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!





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!)



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



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…


More paddling, More Sailing!

More footage from out recent outing in heavier winds with the modified mast and big sail.  This time, I don’t think we were feeling like it was about to be an explosion of fiberglass and bamboo splinters!

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


Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 7.52.53 PMI’ve met a few, some up close. One ate the contents of my pack, another a ski boot. So far none have chewed on me.

So… here’s another thing to add to the training program!



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.


Going for the R2AK Gold

Scott and I have been doing HTFU training with the help of our buddy Kevin as I posted about a few days ago.  While we were trying to survive the cold waters of Puget Sound, it happened that Emily Riedel of The Discovery Channel’s Bering Sea Gold fame wandered down the beach to see what was up with the swimmers.   She then proceeded to join us in the water as the countdown timer hit 6 minutes to go.  She was pretty casual about it all, laughing and clearly enjoying herself.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 3.29.39 PMToday I had coffee with her to talk to her about cold water, the spirit of Alaska and going for the gold.  In her words:

It only hurts until you go numb,  I saw you out in the water and thought “kindred  spirits” and getting the gold is never easy, it can be a disaster!

When I suggested she join the race, her eyes lit up and she said “I’m fascinated by this race and will consider it in the future.”

Jake Beattie and the Northwest Maritime Center, you better start planning R2AK 2016!