18 hour trial on Lake WA: nighttime circumnavigation of Mercer Island

As Team Sea Runners prepares to run back to the sea (or at least lake) again, it seems a good time to reflect back on our first lake trial, providing an account of the adventure and some performance data.  Starting on February 22, 2015, in the mid-evening from Sail Sand Point, we pedal-sailed for almost 18 hours around Lake Washington.  Along the way we circumnavigated Mercer Island, were startled by the sounds of mid-night maelstroms, and met a misty, frosty dawn by securing our craft to “the shish-kebob stick” off of St. Edwards Park.

From a R2AK training perspective, we learned a lot.  First, don’t put the 2:1 90-degree drive on backwards, unless you want a really high cadence for very little propulsion!  Second, with the right tools you can fix such problems on the beach.  Third, don’t drop nuts on a cobble beach if you plan on seeing them again.  Thanks to some help from Mike and Enzo, Thomas got Matt’s pedal drive (2:1 Mitrpak, carbon-fiber sleeved bent shaft, and carbon-fiber prop) working well.  Our sail rig was the 13~m2 crab claw on the A-frame windsurfer mast raked forward about 20 degrees.

We also got a good sense of what it’s like to pedal on a watch schedule through the night.  Pedaling for a couple hours is doable, especially with water and snack food handy.  Observing the shoreline takes away some of the monotony, but we can now report that the Mercer Island population uniformly watches big bright screens on Sunday nights, in stark contrast to the residents of Lake Union who commonly exhibit postprandial coital activity.  While Nature may provide us with entertainment aplenty along the BC coast, bringing some music or books on tape may boost morale during the R2AK if we run into multiple no-wind days.

Mother Nature did provide us with some wonderful experiences.  It’s always amazing to night sail on Lake Washington — alone even in the summer months as the metropolis sleeps around you — but on this longer voyage we were privileged to witness two new phenomena.  Around 2 in the morning as we tacked north from the 520 bridge we kept sensing dark patches of water ahead — as if a localized gust were approaching, riffling the darkened waters.  As our range closed to a couple hundred meters, the patches would emit an intense sizzling noise and slowly disappear.  Eventually we resolved they must be enormous flocks of sleeping birds, but we heard no calls and never got close enough to identify the species.  Another treat was sailing through sea smoke in the pre-dawn as a chill northerly wind swept over the Lake and us off St. Edwards Park.  With ice forming on the deck it was other-worldly to ghost through the broken trunks and skeletal branches of the numerous trees that have fallen into the Lake from the Park.  Ethereal forms seemed to rise from the Lake and drift through the dim arboreal hulks, like pirate wraiths patrolling the shoreline

Wind data

The overall wind situation was a light northerly breeze.  As we set out from Sail Sand Point at around 17:15 and pedal sailed south to Seward Park (reaching it around 20:30), the northerly was blowing, but quickly decreasing from ~15 km/hr.  The breeze was steady at ~<10 km/hr from midnight (through when the sea smoke was most active) until about 9 a.m.  After that it slowed until we got off the water just before noon.

150221_520-wind 150221_I90-wind


Performance data

This gentle, fairly steady northerly led to an opportunity to compare our downwind and upwind mean speeds.  The screengrabs from iSailGPS show downwind speeds of 6-8 km/hr, while upwind legs typically have speeds of 4-6 km/hr.  North of the bridge, where Scott pedal sailed through many tacks, the boat speed peaks near 8-10 km/hr — mostly during pedaled close or beam reaches.

