Strategies for Race to Alaska

Circling Vancouver Island in an Expedition Rowboat

Circling Vancouver Island in an Expedition Rowboat

It’s less than three months until the start of Race to Alaska.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be ramping up the training, and fine tuning the selection of gear and food I’ll be bringing on the voyage.  Gear packing for a race is a delicate balance – it’s essential to have equipment to deal with all emergency situations and potential equipment failures, while trying to keep weight as low as possible.

The roster for the race isn’t yet complete, but there is already a diverse array of boats – from Bad Kitty, a renowned 35’ open catamaran, to Roger Mann’s (the fastest single-hander last year) entry, a Klepper folding kayak.  If there’s any wind, the leaders in the race will most likely be the purpose-built racing sailing vessels, but there are going to be many exciting races within the race.

Our primary goal is to simply finish the race.  Voyaging 1200 km unsupported along the full western coast of Canada is a feat in itself.  As last year’s race made clear, completion is far from guaranteed.  Beyond that, we’re excited to compete against the other single handers, and boats under 20’.  Small Craft Advisor is offering $1000 for the first boat under 20’.  While Race to Alaska has no official classes or categories, SCA’s prize is the closest thing to creating two distinct categories: boats over 20’ and boats under 20’.  We are under no delusions that the RowCruiser, a recreational stitch-and-glue camper rowboat with an add-on sailing rig and a sole occupant, will be outperforming the larger racing vessels, but we are excited to see just how fast the RowCruiser can cover the 1200 km distance.

As I plan for the race, much of my fodder for imagination comes from my 2012 15.5-day circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in an Expedition rowboat breaking the existing human powered speed record.  Half of my journey around Vancouver Island followed the first half of the Race to Alaska, and I did it at the exact same time of year (the second half of June).

Unlike last year’s R2AK race conditions, my circumnavigation of Vancouver Island had much more typical weather conditions.  Overall, I encountered a significant amount of calms, and a mix of moderate winds from both the south and the north.  Specifically, on the R2AK relevant section – from Victoria to Port Hardy – I encountered glassy calm for two and a half days (swelteringly hot) from Victoria to Comox.  Through the Johnston Strait, I encountered two days of northwesterly winds peaking at about 20 knots, and one day with calm and half a day with stiff southeasterly winds.

As a result of my Vancouver Island experience, I’ve decided to modify my food provisions.  After the Van Isle voyage I developed two cavities – after more than two decades of perfect dental health.  The cause was fairly obvious – every hour I would eat sugary sticky snacks.  Because of the heavy exercise, my mouth was dry, and there was insufficient saliva to wash my teeth clean.  This time, while rowing, I’ll be fueling myself with liquid snacks which will be easier to consume and be much easier on the teeth.

Resting will be very different from my Vancouver Island circumnavigation experience.  On that voyage I would pull my boat up on the beach at the end of each day and camp.  In the RowCruiser, however, I will be anchoring for most rest breaks.  This saves significant effort, and the cabin will provide comfortable accommodation.  The downside to anchoring is the added weight of the anchor and soggy rode.  I have pondered the idea of using a sack instead of an anchor, and simply filling it with rocks from the shore each night, but I have decided the extra effort of rock gathering isn’t worth it.  Rest is precious!

The other big difference from my Van Isle experience is the ability to sail as well as row.  If conditions are typical, I estimate I will be sailing about two thirds of the time.  It is imperative that the sailing periods be as restful as possible, which involves staying warm and comfortable.  The addition of the hiking board I have recently created achieves two purposes.  From a performance perspective, it allows me to move my weight outboard thereby reducing pressure on the lee ama, and from a rest/recovery perspective, it is a very comfortable position, allowing me to stretch out fully while maintaining good forward visibility.

Another small change I’ve made is the addition of an Anderson Self Bailer.  Initially, I decided not to install a self-bailer as they create additional drag and often leak when the boat is traveling slowly.  Instead, I would simply bail the small cockpit when conditions were rougher.  After repeated testing, I finally decided that things would simply be more restful with the addition of the bailer.  My goal, when winds are between 3-15 knots, is to feel like I’m on deck chair on a beach in Hawaii – eyes half open while lapping up the miles and eating beef stew.

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Plans/Manual for Sailing RowCruiser Now Available

We’d hoped to have the plans available for the sailing RowCruiser months ago, but it’s

RowCruiser with supplemental  sailing rig.

RowCruiser with supplemental sailing rig.

been a long process.  The sailing rig is very detail oriented, and the manual required countless diagrams and corresponding text to clarify the process. Needless to say, we’re excited to finally have it all finished so others can start building their own.

The sailing RowCruiser is comprised of two plans sets – one for main central hull, and the other for the amas, akas, foils and sailing rig.  The two plans sets are laser printed on 180 sq/ft of paper.  That’s the equivalent area of an average bedroom!  Every shape that boat is comprised of is easily transcribed from paper to wood, resulting in an easy and accurate way to replicate the vessel.  Each of the two manuals is about 70 pages and provides diagrams and photos .

The plans for the sailing components and amas can also be adapted for other boats, such as large canoes, although a bit of customization will be required to use on other vessels.

To learn more about our Sailing RowCruiser, please click here.

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A Speed Comparison of Kayaks, Rowboats, Canoes, SUPS and Pedal boats

I’m often asked what is the fastest type of human powered boat.  How do surf skis, SUPs (stand up paddleboards), etc. hold up against one another?   I’ve decided to take the time to rank and compare the various modes of human powered aquatic propulsion.  Direct comparisons between craft are hard to come by, and relative performance can vary significantly depending on weather/water conditions.  We’ve compiled our analysis by comparing data from Olympic results, open water human powered boat races, and major records that have been broken.

