June 1st - Last update before I head off.
Three days to go and there seems to be a flurry of tasks all happening at the same time.
Lisa and I had a wonderful gathering of close friends who have been with us for the last year and a half of preparing for the trip. Lisa had the house looking elegant and simple at the same time - lots of warm space to be filled with fine friends, love and great food. Rex contributed with muddy and wet paws as he got a bit over excited hunting for mice amid the excitement of the evening.
Our friend Sam, a semi-retired orthopedic surgeon, met with my primary care doctor and has come up with a very comprehensive drug kit for the trip - everything from allergy, to pain, to prescription sleeping pills. Every possibility has to be considered even if it at times it feels "over the top". I have to consider being too exhausted to sleep or being injured and in pain while awaiting a rescue at sea - a scenario that I hope not to encounter but would be foolish not to have a plan for.
Our Icelandic friend, Palmi, who works closely with the Icelandic Coast Guard is contacting the Faeroe Coast Guard as well as the Norwegian ferry Norona and letting them know of my plans. The Norona sails weekly from Norway, through Shetland and Faeroe, to Iceland. When I begin the first long crossing from Shetland to Faeroe I will be along the Norona's route and will hope to have contact with her. Palmi will also notify the local off-shore fishing fleet so they will know of my where-abouts. When I leave Shetland to begin the crossing, I will contact Palmi who, in turn, will let everyone know that I am on my way. All of this is an effort to cast a wide net of support and awareness in case a rescue is needed. It is the prudent and responsible thing to do. As our Coast Guard Commander here in Port Angeles has said "We want boaters to help take the "search" out of search and rescue.
Ken Birdwell is making the last minute arrangements to pass his satellite phone over to me as early as June 3rd. The Sat phone will be my link for weather updates from Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle - the tiny island half way between Orkney and Shetland. Dave will be my weather man and has agreed to keep me updated with last minute weather developments. Before I begin any of the long crossings, I'll be calling Dave and finding out what's happening 100 miles off-shore and whether it's a "go or no go".
Kokatat is shipping the new dry suit via overnight delivery so I have it in time for flying out on June 5th.
I'm still waiting - nervously - for the marine charts to arrive for the GPS's.
The solar panel checks out fine with a steady 16 amps of charging power. I have adapters for the radios, telephone, GPS's, I-pod and camera.
Al is updating the website with new maps and text so that readers can easily follow my progress. I will attempt to keep Al updated using the computers of folks who I will be meeting while in the islands. While I am out at sea, I will periodically call Al and let him know where I am with latitude and longitude readings as well as any exciting things that may be happening. I won't be doing this every day as it would defeat the very reason for seeking the solitude of the sea which I so dearly love.
May 28th - Eight days to go before heading off
I'm amazed at the number of old "to do" lists that I find in the van, in the pockets of my jeans, on my clipboard and on the shelf in my closet. They seem to be everywhere - each with their lines of printed notes carefully crossed off. There is always the current list to deal with, but it's somewhat comforting to see all the old ones showing the completed work - despite everything that has yet to be done.
With the departure date drawing near, people have been asking if I'm getting nervous. The truth is, I've been too busy to really think about being nervous. Right now I'm more concerned with the solar panel and the connections for the VHF, camera, GPS's and Satellite phone. And then there is the worry that the GPS marine charts that I ordered will arrive before I leave on June 5th. And then there is the drysuit which I sent back to Kokatat - more on that later - and the arrangements with the Scottish freight company to truck the boat from Grangemouth to John O Groats. Maybe the nervousness will come later - but right now there isn't time.
Every single decision I have made has been focused on safety and the survivability of the boat. I believe in the boat. And I believe in myself. I know when the time comes to set out, I will be ready. Right now, my job is to prepare for the trip and that is what I am doing. One day at a time, one task at a time. I am in the preparation mode of the trip, with the actual rowing feeling very abstract at the moment.
I mentioned the dry suit... I sent my old suit back to Kokatat to have it reconditioned. The booties were leaking a little, there was a damp spot along one side and a small leak along the zipper. Within three days of shipping it off, I got a call from Jordan saying there was a warranty issue with the Gortex material of the suit and they wanted to send a brand new suit to me. The blue one was no longer a stock color, what did I think about either a yellow or a red one? I have worked with Kokatat now for over twenty years and this in the kind of service they always offer: "What can we do to make this work for you?" With all of the other concerns of the trip taking time and energy, I so appreciate Kokatat's positive approach and support.
