Capsize & recovery of a Wharram Hitia 17: Race to Alaska (R2AK) training

The added leverage seems to help bring the up-going hull further and ultimately through vertical.

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
  • 20:45 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?



Preparing for the Race to Alaska

The Race to Alaska is a big race. There are many uncertainties and it’s complicated. As simple as the rules are — no motors, no outside support and no crew changes; go from Port Townsend to Ketchikan stopping in Victoria to clear Canadian Customs and then transit Seymour Narrows and sail past Bella Bella — the waters that the race crosses are wild and varied: fickle winds in the Strait of Georgia; raging currents of up to 16 knots at Seymour; soul-sucking rain possibilities on the north coast; water-jet like winds funneling out of mountain inlets with little notice; and endless rocks and other obstacles to hit.

How do you prepare for this maelstrom of conditions in what is essentially a desolate inshore race?

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 6.19.42 AMThough the race was conceived of in the United States by American organizers, all but about 75 miles of it is in Canada.  As the 2015 race proved, the weather along the B.C. coast governed the race. Some teams got lucky and rocketed north enjoying a nice summer sail.  Others had their hopes dashed as they fought vicious conditions that were possible but unprecedented. Environment Canada, has many responsibilities — from trying to understand the chimera that is climate change to enforcing rules related to boundary waters like the Northwest Passage. In the midst of all this they are also expected to predict what the weather will be like in a few short passages. The Canadian weather forecasting body in their publication Nation Marine Weather Guide: British Columbia Regional Guide go on for 152 pages about the hazards of the B.C. coast. They provide helpful mariner antidotes such as “The day before a major southeast storm is often deceptively calm; then the bad weather strikes with a vengeance. Veteran mariners call these glassy calm days “weather breeders.”” But most foreboding are deadpan statements delivered in a calm bureaucratic voice from afar like: “Several locations across the Georgia Basin appear to experience significant changes in their wind and weather patterns—Seymour Narrows, in Desolation Sound, being one of them. It is said that going north through Seymour Narrows and the Yuculta Rapids is like going through a door into another room, with both colder water and air. Precipitation amounts are also different on opposite side of the Narrows.”  That should make you realize that this is not going to be an easy race.

So how do you prepare? You need a list, but this is no “I’m going to the grocery store, what do we need” kind of list!  First you need to be really hungry (or even insane or obsessed?) to even want to contemplate “going to the store.”  But yes, you do need a list:

1. Boat
2. Crew
3. Food
4. Navigation
5. Safety
6. Clothing
7. Human Power
8. Power
9. Water
10. Training

Easy right?  It’s only 10 items. Perfect! But doubt creeps in like a day-long fog. Within those 10 items you can obsess about the perfect sub-list — each category breaking down into hundreds of sub-items each with their doubts and flaws. And it is easy to go down the rabbit hole each item generates and completely forget the others.

In the end, this race, conceived as a opportunity for six sets of local friends to row-sail their open boats up the coast as a lark, has quickly become a somewhat predictable battle and something of the money race. This of course was an invited outcome. You don’t challenge Larry Ellison of America’s Cup stature to show up in an America’s Cup boat without other like minded individuals taking up the call. Don’t get me wrong. It will be entertaining to watch a stand-up paddle boarder challenge a mega-trimaran. The odds are as endless as is the difference in the list of what to bring. As one racer commented to another on Facebook recently when the second individual stated they were planning for a two-week transit, “I thought this was a race.” The perspective on this event varies greatly. Last year’s record of five days, one hour and 55 minutes stands as the World Record. It’s a challenge that in its audacity says “go ahead see if you can break me!” What bad choices might be made because of this worm dangling on a hook? Contemplating pushing the limits of yourself and/or boat leads to more list obsessions…

Why even enter? The prize seems hardly worth it as it will likely cost more to enter than the ten grand nailed to a tree you’ll win if you’re the first boat in.  And if we “know” that a big, monied, multi-hull with a super-crew onboard is going to win then why even do it?  Well, there is a slight chance that they won’t win and you might. There is also the internal race, the one we all have with ourselves if we are even half awake.  And there is the camaraderie of talking boat with like-minded souls with a dash of safety net thrown in (thanks SPOT!).

As they contemplate their motivations, there are many other questions faced by racers. The curious and the casual refrain from asking “Why the hell are you doing this?” Instead they want to know the mundane. “How will you sleep?” “What are you going to eat?” And the one complete strangers want intimate details about: “How will you poop?”

