That is, if you don’t count bright sunshine, dying winds, a fierce opposing current towards the end… and the usual odds and ends of mechanical issues and trim. One of the pedal drives needed adjustment. The “cruising” setup of the boat (a full kitchen and bathroom) added weight.
But Team Trimorons safely crossed the 40-mile open-water “proving ground”, which is what the R2AK organizers call the first leg of the race. Basically, they test the sailors’ mettle with a 40-mile open-water passage, carefully monitored by support boats.
There’s no guarantee this leg will be the roughest part of the journey–in fact, there’s almost an iron-clad guarantee that it won’t be—but safely navigating, and sailing, and pedaling across 40 miles of open water tends to separate the do-ers from the dreamers.
Team Trimorons started in the chill 5 AM dawn. (Please note the warm, waterproof DexShell caps.. soon I’ll be letting you know how to get a Trimoron logo-ed cap of your very own!)
By midday they’d stripped down to shorts and T shirts, and exchanged the warm hats for floppy sunhats (or none at all)….
About that pedaling…
I asked Jeff if he had to pedal much, and here was his (characteristically laconic) reply:
3-4 miles. Strong tide current against us into Victoria. The water was moving past us fast, but moving over the ground at less than 2 knots.
This was the first of the fierce Pacific Northwest currents. I’m sure it won’t be the last!
You may be thinking a 40-mile sail sounds strenuous. Heck, I think a 40-mile sail is pretty strenuous! But Maxi the cat was unimpressed. Maybe it’s because he saw what a very small portion of the race they’ve completed thus far:
That little blue line pointed to by the arrow? That’s how far they’ve come. See that star WAY up in the upper right of the chart, under the word “Alaska”? Yeah. That one. That’s where they’re going.
After four separate boat inspections (including the boat-sniffing dog) Team Trimorons crossed the mountains and arrived at Port Townsend. The next few days were busy doing last-minute packing and organizing, and a few other things…
There was the question of attaching the logos…
Then there was the question of organizing provisions…
Chris is a neatnik, so Christina Rose is cleaner and more organized than she’s ever been in her life!
And Jeff needed a way to remember the occasion…
Vlad can’t wait to start eating the roast meat…
And last but not least, a couple of shakedown cruises…
Monday, June 5 at 0500 is the big start. Team Trimorons assures me they’re rested and ready!
The Two-Thirds Trimorons slept deeply and awoke early. The plan was to be on the road around 0400; there was a slight delay as they realized they’d managed to lock the keys inside the van.
Fortunately one of the windows was slightly cracked, and they were able to use the boat hook to retrieve them. They started on their merry way, towards the Crazy Mountains.
Apparently the name is an anglification of a Crow name; Wikipedia gives two slightly different sources:
The name Crazy Mountains is said to be a shortened form of the name “Crazy Woman Mountains” given them, in complement to their original Crow name, after a woman who went insane and lived in them after her family was killed in the westward settlement movement.
The Crow people called the mountains Awaxaawapìa Pìa, roughly translated as “Ominous Mountains”, or even more roughly, “Crazy Mountains”. They were famous to the Crow people for having metaphysical powers and being unpredictable—a place used for vision quests.
In any event, you can see why they call Montana “Big Sky Country”….
And the Two-Thirds Trimorons are drawing towards Port Townsend….
In Washington State, they have mussel-sniffing dogs! “Finn was certified as a Zebra/Quagga mussel-detection dog in 2022”!
It looks like they’ll be following Route 90 into Seattle, and taking the ferry from there!
Despite spending 30 years crisscrossing the United States as a long-haul trucker, Vlad doesn’t recall having been on route 94. So 2/3 of the Trimorons decided to take the Northern Route to Port Townsend. They didn’t take the Enchanted Highway, but came close enough to have a look at one of its most famous sculptures, “Geese in Flight”.
It turns out that when you’re hauling a collapsible trimaran, you end up with more than just reduced mileage and a fair amount of wind drag. You get bugs. Lots of bugs. Whose short lives, sadly, become still shorter upon contact with the amas…
As our intrepid heroes drove into Montana, they encountered something they hadn’t expected…
It turns out that Montana, land of 3,227 lakes, is fiercely protective of its waters. Any boats entering the state must be inspected for the presence of invasive species, which includes mussels, plants, and ummmmm… barnacles!