I've said over and over again, ninety percent of the challenges of this trip are going to be psychological. I need to stay focused on the task at hand. And, I need to know that all my gear - the boat, oars, oar locks, GPS's, the stitching on my sea anchor, and the zippers on the drysuit are doing their jobs. If I know that, I can focus on the work of pulling the boat through the seas. That's my job. So, here is a huge THANK YOU to everyone at Kokatat-the folks who cut the material, sew it, test it and ship it out with their high standard of value attached.
I worked with Tommy Cook for over 6 hours the other day - using Google Earth to find waypoints for my route through the Orkney, Shetland and Faroes islands. Although the open crossings are going to be a challenge, the relatively sheltered waters of the islands are going to be far from easy. As with every other aspect of the trip, I tried to put myself in the worst case scenario and then tried to imagine what I might find at each way point if the winds and seas were kicking up. What would I be able to see in heavy fog as I draw close to land, where is the prevailing wind coming from, could there be rebounding waves coming off the cliffs, and what affect will the tides be having on my route as I try to navigate through these waters known for their powerful tides? A multitude of questions surfaced with each detailed image on the screen. It was easy to drag the push pin icon to each specific point and create a route through the complicated passages of the islands. We'll see what the reality of those points is in about three weeks.
One of my greatest concerns in planning the past trips has always been the threat of getting blown offshore. It has been my worst fear and one that came very close to happening on the New Zealand trip. That fear is completely erased with the rowing boat - if I am blown out to sea, I will deploy the sea anchor, crawl into the forward compartment and wait for the winds to die down. It is the on-shore winds, and the danger of getting blown onto the rocks or up against the cliffs that I am now concerned with. As Tommy and I set the various waypoints, I was constantly thinking what I would do in a strong on-shore wind. My first line of defense will be a good weather report. Second will be the ability to run with the wind until I can slip behind an island and get out of it. Third and last, will be the sea anchor that will slow the boat to a crawl and buy me time for the winds to either change direction or die down.
As I set each waypoint, I recorded the latitude and longitude in a waterproof note pad and then read the lat and long out to Tommy who entered them in the GPS. Tommy entered each one then read it back to me before locking it in. Over and over again we slowly established the route leading away from John O'Groats and eventually out to open ocean. It was tedious work that had us both kind of bug eyed when it was done.
Creating all those lists and doing all the work of the past year and a half is very similar to setting the waypoints on the GPS - each job completed is another point that leads me safely onto the next leg of the trip. Very slowly, I am working my way toward the goal of open water
May 4th, 2011
The first phase of the trip is completed. Almost four years after the idea was born, the boat is on its way as of 10:15 this morning - May 3rd 2011. Howard and I worked on the last of the details right up until the moment the truck arrived with the 20 foot container. The very last thing we did was to hook up the sliding seat to the kayak tube pump that lies lengthwise along the bilge. Howard welded up a "turn and lock" aluminum capture device onto the bottom of the seat. This allows me to engage the pump and still keep rowing if a wave dumps into the boat.
If you click on photo gallery, you'll see Howard using his excavator to lift the boat so Mick, the truck driver, could back into position. With the help of Howard and his friend Tom, we cross strapped the boat every which way and then some, until the boat was absolutely locked down for its journey to Scotland. The doors were swung shut and sealed, the last of the paper work was signed and then, off it went. The next time I see Northern Reach will be in Grangemouth, Scotland.
With the boat on its way, it's time to sit back for a few minutes and think about what has taken place... Two months ago I walked up to Howard's shop and introduced myself as a friend of a friend. Howard had heard about the trip and my building the boat, and immediately offered me the use of his shop. I remember telling him I thought I had at least two weeks of work left on the boat. Little did I know what was in front of me - and us - once Howard took a full-on interest in the project. There is no way that I could have done all the work of the last 60 days without Howard's help. There must be hundreds of hours of design, layout, epoxy and plywood fabrication, testing and tearing apart - particularly the rowing deck - and then starting all over again. When the epoxy and plywood work was completed, there was all of the design and aluminum fabrication for the outriggers - and then the testing and redesigning work that followed the first sea trials. After Howard arranged with Ancient Auto works to do the painting, there was all of the publicity and fund raising that I have Karen Hanan to thank for arranging and overseeing. Every step along the way of the last three or four months, there have been so many people reaching out to help with this endeavor. There is no way to adequately thank everyone for all their support - not least of course, Lisa. This type of trip is so much more involved than anything I ever done and it has taken a huge amount of time and energy from so many people. The only way to thank all of you, especially Lisa, is to now go and do the trip, and to come back with the stories that I know are out there waiting to be recorded and shared when I return.