Below are some results from GPSar:

TN: 6.24 kph, 7.7 km — Downwind SSP to 520
SV: 6.1 kph, 4.7km, 46min — Downwind 520-I90
TN: 4.4 kph, 3.5km, 47min — Downwind (but weakening wind) to S Mercer
SV: 4.1 kph, 4.1km, 58min — In lee of Mercer and upwind up east side
SV: 5.1 kph, 16.2km, 3:12 pedal-tacking — Upwind
SV: 3.6 kph, 2.3km, 37min upwind pedal  – Upwind
TN: 2.9 kph, 1.9km, 28 min upwind pedal – Upwind
TN: 4.3kph, 9.9km, 2:17 downwind pedal – Downwind
SV: 4.9 kph, 4.2km, 52min pedal-sail — Across wind

Overall: 4.17 kph, 62km, 13:26 (sements missing)
VMG=6.68/3:13= 2.1 kph during tacking phase
Max: 7.0 kph sustained over 1.4km on a beam reach



Press: Racing to Alaska for a pile of cash

Another article about the R2AK!

Screenshot 2015-04-23 10.41.37 SoundingsOnline

Best quote from Thomas — It’s more about the adventure.



R2AK Hitia 17 reassembled with new pedal drive

After three weeks in the shop, Manu-o-ku is reassembled at Sail Sandpoint. We went from truck top to pedaling away in 1hr 20 minutes, then spent about the same time pedaling and paddling.

Here are the ship track and speed plot screengrabs from iSailGPS.

It is a synch to maintain 6.5 kph, but you have to mash & suffer a lot of noise (especially belowdecks) to hit 8. Not bad for the first iteration using Gary’s SS shaft & Rick’s SS propeller!

The tramps worked great, including retracting quickly to allow paddling on the inboard side of each hull.

Next step is to finish up the new mast and prepare to consult with James & Hanneke next week about the rig (in Greece)!

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Captain Kiko shares sailing wisdom in Friday Harbor tomorrow

For those of you based in the San Juan Islands, don’t miss a talk sponsored by the San Juan Nature Institute tomorrow night (Saturday 3/14/15) from 7-8:30 at the Grange in Friday Harbor.  The presenter is none other than our Team Searunner sail and vessel design advisor for the Race to Alaska, Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa, of Wa’akaulua Sailing Excursions on the big island of Hawaii.  The topic is:

Hawaiian Sailing Canoes – History and their recent use in the Pacific Northwest

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.  Here are a couple of videos — ones that either Kiko recommended and I found compelling, or ones of Kiko practicing his art in Hawaii.

Pedal Sailing

Tested out the latest way to move along.  Northerly winds felt like 5 to 10 kph at pedaling altitude.  Tried the following variations:  rig up – sail furled pedaling straight into the wind; rig up – sail set pedaling various points of wind and sailing from the recumbent seat; and self-steering engaged and sails trimmed for hands free.  Looks like steady course.

2015-02-15 13.02.32 copy
SeaCycle mounted in its new fore-aft aluminum beam.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 5.05.48 AM

A little further analysis by Scott using Thomas’s GPX file in GPS Action Replay:

Wind history from Sail Sand Point Wunderground.
Wind history from Sail Sand Point Wunderground.  Thomas was out 11-3pm when winds were steady, but temperature was on the rise.


GPSar grab for Thomas's solo lake voyage in 10-20 kph NNW winds.
GPSar grab for Thomas’s solo lake voyage in 15-20 kph NNW winds.


Thomas (single-handing the Manu-o-ku) averaged about 5.6 kph upwind (for 12.7 km), 8.9 kph downwind (for 6.2km), and 8.1 kph reaching back and forth (for 7.8km).  SSP says wind was 15-20kph out of the northwest — probably a pretty typical situation for our race (though there may be chop).  Overall average of 6.76 kph over 26.9 km!

For light wind, those are some impressive tack angles (90-125, avg ~110).  Impressively, most of that upwind work was without pedal power assistance!  In terms of velocity made good (VMG) under just the 13m^2 crab claw, this is promising: 3.45 km/hr VMG towards Kenmore during those ~9 tacks (7.2 km in 2 hrs 5 minutes).