Apparently, the boat was launched in “high risk” waters. Fortunately for all involved, it had been thoroughly cleaned, dried, and painted since it last touched water. I feel a lot better about having spent a Saturday morning last month scrubbing barnacles off the bottom!
Of course, Vlad also thoroughly cleaned, scrubbed, and painted the boat afterward! In any event, our hard work did the trick, and the Trimorons were rewarded with this:
Trimorons inform me they’re planning to stop for the night and rest up before tackling the mountains tomorrow.
Nothing much has changed here at Pomestye in a day and a half. The sky’s still cool and overcast, with drizzly-to-rainy patches. The earth smells fresh and the strawberries taste sweet. The birds chirp and the rooster crows.
But in the just under a day-and-a-half since Team Trimorons left, they’ve made it to the Dakota Badlands.
This sounds a lot more exciting than it is, as evidenced by Jeff’s video:
Fortunately, the trip thus far has been uneventful. The next big event (after arriving in Port Townsend) will be Chris’s arrival from the UK. Once the Trimorons are together… watch out, world!
The faraway sound of the “Star Spangled Banner” filters through the air. Somewhere (the base across the river?) someone plays the recording every morning at 0800.
It’s cool, about 60 degrees, and overcast, with drizzle. Earlier in the morning Vlad walked me through the garden, showing me which plants need to get fed, staked, or benignly ignored. I picked my first harvest of strawberries and pineberries (which taste like the Platonic ideal of strawberries, despite being white). The running of Pomestye is now in my hands, ready or not.
Jeff and Vlad woke up early this morning, around five. They ran a few last loads out to the van, did a few last minute checks (who has what in the first aid kit?) followed by a hearty breakfast out on the deck: potatoes, scrambled eggs, and sausage, with not quite enough coffee (but is there ever enough coffee?).
Then it was time to leave.
We locked Callie inside to keep her from chasing after the van and trailer. They did the requisite checking of the hitch and confirmed the lights worked, taking about 20 minutes.
I told Vlad to keep the windows open but wouldn’t say why.
As Vlad stepped on the gas, I hit “play” on my phone and blasted the USSR National Anthem. The Race to Alaska traditionally starts with that, for unknown reasons (This year, they’ll be playing the Ukrainian national anthem, which seems fitting.)
They both grinned and laughed. Then with a wave and a smile, they disappeared.
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.
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 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 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).
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!
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.
So far, so good. Christina Rose had handled fine during the 7-mile Hudson crossing to Croton Point. We’d travelled at a speed of 8-10 knots, with a gusty, 20-kt wind. It was bouncy, but manageable.
Mully hadn’t enjoyed the trip.
He spent the crossing in his hull tunnel, a tunnel that ran about 10 feet from the stern cabin under one of the shelves in the main cabin. We couldn’t reach him there, but we could hear him (he would occasionally emit a quiet “miaow” in response to our frantic calling). He must have been cold and terrified, but after we anchored he crawled out and snuggled in the sleeping bag with me.
Now he’s sound asleep, and complains a little in his sleep when I try to pet him. The boat is creaking, with water sloshing around me. And the wind is alternately howling and huffing. The sky is gray and lowering, the water has ominous gray and white ripples.
But the barometer on my watch says the weather will soon improve…
Vov is doing something in the main cabin, I can hear him.
Moving carefully so as not to disturb Mully, I open one of the door panels and peer out.
Vov’s dicing onions at the tiny sink. Breakfast will be potatoes with onions, bacon, and eggs.
The plan for today is to sail down the Hudson to Staten Island. Vov had an anchorage there, in Great Kills Harbor. It was where he’d kept his sailboat, Nemo, for many years. It was about 50 miles, a straight shot down the Hudson and New York Harbor.
Then again, there was no guarantee we’d make it that far.
Was Christina Rose even seaworthy? She’d survived several nights in the water and the 7-mile crossing, but this would be her first real test.