It is now time to focus on the logistics of food, trucking the boat north from Grangemouth, tidal current plans, registering the EPIRB, acquiring local charts, keeping the lines of communications open with my contacts in Scotland, getting some serious training in, and having doctor friends give me a basic trauma first-aid course including how to - and when - to stitch up an open wound. In addition, there has to be time spent learning the ins and outs of the GPS - and it's backup, plus familiarizing myself with the satellite phone and arranging with Lisa and our friends Al Zob and Sam and Martha Baker as to how to schedule communications when I'm out at sea. And then there has to be the drill of what to do if I trigger the EPIRB - who gets called first, second and third to confirm that the EPIRB is in fact registered in my name and that I am indeed in the North Atlantic. It's all part of the trip and the trip can't start until all the details are covered.
April 28th, 2011
It is official - the boat ships out of Port Angeles next Tuesday, May 3rd. There has been some major difficulty in getting prompt responses from UK Customs. Barb, from Translink Shipping has been steadily working on my behalf to insure that I can clear customs without it costing me an arm and a leg at the last minute. The boat is scheduled to arrive in Grangemounth Scotland on June 8th. I will arrive a couple of days early to buy food, arrange for trucking the boat north to John O Groats and gather as much local information as possible concerning the tides around the islands. I will be staying with Patrick Winterton, someone I have only emailed but who has a similar love for the sea and is an adventure film maker. He understands logistics in terms of my needing help once I arrive in Scotland and has offered his home as a base for me. Patrick paddled from the Hebrides to Faeroes two years ago and knows the challenges of the North Atlantic. He and his paddling partner paddled 68 hours of the total 76 hours it took to make the 217 mile crossing. The final ten kilometers took nine hours due to tidal problems. I'm looking forward to hearing more details!
The flight reservations have been made for June 6th - that means, if all goes well with customs, I should have the boat in john O Groats by June 10th - later than I had planned but the key to this trip is flexibility and staying positive. So June 10th is the new target date and we'll go from there.
April 15th, 2011
There has been a lot going on, of course, in the last two weeks - some very positive and some quite frustrating - just like life.
We have had two fund raisers which have brought in some much needed cash as well as made us some new and interesting friends. On March 23rd we did a slide presentation and had the newly painted Northern Reach in Port Townsend. The attendance was smaller than we had hoped but everyone there, I hope, went away feeling like they had an evening's worth of past adventures, as well as having a really close look at Northern Reach. What I really love about these smaller gatherings is the connection with everyone that I simply cannot feel in a larger crowd. There were some very experienced rowers in the gathering that posed some great questions concerning the boat; everything from secondary stability to varying hull speeds in different sea conditions. Suggestions were made for better radar reflection to different ways for stowing the spare oars. I like when there are so many new sets of eyes looking the boat over in a way that is non-critical but very challenging- that's where ideas are formed and explored.
One major thing coming out of the Port Townsend presentation was revisiting the idea of getting an AIS unit (Automated Identification System). I stopped by our local marine electronics store here in Port Angeles and met the owners, Ann and Hank. Hank showed me one of their units, how it operated, how much power it draws and then showed me a website (www.marinetraffic.com) that convinced me of AIS capabilities. The site shows every ship and smaller vessel in the world that is currently transmitting an AIS signal. Hank scrolled over to the Faeroes and clicked on one ship icon and up came a full description of the vessel, country of origin, tonnage, direction of travel and speed over the ground. He then explained that international law requires all ships to have and to monitor for AIS. The unit costs about $900.00 but will allow me to sleep without fear of getting run down and is far more reliant that a static radar reflector that may not be seen due to Northern Reach being so low in the water. Our neighbors, Ed and Linda Schreiner have insisted on paying for the unit so that I don't have to worry about getting run over while sleeping. They are amazingly generous and a reminder - as if I could ever forget - that this is not a solo trip. This is a community adventure and one that I am thrilled to be a player in!
Another big bonus from the Port Townsend presentation was our meeting Pete and Linda Rhines. They have both been to Faeroe and know many folks there. Pete is an oceanographer who has done extensive work around the Faeroes and really knows the currents. As soon as the boat ships and I have time to concentrate on the other elements of the trip, I will be calling them and learning as much as possible about the waters they know so well.
