There's a well-known folk adage out in the world, 'The proof of the pudding is in the eating.' But I was once told a variation of it this that has stuck with me, ‘The proof is in the winning.’
While it applies in some situations, it isn’t necessarily a universal truth across the board:
Sometimes, the most skilled team or passionate competitor doesn’t win.
Sometimes, the sailor with the longest waterline doesn’t cross the line first.
Sometimes, even the best-laid plan can be derailed by a simple run of bad luck.
It takes the culmination of skill, passion, design, plan and a bunch of other qualities to reliably come out on top.
That said, this year’s R2AK really demonstrated the truth of this saying: the proof is in the winning. