If there is a single person who has captured the imagination of R2AK fan and racer alike, it’s without a question the humble force of nature that is Roger Mann, the solitary member of Team Discovery. While he might not believe or understand it, admiration for his effort has spread to the point where yesterday a Hobie Adventure Island was sailing off of Seattle, different color but the same boat as Roger’s, and a random sailboat came up and asked, “Are you going to Ketchikan next year?” Roger has become a household hero and made all of our eyes go wide with wonder, all of us astonished about what could be done on an unadulterated, rotomolded day sailer that was bolted together at the Maritime Center two days before the race. No kidding, he bought a boat and had it shipped to Port Townsend because it was cheaper than roundtrip shipping for his regular boat. The Hobie was still ensconced in cardboard 48 hours before the starting gun.
So much of our race coverage has been conjecture and extrapolation; reconstructing the “what probably was” from the fragments we could gather, then weaving them into threads of a story that we hoped approached the truth. With Roger, our Race Boss was smart enough to hit record on Roger’s fresh-off-the-boat perspective, and captured his story on the dock as he touched down in Ketchikan.
The quality of the recording is too rough to share directly, but here are some of the raw transcriptions – far more compelling than any steaming pile of metaphors that we could offer. This is from the horse’s mouth, recorded minutes after he arrived. It wanders a bit, but give the guy a break, he just stepped off his boat. Prepare to be amazed:
R2AK: Was it hard being out there, all by yourself?
Roger: I had all kinds of hallucinations, I had friends all around me. I was seeing a lot of folks…I wasn’t too lonely.
R2AK: How many hours a day did you spend on the water?
Roger: About 20 hours a day. Every day of the race I was cold to the bone. So cold my eyeballs would hurt.
R2AK: How did the mirage drive work for you?
Roger: It worked killer, its a three, three and a half miles an hour. Anything with more current and you’re not going anywhere. You can do about 4 miles per hour by “motor-sailing.”
On going through Seymour Narrows at night:
“It was a good thing and a bad thing. It was a good thing I couldn’t see some of the stuff, and a bad thing I couldn’t see some of the stuff. It was terrible. I was looking up at waves that were three quarters the way up my mast, and it was 20 knots or so on the nose and standing everything straight up, so I was going up and over… and that was the first time I’ve ever been washed off my boat.”
R2AK: You got washed off your boat?
Roger: I had my leash on so I got back on, but I got completely knocked off the boat because I went over one and right up the next (waves) and they were so close together and I got washed right off the boat.
(At this point there is nervous laughter from multiple people, who all pause in disbelief.)
R2AK: And you were able to get back on?
Roger: Yeah, I had a uh, surfboard leash, so all I did was crawl back on. But when I washed off I broke my tiller bar, so it was just back there all mangled up. I lost both my tiller bars. I lost a lot of stuff.
R2AK: After you stitched up your own thumb in Victoria, did you have to do it again? (Roger’s only injury of the trip was a thumb he slashed with a box cutter cutting open the Hobie Island. He stitched it up himself. Twice.)
Roger: No, I restitched it that once and that was enough. I don’t know what happened to my hands. I stopped in Port McNeil because my hands were so swollen.
Johnstone Strait killed my GPS and my chart plotter. You can imagine that chop and that boat, you’re not going to have anything dry. My SPOTs are in dry bags but they still are wet, I tried to pick up a GPS in McNeill but they didn’t have anything.
This lady that parked me (in Port McNeil), Linda, it was about a quarter to five and she got off at 5 and she hung around until about 5:30 and actually drove me to a couple of places to try to find a GPS. She was the nicest lady. At about a 5:30 she said “well I’ve already been off so I’m going to have to go,” but she came back later and gave me an apple pie and a great big thing of yogurt covered raisins, and the first thing I did was sit right down and eat the whole pie. The whole thing.
