R2AK recipe: Can-do couscous


With two weeks to go before the start of the 2016 Race to Alaska (R2AK), I thought I’d share my favorite meal from my 14 day experience in the 2015 Race: “Can-do couscous.”  This <10-minute meal delivers a powerful combination of carbohydrates, fats, and flavor that will warm your core and keep you energized (9.2 MJ, or 2,200 Calories).  Mixed with 250 ml water it’s reminiscent of a puttanesca pasta; with 500 ml it’s a Mediterranean minestrone.

R2AK Recipe: Can-do couscous

Scott Veirs, Team Searunners, 2015

Total energy: 2209 Cal or 9.2 MJ

Total mass (dry): 484 g

Energy density (aka specific energy): 19.0 MJ/kg (= 19.0 kJ/g)


  • 250 ml couscous — 640 Cal
  • 100 ml olive oil — 800 Cal
  • 100 ml powdered Parmesan cheese — 133 Cal
  • 50 ml kalamata olives — 180 Cal
  • 50 ml sun-dried tomatoes (in oil) — 366 Cal
  • 5 ml Better than Boullion (vegetarian flavor) — 10 Cal


  1. Mix all ingredients except couscous
  2. Add mixture to couscous in a Ziploc bagIMG_3227
  3. Store in cool place (we used our bilge) until really hungry
  4. Boil 500 ml freshwater (took ~1.5 minutes in our Jetboil)
  5. Squeeze, pour, spoon mixture from bag to 1-liter eating container
  6. Add 250-500 ml of boiled water to eating container
  7. Stir well (to ensure boullion dissolves) and cover for 5 minutes
  8. Consume with a can-do attitude (it’s a big, filling meal for 1; a hearty snack for two)

I ate this 3 or 4 times in 14 days of dinners and never got tired of it.  Since Thomas and I based all our meals on a 500 ml Jetboil volume, this was the one way I could think of to get the satisfaction of one of my favorite foods — pasta — with neither the risk of boiling water on a rolling for 10-15 minutes nor the waste of precious pasta water.  The olives and tomatoes break up the otherwise monolithic texture of the couscous, the savory-salty boullion base is delicious, and the Parmesan holds everything together and provides the novelty of occasional melted cheese strings.  This version is vegetarian, but a carnivore could add anchovies…

We were aiming for 5,000-7,000 Calories per day, so this meal was a solid third of my daily calories.  It sometimes seemed like a daunting amount, but only once did I save ~1/4 of it for a snack later.  (It’s totally fine, cold, too.  Pasta salad!)  Overall, this dinner weighs in at about 500 grams and delivers 9.2 megajoules of Race fuel.  That works out to about 19.0 kJ/g which is well above carbohydrates (17 kJ/g) due to the fats in the olive oil and Parmesan cheese.  (Olive oil has a specific energy of 37 kJ/g!)

For reference, milk chocolate has a specific energy of 22.85 kJ/g…  So, I recommend the Ritter’s milk chocolate with hazelnuts for your R2AK dessert!

Anyone else care to share their favorite recipe?  Add it in the comments.


Human-powered boat speeds at the start of the 2015 Race to Alaska

While most of the 2015 Race to Alaska (R2AK) was rather breezy, the very beginning of stage 2 (from Victoria to Ketchikan) offers an opportunity to compare the speeds of the diverse boat types in the fleet.  Not only is sailing not allowed in the inner harbor of Victoria, but there was virtually no wind during the first couple hours of the Race.  As the ebb tide weakened and the bulk of the fleet made the big left turn from the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Haro Strait, a light southerly filled in and the sailboat race began (see plot of wind speed at Kelp Reefs below).

Not until 2 p.m., a couple hours into the 2015 R2AK, did the southerly begin to flow up Haro Strait.

This near-calm period affords an opportunity to compare the speeds of the many different types of human-powered propulsion that were utilized by the 2015 fleet.  Boats with a wide range of designs and displacements used oars while others tried 1- or 2-bladed paddles.  A hand full of technological innovators used pedal-powered propellers or adaptations of the Hobie Mirage drive.