The other fund raiser we just finished was at our local lumber and hardware store - Hartnagels. Thanks to Donna Pacheco we had a lot of folks stop by to have a look at Northern Reach and to talk about the trip. The first visitor was Gunner Johansson - a native of the Faeroes who lives right here in Port Angeles. Gunner worked on the fishing boats out of Torshavn which is where I hope to land. He knows the Faeroese waters well and although he said the toughest part will be the crossing from Faeroe to Iceland, he also told me what I had hoped was the case - that there are times when the sea is as flat as a pond. We saw this on our Iceland circumnavigation in 2003 when the ocean looked and felt more like a giant calm lake than the notorious North Atlantic. Every year is different and there is no way to predict what the summer of 2011 will bring but I am, of course, hoping for the kind of seas Shawna, Leon and I experienced for at least the northern portion of our trip.
Another bit of news is my recent crossing of the Straits of Juan De Fuca last week. I rowed from Port Angeles to San Juan Island - about 30 miles in a little over 6 hours. I tied up to a buoy at Small Pox Bay, cooked my dinner on board, then crawled into the forward compartment and slept like a baby for nine hours- the best sleep I've had for weeks due to the stresses of all the pre-trip preparations. In the morning, I cooked my breakfast on board then set off for the 30 mile row to Orcas Island where Lisa, Shawna and Leon met me just as the last light of the day was fading. It was an excellent shakedown for the boat as well as for me.
I'm really happy with how the boat feels in the swells and how relatively fast she is. The new oarlocks are very substantial and after wrapping the oars with parachute cord to increase the circumference so as to fit the larger bail of the oarlock - the feel and fit of the oars is perfect. The only thing that started to bother me was an apparent wearing of at least one of the six wheels that the seat rides on. Two thirds of the way across, the wheels started to click and catch a little - sure signs that the cheap bearings were wearing. I made it to Orcas Island just fine, and due to 35 knot winds had to abandon the plan to row back to Port Angeles. Today I redesigned the sliding apparatus beneath the seat and replaced the worn out wheels with in-line skate wheels that have sealed bearings and are larger so they roll easier. I also learned that sixty miles in two days is way too much in terms of breaking in my body. My hands are pretty blistered and my back and butt were really sore but the shakedown was something I needed and am glad I did. As soon as I make new latches for the forward hatch tomorrow, I'll be back on the water for more training.
I had hoped to ship the boat by April 15th but there is a glitch in the UK customs requirements. I'm hoping to hear by Monday, April 18th as to when the boat will actually be loaded into its container and sent to Seattle for the first leg of the overseas journey. In the mean- time, there is plenty of work and publicity to keep me busy.
April 4th, 2011
The countdown continues - less than two weeks to go before the boat is loaded into its container and sent off to Seattle to wait shipping. I should hear today the exact date for the loading.
I've had a chance to row in some pretty extreme winds and am happy to report that Northern Reach feels right. I went out two days ago when the winds were holding at 25 knots with gusts over 30. For safety reasons, I decided to stay inside Ediz Hook rather than venture out into the open waters of the Straits of Juan De Fuca. I rowed (clawed my way) upwind about a mile from the put in and deployed the sea anchor. The anchor billowed out just as it is designed to do and stopped the boat in its tracks. Getting it back in was quite a chore as I have not yet attached a trip line with a float. I had to row upwind of the anchor so that the line was tight and just off either the port or starboard side. In the high winds, it was really tough maneuvering and getting enough tension on the line so that it rose close to the sea surface.
As soon as I had restowed the anchor, I continued upwind another half mile and then turned and headed back downwind. I did not have my GPS with me but suffice it to say that it was a very fast ride. The seas were directly astern and surfing me straight down-wind at around 9 or 10 knots. It was absolutely exhilarating! I doubt if I'll have such favorable winds and waves on the trip, but at least I know what to expect from the boat if there is anything at all close to these conditions. The big thing was that Northern Reach did not easily broach, and when she did start to swing one way or the other, I was able to either correct with a strong pull on the oars or simply tighten or loosen the rudder line and bring her back on track.
Howard has mounted backer plates underneath the outriggers so there is more support and better distribution of stress while rowing. I've added two vents to the forward bulkhead so that when the hatch is closed and dogged, I'll have plenty of fresh air. The vents are protected from rain and waves by a rubber hood that is sealed with silicone.