That’s enough to make progress against the average contrary current (max speeds 4-5 kph) we’ll see in Discovery Passage outside of the flow restrictions like Seymour Narrows.  Of course, to be realistic we’ll need to do similar tests beating into Puget Sound chop…


Sparkly voyage to Jake’s R2AK talk at the Center for Wooden Boats

A couple days before his #R2AK 101 talk at the Center for Wooden Boats on (1/16/2015), Race to Alaska Director Jake Beattie queried us via Facebook: could we bring our boat down to display dockside?  We said that sounds like good motivation to do some night sailing/paddling from Sail Sand Point (where we thankfully have a lakeside home for our Hitia 17 “Manu-o-ku”) and got permission and a slip from CWB.  Little did we know what lay ahead of us: not only interesting bits from Jake, but also paddle-sailing upwind speed data, adventure, reunions, and a mini-R2AK micro-raid with our new friend Brian McGinn at 1 a.m on Lake Union!

The back of Kevin's and Thomas's heads.  And Jake Beattie introducing Seattle to the R2AK.  (Instagram by CWR -- http://instagram.com/p/x8Lmilpw5g/ )
The back of Kevin’s and Thomas’s heads. And Jake Beattie introducing Seattle to the R2AK. (Instagram by CWR — http://instagram.com/p/x8Lmilpw5g/ )

Oh, and the talk itself proved to be rich in laughter and even a bit of beta on new collaborators who have entered or made it through the full-race application process.  Here are my notes:

How this started: In 2013 there was a beer tent at the wooden boat festival.  A 2nd beer was had last March (2014).  Then there was a Race.  Instigators were at least Josh of small boat advisor, Colin, & Jake

Overarching motivation: Democratize the water (SV: hear echoes of Wharram’s ethic?)

Inspiration: Tourd’Divide; some sort of X-Games for boats

Full-race registration update: 17 thru or in app process; 10 in prep/negotions (most of Jake’s job at the moment); highlights:

  • Team Dartagne (big group, serious sailors, e.g. 2014 Record 900 nautiques)
  • Shane Perrin (World record 24 hr distance SUP holder)
  • Team Uncruise (Family including a daughter)
  • 2 women in a sliding seat row boat

A reason to have a sail?  “Nothing’s more dumb than rowing downwind”

Invited tribes, but no response

Questions (only a few noted):

Is land based human travel w your boat ok/encouraged?  Short portages ok, but it’s a boat race, not bike, hike/etc.

How to checkpoints work?
— Don’t have to stop.
— Thomas Basin June 18 – July 4
— VHF VTS check-in is ok, or SPOT or photo

On the way to south Lake Union, leaving SSP around midnight, Thomas and I paddled and sailed (almost entirely upwind) in a gentle southerly.  It was spittling when we started, but was pleasantly warm & dry for most of both night sails.

Here are some data and analyses from the passage to the CWB:

Sail Sand Point wind history
Sail Sand Point wind history: note the 12-5 a.m. y-axis ticks at top (clipped in subsequent grabs)

The wind was definitely flukey, especially in the lee of Sand Point and in Union Bay.  It was on the nose for most of the Lake Washington segment (seemed more S than SW sometimes), then more of a beam or broad reach in Union Bay, the Cut, and Portage Bay, and then back on the nose as we headed south in Lake Union.

GPS Action Replay display
GPS Action Replay display for leg from Sail Sand Point through Union Bay

GPSar (above) and iSailGPS (below) agree that the upwind paddle-sail speed (using voyageur style paddles this trip) during this first ~10 km was about 5-6 kph with some peaks around 8.  We entered the cut at about 2 am.


In retrospect, these are encouraging results for our first upwind stint with these paddles and the 13m^2 crab claw.  Paddle-sailing with intermittent 130ish bpm effort from 1 or both of us in moderate steady winds on flattish water, we were tacking through 120 degrees at ~5 kph (and through ~90 at lower speeds?).

Polar plot shows we were pointing pretty high for a cat!
Polar plot shows we were pointing pretty high for a cat!

