The ruckus at the Wooden Boat Festival tonight was great fun. A highlight was this new promo video by the brilliant Zach Carver — 2019 R2AK promo video — which me helped explain what caused the exceptionally windy start to the 2015 Race Towards Alaska.
We also learned that 2019 will be the last R2AK, and that in 2020 things are going to change dramatically! But Jake and Dan won’t reveal how… It’s going to be a surprise!
“The water in Rupert is boiling, rough water and that’s just by the dock… It’s vicious that water, just vicious.” — Pat Campbell
Before and since my 2015 R2AK = Race Towards Alaska, I’ve enjoyed reading novels and non-fiction that take place along the race route: the coasts of Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. While my favorite is still Ivan Doig’s “Sea Runners” (inspiration for our team name), the most recent good read was John Valliant’s “The Golden Spruce” in which the main character attempts to kayak from Prince Rupert across Hecate Strait to Haida Gwaii — in February. The question of whether he perished in the process, or staged an accident and disappeared into the woods beyond Ketchikan is an intriguing one, but what caught my #R2AK-eye was the author’s description of the oceanography of Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance.
…Hecate Strait is arguably the most dangerous body of water on the coast. The strait is a malevolent weather factory; on a regular basis its unique combination of wind, tide, shoals, and shallows produces a kind of destructive synergy that has few parallels elsewhere in nature. From the northeast come katabatic winds generated by cold air rushing down from the mountains and funnelling, wind-tunnel style, through the region’s many fjords, the largest of these being Portland Inlet, which empties into the strait 50 km north of Prince Rupert. Winter storms, meanwhile are generally driven by Arctic low pressure systems born over Alaska, and they tend to manifest themselves as southerlies along the coast. It is because of these winds that the weather buoy at the south end of Hecate Strait has registered waves over 30 meters high. One of the things that makes the strait so dangerous is that these two opposing weather systems can occur simultaneously. Thus, when a southwesterly sea storm, blowing at 80 – 160 km/hr collides, head-on, with a northesasterly katabatic wind blowing at similar strength, the result is a kind of atmospheric hammer-and-anvil effect. Veteran North Coast kayakers tell stories of winds like this lifting 180 kg of boat and paddler completely out of the water and heaving them through the air.
NOAA chart showing Prince Rupert, Masset, and Ketchikan.
But this is only one ingredient in Hecate Strait’s chaos formula. Tides are another; in this area they run to 7 meters, which means that twice each day vast quantities of water are being pumped in and out of the coast’s maze of inlets, fjords, and channels. The transfer of such volumes in the open ocean is a relatively orderly process, but when it occurs within a confined area like Hecate Strait that is not only narrow but shallow, the effect is of a giant thumb being pressed over the end of an even larger garden hose. The scientific name for this is the Venturi effect, and the result is dramatic increase in pressure and flow. A third ingredient is a frightening thing called an overfall which occurs when wind and tide are moving rapidly in opposite directions. Overfalls are steep, closely packed, unpredictable waves capable — even a modest height of 4-5 meters — of rolling a fishing boat an driving it into the sea bottom. They can show up anywhere but their effects are intensified by sandbars and shoals like the one that extends for 30 km off the end of Rose Spit between Masset and Prince Rupert. Under certain conditions, overfalls take the form of “blind rollers,” which are large, nearly vertical waves that roll without breaking; not only are these waves virtually silent, but under poor light conditions they are also invisible — until you are inside them. If one then factors in the prevailing deep-sea swell that in winter surges eastward through Dixon Entrance at heights of 10-20 meters, and the fact that a large enough wave will expose the sea floor of Hecate Strait , the result is one of the most diabolically hostile environments that wind , sea, and land are capable of conjuring up.