I am looking at an AIS (Automatic Identification System) that will enable other vessels to see me on their receivers. The unit sends out a data blurb (my verbiage) something like once every two minutes with all of the pre-registered information of the vessel. Any vessel with a receiver on board - they are mandatory on all commercial vessels- would be alerted of my position as the vessel closes to within a certain set distance. My information would come up as: 19 foot ocean rowing boat, 3.5 knots, northwest direction, home ported Port Angeles WA USA. Having an AIS would allow me to sleep without the stress of worrying about getting run over. Fatigue is going to be a major factor on the longer crossings and sleep will be priority. I'm currently approaching several manufacturers and seeing if they would consider a partial or full sponsorship as these units are around $900.00.
I am planning a five day shakedown cruise starting April 6th. I'll leave Port Angeles and row over to Victoria BC, then east to the San Juan Islands, meet up with Lisa for a day of rowing/sea kayaking, then continue to Whidby Island, Port Townsend and then back home to Port Angeles for a fund raising event at Hartnagel Building Supply.
Mar 20th, 2011
With less than one month left before shipping the boat, the timeline seems unattainable. And yet, I have to believe it will all come together. It has to.
After two days of me prepping the boat; more fiberglass, sanding, finding some pin holes in the rowing compartment bulkheads, applying more resin and finishing with more sanding, the boat was ready for priming on March 17th - St. Paddy's Day. Howard primed the cabins and rowing section with three coats of gray epoxy primer. The primer doesn't come in shamrock green, so I had to settle with gray. Ancient Auto Body - a custom body and paint shop two doors down from Howard's shop, has volunteered to paint the top coat on Northern Reach. Paul is a perfectionist and normally works on super high-end auto finishes. Northern Reach is going to look pretty spiffy by Monday March 21st.
Paul said the primer would take two full days to dry so I had time to twiddle my thumbs or to find a few extra things to work on like: sand the original hull in preparation for its painting, file some of the welds on the outriggers, talk with our local machine shop about some adaptations to the new oarlocks that arrived on the 16th, work on shipping the boat, talk with the UK customs agent, make contact with Patrick Winterton - an adventure film maker living in Sterling Scotland, where I will receive the boat from the shipping company, order battery powered port and starboard lights for legal purposes despite having almost 20 hours of daylight and little shipping to worry about, talk with Kokatat about a dry suit, continue arrangements for our Port Townsend fund raising presentation on March 26th, tell Lisa I love her as I head out the door while she is still half asleep from her night shift at the hospital, tell Rex, our Springer Spaniel that he has to stay once again rather than ride with me to another carpentry job, check off two things on my list and add four more, and then think about April 15th - the shipping date for the boat. Oh yea, and what color am I going to paint the boat?
Like most men/boys, I would really like to have a tractor. Digging ditches, lifting rocks into place, plowing our road in the winter, spreading gravel on the driveway - the list could go on forever. The truth is, I can't justify, and we can't afford to own a tractor. Pretty simple really. So instead of an orange Kubota tractor, I've decided to have a Kubota Orange ocean rowing boat. If you were wondering where this writing was going, now you know.
By March 21st, Northern Reach is going to be highly visible and ready for some serious sea trials but in the meantime I have been sanding the primer paint and thinking of all the training that I have not been doing. Wipe on wipe off - like the part in the movie, The Karate Kid, where the kid questions what the heck he is doing washing and waxing his teacher's cars when all he wants to do is to learn karate. I could really stress out about not getting any conditioning in, or I can think about all that hand sanding with wet/dry 320 grit sanding paper as my Zen conditioning training. Wipe on. Wipe off. When grasshopper finishes his sanding, then he can go rowing.
I've added another ½ inch of foam on the inside of the forward cabin - heat and sound insulation as well as softening any impact if Northern Reach gets rolled and I am not yet strapped down. There is now a full inch of foam on the cabin walls, ceiling and deck.
I've also added another stainless steel bow u-bolt for a secondary sea anchor attachment. I can't imagine how or why the first sea anchor might snap, but if does, all I will have to do is reach into the port rowing compartment, pull out the spare sea anchor, snap it onto the second bungee loaded lead and stream it over the side. It all sounds so simple but I can well imagine the conditions I might be in when I would have to rely upon a second sea anchor. Maybe just knowing there is a back-up system in place will help psychologically. So much of this trip, like past trips, is in my head; staying positive, focused, having long and short term goals to lead me on and having the ability to pull out plan B if pan A fails will all help when and if things start to go awry. Preparation is everything.
