r2ak: Expedition Prep

Thanks to Kent Mullikin’s friend in Mackerel Cove, Maine for this photo.

A lot goes into making an r2ak run happen. This is true for every single team, and even more for those who are traveling distances to get to the starting line. For Team AUKLET, the process breaks down into several categories:

Boat preparation – as in, any changes/additions to the boat itself

Boat transport preparation – tow vehicle and trailer (let’s talk about tires!)

Setting up cross-country travel for me, which involves friends to drive, minivan, camping and lodging arrangements, as well as transport for those friends to get to or from the part of the route where they are driving

And then, finally, the projects related to the sailing itself:

Provisioning: food; water supply; tools, gear, and other supplies; clothing for all aboard

Charts and navigation tools and references; electronics, and learning any new systems (yup, I finally got a smart phone – and a fancier handheld chartplotter)

Clearly the discussion of all this is more than one blog post! We can start from the top of the list:

Boat Preparation

This is not a large category, because the whole process has been ongoing for years. However, there are some bits.

Last year (2018), the rudder stop, which is in the cockpit and prevents the rudder from jamming against the hull when put hard over, took an extra strong hit while we were sliding the boat off the trailer into the water, and that crucial piece of wood cracked. The rudder did indeed jam against the hull, necessitating pulling the boat out of the water again so the rudder could be unstuck. We addressed this in the fall, with a replacement stop made out of teak. But when the Race to Alaska started looking really possible, I started looking at the grain on that new piece, and thinking about the way the old one had split, and the way the new one could split again, at 90° to the recent failure. This was somewhat concerning for local sailing, and absolutely not something I wanted to worry about halfway to Alaska. So a new piece, this time out of two pieces of plywood laminated with the grain for each one at 90° to the other, is in the works. It’s a fussy thing to make, needing to follow the original shape quite precisely, with screw holes to match the existing holes where it gets mounted. Thank you Chipper!

The most major addition to the boat is an electronic depth sounder. British Columbia and Alaska waters border on tall and steep mountains, and the topography continues below the waterline, dropping fast. Anchoring in 60 feet is not the least bit unheard of, and of course in order to do that properly you need to have determined that depth. Though my hardy Alaskan friends do this sounding routinely with a lead line, it’s more work than I am fired up to do, with multiple soundings and retrievals required for each anchoring effort. Relying on a lead line has been just fine when anchoring in 10 to 20 feet, as I generally do around here in New England, but particularly in the interest of staving off fatigue, electronics have felt in order for the Race.

Fancy fish finders are nice, showing all sorts of contour to the bottom – and maybe even fish! But compared to a simple numerical readout they use more electricity, and also have more lag time between soundings and on-screen presentation. Further, depth sounders work using sonar noise. It seems a no-brainer that all that additional information and charting of a detailed fishfinder is going to involve quite a bit more noise added to the underwater environment. In some regions, sailors are now requested to turn off depth sounders, of any kind, in order to reduce impacts on marine mammals, particularly orcas. So this very minimal sounder will hopefully be less intrusive, as well as being installed with an easily reachable switch so that it is only turned on when needed. It’s a perfect bonus that all of this will also conserve electricity/battery reserves.

Before the deep cold arrived in December, we got as far as laying out where the parts will go and how the various wires will run. It’s now almost warm enough – it got over 30°F yesterday! – to start thinking about getting back to this. I’m looking forward to it.

Another odd project is the installation of a single oarlock socket on the starboard cockpit rail. The route to Alaska includes passages with substantial current. Going through those without a motor can be just fine, in the absence of rocks in the middle, but if the wind quits one needs another way to control the boat’s position in the stream. A boat making no speed through the water will naturally turn crossways to the current, and be carried downstream. Think of a small stick, tossed into flowing water. With no relative motion between the boat and the water, the rudder will not be doing any steering, and it’s unrealistic to think that yuloh power will fight that chaotic current, to get enough relative speed for the rudder to work. I’ve experienced this, going through Plum Gut, off of the end of Long Island, New York. The current swirls quite a bit, and the boat has a life of its own, turning in the eddies as it is overall swept through the passage, with no wind to speak of in that dead spot in the middle of the Gut.

The only hazard in this situation, so long as there aren’t big waves or overfalls – and apart from traffic – is if the boat gets somehow pushed toward the shore. Control can be maintained with a single oar, positioned something like midships, which can be used to move the boat forward or backwards as it lies perpendicular to the flow of water and is carried downstream. I have not done this, but my Alaskan friends use this approach routinely, cruising in their engineless sailboat. It sounds good to me, and all we need is another oarlock, and a test for fit with the yuloh. In a pinch, the kayak paddle that is also carried aboard might work the same way, with the oarlock for a fulcrum. Of course the yuloh in its ordinary position would still be fine for moving the boat forward – it’s the backwards option that is really crucial, and makes it worthwhile to add this simple piece of gear. I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and now is the time.

That’s about it for modifications to the boat. This is a good thing, because there is quite a lot else to take care of! Further preparations will be described in upcoming posts.