Tomorrow Manuoku — the Wharram Hitia 17′ that Thomas and I built for the 2015 Race to Alaska — will compete in the Sound Rower’s “Sausage Pull”. I’ll be pedaling with Kevin Flick, trying to take 10-20 minute turns at keeping the Hitia going 7 kph or faster. This will be a unique opportunity to see what sorts of speeds we can get over a multi-hour course when the boat is lightly loaded and free of the drag from its mast, sail, and rigging. If we can maintain a 7-8 kph average, we should finish the 23 km course in 3-3.5 hours.
For comparison, here are some full- and half-race mean speeds from previous Sausage Pulls attained by local Michael Lampi in various pedal boats over the years. The range is 7.7-11.1 kph and the mean is 9.8 kph.
I’m hoping Kevin and I can get close to the 7.7 kph and that Matt is able to top the 11.1 kph! Either way, I expect we’ll learn a lot about our boats and set a personal best in these boats to try in future years.
For further comparison, here are the mean speeds for 24-hour world record distances set in human-powered boats.
In contrast, I attained speeds of 6-8 kph during speed tests earlier this week, comparing performance of the Rick Willoughby custom propeller and an APC propeller of comparable diameter. The rig was still up (I’m going to pedal/sail to the start of the race tonight), but with the boat was much more lightly loaded than in 2015 (much less gear/water, and only 1 person aboard). Overall, the speed results were surprisingly pretty similar between the two props, despite the fact that the APC was not snugly fit to the shaft at all (need a bushing and a locking nut as the non-locking one I used fell off sometime during the tests!).
The start and finish line is Mt. Baker Park beach!
A recent capsize talk and demonstration by Richard Woods at the 2016 Wooden Boat Festival inspired me to finally upload a long video my son, Liam, made of Thomas and me successfully righting a turtled Wharram catamaran. As part of our training & preparation for the 2015 Race to Alaska, we intentionally capsized our modified Hitia 17 pedal-sail boat in Lake Washington (Seattle).
The video could have been edited to be more succinct (Liam was just beginning with iMovie), but for the connoisseur, the grueling details may be appreciated. If not, or in case you’re interested in a specific topic or stage of the exercise, here’s a:
Table of contents
Getting the boat from the Sail Sand Point storage yard
01:48 Packing gear at the top of the boat ramp
08:22 Thomas tour of items stored in port hull
09:00 Scott tour of items stored in starboard hull
11:45 Discussion of righting line placement
12:50 Getting into dry suits
13:30 Putting boat in Lake Washington
14:00 Pedal-sailing to the capsize location
16:00 First attempts to capsize
17:30 Re-thinking how to cause the capsize
19:00 Re-positioning under pedal power
20:00 Second attempts to capsize
22:40 Both Scott and Thomas back aboard (overturned tramp), organizing lines [immersion time was about 2 minutes]
24:15 Recovery attempt 1
24:50 Recovery fail 1: slipped off keel and fell into water
25:30 Recovery attempt 2
26:30 Recovery fail 2: not enough leverage at middle of keel
26:55 Opening hatch on port main hull?
27:00 Re-thinking strategy
Successful recovery (takes 2-3 minutes)
27:30 Standing on bow
27:55-28:05 Rapidly venting air as water enters hull
29:00 More venting as bow quickly sinks and upper hull starts to rise from water
29:15 We move back towards center of keel from the bow (gaining leverage)
29:33 Trampoline is vertical
29:38 Boat is back upright (with cabin coaming ~20-30 cm above water line, rail in/near water line)
29:50 Reboarding on the hull that’s lower in the water
Pumping/bailing out begins [lasts at least 4 minutes]
30:05 Thomas starts pumping with hand bilge pump while Scott cleans lines and gets bailer and bucket
31:10 Using bucket to empty port hull while sailing to beach
32:20 Using bailer and bilge pump now
33:45 Back on the beach (with “dry” bilge)
34:00 Shoreside thoughts
Looking at these time stamps (and recognizing that Liam may have edited out some portions of the continuous footage) it looks like the righting process could be reduced to about 2-3 minutes with practice. We were immersed for about 2 minutes and we spent at least 4 (maybe 10?) minutes pumping/bailing the flooded hull dry.