After paddling through the cut unmolested (we saw only one boat that night — a little power pod in Union Bay), we had a really serene broad reach in a light smooth breeze and slipped past the UW’s Tommy Thompson and my old grad school stomping grounds.  The southerly picked up after we paddled under I-5 and we paddle-tacked upwind through Lake Union.

GPSar display of 2nd leg.
GPSar display of 2nd leg.

Average speeds were 4-6 kph, with top speeds of 8-9 kph.  With some paddle assists we were tacking through ~110 degrees (101-129ish).

U District wind history
U District wind history: seems like it picked up around 2:30 when we crossed Portage Bay


Lake Union wind history
Lake Union wind during our trip: ~10 kph out of the SSW

Overall it seems like we averaged 4-6 in the spotty winds, and then 6-7 in the steadier wind on Lake Union.

iSailGPS boat speed screen grab
iSailGPS boat speed screen grab


We got in around 4 a.m., found the slip, and ran home in time to get the kids going on their Friday.  After a day of work, we had a grand time at Jake’s talk.  We of course enjoyed hearing about the Race and listening to the (somewhat drunken) queries of the CWB community, but an unexpected highlight was bumping into old friends afterwards.  Thomas reunited with lots of old CWB pals, and I caught up with Chris Jones, an acoustician I met back in grad school who is active in Sound Rowers and might participate in Stage 1.  This Race is proving to be a powerful catalyst for friendships.

That manifested shortly thereafter when we tracked down Jake and some of his friends at a local pub.  There was lots of laughter and many a yarn.  At my end of the table, we got to hear about the 40′ sloop Sparkle from Brian McGinn and its preordained decision to win the Race to Alaska.  Amazingly, no matter what Brian does (e.g. neglecting to pump 2 feet of water out of her bilge; arriving late), she just wins races.  So watch out.

Shortly afterwards (around midnight) we found ourselves back at the CWB dock saying adieu.  While most of expected Brian to grab a taxi after Thomas and I, and our 3rd crewmate and trainer Kevin embarked on the return trip to Sail Sand Point.  Instead, he hopped in his rowboat, put a headlamp on backwards and began to row for home (Gas Works Marina).  Thus ensued a riotous race with us tacking into a faint northerly breeze and paddling like hell when we were not watching Brian methodically pass us mid-Lake and ultimately beat us to the north shore (apparently by running into it).  We yelled congrats and adieu, and bore off into Portage Bay — marveling at the bustling cityscape as we headed for home.

It was a very calm, warm night, conducive to a slow paddle and lots of chatting.  Kevin produced a bottle of something that we collectively nursed through the voyage, though he spent the last 45 minutes or so testing out how cold he could get in one of the hulls (with no pad or insulation).

520 wind history
520 (no) wind history


Our route back to SSP.
Our route back to SSP.

We went 14 km in about 3.5 hours, averaging about 4 kph.  But as the final plot (below) shows, we spent about a third of the trip drifting.  When we paddled (1-3 of us) we typically made 4-6 kph, and during the race with Brian we hit 7.5 kph a couple times.  As I recall, having the sail up as we paddled into the wind wasn’t helping us…

Boat speed screen grab
Boat speed screen grab

Hypothermia training video: trailer & ice bath immersion

A couple weeks ago our Survival Trainer, Dr. Kevin Flick, issued the Flickian Challenge #1: get hypothermic in Puget Sound and then try to make a fire on the beach using only wet wood and a flint & steel.  An unplanned bonus of the experience was meeting Emily Riedel, a real (tough) Alaskan who joined us in taking part in the Challenge.

Liam has been working diligently on editing down all the footage he and Cora got and expects to publish a detailed documentary (about how we failed to meet the challenge) next week.  In the mean time, enjoy this trailer and some more back-story!

We all read and learned a good bit about hypothermia and fire-starting techniques before taking the Challenge.  Kevin took things a step further the night before by taking an ice bath — both to inspire us to HTFU and to help him be better prepared as a safety manager during the Challenge.