The fleet under human power along the shoreline south of Victoria.
The fleet under human power along the shoreline south of Victoria.  (Photo from r2ak.com)

While a more quantitative assessment is warranted (maybe with GPS Action Replay?), with the excitement of the 2016 upon us, I tried a simpler approach.  Assume that everyone started at about the same time (high noon on Sunday June 7, 2015), that the whole fleet cleared Point Gonzales before any meaningful amount of wind set in, and that everyone experienced about the same set from the ebb. Here’s the current situation at Race Rocks for that day:

2015-06-07 Sun  5:14 AM PDT   Sunrise
2015-06-07 Sun  5:38 AM PDT    0.6 knots  Max Flood
2015-06-07 Sun  6:47 AM PDT   -0.0 knots  Slack, Ebb Begins
2015-06-07 Sun 11:12 AM PDT   -5.3 knots  Max Ebb
2015-06-07 Sun  3:05 PM PDT    0.0 knots  Slack, Flood Begins
2015-06-07 Sun  6:09 PM PDT    5.3 knots  Max Flood
2015-06-07 Sun  9:11 PM PDT   Sunset

With those assumptions in place (and with the caveat that any ebb current would reduce the apparent speed of the R2AK boats as measured by their SPOT transceivers), I next measured the point-to-point distance from the Empress marina in the Inner Harbor of Victoria to Point Gonzales (just NE of Trial Islands).  It’s ~10.5 km.  I then used the R2AK tracker re-play function to estimate the time that each boat passed Point Gonzales.  (This is a little tricky due to the 15 minute location interval, but if we assume constant speed during those 15 minutes we can approximate the time at which a boat passed the Point to within a minute or two.)

Here are the results (also available within this Google spreadsheet of Inter-annual R2AK Statistics) —

Team Human power (primary) Victoria – Gonzales Pt. (10.5 km) speed (kts) Victoria – Gonzales Pt. (10.5 km) speed (kph)
Broderna oars n/a  n/a
Barefoot Wooden Boats oars n/a  n/a
Soggy Beavers paddle 5.00 9.26
Hexagram 59 pedal 4.00 7.41
Sea Runners pedal 3.70 6.85
Turn Point Design pedal 3.66 6.77
Discovery mirage 3.58 6.63
Mike’s Kayak paddle (2 blade) 3.40 6.30
Pure & Wild pedal 3.27 6.06
Boatyard Boys oars 3.15 5.83
Mau pedal 3.09 5.73
John paddle (1 blade) 3.04 5.63
Elsie Piddock oars 2.93 5.43
Puffin pedal 2.91 5.38
MOB Mentality oars 2.88 5.34
Kohara pedal 2.86 5.29
Un-cruise mirage 2.79 5.16
Blackfish oars 2.77 5.12
Grin oars 2.77 5.12
Por Favor oars 2.77 5.12
Golden Oldies oars 2.68 4.96
Coastal Express oars 2.52 4.67
Excellent Adventure oars 2.50 4.63
Real Thing pedal 2.38 4.41
Free Burd oars 2.36 4.38
Y Triamoto oars 2.36 4.38
Super Friends oars 2.36 4.38
Seawolf pedal 2.00 3.71

The range of speeds (5.0-2.0 knots, or 9.3-3.7 kph) is not that big — though it feels substantial when you’re getting passed by someone on the course, or trying to catch up to a boat that’s “just ahead!”  I certainly recall being appalled at how fast the Soggy Beavers (44′ OC-6, mean speed 5.0 knots) overtook our 17′ catamaran (pedal+paddle power, mean speed 3.7 knots) in the first few minutes of the race (see below)!  [There’s no data for 2 boats that had SPOT trackers that weren’t working during the start.]

Six-minutes after the bell, the Soggy Beavers pass Team Sea Runners on route to set the Point Gonzales speed record:
Six-minutes after the bell, the Soggy Beavers pass Team Sea Runners on route to set the Point Gonzales speed record: 9.26 kph.  They passed Point Gonzales just one hour and 8 minutes into the 2015 Race to Alaska.