Here are some frame-grabs:
A key question is whether it’s better to remove weight from the up-going hull, or add weight to the down-going hull (by flooding it). Would it be worth it to stay immersed much longer, open up the hatch on the hull to be lifted, and remove all heavy gear from it (if that can be done without inadvertently adding weight in the form of flooding water!)?
Things we could do differently next time:
Try capsizing using a halyard (thereby leveraging the mast like a gin pole)
Try recovering with one person on the other’s shoulders
Try water bags and dual righting lines
Try using the mast or a pole for righting (e.g. like a gin pole)
Try flooding a hull by standing on stern, rather than bow (and also flooding further/faster by having both sailors stand on bow, or in a bow loop)
Is it worth it (or even possible) to put enough flotation at the mast head to prevent turtling?
Is it helpful to remove rigging (e.g by freeing snotters and halyard) and/or to “lower” the sail (lashing to tramp, for example?)
Is single-handed righting? Possible?
What if both hatches are open during capsize? Does water flow in/out of hulls such that it could be righted in any downflooded initial condition (e.g. breaking waves fill both hulls, then flip boat? Or is an air vent in each hull side needed?
With good cell phone reception and more fickle, light winds off of Prince Rupert, Thomas called in from the final phase of his #R2AK 2016 adventure and spun some yarns. Each excerpt embedded below offers a glimpse into the Nature of the wilder half of the Race to Alaska — from Cape Caution north to Ketchikan, along the northern coast of British Columbia, Canada.
Bumping bottom at Elliott Island
Around 21:00 on Tue July 12, Thomas anchored in a narrow bay on the southeast side of Elliott Island (in Arthur Passage, just south of Prince Rupert). Wind and tide combined to cause his centerboard to touch the bottom. Here’s the story of how he escaped!
Skeena current anchoring SNAFU
Earlier that afternoon (Tue 7/12), Thomas stopped at the north end of Gibson Island in Telegraph Passage after exiting the north end of the amazingly long Grenville Channel. This area is influenced by the outflow of the Skeena River and strong tides. Leaving Gibson he started drifting southwards at 1-2 knots back towards Grenville over the shallow region charted as Bloxham Flat. He quickly deployed his anchor to stop the backwards progress and this is the story of cascading crisis that ensued!
At the time, Thomas wondered if “bad spirits” were at work in this fiasco. Together, we wondered if this area was fatefully close to the location of the first deadly ordeal suffered by the original Sea Runners (our #R2AK team’s namesake and Ivan Doig’s fictional depiction of 4 Scandinavians escaping by native canoe from a Russian fur outpost in Sitka and paddling to Astoria). Having spent 4 days weathering a storm and eating ducks on the northern shores of Haida Gwaii (after crossing Dixon Entrance, then known as Kaigani Strait), they sailed “across the [Hecate] strait and once more into a scatter of shoreline islands.” This was likely the Philip, Prescott, and Porcher Island groups. They then paddled southward for 4 days, before arising to the jolt of seeing a canoe on the beach when theirs was hidden in the spruce forest. It was there — as they paddled furiously away from Wennberg’s successful smashing of the bow of the native’s canoe — that their leader and navigator Melander took a took a rifle ball to the back of his head. So, depending on how far they paddled each day, the region of bad juju for Sea Runners may be anywhere from the north end of Grenville to Bella Bella…
Close encounters with marine mammals
Thomas talks about being eyed by a humpbacks, spotting dozens of humpbacks and minkes before entering Grenville Channel, and bumping into Pacific White-sided dolphins (aka Lags) south of Cape Caution.
Thoughts on the Seascape 18 as a Race to Alaska boat
Thomas notes top speeds during the Race, as well as performance changes before and during the Race. He also describes of a couple of broaches — one in Johnstone Strait and one in Squally Channel — and some of the difficulties he had propelling the Seascape 18 under pedal power.