Greg Kolodziejzyk's boat

Greg Kolodziejzyk’s boat

1) Pedal Power: Pedal power has proven itself to be fastest for short and long distances on flat water. The world record for the fastest 100 meter sprint is held by the Decavitator averaging 18.5 knots.  Decavitotor uses hydrofoils and is powered with a pedal system driving an air propeller.   The 24 hour flatwater distance record is held by Greg Kolodziejzyk who voyaged 245 km in a day using a lightweight carbon fiber trimaran propelled with a submerged propeller.  While the major aquatic records are held by pedal-powered craft, typical commercial pedal powered boats are much slower.  The Hobie drive system, for example, sacrifices significant performance in exchange for durability and function.  In most open water races pedal powered boats generally fare relatively poorly compared to surf skis and rowing shells due to the abundance of mediocre-performance pedal boats.

Our Cambridge Racer rowing shell

Our Cambridge Racer rowing shell

2)Rowing: When comparing the top Olympic speeds of rowing, kayaking and canoeing, rowing comes out on top. Olympic events are all short distance, however, when looking at the results of longer distance mixed boat races sliding seat rowing boats still perform slightly better than other fast paddle craft in calm conditions.


Surf Ski

Surf Ski

3) Racing Kayaks/Surf skis: The double blade paddle offers excellent performance, and speed is only slightly slower than sculling (sliding seat rowing) when using high performance craft.  When conditions get rougher, kayaks and surf skis will outperform a rowing shell. High performance kayaks and surf skis are almost identical in speed, while recreational sea kayaks are much slower.

Racing Canoe.

Racing Canoe.

4) Canoes: The single blade paddle is less efficient than the double blade, and the fastest racing canoes (including the OC-1) are slower than performance kayaks.




High performance SUP

High performance SUP

5) SUPs: Stand up paddleboards are the slowest of the conventional human-powered craft. A board shaped for performance is still hindered by the greater inefficiencies of a single blade paddle.  Additionally, the full standing profile of a human presents less-than-ideal aerodynamics.   An examination of the 2015 results from the 20 races (open to all human powered boats) hosted by Puget Sound Rowers, shows SUPs consistently trailing the pack.

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About our R2AK 2016 Attempt

Race to Alaska is 1200 km boat race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.  It is comprised of two stages – Port Townsend to Victoria, BC, and then Victoria to Ketchikan.  The rules of the race are very simple; no motorized propulsion, anything else goes.  Anything from a one-man kayak, to a 60 person rowing/sailing Viking ship can be used.  First to reach the finish line gets $10,000.

The Boat

RowCruiser with slap-on sailing rig.

RowCruiser with slap-on sailing rig.

The boat we will be using is our RowCruiser model with an auxiliary sailing rig which includes outriggers (amas).  The RowCruiser is designed to be a recreational cruising rowboat, which includes a sleeping cabin and offers decent rowing performance.   The vessel is close to 19’ in length with a ketch rig and sliding seat rowing system.

The Crew

Colin will be competing without glorious beard for aerodyamics.

Colin will be competing without  beard for aerodynamics.

Our initial plan was to have two crew, so the team could travel continuously with the crew alternating in two hour shifts.  After extensive trialing, however, we have decided instead to make it a solo attempt, with Colin helming the boat.  The boat moves about 20% faster with the weight of just one person (and gear) compared to two.  By strategically optimizing the boat for solo sailing, we feel it will be possible to travel at close to the same speed with just one person.  This will have the added advantage of allowing us to compete among solo contenders.  Safety will also be improved by being able to fully seal the sleeping cabin while on the water.  Strategic power naps will be achieved at anchor in the storm-tight cabin.


Check out the video detailing the RowCruiser by clicking on image.

Check out the video of the  RowCruiser in action by clicking image above.

The beauty of the R2AK is the number of different boat designs in the race.  Each design has specific weather conditions most favorable for making progress.  For the large racing sailboats with tough crew and equipment continuous heavy winds are ideal, helping put them ahead of the smaller performance sailing craft.  For human powered craft light winds and calms are best.  Our boat will fair best (relative to the fleet) in light winds and frequent calms.  While our boat sails very well, it cannot compete with the high-performance multihulls in stiff winds.  On the other hand, it rows relatively fast (total boat weight is only 180 lbs including spars, foils and sails), so makes good time under oar.  Periods devoid of wind for more than 12 hours won’t be ideal, since half a day of continuous rowing is the limit for one person.

Top speed for the RowCruiser under sail is about 12 knots, and a sustainable rowing speed (for 10-12 hours) is 3.5 -4 knots.

We will be experimenting with various sleep strategies in advance of the race.  Ideally, sleeping at anchor will occur when conditions are the most contrary (heavy headwinds, opposing currents, etc.).


Quick release ama.  But wait, you're wondering, isn't that a precarious connection?  Watch the race and find out.

Quick release ama. But wait, you’re wondering, isn’t that a precarious connection? Watch the race and find out.

Safety is paramount when sailing in cold northwest waters.  The sailing RowCruiser is comprised of seven watertight compartments, so it can sustain significant damage and remain afloat.  One of the greatest dangers with multihulls is capsizing, since they are very stable in the inverted position making righting difficult.  We have addressed this issue by using quick release amas.  One ama can be released in less than 30 seconds (with a tether to keep it from blowing away) making recovery very easy.  And a great deal of thought has gone into clothing to ward off hypothermia.  A Helly Hansen drysuit and HH clothing (designed specifically for the sea) will be used strategically to stay warm while sailing and to shed heat while rowing.

Sponsors:  A big thanks goes to all our supporters which include Helly Hansen, Aqua Quest, Small Craft Advisor, and our company Angus Rowboats (smart decision, Angus Rowboats!!).  Norwegian Helly Hansen has been making clothing for seafarers for more than a century, so we feel reassured to be using their clothing.  Most of you boat enthusiasts are probably already aware of Small Craft Advisor – it’s a wonderful magazine that explores the nuances of small craft exploration and designs.

