Field Report: Undeterred: The ins and outs of buying and sailing a boat you’ve never seen before

June 21, 2022
By Jim Meyers, Field Reporter

If the roughly 750 miles of wild currents, swells, unpredictable winds and vast stretches of remote, ocean wilderness (and bears) of the Race to Alaska lead you to believe that the humans who embark on this challenge are seasoned sailors and paddlers of such fickle waters, you’re right. Even the youngest adults on the course have at least tasted such things before, with some spinning tales of great ocean races across the globe before they’ve fully traversed their second decade.

If, on the other hand, you thought that all the folks subjecting themselves to this madness have been over the tiniest details with a fine-toothed comb for years in preparation, you’d be flat wrong. In fact, it’s their experience that enables them to clear seemingly insurmountable hurdles to get here on short notice, with sailing vessels some have never seen before. For some though, the hurdles just keep coming.

Enter Boris Rohou and Nathalie Fouet of France and, more recently, Team Loustic SuperSonic, of the R2AK, of Port Townsend, of…never mind.

While plans were hatched in Boris’ mind over a year ago, things didn’t formally get underway until last fall when he met Nathalie on an ocean race.

With Nathalie on board, the first order of business was finding something to actually get on board of. Getting a boat from France to the US was cost and resource prohibitive, and their dream boat recommendation from R2AK veteran Doug Shoup of a Seascape 18 was not in the cards because (surprise, surprise) no one would insure a boat being entered in an unsupported, motorless race by two French nationals up the Inside Passage. So, Boris did what any sensible person would do in the year 2022—he started combing Craigslist for a boat he didn’t even need to insure.

With the help of some stateside colleagues, they located a Santana 20 for cheap and called it good. What could possibly go wrong?

Having your boat about 6,000 miles away does present some problems in preparing it for a 750-mile motorless race, but Boris was undeterred.

You heard it right. Boris built a scale model of the Santana 20 out of cardboard and set to designing the human-powered elements of his mystery craft. Thankfully, those were not cardboard but, all the same, they did not survive the flight to Seattle, just two weeks prior to the start of the race, when he and Nathalie would finally see their boat for the first time. Still undeterred, Boris was gifted a rowing kit from a past race team, got it installed and then found some oars locally—the day before the race—that ended up being about a foot too short, leaving precious little oar in the water to propel a fully laden 20-footer.

Once again, I present undeterred Boris and Nathalie:

And 12 hours later, Boris and Nathalie set off on the start of the very aptly named Proving Ground leg of the 2022 R2AK. The now-infamous conditions tossed and torqued their boat delivering one last­—and nearly race-ending­—surprise, as the rivets holding the deck to the hull popped, opening up a six-foot hole in the middle of big water. But that’s a story for another time. Suffice to say, it’s all fixed up “better than new” and Boris and Nathalie are settling into their brand-new-to-them boat just fine, undeterred, because that’s the R2AK way to roll. Stay tuned for more.

Note: as of 6/21/22 @ 12 am, Team Loustic SuperSonic is exiting Johnstone Strait, roughly 253 NM to the Bella Bella checkpoint, with no sign of stopping.

Jim Meyers, field reporter
Jim is a commercial and adventure photographer and writer based in Seattle, Washington, drawn to cover the R2AK because of an insatiable thirst for “Type II Fun” adventures.

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