And was it even legal to sail in New York, given the shutdown? Would we get stopped by the police? A few days before, the Coast Guard had issued a notification saying, effectively, that it would not be imposing any controls on boating traffic due to the pandemic. But New York City was, as promised, shutting down everything–including marinas, and so far as we knew, waterways.
If we made it… then what? We hadn’t really decided. The plan was to get out of the Northeast, but we hadn’t had much time to put more thought into it. We had friends in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. And there was always Florida.
But for now, the goal was to get past New York.
After breakfast, around 7:30, we set off. It was gray, raw, and overcast. We huddled in the cockpit, sipping the coffee V had made.
It was strange sailing down the route I’d paddled so often. Under the Tappan Zee, the George Washington in the distance. Even for a spring morning, the traffic was unnervingly absent. The radio was silent, only the occasional crackle of life.
When would I paddle this route again?
As we approached the George Washington bridge, a thought occurred to me. My friend A.A. lived in Hoboken, a few blocks from the river. On impulse, I called her.
She was repairing her air conditioner, but dropped everything when she heard we were headed downriver. We wouldn’t be able to stop and visit, but at least she would see us as we passed Manhattan.
And, as it so happened, document the event (see top photo). We were almost too far apart to recognize each other, but we waved frantically and shouted.
The goodbyes, we later agreed, felt strange and solemn and scary.
We’d sailed from Croton Point to the George Washington bridge, but after the bridge we put on the motor. The goal was to get out of New York waterways as quickly as possible, before the police stopped us.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen, although it was impossible to miss us. We were the only boat on the water, which was uncharacteristically calm, with a glassy ripple. I’d never seen the river so empty, even in the dead of winter.
The familiar landmarks slipped by. Then an unfamiliar white box shape caught my eye. It was the hospital ship, the USNS “Comfort”, docked at Pier 90, just a few blocks from one of my paddling “home ports”.
It was an eerie, science-fictional feeling to glide past a military hospital ship docked in Manhattan. We had no idea how bad the pandemic would turn out to be, but if the authorities believed we needed a hospital ship… that wasn’t good.
We continued down the Hudson, past the Battery, past Governor’s Island. True to my watch’s barometric predictions, the weather had cleared and it was a warm, slightly gusty spring day. Once we were fully in New York Harbor we cut the motor and returned to sailing. Although we hadn’t arrived in Staten Island yet, we were past the most sensitive area. If the police were going to stop us anywhere, it would have been in the Hudson near Manhattan. That they didn’t was a good omen.
One that we hoped would last for the rest of the trip!
The idea sounded crazy. Launch a sailboat from New York City, head south, and live aboard it for an unknown amount of time?
But then, the world had gone crazy.
It was March 15, 2020. Vov and I had just completed the Everglades Challenge, his 7th (or 8th, we aren’t quite sure), my second. We were driving up from Key Largo, Florida to New York, catching up on the news.
We’d been out of contact with the outside world for over a week. Things seemed to have taken a dramatic turn for the worse: Apparently New York City was on the verge of being shut down due to the pandemic.
What did that even mean, “shut down”?
Would they close the bridges and tunnels? The downside to living on an island is that during a crisis, you can be trapped. I remembered what happened on 9/11, and fought back a rising sense of claustrophobia.
Over the 20-hour drive, we obsessively scanned the news and discussed our options.
We could shelter in my apartment, the larger of the two. We’d be reasonably comfortable.
But my apartment is just a few blocks from what was shaping up to be Ground Zero for the pandemic: Mt. Sinai hospital.
If this disease were as contagious as reported, we’d have an increased chance of catching it in the narrow aisles of the grocery store, in the apartment lobby, in the elevator…
There was always Vov’s apartment in Nyack. That felt safer, and it was just a block away from the Hudson River.
But it was a one-room efficiency; no way could I manage to work there if we were both staying there.
As we ticked off the miles on I-95, the idea of sheltering at sea made more sense. Particularly if, as Vov feared, the pandemic were merely a harbinger of total societal collapse.