Here’s the video  he made of the experience.  At the very least, it shows that (a) he’s a zoologist who likes to experiment on himself, and (b) he’s tough.


Lake trials begin for Manu-o-ku thanks to Sail Sand Point!

On Monday we moved the boat from backyard testing to Lake Washington trials.   After assembling the boat (in just under an hour), we ceremoniously poured some Alaskan Amber over her bows and officially named her Manu-o-ku.  She is named after the Hawaiian word for the White Tern — a beautiful bird with the habit of flying out to sea to feed during the day before returning to land for the night.  So we will travel with a navigator bird flying with us,  our minds remembering our families as we voyage north, braving the Pacific but never straying too far from land.

Thanks to Acting Director Nino Johnson and the Board of Sail Sand Point we now have a great spot to store the boat close to the water this winter/spring.  We really appreciate their sponsorship, as well as the great summer sailing educational opportunities they provide to Seattle (and especially Scott’s kids).

Manu-o-ku settles in to the spot Nino cleared for us.


Will KIALOA be our next sponsor? (Please?)


The boat ramp <50m away!


Looking forward to seeing Nino, Lisa, and Caroline frequently as they keep Sail Sand Point organized and we test and train this winter/spring!

While we’re enthusiastic about training in Puget Sound later this year, the Lake affords many opportunities that will let us learn about our boat and our selves.  The lack of tides removes a confounding variable when we gather performance data on how in Manu-o-ku move and we grow stronger.  The extra-chilly surface temperature lets us test our gear in conditions that are thermally worse than what we’ll find in Dixon Entrance.  And less wintertime traffic will let us practice traveling at night and in flat-water conditions without the risks and complications of busy Puget Sound.


Let’s do this!


Swimming like a fish to Alaska

The Race to Alaska challenges us to reconsider how to propel a boat with human power.  I hope the race evolves to be a novel, inspiring test bed for all sorts of solutions, but it’s clear that already it has got creative juices flowing as many participants and observers think outside of their comfort zones.  While some of the experienced rowers are wondering whether if/how they should add sails, some us experienced sailors are wondering if rowing is the best human-powered technology.

I hope the race motivates a long discussion and much re-consideration of both new and old technologies.  Not only has the technological revolution brought us innovations like the Hobie Mirage drive and pedal power, but the Internet has slowly revealed time-tested propulsion methods that aren’t seen too often in the Pacific Northwest, like yulohs.  And of course, one shouldn’t forget that canoe and kayak paddles have moved humans up and down the BC coast efficiently for millennia…

Speaking of yulohs, here’s an example of that happens when you ask a smart person (my dad, Val Veirs in this case) to consider the problem.  After a 1/2-hour discussion with Thomas about pedal drives in the backyard, he sketched this fin-based solution —

A pencil/pen sketch of a novel way of propelling our catamaran in the R2AK.
A pencil/pen sketch of a novel way of propelling our catamaran in the R2AK. A fin on a long pole pivots off the front beam and is forced back and forth by human legs pushing on a control bar.

This mimics how most fish, including really big ones like sharks, swim (and they have a lot of experience).  It is also reminiscent of the yuloh — a long oar that is directed aft, pivots off the transom, and has a vertical blade — which has been used to move a wide variety of boats in Asia for a long time.  Prior to entering the race, yulohs and the Italian forcole were on the top of my list to test out on my Tiki 21.

We’ll think about whether such a solution makes sense from the many perspectives we’re considering.  (How much does it weigh?  How efficient is it?  Does it use different muscle groups than other methods?  Can it be stowed away when sailing?)  In the interim, you watch these two awesome video demonstrations of how well a fin or yuloh can work.

Are you inspired?  What human powered propulsion would or will you use this June?  Let the conversation continue!

