While it’s news to no one reading this, 13 days and change after the Victoria restart Colin Angus pulled up to the dock in Ketchikan, rang the bell, and became the first solo finisher of the 2016 R2AK. Teams turned out to celebrate IRL, the internet cheered, and small boaters throughout the world allowed themselves between 30 seconds and an ongoing amount of time for alternating thoughts of “I could do that.” and “There is no way I could do that.” It was a great day.
In case a 13 day trip up the inside passage on a fricking rowboat doesn’t speak it loud enough, let us offer some perspective: Colin is an impressive guy. National Geographic doesn’t just pass out the title “Adventurer of the Year” to anyone who shows up with a beard and an ice axe. Colin earned his spurs legit. Round the world by rowboat and bicycle might sound like a quest laid down by a bored and mean-spirited deity who had already clicked through all the channels on Direct TV and finding nothing, sent a grown up kid from Vancouver Island on a human powered mission with a single instruction: “West, until you get back here.” Colin did it, won that god a bar bet, and secured himself a place in adventurers’ Mt Olympus and cemented in himself a seemingly insatiable thirst for more and harder. He might have been part of the early conversations that birthed the R2AK, and he may have goaded what would become R2AK High Command to stop talking about this thing and do it already, but today he stood in Ketchikan with another notch in his belt and $1,000 in his pocket as the first boat 20? and under—the champion of the Small Craft Advisor Magazine Side Bet. He also is the first boat to finish that was designed and built by the person onboard. Plus he’s a nice guy who is easy on the eyes. Colin is all kinds of incredible.
We know, Colin’s married (Hi Julie!) We’ll stop. Regardless of how dreamy Colin is for small boaters, wooden boaters, and pretty much everyone else, his accomplishment of finishing is even bigger since he’s the first solo boat to finish the R2AK. Everyone has been sleep deprived, everyone has rowed more than they thought/liked, but Colin is the first person in 2016 who has done it alone.
It’s no small feat to to get to Alaska, but solo is so much harder. So much. People had been sailing around the world since Magellan, but the 1968 Around the world race pit yachts and single man crews against the challenge of going around alone. The results don’t betray a minimal task of leisure. Of the nine teams that started , six dropped out, one sank, one went crazy and committed suicide, one went sane and just kept sailing, and Robin Knox-Johnston won by being the sole person to finish. There are lots of legends around that race, but if you just look at the stats, it’s easy to conclude one thing: solo is hard.
Look at your two hands, and now imagine they have to do everything. Rowing, sailing, fixing what broke, flailing, and rowing some more. You can row or make a sandwich. You can bandage yourself or fix that leak in the bow. You can post to social media or…well, actually, it seems that even if you are single handed you can just post to social media all the time. Colin did, and so is Thomas Nielson on Team SeaRunners, a rapid posting, slower going solo effort a few days back. Even Donald Trump can attest that it is inherently harder to sail shorthanded, especially when everyone else is rolling with a full set. The largest crew that finished was eight people, the average is just over three; A shorthanded softball team to a street basketball game and Colin decided to take them all on alone. “I like my own company. I daydream a lot.”
Colin Angus might have found the answer. He’s already one and a half men, but add to that a robot tiller and you have pretty close a double handed team. Some have asked if it is fair that he had an autopilot. A better question is whether or not it’s fair that he has a lifetime of preparations and adventures? Is it fair to put Colin “Maritime Hercules” Angus against mere mortals even though he has already “human” powered a circumnavigation around the world and then Vancouver Island in record time? No we aren’t going to take the suggestion that he should be required to drag a bucket, wear an eyepatch or some sort of clumsy suit just to make things closer to even. Even ain’t our game. Colin is that special mash up of hardcore, uber prepared, physically fit, good looking nice guy who routinely does the incredible. (Hi Julie!)
When he stepped off of his boat in Ketchikan, in the first 45 minutes of questions and celebration he talked to more people and spent more time off his boat that he had for the last two-ish weeks combined. He got water three times, the first two took him 5 minutes apiece at the faucet on the dock, the third time his boat slipped its lines and sailed across the harbor until it was crashed into a fishing boat “It picks up speed pretty well without the weight of a human onboard.” Colin had built his boat light and tough enough to stand up to the strain of sailing and rowing, but his zippy little eggshell skimped on the “running into fishing boats” category of preparedness and the termination of its first unmanned flight across the harbor punched a hole in the bow before Colin’s sneakers could remember how to sprint down one dock and then up another to dangle over the side and cushion the blow. A patch with 15 minute epoxy lived up to its name. Colin shoved off immediately and rowed into chop and swell 20 minutes later. This was a race after all, the epoxy can dry on its own time.
Like many in this light air year, Colin’s race amounted to long days on the oars, his longest ever. He’s rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and the Bering Sea but the day before he reached the finish line he rowed the longest day of his life:15 hours and 45 miles into a light headwind. Fifteen hours straight. If union rules apply he was in in double overtime plus meal penalty—serious bank, he should call his shop steward. Even before his last marathon day, Colin had been rowing, a lot. He’d chosen the inside route up the steep-sided Reid and Grenville Channels in an attempt to harness better current over the prospect of more wind, and even when he was sailing every moment was a decision based in a calculus of speed versus self-preservation “Am I going fast enough? Do I use my energy now and add the oars or save it up for when it’s even calmer? Is the wind dying or building? Where am I going to sleep?”
After an early morning near miss with an orca (“…right at me, literally inches from my boat!”) Colin was reminiscing on the trip and the remote coast of his native British Columbia (“It’s like you’ve gone to another world where humans don’t exist”) and thinking about his next adventures. “Not sure…” was his dockside answer to the inevitable and inevitably premature question of “What’s next?” In his never-ending quest for harder and more, he just got news that he was turned down for a plan to row the Atlantic in a boat made out of Legos; an absurdity that now lies in the same dustbin as the idea he was developing with the BBC to race two year olds up the tallest mountain in England. “The R2AK is probably more dangerous…” We’re not sure how we feel about that, but we’re glad he made it anyway, and are a little more suspicious about why he was sneaking off to toy stores. Welcome to Ketchikan, Colin Angus, this victory has been a long time coming.