If you haven’t listened to Jake’s introduction of the R2AK to the City of Ketchikan, hear it here….
If you haven’t listened to Jake’s introduction of the R2AK to the City of Ketchikan, hear it here….
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.
I’m looking for inspiration. Well, I could actually use a little perspiration. That would mean I wasn’t so flip’in cold as I am at the moment. I poke my soggy left arm with my equally not dry right index finger. Yup! Cold! Yup! Wet! Yup! Rain!
The Skye seems to have no problem with perspiration. It’s been perspiring hard for the last 4 days. Continuously! How long can this uphill grind it’s on be? Well it’s not that bad. Four days is a bit of an exaggeration. Really it’s only been perspiring the last 3.84 days. 95.7 hours to be exact. So far! Must be one hell of a race up there! The Skye is working hard. Can you back off on the pace buddy! We could use a little blue sky down here for the R2AK. Everything is nice a wet! ALREADY.
Did I mention it’s cold?
Well at least we have a wind at our back or we did. We being; me, my teammate Scott, and The Boat. For now we just wallow onwards on an oily slick grey surface. Banks Island is out there somewhere to my right. Or I’m hoping it is. Otherwise I’m on my way to Haida Gwaii. “Stick to the team motto” the boat reminds me. Just keep going! So I’m now stripped down as to keep my clothes dry and I’m on the cranks. Time to drive! “That’s another one of your motivational sayings”, the boat smugly pipes in. Yah right! Right now I could just use to be a little warmer. Like in a warm bed – asleep. Or in front of a fire having a good read and armchair dreams instead of this s**t!
Anyone bother doing the calculation as to how much power a human body puts out in horsepower? Try zero point two horsepower if you are in shape. At best, unless you are Frankie Tour de France with mega thighs, an entourage in tow to baby you and a German doctor with a little magic pill. Then you get to gloat about your three to four hundred Watts of raw power. We mere mortals put out 60 to 120 Watts. Woohee! Them – point five thee seven horsepower! I trained for this. For months dammit! Why can’t the boat just get over it and go a little faster? “So can we put me down for say 150 Watts”, I ask the boat. “Sustained”, it asks, a little exasperated. “We can all dream right?” I say under my breath. The boat hears me and says, “Stop griping and start motivating. How else do you think you’ll get warm?” “Point two HP”, I think. I looked it up myself before getting in this situation. Hmm! I recall thinking, “that’s not much now is it!” I promptly started cutting the tags off my gear to lower the team weight. Whatever, the sponsors can suffer from the lack of cleverly hidden tags on the inside of my clothes. Publicity – pfff!
There’s a very slight tail wind so I can justify the umbrella over my head. You know – for the rain. Well, I’m rationalizing it. Oh it seemed like a good idea to bring it at the time. “We can bring less sunscreen” I said to my Scott, “we’ll save weight. No comment from The Boat. “It’ll keep the sun off our heads as we speed north towards the mirage of a prize”, I justify. “After all can’t I also consider it to double as a sail”, I ask the boat? Ok, Ok, focus on where you are headed. This is a race and not just any race; this is the inaugural year of the R2AK – Race to Alaska
Did I mention the bugs? No! What was I thinking? Bugs come in an endless variation of shape, size and nastiness. I’ve never met a bug that bit you and then you felt better. Only worse. Where did evolution go wrong? Yes officer, I’m drunk as a skunk! Got caught out in the woods without any protection and those rum-squitos sure got a piece of me! Took me hours to get off the sand bar. Low tide. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again officer. Thanks for letting me row on. The boat reminds me “hey stop that. No daydreaming! You are here on a mission. You signed up for this! Now get to work!”
Why is the boat talking to me? I shouldn’t have looked for inspiration on THAT shelf of my nautical bookcase. The armchair sailor bookshelf. “I wonder”, I said to myself at the time, as I pulled down a slim small volume, “maybe McGrath will have some words of wisdom.” Damn Foole! What was I thinking when I started reading stories from Tom McGrath’s Voyages of the Damn Foole to the boat last winter. Now it talks back to me. And not always that nicely I might add.