The fastest boat (Team Soggy Beavers) was a long, narrow, lightly-loaded hull propelled by Canadians using the most tried-and-true technology on the Pacific Northwest coast: the canoe paddle.  The next three fastest boats used pedal drives, assisted in some cases by a paddle: Hexagram 59 was relentless in their use of a supplementary SUP paddle (always on the port side!); Sea Runners occasionally took vigorous strokes with a canoe paddle.  Turn Point Design had a carbon fiber cat driven by the largest prop among the pedal-powered boats.

One interesting pattern is that the 7 top speeds were obtained with less traditional methods (not rowing).  After them, came the three fastest boats that were rowed: the Boatyard Boys (small boat, strong rowers; coincidentally almost matched by Team Mau with an athwartship pedal system), Elsie Piddock (the winners of the windy 2015 R2AK), and MOB Mentality.  This pattern hints that there are still speed gains to be made by both rowers and technological innovators.  This year Colin Angus and Mathieu Bonnier will bring a LOT of rowing experience to the race.

And Matt Johnson will bring some serious pedal power.  His interest in pedal-powered boats is partly fueled by an interest in breaking the World record for 24-hour distance in a human powered boat.  This Google spreadsheet of human-powered boat speed records and measurements shows how high the bar has been set over the years — primarily by pedal boats and kayakers.    The speeds maintained over 24-hours have been creeping up over the decades.  Kayaks have gone from 8.04 kph in 1988 to 10.15 kph in 2013, while pedal-powered boats have increased dramatically from 3.76 kph in 2000 to 10.22 in 2008.

Overall the 2015 R2AK boat speeds over those first 10.5 km bracket the speeds maintained over long distances by rowers and kayakers (3-5 kph; e.g. Colin and Julie rowing across the Atlantic averaged 3.9 kph).  But the upper R2AK speeds aren’t far from the World record paces of pedal-boater Greg Kolodziejzyk (10.5 kph) or Bellingham-based kayaker Brandon Nelson (10.22 kph).  The top sprinting speeds achieved historically indicate an upper edge of what current technology may soon deliver over a long course like the R2AK (ignoring factors that limit human endurance): 17.6 kph for Gordie Nash in a pedal boat; 20.55 kph (11 knots!) for Olympic kayak men’s K4 sprint.

Who do you think will beat the “Point Gonzales record” (of 5 knots) this year?

For the competition to be “fair” from year to year, the current situation should be about the same.  It looks like Jake did a good job of leveling the playing field:

2016-06-26 Sun  5:14 AM PDT   Sunrise
2016-06-26 Sun  5:26 AM PDT    0.0 knots  Slack, Flood Begins
2016-06-26 Sun  6:47 AM PDT    0.9 knots  Max Flood
2016-06-26 Sun  8:24 AM PDT   -0.0 knots  Slack, Ebb Begins
2016-06-26 Sun 12:18 PM PDT   -4.2 knots  Max Ebb
2016-06-26 Sun  3:57 PM PDT    0.0 knots  Slack, Flood Begins
2016-06-26 Sun  6:55 PM PDT    4.5 knots  Max Flood
2016-06-26 Sun  9:19 PM PDT   Sunset

The slack will come about an hour later this year, but the max ebb is about a knot less than last year.  May the best technology and most powerful racer win!


First salt water launch and initial speed data

IMG_0325On Sunday (5/22/2016), Team Take Me to the Volcano launched the “V16 R2AK” at the Secret Beach in Ballard, Seattle.  Around 6pm Matt, Mark Dix (Team The Windsurfer, Stage 1 R2AK, 2015), and Scott finished bolting iakos to amas, having leveled the main hull and amas before drilling the final bolt holes in the inboard end of the iakos.  We loaded up the main hull on Mark’s car and the amas on Scott’s and headed (carefully, remembering Colin’s tragedy) down the curvy road to Puget Sound.

At the beach Chris and Mik met us and helped unload onto the sandy beach.  High tide was approaching, so once we re-connected the amas and main hull with some help from Sam (of Team Puffin, R2AK 2015), set up the seat and other gear, it was easy for Matt to pull the boat into the sea.