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RowCruiser Build Workshop Sept. 19-25

For those interested in attending our RowCruiser Workshop, you can find more information here:  It will be held at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend – a fun place for the nautically inclined.


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Everything You Need to Know About Installing a Sliding Seat Rowing System

Sliding seat rowing is an efficient way to propel a boat, while providing a fantastic full-body workout.  To enjoy the advantages of sliding seat rowing, however, it is important to install a properly-designed rowing system in your boat.  For those new to the sport it can be a confusing process with many options available.  We decided it was time to write an article clarifying the procedure for those wishing to outfit their vessels for sliding seat rowing


Sliding Seat Rowing

Open Water Sliding Seat Rowing

The purpose of a sliding seat system is to allow your leg muscles to be fully involved, allowing for more powerful strokes.  In order to take full advantage of this benefit, it is important that the sliding seat, foot brace, oarlocks, etc. are ideally positioned relative to one another to provide maximum efficiency and comfort.  This aspect of the system is referred to as the “geometry”.  We have written another article focusing specifically on rowing geometry which you can view here.

Another important aspect is the type of hardware and components being used.  It is important that friction in the system is minimized, otherwise the benefits are quickly lost.

What boats are  suitable for sliding seat rowing?

Oxford Wherry

Long, narrow and light boats such as this 16′ 56 lb Oxford Wherry work well for sliding seat rowing.

Before going to the work and expense of converting your boat for sculling (sliding seat rowing),you need to assess whether your boat is appropriate.  Short vessels are not suitable for two reasons.  Their waterline length restricts overall speed, so much of the extra horsepower is wasted.  Additionally, short boats are more heavily affected by the movement of the rower on the sliding seat, causing the bow and stern to pitch up and down, which slows the boat.  Generally, sliding seat rowboats should be at least 15’ in length.  Wide and heavy boats don’t perform well either.  Canoes and canoe-shaped boats make good rowing vessels.  Slender long and light rowing boats such as our Oxford Wherry are ideal.

How to outfit your vessel for sliding seat rowing?

There are several options for installing sliding seat rowing systems:

Custom Design and Construction: The framework for the sliding and oarlock supports can be custom built into your boat using existing boat structure (hull, frames, gunwales, etc) as part of the support.  Third party components – sliding seat, tracks, oarlocks, foot supports, etc can then be installed.  Be sure when designing the system to adhere to appropriate geometry.  A good source for rowing components is Pocock, a rowing company based out of Washington . Items required are a seat, tracks, oarlocks, oarlock pins and a footstretcher. We don’t recommend using seats that use bushings for the wheels, as friction is significant. Instead ball bearings or double-action systems are ideal.

Piantedosi drop in unit is a simple way to add a sliding seat system to your boat

Piantedosi drop in unit is a simple way to add a sliding seat system to your boat

Complete Drop in Unit: There are several companies that supply complete one-part sliding seat rowing units that can easily be installed and removed from the boat.  The riggers, oarlocks, sliding seat and footstretcher are all affixed to a metal frame, and these units are compatible with many open boat designs.  The advantage is simplicity and convenience, however, they are pricy.  Base price is about $650 with another $100 -$200 for the various connector systems.  Chesapeake Light Craft and Alden are both good sources for drop in units.

Sliding seat drop in rowing kit is an economical and lightweight way to propel your boat.

Sliding seat drop in rowing kit is an economical and lightweight way to propel your boat.

Kit Drop in Unit: We’ve designed a simple drop-in unit that comes in kit form as an alternative to the complete drop-in units.  It’s about half the cost, and half the weight, but does take about 12 hours to build.  It includes all the components, hardware and plans/manual.  The components provided are the same as those used by completive college rowers for robust and efficient performance.  To learn more about this system, please visit our sliding seat page.

We don’t recommend trying to make home-made made components such as the seats and oarlocks.  These items are finely honed for performance, and it is very challenging creating components that work as well as the commercial versions.

Once you’ve figured out the ideal sliding seat system for your boat, you’ll need to think about oars.  It is important that appropriately-sized oars are used to make full use of the system.  For more information on sculling oars, please visit our oar page.


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About our Sailing RowCruiser

A fun boat for sailing, rowing - with a bedroom inside!!

A fun boat for sailing and rowing – with a bedroom inside!!c

Part of the motivation behind our efforts to design the sailing version of the RowCruiser came from the Race to Alaska (R2AK).  As competitors in the race, we wanted something that was fast by oar and sail and could be raced non-stop for more than one week by two people.  We feel this overall concept will also make a fun recreational boat, and we will be selling kits and plans for the sailing version this fall.  The beauty of this concept is the central hull can also be used on its own for quick rowing, camping or fishing trips, or the amas and sails can be affixed for more exciting adventures.

One of the most economical ways of owing a sexy boat.

One of the most economical ways of owing a sexy boat

Using the basic RowCruiser hull as a starting point, we mulled various concepts for months in our efforts to create an effective sailing system that works harmoniously with the sliding seat rowing rig.   Below, I discuss some of the various concepts incorporated into the design and some of the thoughts that went into the developments.



Each ama weighs 9 lbs,  yet provides more righting force than a 300 lb crew member.

Each ama weighs 9 lbs, yet provides more righting force than a 300 lb crew member.

Amas (outriggers): Designing ideal amas  was a huge challenge.  The hydrodynamics of multihull craft are extraordinarily complex, and we struggled to find much information on the pros and cons of various existing ama designs.  For example, what is the difference in performance between a longer ama and a shorter ama?  For us, we needed to create shorter amas so there would be sufficient clearance for the oars.  Short amas would also provide additional benefits such as lighter weight and easier storage, in particular for trailering.