I didn’t think that would happen, but I couldn’t say it wouldn’t. And even if it didn’t, things could get pretty grim. I’d read John Barry’s account of the 1918 flu. At least on board a sailboat, we could leave the country if things got really bad.
More realistically, we could head south, out of the early-spring gloom. Although we didn’t know much about this virus, it’s true that ultraviolet rays are generally anti-viral and anti-microbial. And even though the phrase “social distancing” was just emerging, it’s safer to be miles away from your neighbors than breathing the same air.
Still. Living on board a sailboat? For an extended, indefinite period of time? Vov had spent over a decade living on a sailboat, so the idea made sense to him. But me? Despite the fact that I’d spent the past five days as crew on an inflatable catamaran, I didn’t even begin to know how to sail. Could I work? What about Mully, the cat that found me?
We talked through the details. Mully could live on the boat with us. We could bring the kayaks, both for recreation and as dinghies to get from the anchored boat to land. We’d get solar panels, and batteries, so I could work. We’d stay near the coastline, so we’d be within range of cellular Internet services.
As the miles ticked away, the idea of sheltering at sea began to make more and more sense.
The only question was which sailboat.
Vov had a sailboat, but it was in dry dock. It needed repairs to be fully seaworthy, and with a pandemic closing everything down, getting the equipment (not to mention launching the boat) seemed risky. We could afford a used sailboat, and Vov had the model in mind: an F-27 Corsair trimaran. The wings would provide stability for me to work (trimarans don’t heel the way monohulls do), plus extra living and storage space.
But could we buy and outfit a boat fast enough?
As I drove, Vov researched. We found five boats that might work: Two in Florida (now hundreds of miles behind us, and receding rapidly). One in Ohio. And two in Massachusetts. Ohio, like Florida, seemed too far away.
Vov made inquiries about the Massachusetts boats.
We arrived in NY late Sunday morning. By Monday afternoon we’d picked Mully up from the vet where I’d boarded him. We made a hurried sweep through the apartment and grabbed what I thought we might use.
Then we headed for Nyack: Mully, gear, and all.
Less than a week later, on Saturday March 21, we were in the yard of a friendly man named Dave, in Massachusets. We met his price for the Corsair, Christina Rose. He said we could pick it up as soon as the check cleared. We drove back to Nyack and began stocking up frantically.
Three days later, Vov drove to Massachusetts, put a fast coat of bottom paint on the boat, and drove back down to Nyack.
Meanwhile, I made a final visit to the NYC apartment and picked up anything I thought we could use. Before I locked the apartment up I took a long look around. When would I see it again?
No time to wonder. Curfew would start that evening, and the rumor was that the marinas would be shut down, too. We’d pulled the two kayaks out of John F. Kennedy Marina where we kept them, just hours before the authorities closed it.
But the private marina where we were keeping Christina Rose was beginning to push back. We needed to launch, and fast.
We got her into the water on March 27. We worked frantically finish stocking it, peripherally becoming aware of the illogical grocery store shortages: Water was rationed. Toilet paper was nowhere to be had (fortunately Vov had a supply of marine toilet paper.) Hand sanitizer was gone, but rubbing alcohol was plentiful (so we stocked up.) We also bought plenty of on canned vegetables and fish, along with rice and pasta. We’d bought a supply of freeze-dried food on the way north from Florida, so we had that.
By April 1 we were ready to launch. It was a cold, gloomy afternoon. With some trepidation, we motored out of the marina. Once out on the Hudson, Vov raised the sail. We were en route!
Who is “Vov”? How did I come to be completing another Everglades Challenge, this time on a sailboat? And how did we fare sheltering at sea?
Vladimir Brezina (RIP)
... kayaked the waters around New York for more than 15 years in his red Feathercraft folding kayak. He was originally from (the former) Czechoslovakia and lived in the U.K. and California before settling down in New York. He was a neuroscientist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He died in 2016.
Johna Till Johnson
... is a kayaker and technology researcher at Nemertes Research. She's an erstwhile engineer, particle physicist, and science fiction writer. She was born in California and has lived in Italy, Norway, Hawaii, and a few other places. She currently resides in New York City.