On pitchpoling on Cape Caution:
“You know Blunden Bay? It’s right on the cape. I had read the book ‘Row, Paddle, Sail’ to Alaska by an older couple, they talked about stopping there, that it was real nice. The Cape was kicking my ass, and it was just getting dark. Big swells, and I was like, ‘They said it was clear, I’m heading in and I missed the dismount.’ I’ve done a pitchpole before, but when I pitchpoled I kinda went to the side on the right. These akas come out. They have plastic bolts that will break away. So, as soon as this ama hit the ground it folded backwards and the, uh, mast hit the ground and I went out of it and then grabbed the mast so it didn’t go all the way over, a pitchpole straight over like a somersault? It was more like a 45 degree, boom and then right back up. The whole problem was that all these waves that pitchpoled me were now beating me up on shore, pushing the boat towards the shore, and I didn’t know that there was anything going on at all until I actually got on shore, and I was pinned to the ground being covered by waves… because there was like 40 pounds of water in both legs (of his drysuit) …I, I couldn’t move. I was pulling myself and my boat up the beach. I was absolutely pinned to the ground. When I finally drug up my drysuit was about two feet extra, because all of the water was in the bottom, and I finally just had to cut the legs off. I took off my vest and cut it because that was the only way I could get out of the water.
By this time all of my gear was all over the whole beach. So I started a fire, got my hypothermia bag, let everything wash up, got my dry clothes, got myself ok, and then I started walking around with my flood light, picking stuff up and trying to dry it out. Needless to say my GPS was done, everything I had that was electronic was shot. It was gone.
I made a choice to go in there, it was probably a bad choice, but I wasn’t making any headway into the current… I could have been pitchpoled offshore with my zipper (of his drysuit) still open, and gone straight to the bottom. So… one of the hairier experiences of the trip.”
When a shortcut turned into a rock climbing expedition:
“Yesterday, I started going straight up from Bella Bella and it was all kind of snakey and I was really rushing to get through there. I knew I was pushing it, and I was about to get out and I remembered that there was all kinds of current that run through these rapids into a little pond, and all of a sudden I hit current and I was like, oh. I pedaled like crazy to get to another turn, it was probably only about 70, 80 foot wide, 30-40 yards wide, and it was ripping through there. So I tried my best to pedal over to the side, jumped off the boat and started to get swept away. And I said “I’m not going to get stuck here for 6-8 hours.” So I started walking the boat up rocks along the side. It worked really good until I got to the end and there was nothing to walk on. I could just slide all the way down, and I was wearing my drysuit at the time, and I held on to a little finger hold in the rocks, holding the boat, and you can imagine my legs getting swept back (from the force of the current) like you were in a tidal current. I was pulling myself forward to the next finger hold, like for around 50 feet until I made it around the little squeezed point, and I could sail into it. But I didn’t get stuck. I just didn’t want to be stuck there for 8 hours.”
On going to shore in Bella Bella:
“First thing I did was went to the store and got two ice cream cookie sandwiches, and a quart of milk, and I devoured that like you would not believe. The first thing I did when I got to Campbell River I took a shower, then walked into McDonalds and ate four Big Macs, I wished I would have gotten five.”
“I got stranded high and dry twice, stranded by about 100 yards. I had to bring logs under the bow and get it high enough to get a portage cart under it and then roll the boat back to the water. That was in Johnstone Strait right before the pitchpole disaster.”
“When I did the pitchpole thing I lost my anchor, so I didn’t have one after that. I lost a lot of stuff. I learned to tie up to kelp. That’s what I did last night (6/18). All I had was a map and it was very calm, very… it was more cloudy than it was fog, but you couldn’t see crap. You couldn’t see 50 feet in front of you.
I made a lot of mistakes. I made a ton of mistakes. ”
To meet Roger Mann is to meet someone so grounded that you can’t actually tell where the earth stops and Roger begins. The strength he radiates possesses the same inevitability as plate tectonics – massive, gradual, resolute and unending. His eyes never stir, never animate past absolute placidity even in the recounting of his harrowing R2AK that stretched even his limits just up to the breaking point. Roger’s river of chi runs still and deep.
We started the R2AK to celebrate and honor resiliency and individual accomplishment that come from adventure. Roger Mann would never seek the role, but if we had a poster he’d be our poster boy. We could not be more impressed.