2015 June 29 – The story of the Boatyard Boys


There have been faster teams. 13 to be exact. There have been teams whose stories center around conflict, overcoming equipment failures, crew dissension, besting the elements and vision quest level fatigue. But so far, we’re not sure any team has had more fun than Team Boatyard Boys, who last night bounded off their 17-foot salvaged rowboat with gusto and humor that seemed as genuine as it was limitless. Well rested and in high spirits, other than a recently-acquired aversion to Ramen noodles, these guys lacked the shell-shocked look and deprecating laughter of “Thank god that’s over” that has become the language of the R2AK finish line. Team Boatyard Boys laughed out a different message: “Let’s do it again.”

A couple weeks back Team Mau hipped us to the idea of Type 2 fun, which as close as we can tell is the fun-like feeling you get from looking at adversity in the rearview mirror. It sucks in the moment, it sucks in the future, but thinking back about how cool you were for enduring a week and a half of sleeping in your jib… in the past you can revel, especially knowing you will never have to do it again. The difference between fun and Type 2 fun? 2-4 weeks.

Team Boatyard Boys might have invented Type 3 fun – the “It sucks, isn’t it great!” type of fun. Starting with the boat they pulled from a decade-long stint in a blackberry bush, the Boatyard Boys have handled their adversity like a celebration, a Mexican birthday with a piñata filled with hardship. They knew what was inside, but hitting it was too much fun to put down the stick. Starting with pulling a derelict hull out of the blackberry bushes and culminating in 750 miles on a tiny rowboat with an improvised set of sails.

The first two words that enter your head looking at their boat: cool, small. To be clear: there have been smaller boats that finished, and finished faster. At a hair under seventeen feet, Roger Mann’s Hobie Adventure Island is roughly the same length. “Really?” and “Jesus” are the first two words when people think of his trip to Alaska on a rotomolded, pedal driven, sit-on-top kayak that lacks any cabin and approximates a carnal cocktail of a kayak, a pool toy, and a log ride. Roger’s trip to Alaska was an incredible feat, a vision quest of death-defying minimalism, but for all of its legend, “fun” didn’t stand a chance. (See update titled: Roger Mann: so cool sheep count him).

Team Boatyard Boys’ boat is so small that it doesn’t even need a trailer; it will make the 700 mile return trip crammed into the back of a Suburban. “It hangs out a bit, but whatever – it’s great!”   To say the boat’s cabin is cramped is an insult to cramped cabins everywhere. It’s roughly the same footprint as a double bed, with two bottom corners cut off, that you have to sleep underneath. The two crew of Team Boatyard not only were able to Houdini themselves out of their dry suits in less than 24 inches of headroom and sleep/cook/live during their off-shift, but both simultaneously slept in their clamshell-sized cabin for five nights on the anchor. They slept great and were happy. Clam happy. “I’d stay down there and read Steinbeck – I had three pages left of ‘Tortilla Flats’ I was saving for the end of the trip but the wind picked up on the last stretch and I had to help sail.”

Their boat lacked the storage for enough water, so they had to reclaim water from the streams that cascaded into the sea; one guy on the oars to get the boat close enough to the rocks to get water but not so close they dashed into the rocks, one guy in his rain gear on the bow with his head turned and arm outstretched, both laughing their asses off.

How was their boat? “Perfect, nothing broke!” A fact they were justifiably proud to point out since the reason the boat floated at all was a result of their own skill and hands; pretty incredible considering that just six months of after-work effort separated their wooden boat from ten years of languishing in the bushes. The work kept up during the trip when they made new rigging to keep the mast from breaking, rebuilt their centerboard by tipping their boat over on the beach, and even invented new special Venturi-inducing, duct tape cowlings that transformed holes they drilled into the side of their hull from sucks to drains.

In the same breath that they talked about how they just couldn’t sail the boat well to weather in 20 knots of wind, they gushed about how great it rowed.  “We could do three, three and a half knots 24 hours a day if the weather wasn’t blowing stink. We’re the best rowing boat in the fleet!” They sailed for two days in the beginning, two days in the end, and rowed the remaining 18. Eighteen days on the oars; their longest stretch was four days nonstop. They rowed in the open water but just as often close to the shore to stay out of the contrary current, and rowed in the back eddies, so close  that they would have to heel the boat over to make sure the mast wouldn’t get stuck in the overhanging trees.

Were they wet? Not really. They called their drybags damp bags, and the chia seeds in their oatmeal sprouted, but would make a point of heading to the beach when their clothes and spirits would dampen too much. “The resets were key.” Within four minutes (self-reported time) there would be a fire going and gear drying out; once they even heated up rocks in the fire to take with them. “It added 30 pounds but it kept the cabin warm and dry for two days!” In total they had five campfires, slept ashore and only woke up once to the rising tide. “I woke up because my feet were wet, and all of our stuff was floating away!” Once, there was an unexpected swim call as their boat started sailing off, sails were set and unattended. All with the shake of a head and a smile. All in good fun.

Their food? So good. “I have a secret recipe for pesto pasta… it’s mostly pasta and pesto!” Friends sent them off with a full holster of curries and pesto that they would dump into one of two thermos (one for sweet, one for savory) along with instant noodles and boiling water and leave for 20 minutes, or leave for the next guy. Result: “mashed potato” pasta they they would extract with a spoon. In three weeks the two of them went through five cans of sweetened condensed milk. So good.

Were they physically affected? Not really. They lost ten pounds, their hands ripped to shreds from their 5 hours on/5 hours off routine on the oars, but it wasn’t the most athletic thing they’d done in their lives; more like  normal day at work. “We have physical jobs, we’re on our feet and working hard all day.  Five on and five off is a really reasonable schedule. Not too long to row and we don’t get 12 hours of sleep in our regular lives.” They were ready to be back on their feet again; 22 days of rowing and living perched on a boat that two people can lift up the beach means a lot of very attentive sitting. They were the ballast that kept their boat upright. Sailing was a two person affair, especially after they got knocked down, the second time. They laughed about that too, and reminded us with utmost sincerity that the boat did great.

Like the R2AK itself, at its inception Team Boatyard Boys’ plan sounded like a pretty bad idea to most people, but we were all having too much fun not to see it through. Tim and Patrick weren’t blind to the trials and challenges of traversing BC’s wild coast in a boat most people would consider small for a dinghy, or the fact they didn’t win. They were aware of all of it, and had a blast. After laughing their way through the first few recountings of their adventure they seemed to have just as much energy as they did when they started, and possibly more enthusiasm.  “Everyone should do this trip! It’s not that hard if you can just take a month and do it. We want to do it next year (race or not) but build another one of these boats – exactly the same – and then bring along two new people.” We hope they share their brash optimism with their new crew, with us, and get it to spread to as many others as possible. Bulletproof resiliency never looked like a better time.