Team Wee Free Men 2019 Race to Alaska

Team Wee Free Men

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Team members: Andrew Akehurst, Trevor Bennet
Hometown: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Race vessel: Chesapeake Light Craft Faering 22.5 Cruiser
LOA: 22.5′
Human propulsion: Rowing stations
Connect: facebook, instagram

Lapstrake.

If you’ve never waded nerd deep into the wooden boat world, you might not know what it is, but actually you probably do. Imagine a Viking ship. Dragon in the front, shields along the sides, probably oars and a single square-ish sail. Now imagine the hull or, if you’ve only dipped your toe into the pool of boat knowledge, the boaty part.

Hold on.

Before that, imagine a canoe. Pointy on both ends, smooth and small. Back to the Viking ship vision board: think of the hull/boaty part. Big, not smooth. Ridges, right? Every plank on the hull overlaps the one below and slips under the one above; like longitudinal shingles that stretch from the dragon’s head to whatever anatomically correct part of the dragon is carved on the other end (honestly, we didn’t check). Overlapping planks, or strakes: lapstrake… or for reasons we can only chalk up to the millennia-old need for sailors to talk like our sole aim is to confuse people and tee up lame dirty jokes, lapstrake is also known as “clinker built.”

Clinker? Hardly know her.

Viking boats had the same-ish long and narrow canoe proportions but they got big; at known lengths that topped 120 feet they were way too big for the ‘find a tree and hollow it out’ construction methods of canoes being built at the same time in big-tree pre-history of R2AK-landia. Lapstrake construction made it possible for boats to be made out of wood that was smaller than the entire tree. Take a tree and rip it lengthwise into planks that overlap and create stiffness; the overlap effectively doubles the thickness of the wood. It was a quantum leap of design from days of finding a big tree, removing its limbs, and notching out a place to sit. Today: 3D printing and carbon fiber. 4th century: Lapstrake was a cutting edge design when axes and adzes were the cutting edge of actual cutting edges.

Maybe it’s that the look harkens to Vikings, or maybe it’s that the physics have remained the same even as the materials evolved, but lapstrake still performs great, looks classy, creates stiffness in wood (too easy, leaving that dirty joke where we found it), and sounds incredible when it moves through the water—the ripples of the bow wake play in all of the hollows created by the spaces where one plank meets another. The sound is like the sea is applauding good design.

The crew? Victoria-BC residents, Canadian-bred sailors, and outdoor adventurers turned boatbuilders trained at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, the humans of Team Wee Free Men have joined the lapstrake revolution/odd vowel combo resistance and built a small, modern take on the Viking ship: a 22’ Faering from the folks at Chesapeake Light Craft. Glued lapped strakes of marine plywood allow for a light construction that’s economically created, easily driven, and punches way above its weight in its ability to punch through a blow. The 4th century hull tech is augmented by space-age epoxy, centerboard, two sliding seat rowing stations, and carbon fiber oars.

Will they win? Absolutely not. It would be a cold/busy day in Valhalla if the fates aligned to sweep the lead fleet out of the way to allow Team Wee Free Men into the money, but their boat is purpose built and cool. Even if no one shows to hear them ring the bell in Ketchikan (which will never happen, KTN fans don’t stop!) the sea will applaud their lapstraked final approach.

Welcome to the R2AK, Team Wee Free Men. Despite all of our praise, given your name and your home city, it is impossible for us not to sing your name like a Christmas carol: ‘We Free Men, of Victoria are…’

Welcome to our hell.