“Hey Boat!” I say, “if you’re so clever, why don’t you talk Skye into backing off the perspiration and upping the breeze. I could use a little help here!” “Suit yourself” it says “Skye thought you needed a little exercise. You know to get warm.”
The wind comes up. Southwest this time. For the moment, Scott and I sail on. The others are out there somewhere. After all there’s a race on and we are bearing down on our competition as the winds change to our advantage.
What’s going on?! Is it last week’s record rainfalls, the crazy northwesterly that blew through on their tail, the minor earthquake recorded off Vancouver Island last month, or is the Salish Sea finally just fed up?
What I see ahead reminds me of the Smirnoff ad that Roz Savage www.rozsavage.com posted a link to on her blog a few years ago: a deckhand throws his empty beer can over the ship’s rail and Neptune revolts, lifting all the trash and sunken ships and planes of the ages off the bottom and throwing it all back up to where it came from.
The waters ahead are littered with logs, a tree with its roots intact, what looks like the remains of someone’s picnic picked up by a wave mid event and reset at sea and a clump of kelp with a large block of polystyrene foam trapped in the middle. Two gulls are perched on it eying each other as the foam bobs along with the current. All this in a ragged line playing off to the northeast.
The wind, on our port quarter, pushes us rapidly towards this barrier. How do I get through? Half an hour ago we had to stop to free a plastic shopping bag from our rudder. Our speed dropped precipitously from 21 kph to seven as the bag hooked the rudder’s heel and then opened like a sea anchor set by the Pardey’s. I yell to Scott who is dozing off shift “trash line!” He jumps up and is up the mast in seconds gazing out like an Arctic ice spotter looking for a way through. “It’s bad” he yells, “really bad!”
I don’t want to get stuck, I think, recalling a recent night sail with my friend Andy that put us and my boat Tsunamichaser, in a massive raft of trash and debris from which it took over an hour to extract ourselves as we drifted towards the breakers on the eastside of Lopez Island. Or the two days my girlfriend and I spent extracting our Westsail 28 from the sea vegetable and leftover detritus soup that trapped us in the hurricane hole off Winter Harbour up Vancouver Island’s west coast years ago.
The added weight of Scott aloft sends a slug of seawater over the deck and into my face. Wow that water is warm, I think. I look at our seawater temperature read out; 18.3c. We have been continuously logging sea temperatures since leaving Port Townsend three days ago. A degree higher than the temperatures that Traci C and Tracy L recorded on their passage to Ketchikan in 2012 but not as warm as our fellow sailors Mike and Catherine documented last summer off Lund.
“How are we going to get through?” I yell back.
“Tack” Scott yells. “Tack NOW!”
Tiller over hard, we go through decks level, the sail momentarily shakes as the pressure eases and then the snotter comes tight on our Pacific rig as we take off on a new course. There!, I see the gap Scott has seen. Between an up surging boil full of life and nutrients and the adjacent spinning tangle of debris – a clean line. I drop in like a surfer in the right spot on the perfect wave who with two quick strokes takes off down the waves face. Like the same surfer entering “the green room” my hand momentarily trails in the water – cold shock! A quick look at the temperature readout confirms the change, it’s 6c.
“Thermocline!” I yell. “It was all because of a massive thermocline!”
I’m reminded of how hard science can be. What we observe right now might not be what we think it is. We get to circle the sun a limited number of times in our life, yet the cycles of life are long and ever changing. Is it safe to draw any conclusion? Even after a lifetime of observation? Where I sail right now there was once a thick sheet of ice. What would I think if I woke tomorrow to that! The land has changed. We humans have always had an effect on the landscape but are we bigger than the Pico de Fogo volcano that is reshaping Cape Verde today? What about a streaking meteorite colliding with our planet. One day it’s like it has always has been the next very different. If we knew it was coming what could we do? A thousand years ago we would have looked skywards in awe of the light that wasn’t supposed to be there. But it’s the slow incipient change that we have wrought over the last few (insert ten, hundred or thousand – your choice) years that might matter now. Many small unmeasurable changes hurling us towards a tipping point.
For the moment, Scott and I sail on. The wind blows from the northwest. The others are out there somewhere. After all there’s a race on and we are bearing down on our competition as the winds change to our advantage.