We ended up creating 8’ planing amas.  Each one provides 150 lbs of buoyancy and weighs 9 lbs.  The planing aspect of the amas serves two purposes.  First, when sailing, the amas will skip lightly over the surface creating very little drag compared to the speed restrictions arising from a short displacement-shaped hull.  Additionally, just like water skis, the shape of planing amas push upwards at speed meaning that more than just buoyancy keeps them on top of the water, helping counter the force of the sails.  This is ideal when the boat is sailing fast, as much less of the ama is submerged than a non-planing ama, and the boat heels less.

Having fun in a good breeze

Having fun in a good breeze

In testing, the amas performed just as hoped.  Maximum speeds reached so far have been 9 knots with two people and gear in the boat.  I suspect speeds of up to 12 knots will be attainable when sailing with one person in ideal conditions.  The amas provide enormous stability, and the boat can easily be rowed and sailed simultaneously, since the amas keep the central hull level.

Akas (ama cross-supports): Since we planned on using the boat in very challenging and remote waters in the R2AK it was important that the akas were up for the job.  Additionally, we wanted to make them aerodynamically shaped, an aspect often ignored by designers, but very important for good performance.  The akas are hollow shaft, created by laminating three layers of spruce (we used knot free 2 x4’s milled with a tablesaw for an economical and sound solution).  It is a relatively easy process. The three lamination layers are coated with epoxy, bent over a frame, and clamped along their length.  The akas are then shaped with a planer to create an elegant and aerodynamic shape.

Hollow shaft akas are robust while offering curved edges for aerodynamics.

Hollow shaft akas are robust performance while offering curved edges for aerodynamics.

Our finished 10’ akas each weigh 8 lbs, and are much stiffer and stronger than a standard 2×4. Each aka is curved to a different radius since they are positioned at different levels on the boat.

One slight mistake we made in creating the prototype akas is creating too much curvature in the forward aka.  Since we are pioneering the concept of curved hollow-shaft akas, we had very little information to go on.  In calculating the spring-back from the lamination, we assumed it would be the same as standard three layer solid lamination.  In fact, since the middle layer is mostly hollow, the spring-back forces are less, and it did not straighten out as much as calculated.  As a result, the forward akas have had to be raised from the deck on blocks.  These numbers will be corrected for our upcoming plans.

Overall, the amas and akas together provide an enormous amount of righting force with a modest total weight of just over 30 lbs.  The added benefit of having amas affixed to the boat is having great stability while anchored, fishing etc.

Amas can be released in second while providing a secure connection.

Amas can be released in second while providing a secure connection.

Aka Connections and Safety: We came up with a novel way of affixing the akas to the amas to significantly enhance safety.  The greatest danger with multihull boats is capsizing and being unable to right the boat due to the great stability in the inverted position.  With our planned race to R2AK safety was paramount, and we wanted an easy solution for re-righting.  The solution is to be able to remove one of the amas.  With an ama removed, the boat can be righted as easily as a Laser sailboat.  The problem, however, was how to achieve a connection that could be quickly and easily disengaged, yet be robust and secure while sailing.  Bolts are far to challenging to undo in a rough stormy ocean.  Even wing nuts are next to impossible to loosen up when flailing around in the water with numb fingers and hypothermia setting in.  Our solution was to use cinch straps.  The amas and akas mate together with a Lego-like connection (which you can see here), and then are cinched firmly together using a strap.  A simple push on the release mechanism immediately disengages the two components.  With this setup an ama can be disengaged in under 30 seconds (connected with a tether to the main hull , so it doesn’t blow away), and the boat righted.

The akas are secured to main hull using bolts and washers.

Daggerboard case is offset to provide a comfortable sleeping berth.

Daggerboard case is offset to provide a comfortable sleeping berth.

Offset Daggerboard: The daggerboard case is situated in the aft end of the cabin and is offset to allow sufficient room for the occupant to sleep comfortably.  There is negligible performance loss with an offset daggerboard.  In light to medium wind speeds, the helm is balanced allowing for hands free steering from a broad reach and up when the sails are trimmed properly.  In heavier winds, as the forward amas are pushed down, the center of lateral resistance moves forward slightly creating slight weather helm (slight weather helm in heavy winds is a positive attribute in a sailboat).

Overall Safety: In the Pacific Northwest it is far too easy to die in the frigid waters.  A series of mishaps can lead to immersion followed by hypothermia.  The good news is with a solid knowledge of boat design and the potential dangers, it is possible to create boats that significantly minimize these dangers.  With a family at home, and no desire to visit Davy Jones, I spent a long time pondering potential dangerous scenarios, and how the crew and boat could respond to these various situations.  Below are some of the most likely situations to occur, and design implementations to enhance chances of survival.

Hull Compromised: There is always a possibility of hitting an object at high speed and holing the boat. The sailing RowCruiser is comprised of seven independent sealed compartments meaning that even a large hole will not fully compromise the boat.  Apart from being smashed to pieces in a collision with a large ship, the RowCruiser would have the capability to limp to shore in most situations incurring hull damage.

Capsize: As mentioned above, the amas are designed to disengage in seconds so the boat can be easily re-righted.  Once one ama is removed, the boat is righted by standing on the inverted aka while holding onto the daggerboard and leaning back.  Because of the shaping of the cockpit, only a few gallons of water will need to be bailed out after righting.