With Matt aboard and a fair amount of gear, the step out from the lower to upper hull was 95-105 cm above sea level.  We tried loading 50 pounds of weight behind the seat, but thought that pushed the rudder assembly a little too deep.  When Matt was pushing hard the steering arms on the rudder were mostly submerged.  With the 50 pounds removed, the rudder arms were clear of the water (except when waves passed over it).  Overall, it looks like it will be helpful to get some more weight up forward — which of course will happen when the sailing rig gets stepped (just forward of the forward beam).

With the initial trim set and some confidence that it wasn’t leaking, Matt brought the boat back to shore for a proper Christening.  Lisa and Ciana had arrived with champagne and proceeded to help Matt name the boat “Rouleur.”  The beautiful Douglas fir bows were glowing in the setting sunlight, glistening with the recent heavy rains, and foaming with celebratory champagne as we all hailed the arrival of another fine boat on our ocean planet!

Matt then took Rouleur out for another longer spin.  A few minutes after he had disappeared “upstream” toward the Ballard locks, it was an awesome sight to see him blaze bast a couple cruising kayaks.  It seemed he was suddenly off towards Ketchikan at high speed!  But he eased off on the power at the last-minute and circled back to us.  Near the beach a set-screw gave in to the tremendous torques Matt was pushing through the right angle drive, so our sea trials of the pedal propulsion system had to cease.  It was easy to return to the beach with gentle pedaling, and earlier it was clear that the back-up human power method of a SUP paddle was also effective.

Matt takes a seat he’ll sit in a LOT.
The view seaward from the hot seat.


Map of the 2nd test run (w/50 pound weights).
Speed vs distance plot for 2nd circuit.  Cruising speed was 8-10 kph.

The initial speed data suggest that in flat water and no wind, Matt should be able to keep this boat in the 5-10 kph range pretty easily.  Remember for the ~1200 km Race to Alaska, 10 kph mean VMG will get you to Ketchikan in about 5 days; 5 kph will get you there in 10!  Averaging 15 kph 24/7 will beat Elsie Piddock’s record handily; you’ll be there in 3.3 days!

For comparison, when Greg set the world record for distance in a human-powered boat over 24 hours, he averaged 10.22 kph.  Here’s a spreadsheet of long(-ish) distance speed means for human-powered boats.  While sprinting kayaks can hit 17-20 kph, a huge question in the 2016 R2AK — especially if there are extended windless periods — is whether Matt’s cycling prowess and the Rouleur’s pedal-propulsion system can sustain ~10 kph over significant stretches of the BC coast.

Longer 3rd run (50 pound weights removed).
Speed vs distance for 3rd, longer circuit. Top speed was about 13 kph, average about 10 kph!

My favorite part of the evening was seeing Rick Willoughby‘s design assembled and afloat.  The curved iakos seemed to connect in a near-circular arc.  Rouleur seemed perched on the water’s surface, wings outstretched — both embracing the sea and poised ready to streak across it.

IMG_0310 IMG_0318

2000 hours to the Race to Alaska start

First Workout. snapped by Ciana
First Workout. snapped by Ciana

2000 hours until the start of the Race to Alaska!
Back in November when I started building this boat I did a couple easy trainer rides to start towards getting back in shape, but before my workouts totaled 1 hr, my time gave way to boat building. In the last four months,  aside from family and work, most of my time has been working in the shop. This has come at the detriment of all else. I keep reminding myself to start workouts, but then I look at my calendar, my long list of jobs, and I forget to exercise.
So today was workout #1. I’m calling myself out here, because I can’t afford to slack off. From here on out I’m waking up early for a short but intense workout. My baseline is commuting to work, which is about 7.5 miles each way,  three days a week. So a whopping 45 miles a week :(.
Today I warmed up for 5 minutes and then held over 300 watts for 20 minutes. I’m guessing I averaged 320 watts. I’ve never trained with power, so I don’t even know if that is any good.
I’m writing this while I cool down. Now its time to make Ciana breakfast, take her to school, and get out the the shop.