Mar 13th, 2011
I took the boat out this evening in a five foot north east swell, a wind of about 15 knots on the bow and the last of the ebb tide which was against me. What I was looking for was some higher wind and swell conditions that would test the clearances for the oars. I had the GPS that Sam and Martha gave me so that I could see what kind of speed I could maintain. The important thing in these tests is to do them in slowly increasing conditions so that if there is a failure, I can recover and do something about it. The other part of this evening's row, was to test the second pair of oars that Mike Snook has built for me. The oars are slightly beefier than the first pair, a little heavier and quite a bit stiffer. Whether I am paddling or rowing, I like going into the wind, waves and tide so that if something happens with broken gear, fatigue or injury, I can drift back into sheltered water and regroup.
I rowed about a mile off shore into the swell and winds. I was really pleased that the oars cleared the deck and bearings even in the larger swell and somewhat confused wind waves that were off the tip of Ediz Hook which forms the outer reach of Port Angeles Harbor. The new oars were a real pleasure- somehow more substantial, perhaps due to the slight weight difference or stiffness. They grabbed the water exactly like the primary oars and exited with the same smooth effort. It is one more concern that I can check off my list- spare oars- test out fine.
Going into the wind and swell and against a weak ebbing tide, the GPS showed a varying speed of between 3.1 knots and 4.3 knots. It's a little hard to get a constant reading so I averaged out the speed at around 3.5 knots. Coming back in, the reading spiked at 6.7 as the boat caught one wave and surfed down its face for a short distance.
The test row went very well despite a shift in the winds that had me rowing back against 15 knots of wind and a very confused sea- a five foot northeast swell meeting a growing short choppy southwest wind wave. These were perfect conditions to again test the clearances.
Mar 12th, 2011
One month to go before the boat is shipped and it almost looks like it will be ready - is that possible? I guess only time will tell.
I took the boat out on the water yesterday for a test of the third generation of outrigger design. I'm happy to report that it works! The new design sits lower on the aft deck and keeps the bearings out of the way as the oars sweep back for the next grab. I cut about two inches off the crowned deck and built a flat area for the outrigger triangle to sit on. Of course that meant building a smooth transition from this lower deck, back up to the higher elevations further forward so my elbows wouldn't hit in rough water. The plywood and fiberglass method of building really allows for a lot of creativity. Of course it always looks right in the shop, but the real test is out on the water.
Mar 8th, 2011
For those of you who are checking in on a regular basis, I am going to attempt to keep you updated on all the pre-trip progress. As you might imagine, there is just as much work prior to a big trip as there is during the trip.
We had a very successful fund raiser on Feb 26th here in Port Angeles. Almost 200 folks showed up to learn about Northern Reach and to show their support. This was the first opportunity I had to introduce the trip publically and to stand in front of a gathering of that size and put the dream out there for others to imagine. It was truly heartening to feel the interest and answer the questions that surfaced. Although the boat isn't completely finished, Northern Reach was on the stage and rigged with its sea anchor, oars, EPIRB, compass and GPS.
Now, one week later, Northern Reach is about to undergo another design change. After all of the work of lowering the rowing deck and designing a new outrigger system so my knuckles would not hit either one in rough water, today's shakedown on the Strait of Juan De Fuca proved there is more work to be done. I was afraid that in rough water, the oars might hit the bearing for the outriggers. Sure enough they do. Tomorrow, Howard and I will be looking at another design of the outriggers. What I really appreciate about Howard is his willingness to tear apart something that he has already put a great deal of time into. In a previous life, Howard skippered a 70 foot King Crab fishing boat in the Bearing Sea. He knows how critical every detail is when the seas are anything but calm. Now is the time to get the details right so there aren't problems a hundred miles offshore.
I met with Mike Snook from Wayland Marine a couple of days ago. He built another set of oars for me which will be my spares. They're slightly heavier and a little beefier where the blade joins the shaft. As Mike put it, "I doubt if the originals will break but if they do, these will bring you home."
Another issue Mike is working on is a redesign of the oarlock pin. The oarlocks I am currently using are the same design that Oar Northwest used in there successful crossing from New York to England four years ago. The problem was in the first month of the crossing, the four man team broke ten of the pins. They brought 16 extras, but at the rate they were breaking, they wouldn't have enough to finish the crossing. The solution was for them to open the bales that keep the oar in the oarlock so the oar would lift clear of the lock when a large wave caught the blade at the wrong time. I was aware of their issue and had planned on using the same approach. I have some benefit in that my boat, fully loaded with me aboard, will weigh somewhere around 550 pounds - far lighter than the Oar Northwest boat. The stresses on the oars and rigging are going to be less than those on a 4500 pound boat, but I still have to be prepared to deal with the possibility of broken pins. Mike found a supplier of pins which are a full 9/16 inch in diameter rather than 1/2 inch. They are also milled in a way that eliminates the stress placed directly on the weakest point of the pin - where the threads meet the turned stainless steel shaft. I'll be ordering three sets of oarlocks and pins.
