Field Report: Team Bangarang: A Homemade Boat, a Homemade Adventure

July 3, 2022
By Lynnette Oostmeyer, Field Reporter

James Gibling of Team Bangarang says he found out about the Race to Alaska by accident. He was looking for a boat that he could row and sail, and he just happened to see a picture of Colin Angus standing up in a little boat, an Angus RowCruiser. He felt that this setup was exactly what he was looking for. After chatting with Colin he learned that the boat was originally designed for the Race to Alaska; the first R2AK run with this boat was done by Colin himself, who made the trip in less than two weeks.

When James first decided to build this boat, his dad, Norman Gibling, was battling cancer. Norman, who lived on a boat for 21 years and worked with wooden boats when he was younger, was thrilled to see James take on this project. It was a stitch and glue boat, so he couldn’t help James with a lot of the work, but he helped cut all the copper ties to stick the boat together.

“I feel like the spirit of this race is to build your own boat,” James said. “I can turn plywood from Home Depot into a boat that can take me to Alaska.”

It’s in James’ blood to make something out of very little. His dad used to say that anyone can just go out and buy something, but you’re really a craftsman if you can take something that’s not even designed to do what you need it for and make it work. “If you can surf a door, then you’re truly a surfer,” Norman would say. At 16 James received a beat up longboard as a gift from his dad, and they fixed it up together.

Norman would say that a really skilled person doesn’t need something fancy to make it work. James said he received a ton of great tips and advice from his dad while building the boat. Unfortunately Norman did not get to see the boat completed, but James said he knew where his son planned to go with it and was so excited for him.

James knew nothing about rowing before building this boat. To learn, he watched YouTube videos or filmed himself and sent the clips to friends to critique his technique. He was so impressed by the row teams this year. He said that at the start he figured he would be able to keep up with the rowers, but quickly realized how dialed in they were.

“They are just in a whole different league,” James said. “So if I could be within a hundred miles of their shadow, I would be doing good.”

James made it to Bella Bella on Thursday and had already decided that this would be his last stop in the race. Even with blistered hands he said his body and spirit were fine, he was simply out of time.

He was however surprised to be the last solo standing, and said he was a bit bummed that no solos would finish this year’s race. He talked for a while with Lillian Kuehl of Team Interstice about what it was like to be a solo racer; she had also decided to end her run the day before. They were the last two solos in the race.

“Conditions weren’t even super terrible this year, it was just that they were consistently not favorable,” James said.

James said that he probably wont do the race again, but he and his wife are planning to come back and kayak the Inside Passage. He joked that he’ll ring the bell in Ketchikan, even if he has to bring his own. He says he’ll finish the race, just on his own timeline.

“I think there’s something about putting your own spirit and energy into something and creating your adventure,” James said. “The trip didn’t start in Port Townsend, and if I made it ten miles, or fifty miles or a hundred miles, this was just an excuse to go see this awesome part of the world in a homemade boat on a homemade adventure.”


Lynnette Oostmeyer, field reporter
Lynnette is a freelance visual journalist based in northwestern Oregon, who focuses on documentary photography and short documentary filmmaking.

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