral for the good ocean rowboat James Robert Hanssen, named after my father who passed away when I was three,” Hanssen said. A photo of his dad, in a cap, hoisting a beer, is prominent on the hull of the rowboat. "A few of the boats are gonna show up, We're gonna have a flotilla and she's gonna run her last mile."

Hanssen is giving his boat an epic sendoff because this boat has gone on epic journeys.

In 2006, Hanssen and three of his friends rowed it all the way across the Atlantic in 71 days, setting a new World Record.

Then, on a 2013 adventure from West Africa to Miami - the boat capsized.

The crew was rescued. Days later the rowboat was found and recovered. Hanssen describes it as finding a needle in a haystack times three. Too damaged to break more records, the ocean rowboat James Robert Hanssen went on display at the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, until the museum no longer had room for it.

Now Hanssen must dispose of his old friend.

"So, we figured that the best way to go out with some style was a final journey," Hanssen said.

Family and friends take some farewell rows, then it's time for the boat’s last adventure. The flotilla sets out accompanied by music from two bagpipe players aboard one of the boats. They play "Amazing Grace."

The same rowers that took her across the Atlantic row their boat one more mile - into the Port Townsend Boat Haven Marina.

“The thing is, boats need purpose. And she's lost a purpose and she was able to regain it for this little bright moment,” Hanssen said.

Greg Spooner is one of the original Atlantic trip crew taking this boat on its final journey. 

“It is sad, but at the same time, you can kind of figure this like a launch point. It's a way to take what we've learned and find the next adventure,” Spooner said.

Once the boat arrives at the boat haven, the crew strips it, taking off hardware and memorabilia that's traveled thousands of miles.

Then mourners push her across the boatyard to the spot where she'll be destroyed - and recycled as part of a new project by the Department of National Resources that gives derelict boats a new purpose.

"This is a great way to end it,” Hanssen said to the assembled crowd of mourners. “This rips my heart out. But it's yours now,” Hanssen said, addressing the folks operating heavy equipment who will break the boat down for recycling.

As the final journey of the 'Good Rowboat' James Robert Hanssen comes to a close, the man who powered her many adventures has just one word to describe what he feels:

"I think it's just gratitude. Look at all these people,” said Hanssen, his voice breaking as his boat is broken apart. “It's really sad, but it's also not. This has been a community created out of adventure. That's pretty wonderful."

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