The biggest concern right now, on top of the changes to the rigging and the boat, is the issue of shipping the boat to Scotland. It looks like the boat will be shipped by sea from Seattle, through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic to Antwerp and then to Aberdeen, Scotland. This morning, Monday March 8th, I received a sixth quote for shipping the boat. There are two issues to contend with; one is the cost. The other is the transit time. The fundraising that is underway with multiple presentations planned, will help with the cost of shipping the boat. The larger concern at the moment is the issue of transit time that equates to lost training days. I looked into air freighting the boat, but that is out of the question due to the extreme cost. Shipping by sea will take up to 35 days with another week factored in for unexpected delays due to weather, shipping traffic and customs. Working backwards with a start date of June 1st, I want to have the boat in its container and ready for shipping by April 15th. That leaves slightly over one month to get everything right - the deck design, mounting the spare oars, the rigging for the rudder, the solar panels, additional padding in the forward compartment, painting the boat international orange, and most importantly, sea trials. As you can see, time is critical. If anyone out there has extra space on board their 747 cargo jet, I'd love to hear from you. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org I'm not kidding. Miracles happen.
February 24th, 2011
As I am writing this, the boat now has a completely different feel with the covered deck providing a lot more water shedding capabilities. It isn't that the mid-section can't fill with a massive breaker hitting it, but it will shed a lot of the water from moderate sized waves. I've also raised the seat back up which allows a narrow compartment between the sliding seat rails where I will have two bags of water- each weighing about 12 pounds and providing some of the liquid ballast. All this work was possible because Howard let me pull Northern Reach into one of the bays of his workshop and then left me alone to do the work that needed to be done. "When you're ready, we'll weld up those outriggers for you and get you back on the water." Two weeks later, after I cut out the original plywood compartments- using some sections as patterns for the new pieces and carefully fitting them back in place with epoxy and fiberglass mesh tape- the boat started to look like an ocean rowing boat again. I had all the seams triple bonded with 5200- a marine adhesive sealant, stainless screws, and epoxy fiberglass tape. There were cut- offs of plywood laying all over place, saw dust and sanders, jigsaws and hand tools and disposable brushes with hardened epoxy in the trash bins. But there was also a boat with a new aft deck, six water tight compartments in the rowing section, and a reinforced epoxy bond along the entire rail between the original boat and the cabins, and new padding installed in the sleeping cabin. The boat was ready for Howard to do his magic with his aluminum welding skills.
The boat came with a standard Alden drop-in rowing rig. The problem was in rough water when I would occasionally hit my knuckles on the cross tubes. I borrowed an idea from a rower who is attempting to row the Northwest Passage. His outriggers are supported by a rig that looks like a triangle and one that can swing on board and out of the way when pulling up to a dock. I cut an old broom handle into three lengths to approximate a similar sized triangle, screwed them together and walked into Howard's office. Three days later and amid a lot of other ongoing work in his shop, Howard had welded up the outriggers, ordered four stainless steel bearings with nylon sleeves and then helped me bolt them and adjust them on the aft deck. After a test row, I can report that the outriggers feel great. They have a solid feel to them, there isn't any clicking or slippage, they fold up out of the way while launching and loading next to a dock, and they free my hands up from any chance of hitting the frame that was the major reason for the redesign.
The other bit of exciting news is the T shirt design that Lisa has been working on. Lisa has a background in graphic design as well as a natural gift as an artist. Whether its pottery, designing our house, drawing and sketching, painting Northwest native designs, or experimenting with water colors she has "the gift". I had drawn up my idea of a rowing logo that I was quite happy with. Lisa took that work of art and said "It's a place to start. Do you mind if I work with it a little?" One week later, we have a design that looks fantastic. Instead of something that looks like a VW bug with two sticks on either side floating in the ocean, we have an ocean rowboat balanced on a breaking wave with kelp and a Celtic design forming the ocean. I'm very proud and grateful for all the work and support that Lisa has given toward this project. I am a very lucky man to have a partner as supportive as Lisa. This is a huge endeavor and one that is and will continue to affect both of us in ways that we can only begin to imagine at this point. Thank you, Lisa for all of your love and support.