Wharram Hitia 17 hulls floating after one month build

Shortly after Thomas and I decided to register team Sea Runners for the Race to Alaska (R2AK), we decided we should honor our boat-building experience — as well as James Wharram himself — by using the Wharram Hitia 17 design as the foundation of our race boat.  Since Thomas is an architect and we both have built Wharrams (he a Tiki 26; me a Tiki 21), we hardly looked at the plans after laying out the hull sides and bulkheads.  In fact, we’ve made a lot of modifications to keep the boat light and otherwise adapted to being powered by humans and the wind, rather than a motor.  (The key rule of the R2AK = no motors!)

This post documents our 1-month build of the hulls — from plans to floating…  First we present a fun build video that my son, Liam, put together during a “Tiki Tuesday” in a matter of mere minutes.

Below you’ll find a gallery of selected stills followed by the day-by-day build log.  Enjoy!

This was a fun, fast build for us that made us feel confident that deciding to build a Wharram design with which we were familiar was a good strategy.  We didn’t clock our hours exactly, but estimate it took us about at most 250 hours (42 days x 6 hours) the build time for the Hitia 17 advertised on the Wharram web site.  (This confirms our suspicion that the build times and boat weights listed on the Wharram site are pretty ideal — maybe pie-in-the-sky.  For non-expert builders, we advise multiplication by 1.5 for a more accurate estimates…)

Here’s a calendar of the build.

Tue 10/14 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)
Wed 10/15 T drafts and cuts out bulkheads and hull side panels
Thu 10/16 T cuts out stem, stern, rudder, lashing backing plates
Fri 10/17 S cuts out butt blocks; T glues up hull sides with butt blocks
Sun 10/19 am: Thomas rips stringers, keel; late eve: Thomas staples outer scarfed stringers to hulls; S&T glue scarfed keels
Mon 10/20 Hulls zip tied and stood up with bulkheads in place.
Tue 10/21 T,S,&K align and glue hull B
Thu 10/23 T&S align and glue hull A
10/27/2014 Keel fillets, End foaming, aft storage locker and diagonals added
11/1/2014 Decks made and undersides coated. First spar mock up glued up.
11/3/2014 Glued in bunk stringers on hulls and at bulkheads
11/4/2014 Glued on cabin sides
11/5/2014 Kennewick/paper day
11/6/2014 Made bunk cross-stringers, sanded holds
11/7/2014 Fitting bunks, painting holds, filling holes and coating bunks.
11/8/2014 Glued on decks and fixed bunk boards (with Kevin after Kenmore ride/dip)
11/9/2014 Cleaned up fillets, made and fit cabin side stringers and aft coaming pieces
11/10/2014 Glued in cabin side stringers and aft coaming pieces; trimmed decks
11/11/2014 Make deck and coaming pieces. broke rear seat B loose (do we need glass tape at stress points?)
11/12/2014 Coat cabin deck pieces/sand decks/make rudder and handle doublers
11/13/2014 Glue up coaming to cabin deck
11/14/2014 Fillet underside of coaming. Later glue cabin deck to cabin
11/15/2014 Sand decks/cabins, flip to sand hulls, fair stem/stern, shape keel
11/16/2014 T&S stay up late to glass cabin ends & rudders
11/17/2014 T&S glass decks
Tue 11/18 T glasses cabin sides during day; T&S sand hulls, glass 1st side of hulls
Wed 11/19 S fills 1st side hulls and rudder weave w/epoxy coat #2
Th 11/20 T & S sand and glass 2nd side of hulls; discuss lash pads & doublers; fill 2nd side rudders
Fri 11/21 T trims hull glass; S cleans up stringer for fillet, forms doublers & pads
Sat 11/22 S buys hardware for pads; T&S glue pads, kevlar bow, carbon fiber skeg, fillet stringer, glass keel.
Sun 11/23 First assembly!
Mon 11/24 Launch, paddle/flip/right/bail. We got it wet in 42 days (42×6 hours = 252hrs!)