Preparing the R2AK Hitia 17 for a race ’round Mercer Island

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.

The full race course is 23 km long.
The full race course is 23 km long.

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.


It’s noteworthy that Michael’s full-race (~2 hour) speeds are right up there with Greg’s 24-hour world record speed.  All these numbers can be further examined in this Google spreadsheet of human-powered boat performance data.

When Thomas and I circumnavigated Mercer Island as part of our 2015 R2AK training, our boat Manuoku was fully loaded and had a sailing rig.  As I recall it was pretty calm that night.  The iSailGPS screengrabs show that our speed was 4-6 kph for much of the time.

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!





Audio report #2 from R2AK 2016: whales, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, & other yarns

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!


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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!

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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.

Lags in Johnstone Strait (screen grab from a video Thomas posted to Facebook)
Lags in Johnstone Strait (screen grab from this video Thomas posted to Facebook)

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.

Sleep deprivations

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.

Audio report #1 from Team Sea Runners in R2AK 2016

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.

Seascape 18 nightime R2AK cockpit
Seascape 18 nightime R2AK cockpit

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

Comparing R2AK 2015 to 2016

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.

Wolf, Man who fights the Bear, Son of the Fox

For the 2016 R2AK, I want to build and race one of these.  Whose in?  Crew of six. Thanks Jan Egil Bryn for alerting me to this video on Vimeo.

This could be what the race conditions look like….

This was shot last winter when Scott and I went out for a stormy sail on his 21 foot version of Manu O Ku

Second news article for the day! Ballard News-Tribune

Shane Harms, from the Ballard News-Tribune, interviewed us a couple of weeks ago.  Here is that story! …oh and we won’t just be drinking olive oil though that sounds pretty gnarly!  We’ll be tossing down a bit of coffee and a whole load of pasta with that!

North Seattleites racing to Alaska _ Ballard News-Tribune