Team members: Nick DeLorme, Aron Uchitelle, Clint Thompson, Matthew Fahey, Stanford Siver
Hometown: Port Townsend, Washington, USA
Race vessel: 38′ Morecambe Bay Prawner
Human propulsion: “We’re choosing steady southerlies”…meaning “We have no idea.”
There’s a crappy old movie centered on the premise of a 1980s era aircraft carrier wandering into a storm and getting time warped back to just before Pearl Harbor. Once you get past the bad science and the analog CGI, the movie boils down to the question/revenge fantasy of just how much ass a modern carrier could kick with the technological advantage of nuclear power and jets and rockets and radar and stuff. Answer: a lot.
Team Ziska seemingly watched that movie and wondered, “What would happen if we did the opposite?” and chose a boat that reverse time-warped back 115 years to a time when the fastest way to transmit information was to strap it to a horse. Team Ziska’s water stallion is a 52-foot cutter with a modernized metaphor inventory that can now reach top speeds nearing bicycle. Everything about Team Ziska’s wooden time warp is heavy. The hull is planked with English pitch pine on oak frames fastened with iron boat nails (really light compared to lead or plutonium)—the whole thing weighs in at 12 tons (TONS). The rig itself weighs more than many of the boats in the race: solid wood spars, steel rigging, and canvas sails are made even heavier due to the fact that this is a gaff rigger so it has an additional solid wood spar at the top edge of the sail.
We know that the R2AK has turned into a bucket list vision quest of passage, or whatever, but to be clear, this is a race. If you come in first you get money.
Entering Ziska in the trimaran-infested waters of the Race to Alaska is like Civil War reenactors starting a street gang and pushing for territory in Compton (at the request of the team we have redacted the specific location and instead ask you to insert your favorite gang ridden racially neutral neighborhood that is definitely not Compton), taking corners one muzzle-loaded ride-by shooting at a time.
Team Ziska rolls heavy with boat and talent. What they lack in judgment, the Ziska boys make up for in yarbidar saltiness that one might expect from the crew of a gaffer; belts with knives and marlin spikes, eating hard tack and salt beef, and shantying their pants off while they pick things out of their beards. This crew has gone big water sailing, small water sailing, lived on sheep farms, rigged boats, made sails, made sawdust fly as they replaced wood that wasn’t heavy enough with heavier wood—they probably even made their own oars. That’s right: if there is no wind they are going to row 12 tons, and if they need more horsepower they are bringing a secret weapon: a rowboat. Suddenly joining a muzzle loader gang doesn’t seem so silly now, does it?
Mad skills, crazy experience, 19th century technology—if instead of June we had made the choice to hold the race in the 1600’s, they’d win for sure.
Are heavy boats actually faster? Could Ziska’s luddite strategy pay off for the payoff? No, but the boat is cool, and getting a trimaran to Alaska has been done to death. Short tacking a gaffer into the full 40 knots of Johnstone Strait elevates awful to that next level; an innovation in R2AK suffering that’s only possible when you peel back the technological onion to its core.
Welcome to the R2AK, Team Ziska, we hope you packed your warm pair of breeches and enough sheep fat to keep your oilskins oily.