Rough Weather: As with any sailboat strengthening winds are initially dealt with by downsizing sail.  In open ocean conditions there are various tactics for dealing with heavy weather, but a popular strategy is hoving to.  This involves shifting the overall center of effort and center of lateral resistance so the boat shoulders into the wind and wind spills from the sails.  The beauty of a ketch rig (as with the RowCruiser) is the boat can quickly and easily be hove to.  The mizzen is simply sheeted tight, and the main released and suddenly everything becomes tranquil.   In this state, the wind has very little effect on the boat, and the bow points into the waves.  It is the ideal configuration to make sail changes, or to simply wait out the weather.  Or for exhausted solo sailors in gale-force winds, it’s the best way to have a break – make a cup of coffee and have your lunch before carrying on.

Propusion failure: By having an efficient sailing and rowing rig, there is always a backup system if one or the other fails for any reason.

Sails: The sails we used are very economical while providing good performance and robust durability.  Sail area is 78 square feet, modest for the amount of righting force provided by the amas.  This means that the boat is very forgiving, and the sails don’t need downsizing until the winds are very stiff.  Despite having a relatively small sail area, the boat moves surprisingly quickly in light winds.  And of course, sail speed can be augmented by rowing and sailing at the same time.

We chose not to incorporate a larger sailing rig for many reasons.  The complexity, weight and cost of the boat would increase significantly, and rowing (it’s a rowboat at heart, after all) would become more sluggish.  As is, the masts and sails can quickly be removed and stored in the cabin (the masts break into two pieces).  It’s a pretty elegant and easy solution that offers impressive speeds.

Reefing: We’ve created a unique way of reefing that can be viewed on our Facebook page here –   It takes a little more effort than standard reefing, but is more efficient, and much more economical than roller furling systems.  It can be done carried out in rough seas by the athletically inclined, or on the beach for those a little less enamored with the idea of scrambling around on a pitching deck.

For an easier  (and much more expensive) system of reefing, we would recommend the mast furling style of sail such as those offered by Hobie.

Kick up rudder is attached to dual tillers with line system

Kick up rudder is attached to dual tillers with line system

Steering: Creating a steering system for small trimarans can be challenging.  The cockpit is too far forward for a standard tiller to work.  Often the solution is using a push-pull rudder stick, however, this doesn’t work so well with a mizzen mast in the way.  Instead we came up with a  solution uitilizing dual tillers on both sides of the cockpit connected to the rudder using a system of spindles and blocks.  This system is relatively unique and offers easy

Dual tillers on both sides of the cockpit allow for easy steering

Dual tillers on both sides of the cockpit allow for easy steering

smooth steering from any location in the cockpit.

The rudder foil is designed to kick up when coming into shallow water.

Rowing System: We use the standard sliding seat rowing system that has been thoroughly tested in the standard RowCruiser.  The entire sailing rig, including the amas, akas and steering system has been designed so as not to interfere with the oars.

The sailing system is designed to not interfere whatsoever with the rowing.  Sails, boom, tillers, amas, akas, etc are clear of all rowing movement.

The sailing system is designed to not interfere whatsoever with the rowing. Sails, boom, tillers, amas, akas, etc are clear of all rowing movement.

The oars are completely clear of any obstructions and powerful smooth strokes can quickly propel the boat in windless conditions.  Since the amas keep the boat level when the sails are in use, the oars can also be used in light winds for “motor sailing”.  When not in use, the oars are easily pulled up onto the amas and held in place with bungies, where they are out of the way and fully clear of the water.

Reinforcing: The decks of the sailing RowCruiser have been further reinforced (from the rowing-only version) to support the weight of an individual changing sails.  This has been achieved by adding additional quarter knees and cross supports.

Weight: Our racing version of the sailing RowCruiser weighs less than 200 lbs, which includes the sails, daggerboard, rudder, rudder, all spars, rowing hardware, amas akas, etc.  This is incredibly light, considering a standard Hobie 18 catamaran weighs over 400 lbs, or a Laser Radial (not much more than a pregnant windsurfer) weighs 130 lbs (hull only).

We wouldn’t recommend building a recreational model quite so light, however.  While the lightweight version is fully capable of dealing with all rigors on the ocean, it is more vulnerable to being dropped or sustaining damage when hitting objects.  The main weight savings from our racing version come from utilizing a single layer of 4 oz fiberglass cloth on the outside, instead of overlapping layers of 6 oz.  Additionally, only glass strips were used on the inside instead of full glass swaths.  A completed recreational version would weigh about 30 to 40 lbs more coming in at about 220 lbs complete.

Amas, akas, masts, booms all packed in the main hatch.  Nice and compact.  Just remember to tie the boat to the trailer!

Amas, akas, masts, booms all packed in the main hatch. Nice and compact. Just remember to tie the boat to the trailer!

Trailering: We recommend using a SUT 220 trailer for transporting the boat.  The amas and akas all fit through the main hatch for easy and compact trailering.

Cost:  This versatile and sexy boat is surprisingly affordable to build.  For those building from kits, the total cost of the boat, including all the building materials, sails, spars and sliding seat hardware is just over $6000.  For those building from full-sized plans (bear in mind a lot more time is required for construction) the boat can be built for just under $4000.

Kits and plans for the main RowCruiser hull are currently available and kits and plans for the sailing version will be available in the fall of 2015.  For those wishing to start building now, we recommend starting with the main hull and building to the point of laying the decks.  The daggerboard case and sail mounts can be installed after the decks, however, it is easier to do prior.

We have postponed our entry in the R2AK race due to an unfortunate accident (forgetting to tie the boat to the trailer after a training run) a couple days prior to the race start.  The boat will, however, be competing in an upcoming R2AK. 


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Developing the RowCruiser Sailing Rig

Interest in our RowCruiser is quickly growing, and there are now a few dozen currently being built.  We also completed our first RowCruiser build class last week, and it was a huge success. Our next RowCruiser build class, scheduled for next September in Port Townsend, is already two thirds full, so if you’r interested in attending be sure to sign up soon (

Sailing arrangement.  The daggerboard will be further aft.