Thomas contemplates how little sleep he’s gotten during the first couple weeks of his R2AK 2016, and how he’s dealt with being on the helm for 16-18 hours per day.
Two slightly hypothermic experiences
Thomas talks about how he warmed back up after getting wet in an unexpected deluge and running out of energy as he jibed continuously for 6 hours in Grenville Channel.
Thomas just called in a report (for Tues June 28, 2016) and I recorded it via speaker phone. Hear about his day of light-wind sailing among other Racers, his plans for the night, food and water status, VHF/traffic considerations, and more.
The recording is about 16 minutes long, including come conversation with me towards the latter half. He also texted this photo to accompany the recording.
Tonight I enjoyed giving a talk to the San Juan Sailing club about the Race to Alaska. It was great to meet John Manning of Team Why Not (registered for the full 2016 race), to see Nick Wainwright and get a truck-top tour of his recently completed Angus Expedition rowboat (build for the full 2016 race), and to finally get a chance to commiserate with Nigel Oswald (of Team Turn Point Designs in the 2015 race).
As part of my preparation for giving the talk I updated the Google spreadsheet of full race registered teams that I began prior to the 2015 race. It was interesting to see a few differences emerging between the 2015 and 2016 races: fewer purpose-builds and (mysteriously) way fewer catamarans; 3x the 2015 # of women; high boat diversity — SUP to 32 foot cat; about the same average team size, but hardly any 2-person teams. Check out the new tables near the end of the talk!
I also included a bit more detail about the qualifier and our experience of the full race. There’s still wind and boat data to analyze, video to edit, and trip log to share (more soon in an imminent day-by-day blog post), but for now the talk presents some new looks at the fleet’s tracks and some of my favorite photos.
One of my favorite parts are the “collaborators” tab which lets you sort through the full race teams in lots of ways. Here’s an extract sorted by progress, including those that finished as well as those that didn’t finish but made some degree of progress to the north of Victoria.
Last point north
28′ Farrier SR “Mail order bride”
Arc 22 catamaran
17’ Swamspcott Dory
17 foot yellow Prijon Kodiak
Barefoot Wooden Boats
Oar & sail boat
Tad Roberts custom
19′ Easyrider w/outrigger
Wharram Tiki 21
F-24(25?) w/ Viking oars
Hobie Miracle 20′
N Seymour Narrows
38′ Crowther super Shockwave “Nice Pair”
S Seymour Narrows
San Juan 21
Multi 23, mini ORMA 60 Van Peteghem Laurent
Turn Point Design
Turn Point 24 (carbon fiber/nomex)
L-7 “Firefly” (Multi Marine, Michael Leneman)
Pure & Wild
I also like the beach cat comparison tabs, our different food tabs, the many lists, our training logs, and of course our ~2-month build of the main part of the boat (less the rig) —
Tiki Tuesday — 9/23/2014
Decide to enter race with Scott Veirs
Plans ordered from JWD
Calculated cost of aluminum parts
Emailed Wayne at Down-Home Woods for wood spar quote got a no-quote response
JWD processing plan order
Completed kayak speed test
JWD H17 plans received
Great cabin mocked up
Build started with the ceremony of the long tables & the death of a flagon of Pyrat (Thanks to our helpers Tim King and Erik Hvalsoe)
T drafts and cuts out bulkheads and hull side panels
T cuts out stem, stern, rudder, lashing backing plates
S cuts out butt blocks; T glues up hull sides with butt blocks
am: Thomas rips stringers, keel; late eve: Thomas staples outer scarfed stringers to hulls; S&T glue scarfed keels
T&S test mirage drive. T maintains 4-5 kph while chatting on phone. Hulls zip tied and stood up with bulkheads in place.
T,S,&K align and glue hull B
T&S align and glue hull A
Keel fillets, End foaming, aft storage locker and diagonals added
Decks made and undersides coated. First spar mock up glued up.