Perhaps inside we all know why we attempt these type of endeavors but are afraid of the consequences of listening to the voice within. Regardless of these questions, it will be a challenge to the racers and entertaining to the observers.

The race starts in just over two weeks. There’s still time to obsess about the list.
‪#‎R2AK‬ ‪#‎RacetoAlaska

R2AK 2015 spreadsheet: build, budget, boats, schedules, gear, and more

For those contemplating a bid in the 2016 (or future?) Race to Alaska, this massive R2AK-2015 spreadsheet that Thomas and I used to plan & track our efforts may be of interest —

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.

Place Time Last point north First Last Team Boat type Boat model
1 5.0 Ketchikan Al Hughes Elsie Piddock Trimaran F25c
2 8.2 Ketchikan Wayne Gorrie MOB Mentality Trimaran 28′ Farrier SR “Mail order bride”
3 8.2 Ketchikan John Denny Por Favor Monohull Hobie 33′
4 Ketchikan Trip Burd Free Burd Catamaran Arc 22 catamaran
5 Ketchikan Matt Sornson Kohara Catamaran 29′ ?
6 Ketchikan Dan Blanchard Un-cruise Trimaran F-32
7 11.6  Ketchikan Graham Henry Soggy Beavers OC6 Advantage Outrigger
8  Ketchikan Phil Wampold Mau Catamaran Nacra 5.7
9  Ketchikan Al Lubkowski Blackfish Trimaran F-27
10 Ketchikan Jeremy Lucke Grin Monohull Etchell 22
11 Ketchikan Roger Mann Discovery Trimaran Hobie Islander
12 Ketchikan Bill Gifford Excellent Adventure Monohull Montgomery 17′
13 Ketchikan Patrick Buntain Boatyard Boys Monohull 17’ Swamspcott Dory
14  Ketchikan Mike Higgins Mike’s Kayak Kayak 17 foot yellow Prijon Kodiak
15  28?  Ketchikan Quill Goldman Barefoot Wooden Boats Oar & sail boat Tad Roberts custom
16  14? Bella Bella John Strathman John Canoe 19′ Easyrider w/outrigger
17 13.0 Broughtons Michael Dougherty Puffin Catamaran Wharram Tiki 21
18 13.0 Telegraph Cove Thomas Nielsen Sea Runners Catamaran Hitia 17
19 Kelsey Bay Nels Strandberg Broderna Trimaran F-24(25?) w/ Viking oars
20 Otter Bay Piper Dunlap Hexagram 59 Catamaran Hobie Miracle 20′
21 N Seymour Narrows Stephen Marcoe Golden Oldies Catamaran 38′ Crowther super Shockwave “Nice Pair”
22  9? S Seymour Narrows Heather Drugge Coastal Express Monohull Mirror 16′
23 Parksville Chris Adams Super Friends Monohull San Juan 21
24 Nanaimo Phil Wilmer Y Triamoto Trimaran Multi 23, mini ORMA 60 Van Peteghem Laurent
25 Vancouver George Corbett Seawolf Foiling trimaran 17′ Seawolf
26 Gibbons Brandon Davis Turn Point Design Catamaran Turn Point 24 (carbon fiber/nomex)
27 Active Pass Todd Bryan Real Thing Trimaran L-7 “Firefly” (Multi Marine, Michael Leneman)
28 Vancouver Joe Bersch Pure & Wild Proa Bieker Proa