There’s also been a lot of inquiries into the sailing rig for the RowCruiser, which we are currently developing.  Eventually, we will be providing plans and directions for the sailing rig, but I will give a brief overview of what we are developing.

Key attributes we are trying to incorporate are affordability, relative simplicity and performance.  We decided that a ketch rig would be most effective for the RowCruiser, but we didn’t want the costs to spiral out of control.  Two sails, masts, hardware, etc add up quickly in price.  Just to give perspective for the uninitiated in purchasing sailing equipment, it typically costs $1000 for a single dinghy sail to be custom made by a sailmaker.  Sail, spar, and hardware costs could quickly add up to $5000 for the ketch rig we envisioned if the sails were custom made, and hardware purchased at chandlery-costs.

Fortunately, we’ve found ideal off-the-shelf sails from Intensity Sails that retail for $179 each.  They are perfectly shaped for the rig that we envisioned, and the smaller mizzen sail is created by trimming down one of the two sails.  The mainsail will be 48 square feet and, the mizzen will be 29 square feet.  The two part carbon/glass main mast retails for $250, and the mizzen is $100.  The costs still add up, and even with the bargain prices of hardware at Duckworks, with the addition of blocks (for the downhaul, vang and main sheet), mast supports, sheets, battens, pintle and gugeons for the rudder, boom poles,and an endless list of other small items, the total costs amount to about $1300.

Overall, we feel this is a pretty reasonable cost for a rig that will fit the RowCruiser like a glove and provide solid performance.

Once we have the rig completed and trialed, we will develop a set of instructions, plans and a shopping list (all items for the sail rig can be purchased easily online).

For those who wish to add the sailing rig to their finished RowCruisers, it is not too difficult to install the daggerboard and mast supports to the completed boat.  We will provide some pictures in a couple of weeks, for those that wish to proceed with the conversion before plans are available.

Additionally, there have been questions as to whether the amas are necessary for the sailing version.  They are not.  We’ll be able to provide a more detailed response after sea trials, but overall, the boat should sail fairly well without the amas.  The size of the sailing rig is not immense, and sailing without amas will be similar to dinghy sailing where body weight needs to be shifted to keep the boat upright.  The amas will allow for more relaxed sailing without gymnastics required to keep the boat upright.  Additionally, the boat can be pressed much harder without needing to downsize sails.

We’ll be posting more information soon.


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R2AK – Race to Alaska: Who will win?

With the upcoming R2AK challenge, there has been a lot of speculation as to what types of

Maybe we'll get our drag our Yenisey boat back from Siberia and use it

Is this the winning boat?

boats will be entered, and potential speeds and finishing times.  I’ve spent a bit of time contemplating these questions myself, and will share my thoughts on this blog.  The race is open to all types of motor-less boats from SUPs to higher performance multi-hull boats.  While all boats are welcome, it is obvious that the organizers have an emphasis on smaller and/or home built craft.

Overall consensus is that a performance sailing craft is the most likely candidate for hitting the finish line first.  If this is the case, we can make some fairly accurate guesses on speed by looking at the results of the Van Isle 360.

The Van Isle 360, a sailing race conducted in stages around Vancouver Island, is an excellent source of information to predict potential speeds for the R2AK.  Half of the Van Isle 360 route (the course along the inside of Vancouver Island), overlaps the first half of the Race to Alaska, so Van Isle 360 participants are encountering very similar conditions to the R2AK.  The Van Isle Race attracts some of the(if not the) fastest sailing vessels in the Pacific Northwest, so they provide a clear indication of the very top speeds possible in R2AK- like conditions.

Looking at the 2005 results (these are the only results I could find online, however, the fastest boats then are still the top contenders in recent years, so results probably haven’t changed much), the fastest boats complete the race with a total elapsed time of about 100 hours.  There are two anomalies – Dragonfly and Cheekee Monkey, which are extraordinarily high-performance multihulls which completed the race in 79 and 86 hours respectively.  The two other high performance multi-hulls competing – Bad Kitty and Blue Lightning finished in over 100 hours.  We will leave Dragonfly and Cheekee Monkey out of our equation, as the likelihood of a boat of their caliber competing in R2AK is highly unlikely.

So let’s take 100 hours as the time it takes for an extremely high end racing boat to circumnavigate Vancouver Island.  The circumference of Vancouver Island is 593 nautical miles – so the faster boats are moving at an average of 5.93 knots.

For the caliber of boats in the Van Isle 360, this is a very unimpressive speed, and speaks volumes about the winds they are encountering.

There are several other factors to consider when applying this comparison to R2AK.  The Van Isle 360 is raced in stages and is not unsupported.  This contributes considerably to overall speed for several reasons.  The crew are able to rest, conduct repairs, strategize, etc during their rest stops and the boat is able to travel lighter.  Additionally, night sailing is minimized – a time when winds are at their lightest and more prudent courses need to be followed due to reduced visibility.  Additionally, the crew motor through Seymour narrows during one of their layover periods, so they don’t need to worry about being stuck waiting for favorable currents.

I think we can safely assume that VanIsle 360 average top speeds would be cut by at least half a knot if it were a non-stop unsupported race that also required sailing through Seymour Narrows.  This brings the speed of the fastest boats to 5.43 knots.

Finally, there is one more factor to consider when applying the Van Isle 360 race to R2AK.  Contestants in the VanIsle challenge clock their fastest times on the west coast of the island and in the Juan de Fuca Strait where winds are more consistent and in their favor.  At this time of year winds come more frequently from the north.  Undoubtedly, winds will be less favorable for a boat heading north from the tip of Vancouver Island to Ketchican, rather than a boat heading south on the western side of Vancouver Island.  At a very rough guess, I would estimate another half knot average would be lost if the VanIsle 360 boats kept going north along the R2AK route, rather than the more favorable route they follow.