Glued in bunk stringers on hulls and at bulkheads
Glued on cabin sides
Made bunk cross-stringers, sanded holds
Fitting bunks, painting holds, filling holes and coating bunks.
Glued on decks and fixed bunk boards (with Kevin after Kenmore ride/dip)
Cleaned up fillets, made and fit cabin side stringers and aft coaming pieces
Glued in cabin side stringers and aft coaming pieces; trimmed decks
Make deck and coaming pieces. broke rear seat B loose (do we need glass tape at stress points?)
Coat cabin deck pieces/sand decks/make rudder and handle doublers
Glue up coaming to cabin deck
Fillet underside of coaming. Later glue cabin deck to cabin
Sand decks/cabins, flip to sand hulls, fair stem/stern, shape keel
T&S stay up late to glass cabin ends & rudders
T&S glass decks
T glasses cabin sides during day; T&S sand hulls, glass 1st side of hulls
S fills 1st side hulls and rudder weave w/epoxy coat #2
T & S sand and glass 2nd side of hulls; discuss lash pads & doublers; fill 2nd side rudders
T trims hull glass; S cleans up stringer for fillet, forms doublers & pads
S buys hardware for pads; T&S glue pads, kevlar bow, carbon fiber skeg, fillet stringer, glass keel.
Launch, paddle/mirage drive/flip/right/bail. We got it wet in 42 days (42×6 hours = 252hrs!)
Last night Thomas and I gave a talk about the Race to Alaska at Sail Sandpoint. It was a great crowd, including some of our co-conspirators: Matt Johnson, Eric Hvalsoe, and Tim King. If you’re interested in some background on the 2015 rules/route, a few slide shows of our build, gear, training, and race experience, as well as a distillation of the 2015 results — here is an on-line version of the presentation —
Calling all R2AK racers and fans — especially Team Pure and Wild (the proa innovators)! Don’t miss our wise advisor, Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa, as he spins yarns regarding “Wa`akaulua, the Hawaiian Double Canoe” at the Center for Wooden Boats (South Lake Union location). Kiko will talk at 5pm on Sunday May 17 (2015) in the Boathouse. He also plans to have his Pahi 26 with a Hawaiian sprits’l rig moored alongside for tours and maybe a post-talk sail adventure.
When he is not guiding sailing adventures or talks in the National Parks on the Island of HawKii, Kiko visits Seattle where he is renovating and sailing a Wharram Pahi 26′ double canoe and giving advice to Team Sea Runners as they prepare to compete in the June 5th, “Race to Alaska“. In addition to discussing the history of Hawaiian sailors he will review the current role of these designs in the Pacific Northwest.
Kiko has spent most of his life sailing, building boats and exploring Hawaii’s Big Island. Growing up in Hilo as the son of a surfboard and outrigger canoe builder, Kiko had his first sailboat at age 14 and a captain’s license at age 18. He has sailed from Hawaii to California, Washington, and Canada several times.
“Captain Kiko” studied seamanship and navigation under Captain David B.K. Lyman and Captain Norman Pi‘ianaia as well as apprenticing with boat builders on the mainland. He is a graduate of Bates Boat Building Program in Tacoma who now builds double-hulled canoes, leads sailing tours, and teaches canoe building.
Everytime I talk with Kiko I learn something new about sailing and boats. His knowledge of maritime history is encyclopedic. He’s especially knowledgeable about Pacific, Polynesian, and Hawaiian cultural history, but what impresses me the most is the diversity of boat designs, innovators, and good precedents he is able to hold in his mind.
If you can make it there in person, I guarantee that Kiko will spin you some amazing yarns and field most any question you can think up. If you can’t make it, here are a couple of videos — ones that either Kiko recommended and I found compelling, or ones of Kiko practicing his art in Hawaii.
The Manu Kai was the inspiration for Hobie catamarans in the mid-20th-century.
Watch Kiko steer his double-canoe into a typical Hawaiian bay.