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) —

Build day Time Line  Event
Tiki Tuesday — 9/23/2014 Decide to enter race with Scott Veirs
10/1/2014 Plans ordered from JWD
10/1/2014 Calculated cost of aluminum parts
10/1/2014 Emailed Wayne at Down-Home Woods for wood spar quote got a no-quote response
10/2/2014 JWD processing plan order
10/4/2014 Completed kayak speed test
10/8/2014 JWD H17 plans received
10/11/2014 Great cabin mocked up
1 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)
2 Wed 10/15 T drafts and cuts out bulkheads and hull side panels
3 Thu 10/16 T cuts out stem, stern, rudder, lashing backing plates
4 Fri 10/17 S cuts out butt blocks; T glues up hull sides with butt blocks
5 Sun 10/19 am: Thomas rips stringers, keel; late eve: Thomas staples outer scarfed stringers to hulls; S&T glue scarfed keels
6 Mon 10/20 T&S test mirage drive. T maintains 4-5 kph while chatting on phone. Hulls zip tied and stood up with bulkheads in place.
7 Tue 10/21 T,S,&K align and glue hull B
8 Thu 10/23 T&S align and glue hull A
9 10/27/2014 Keel fillets, End foaming, aft storage locker and diagonals added
10 11/1/2014 Decks made and undersides coated. First spar mock up glued up.
11 11/3/2014 Glued in bunk stringers on hulls and at bulkheads
12 11/4/2014 Glued on cabin sides
13 11/5/2014 Kennewick/paper day
14 11/6/2014 Made bunk cross-stringers, sanded holds
15 11/7/2014 Fitting bunks, painting holds, filling holes and coating bunks.
16 11/8/2014 Glued on decks and fixed bunk boards (with Kevin after Kenmore ride/dip)
17 11/9/2014 Cleaned up fillets, made and fit cabin side stringers and aft coaming pieces
18 11/10/2014 Glued in cabin side stringers and aft coaming pieces; trimmed decks
19 11/11/2014 Make deck and coaming pieces. broke rear seat B loose (do we need glass tape at stress points?)
20 11/12/2014 Coat cabin deck pieces/sand decks/make rudder and handle doublers
21 11/13/2014 Glue up coaming to cabin deck
22 11/14/2014 Fillet underside of coaming. Later glue cabin deck to cabin
23 11/15/2014 Sand decks/cabins, flip to sand hulls, fair stem/stern, shape keel
24 11/16/2014 T&S stay up late to glass cabin ends & rudders
25 11/17/2014 T&S glass decks
26 Tue 11/18 T glasses cabin sides during day; T&S sand hulls, glass 1st side of hulls
27 Wed 11/19 S fills 1st side hulls and rudder weave w/epoxy coat #2
28 Th 11/20 T & S sand and glass 2nd side of hulls; discuss lash pads & doublers; fill 2nd side rudders
29 Fri 11/21 T trims hull glass; S cleans up stringer for fillet, forms doublers & pads
30 Sat 11/22 S buys hardware for pads; T&S glue pads, kevlar bow, carbon fiber skeg, fillet stringer, glass keel.
31 Sun 11/23 First assembly!
32 Mon 11/24 Launch, paddle/mirage drive/flip/right/bail. We got it wet in 42 days (42×6 hours = 252hrs!)



Nav Lights, Burgees and Anchor Testing

We held Tiki Tuesday on Thursday night this week as Kiko came to town from Hawaii yesterday.  He brought us a couple of gems;  a big bright yellow sail made by Warren Seaman himself and an intriguing option for the human propulsion side of things.

2015-01-23 00.45.26
Nav light
2015-01-23 00.54.06
#R2AK Burgee (prototype)
2015-01-23 00.15.34
Anchor testing 😉

Shop time was mainly used to catch-up and work on a project for Kiko so he can get his Pahi 26 in the water tomorrow.  Thanks to Tim for sharing awesome beer and cat food can alcohol stove designs, and to Ty for lending a hand again.

Finding Alaska – More Testing

Scott and I spent the weekend testing stuff for the R2AK and boy do we have stories.  There be some video editing though before we are ready to show you the main activity of Saturday.  Meanwhile we spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning camped on the boat “Finding Alaska”

Which Is the better compass to steer by when trying to get to Alaska?







Cooking Breakfast.







Reading A VOYAGE LONG AND STRANGE by Tony Horwitz.


Gear and Life

You can’t go on one of these types of adventures without a bunch of gear.  We are making some, we are modify some and of course some works so well we can use it as we buy it – off the shelf.  Right now we are in full test mode trying out this fabric versus that fabric.  Sleeping in wet gear and getting some rest.  Concocting meals, figuring out ways to cook, how to start a fire when you you’ve gone hypothermic – yes we are inducing it and then trying to recover but under controlled conditions.  We’ll be posting more on this topic later with both raw data and our takes on what works best.  We have spent years being adventurers so we have our biases.  We like these guys not just for their great gear and willingness to work with us on setting issues right but also for their excellent film series.

The question is not why but how.



The Umbrella – don’t mock it!










  • blocks the sun
  • blocks the rain
  • catches a little wind
  • catches crabs
  • catches current
  • shelters your stuff
  • keeps your charts dry
  • goes easy up
  • goes easy down
  • is your friend