So according to my estimates, the top boats from the VanIsle 360 race would likely average a thoroughly unimpressive 5 knots if they were to enter the R2AK.

Realistically, however, none of these quarter to half million dollar racing sailboats will be entering R2AK.  The R2AK is a grassroots race catering to creative home builders and small boat enthusiasts.  In the spirit of inclusivity, it is open to all boats, but like Usain Bolt competing in a small community track meet, the question to be asked is what’s the point?  It is not worth their time and resources to compete in a race that means very little in the competitive sailing world.

So, that brings us to the more likely top candidates for the race.  The fastest sailing vessels that have so are entered are a handful of home-built multihulls – from an F-32 to one of Richard Wood’s designs.  There’s even talk of a Corsair 32, but 20 knot fantasies will quickly be brought into perspective by multi-day straight line averages.

I have no idea how much slower these types of boats are compared to the likes of “Bad Kitty” (a performance multihull used in the Van Isle 360), but a very rough guess would have the fastest contenders going at about eighty percent.  Even though contestants of R2AK have the added advantage of being able to augment their speed by human power, this will only be nominally beneficial (from the perspective of a standard multihull sailboat).  My guess is that a laden 3000 lb. trimaran will be lucky if it can sustain 1.5 knots through a sustained calm.

In summary, after crunching the numbers and making educated guesses for many of the variables, my estimate is that the winning boat for R2AK will average about 4 knots.  This means the 675 nautical mile distance for the race will be covered in 169 hours or 7 days if all goes well.  Due to the high likelihood of breakdowns, sustained poor winds, etc., my guess is that 169 hours is probably optimistic, with it likely taking up to 9 or ten days for the winning boat to finish.

So, what about human power you may be wondering? From what I’ve seen in the forums, it appears the multihull sailing enthusiasts believe human power has no chance.  I don’t share this belief, and I think it stems more from a lack of information on the potential of human power, rather than the reality of the situation.

As with sailing speeds, we can come up with fairly accurate human powered speed estimates by looking into the history books.

A good example providing insight into potential speeds of by human power is the human powered Vancouver Island circumnavigation challenge.  Believe it or not, the fastest time ever clocked circling Vancouver Island by engineless boat is not one of the carbon fiber rockets from the Van Isle 360, but lone Kayaker, Russell Henry who circumnavigated the Island in 12 days.  Of course, this is total time from start to finish, not just elapsed time on the water, but it gives a good idea of what can be achieved by raw human power.

I broke this record myself in 2011 circling the island in 14.5 days (including 1.5 days off due to injury) in a rowboat. My average speed while on the water was just over 4 knots.  I am guessing Russell Henry’s speed was probably 4.5 knots.

Of course, just as with applying the speed of the Van Isle 360 sailboats to R2AK, you can’t assume speed on water with rest stops applies to 24/7 voyaging.  By travelling around the clock with human power, more than one crew member is required, adding weight and other factors that will reduce average speed.  In other words, because Henry Russell can maintain a speed of 4.5 knots for half the day, two Russell Henry’s taking turns in a larger boat will not be able to maintain the same speed continuously.

So how fast can you travel continuously by human power?  Another good example to look at is the non-stop self-supported rowing race around Britain.  The distance for this race is almost two and a half times as far as R2AK, and sea conditions make the Inside Passage look like a mill pond.  Wind and currents come from all directions.  The fastest team to row around Britain non-stop, a team of four, completed it in just over 26 days, averaging a straight line speed of just over three knots.

Considering conditions off the coast of Britain are much more challenging, and the race is more than twice as long, it is feasible that the speed could be significantly faster in the relatively calm waters (and much shorter distance) faced in R2AK.  The boat that they used is also a relatively inefficient design, designed more for rough oceans than speed.  For the Inside Passage, a much lighter and lower profile vessel could be used.  It is not inconceivable at all that a strong crew in an intelligently designed vessel could sustain 4 knots entirely by human power.  It might be a rowing boat, or some other type of craft.

It is unlikely that a human-powered craft will win this year, since no likely candidates have entered.  To me, it seems the Holy Grail of the Race to Alaska isn’t just to win it, but to win it by human power.  It is possible to win by human power, but it won’t be easy, and to do so would be one of the greatest accomplishments.  A combination of strength, design and luck will need to come together to make it happen.

A friend of mine Greg Kolodziejzyk, is pondering entering R2AK 2016.  Greg is not just a phenomenal athlete, but a genius in designing fast human powered vehicles.  He holds the world records for both the greatest distance travelled by human power over land in 24 hours (over 1000 km), and the greatest distance over water (without current) in 24 hours (242 km – that’s one man propelling himself continuously propelling himself at 5.5 knots for 24 hours!).  Greg’s designing a radical new boat which he feels will be perfect for R2AK.  If anyone has what it takes to properly pit human-potential against wind, it’s Greg.  Should be an interesting one!

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2015 – A year for Rowing and Sailing Adventures

Happy 2015!

Sailing Rowcruiser3

A starting point for the setup we will be using for the race to Alaska. The finished layout will be significantly different than illustrated. Watch the boat come together on our Facebook page.

Here at Angus Rowboats we’re celebrating as we finish another busy year.  2015 will undoubtedly be another exciting year as we launch our Bumblebee sailboat, and gear up for the big Race to Alaska.

Plans, kits and completed boats for the Bumblebee will be available in mid-February.  This is the only sailing boat designed for kids aged 2-5.  If you think toddlers are too young to sail on their own, wait until you see our upcoming video!   Small Craft Advisor will be the exclusive retailer of Bumblebee kits.

