Tag Archives: Alaska

Team Trimoron Heads West

Captain Vlad

“We should do the race to Alaska.”

It didn’t sound like a big deal. Particularly after we’d just completed the Everglades Challenge (my second time, Vlad’s… ninth? We think.)

Still. 750 miles in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest is very different from 300 miles in the warm sunshine of the Gulf of Florida. 10-kt currents? 30-foot-wide whirlpools? Two Coast Guard planes covering 700 miles of coastland?

There’s a fantastic documentary that describes the R2Ak, as aficionados call it. We watched it, and it went into my mental file for “maybe someday”.

“Someday” turned out to be June 5, 2023.

Not for me–I’ll get into that later. But earlier this year at the Everglades Challenge, Vlad and I connected with old friend Jeff Williams and new friend Chris Forrest. Vlad and I got to know Jeff as a fellow catamaran sailor in 2020 who gave us a literal helping hand when we had to get Vlad’s inflatable catamaran, 007, to the starting line in a hurry. A Canadian, Jeff is unflappably cheerful. I can’t picture him without a smile on his face.

Jeff Williams

Chris and I spent a couple of nights on the beach at Checkpoint 2 (which sounds way more risqué than it was). As we chatted, we discovered that neither of us were fazed by sleeplessness, barking dogs, or marauding hordes of mosquitos. A Brit, Chris had several solo ECs under his belt already.

Chris Forrest

Chris also turned out to be a world class cyclist (who completed a 700-mile race in under a week). That complemented Jeff’s marathon experience (including the Boston Marathon), both of which are likely to come in handy when the wind dies, as it inevitably will, and they’ll need to pedal their way north.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Long story short, Vlad, Chris, and Jeff decided to become Team Trimoron, so named because they plan to sail Vlad’s Corsair F-27 trimaran (not coincidentally the same one that Vlad and I escaped from New York on).

The F-27 Trimaran (at sunset near Solomon’s Island)

The scheme came together over a couple of months, and Team Trimoron hammered out the logistics. First was the challenge of getting the F-27 from Solomons, Maryland to Port Townsend, Washington. (That’s 2,877 miles, thank you Google maps!). Then there was getting her crew members from Maryland, Canada, and the UK to the US Pacific Northwest (PNW).

Then there was all the usual stuff–food, supplies, safety gear. Checking the stove and heater. Making sure the compostable head was fully stocked with cedar chips. Checking the boat for all-around seaworthiness.

That was the easy part.

The tricky part was figuring out some means of propulsion for the boat, other than sails.

The R2AK rule is simple: No motors. When the wind is blowing, a sailboat can sail. But in a dead calm (which happens frequently in the PNW), there has to be some way to move forward. Oars can work, but the F-27 is too big for them to be effective. The clear solution is a pedal drive. Vlad bought two, and mounted them on the F-27s’s amas (the arms that connect the outriggers to the hull).

Pedal drive (child model not included)

With that modification, the F-27 is ready to make the trip (or as ready as she’ll ever be). Vlad and Jeff leave for Port Townsend on Sunday, and if all goes well, they arrive June 1 or 2, and Chris will join them there.

My plan is to monitor the race from afar, and keep everyone apprised of team Trimoron’s efforts. Stay tuned!

Go team Trimoron!


A note to readers: If you’re a regular reader of this blog and have gotten this far, you’re probably wondering a few things. Like maybe: “Who is this Vlad? What is Johna doing in Maryland? Where are the kayaks, and what’s up with the sailboat?”

I started a sort-of answer back in 2021, before getting sidetracked by life.

I still plan to finish that story

The Red Herring Rides Again!

Ron Ripple in the Red Herring

By Johna Till Johnson
Photographs by Ron Ripple

It was a cold rainy day last May when I bid farewell to Vlad’s beloved folding kayak,  the Feathercraft Red Heron, which we called “Red Herring”.

Brian and I had spent two futile weekends attempting to dismantle the boat, but unfortunately the aluminum skeleton had fused, and the boat would no longer come apart. And it had to be moved—New York Kayak Company was shutting its doors at the end of the month after a quarter-century of operations at Pier 40.

So as Brian began to hacksaw the aluminum poles, I cried silently, my tears mingling with the rain. It seemed like the end of everything.

Not just Vlad, but the Red Herring, Feathercraft itself (which went out of business the month Vlad died) and New York Kayak Company were vanishing into history.

Except Red Herring wasn’t vanishing.

It was headed to Oklahoma, where its new owner, a professor named Ron Ripple, wanted it for a trip to Alaska. (He needed a folding boat to take on the plane from Oklahoma.) I’d also sold him the tiny K-Light, Vlad’s first-ever boat, which I had paddled for our first Florida Everglades Challenge shakedown trip.  It fit Ron’s wife Ellen perfectly, and I was glad my “Baby Vulcan” had  found a happy home in Oklahoma.

Red Heron on Esther Island

I’d kept Ron apprised of the Herring’s state, including that we’d hoped to dismantle it, but if not, we’d ship it as best we could. He hoped he’d be able to machine the missing parts.

That didn’t happen. Ron wasn’t able to get the boat fixed in time for the Alaska trip. But he went anyway, with another boat, and was particularly happy to be able to re-connect with one of his oldest paddling partners.

We stayed in touch sporadically, glad to have found kindred kayaking spirits. I vaguely remembered he’d made plans to paddle with his friend again this year, in Glacier Bay, Alaska.  He also said something about having been able to repair the Red Heron.

Earl Cove on Inian Island

And then I got these photos, along with a note from Ron:

“Here are a few photos from the trip with the Heron.

The first one is the beach of my first camp site on Esther Island at the mouth of Lisianski Strait while I was solo.

The second is at our camp site in Earl Cove on Inian Island, which sits between Cross Sound and Icy Strait.

And the third is setting out into the fog on our last paddling day heading across Icy Strait from Pt. Adolphus to Gustavus.

While the water appears very calm, there were very dynamic eddies, boils, and swirls that moved our kayaks substantially; about 2/3 of the crossing was in the fog using GPS and deck compasses.

It was a great trip, and the Heron performed exceptionally. I am very happy with the Heron, and we are already planning next year’s trip.”

Red Heron in fog on Icy Strait

I cried again, but this time with happiness.

The Heron has found an owner worthy of it—and together they will go on many more exciting adventures.

Adventures In Glacier Bay (Red pointer marks approximate location of photos)


Sea Kayaker’s Deep Trouble

By Vladimir Brezina

Sea Kayaker’s Deep Trouble:
True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker Magazine
Matt Broze and George Gronseth
Edited by Christopher Cunningham
Ragged Mountain Press
Camden, Maine, 1997

When I first started kayaking, in those spare moments when I wasn’t actually on the water I eagerly read every kayaking book I could lay my hands on. And this book was one that all experienced paddlers recommended. Possibly they were tired of explaining afresh to each clueless newbie all the things that could go wrong. This book does that job soberingly well.

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