February 15th, 2011
Preparations for the trip are in full swing, to say the least. Every day something new is crossed off the "to do list" and three more things are added. Even though this trip is going to be a solo attempt to row from Scotland to Iceland, the closer I get to shipping the boat, the more evident it becomes that this trip is far from a solo endeavor. People are excited about this venture and not a week goes by without someone stepping up and offering to help. Just to give you an idea of who some of these folks are, here is a partial list... my wife Lisa- graphic designer of the sponsor T shirts and my main supporter. Sam and Martha Baker- second only to Lisa in terms of support and enthusiasm and our first sponsor with a GPS unit. Mike Snook of Wayland Marine for the beautiful oars and on-going enthusiasm. Al Zob - The only reason you are reading this on a website is because of Al. Otherwise I would be communicating via smoke signals over the Atlantic. Karen Hanan - public relations and fund raising organizer. Tommy Cook- fellow ocean adventurer and donator of the EPIRB and sattelite phone. Howard Sprouse- welder and local businessman here in Port Angeles.
And still, with all of this help, the tasks seem unending. At this stage it's easiest if I break the trip into three categories: 1) gear 2) boat modifications and 3) training (or lack thereof at the moment). It almost doesn't seem possible that I can get everything done in the next 2 1/2 months before the boat is shipped. One day at a time is all I can do. So this is what I've been up to.
Gear: The GPS is really quite cool and I fear I am becoming a geek. I've sat in our living room and scrolled over to the Faeroe Islands just to check on the mileage from there to Iceland. And while I was in the neighborhood, I went the other way and checked the mileage to Shetland. It sure looks easy from the height of a sattelite. I took the boat out in pea-soup fog two weeks ago and actually managed to find the pier again after two hours on the water. I've always relied upon a chart/map and compass for navigating but of course on this trip, a GPS- and a backup- are essential. I am in no way a master of this marvel of technology but I have figured out how to track my route, set a way point, and log my distance and speed. I imagine all of that sounds really very basic to most GPS folks, but not for me. Beyond sending and receiving emails I will admit to being almost computer illiterate. Having said that, I'm really having fun pushing all the buttons and watching what comes up next on the screen.
The other two pieces of high tech gear that I now have are the EPIRB and the Satellite phone. Both pieces of gear are absolutely essential for off-shore rowing and have been loaned to me by Tommy Cook and Ken Birdwell. EPIRB stands for emergency position indicator radio beacon. In the event of an emergency, the unit is activated by a simple toggle switch and a continuous signal is transmitted. This signal is picked up via satellite and automatically sent to a world-wide network of rescue organizations. The signal is verified and any ship in the vicinity is directed to the location of the signal. Tommy recently sailed from Duluth Minn. through the Great Lakes, out the St Lawrence Seaway and all the way north to Baffin Island. Now that he is back ashore, he wants to help with my trip by loaning me this equipment. A big thank you Tommy!
Boat modifications: Since I bought the boat one year ago, it has gone through multiple changes. The latest modifications have been fairly drastic and at times have felt like I was taking three steps back for every one step forward. But sometimes that's just what has to happen to get the boat absolutely right. At present, the boat is sitting in a workshop in Port Angeles and is getting an entirely rebuilt mid-section. The problem was that in rough water when the boat was really getting bounced around a lot, I would bang my elbows on the upper deck as I finished a power stroke. If this was happening in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it certainly was going to happen in the North Atlantic and something had to change. So that was issue #1. The other problem became evident when Lisa and our friend Dave Shreffler and I tried to launch the boat in moderate surf at a local boat ramp. Trying to get the boat off the trailer and into the water while three foot waves were breaking was a real problem. The boat can easily handle off-shore waves, but a shore break is really quite dangerous. After quite a battle we were eventually able to get the boat out into deep water but not before the entire mid-section had filled with water. A few minutes of pumping and I had a dry boat again but that is not something I want to do more than I have to. So issue #2 was to try and get more deck coverage on the aft part of the rowing section. I had already changed the rowing section of the boat twice - and still it wasn't right.... the only solution was to start fresh and cut out the compartments on either side of the sliding seat. That would mean at least two weeks out of the water - two weeks that I desperately need for training. But the work had to be done.
Training: I'm very anxious to get the boat back out on the water and get some miles under the hull. After all the changes to the rowing deck, the final test will be getting the boat out in some rough water. If all goes well, that should be this coming week.