Over the coming months, we’ll be posting regular updates on the development of the boat we’re designing for the Race to Alaska – a voyage from Port Townsend Washington to Ketchikan, AK.  If you spend some time researching the race online, you will see there is a huge amount of discussion as to what will be the ideal boat for the race.  Will it be a human-powered craft, a sailboat, or some kind of combination? The rules are simple – no motor allowed, anything else goes.  The first to reach Ketchikan gets $10,000.  Check out the official site here.

The route of the race which parallels the Inside Passage is gorgeous, but boating conditions can be very treacherous.  Winds are fickle along this stretch, with frequent headwinds and calms.  Despite this, consensus seems to be that a high performance multi-hull sailing craft will be the likely winner.  Undoubtedly, if any of the super-high performance giant cats enters they would handily win.  A big variable, apart from the weather is the types of boats that are entered.  Most likely, the highest performance sailing vessels are unlikely to enter such a grassroots type of race that has emphasis on smaller and alternative craft.  It would be a bit like NASA entering their Mars lander at the school science fair.  Additionally, the VanIsle 360 sailing race takes place at the same time, which will keep many of the carbon-fiber rockets occupied.

My own thoughts, initially, were to use an exclusively human powered boat, rowing 24 hours/day with Steve Price from Oklahoma.  While it was unlikely we would win the overall race, we’d have a good shot of placing well for a solely human-powered vessel.  My experience circumnavigating the 1200 km circumference of Vancouver Island in a rowboat in 15.5 days four years ago gives me excellent insight into the types of conditions we will be encountering and potential speeds that can be achieved by oar. I believe a two-person rowing vessel could cover the 1250 km distance to Alaska in 10-12 days.

Over the last few months, however, as Marty Loken and I have been developing a sailing rig for the RowCruiser vessel, I have become more intrigued with the idea of combining rowing and sailing.  Generally, boats do not row and sail well simultaneously.  The heeling effect from the wind interferes with the rowing action – in particular with a sliding seat system and 9.5′ oars.  Amas can be used to provide greater stability, but there is also the challenge of placing them so they don’t interfere with the oars.

We’ve come up with a design that should work.  According to our estimates, in calm conditions the boat will row sustainably (24 hours/day with two people) at 3-4 knots.  With light breezes of 3-7 knots the boat will move at 5-6 knots combined with rowing.  In heavier winds, the boat will be propelled by wind alone moving at 5-7 knots.

In windy conditions, our performance will pale compared to performance multi-hulls, so reasonable placement will rely on abundant calms and light winds.  Heavy headwinds are still a question mark, and sea trials will be the only way to get a precise idea of the performance we will achieve into steep waves and wind.

The beauty of using a sculling rowing system is that it is relatively high-geared and will actually be able to contribute significant thrust to a sailing vessel already in motion from the wind.  The key is to have everything in balance.  While paddling with a single or double blade is much simpler, it is fairly ineffective at providing additional boost – akin to hanging your legs out the side of a rapidly moving car trying to get it to go faster.

We’re not yet divulging full details of our racing boat, but it will be based on our RowCruiser, which provides comfortable sleeping accommodation and good rowing performance.  Over the next three months we will posting updates of the build on our Facebook page as it progresses.  Ideally, sea trials will be commencing by the end of March.

A few people have asked me about conditions and strategies for voyaging up the Inside Passage.  In particular, the biggest question is optimizing tidal flows.  Interestingly, strategy with tides, while still important, is much less of a factor than it was on my solo row going around Vancouver Island.  The fastest vessels will undoubtedly be voyaging 24 hours/day for the most part.  This means that they will be experiencing all tidal flows – favourable and not.  And trying to time arrival at the so-called “tidal gates” at specific times will be next to impossible, since the best strategy is to continually maintain top speed.  Since you can’t further increase top speed, arrival times at the “gates” will largely be dictated by luck.  There are only a couple of places where the tidal flow is strong enough to stop a vessel.   If you don’t get there in time, you’ll need to wait a few hours.

You can maximize tidal assistance depending on where you place your vessel in the stream.  The current is rarely consistent through passages, so the key is to be in the strongest flow when it is with you, and in the weaker flow when it is against you.  It can be challenging figuring out where the ideal currents are, so following the knowledgeable tugs is a good tactic.

On my journey around Vancouver Island, I was surprised at how modest the turbulence accompanying tidal flows was, considering fearsome reputations.  For the most part, good seaworthy vessels shouldn’t have much of a problem. I went through Seymour Narrows in my kayak-like Expedition Rowboat when it was flowing at 11 knots (at the peak of ebb flow), and conditions were reasonable – large boils muscled me around a bit, and I easily steered away from the larger whirlpools.

One of the biggest challenges is strong headwinds over current, creating steep waves.  Such conditions, while generally not dangerous, are very demoralizing making progress next to impossible.  For those rowing or paddling injuries and blisters intensify with the greater loads conveyed through tendons and muscles. Sailing rigs and gear are heavily tested.

For those voyaging solo, and only planning to be on the water 10-12 hours/day timing the currents in your favour will be a huge part of the strategy.  Additionally, headwinds tend to peak in the mid-afternoon, and are at their weakest around four or five in the morning, so be sure to take advantage of these lulls.

There is an advantage to only voyaging for half the day – in particular for the human powered boaters.  By avoiding the worst of the winds and riding the best currents much more favourable conditions will be encountered.  By going 24 hours, you will endure more countering forces, so, with all else being equal, distance travelled will not be doubled.

In the Johnstone Strait, there is more outflow current than in, interestingly, which is a nice added boost.  Unfortunately, this is an area where very strong headwinds regularly blow, and the wind over current makes steep poweful waves.  Conditions improve as you get north of Vancouver Island, and the historical wind data around Bella Bella indicates that winds are likely to be kinder here.  The key is to get through Johnstone Strait as fast as possible, and make sure you have a boat that can achieve reasonable upwind performance in steep waves and strong winds.

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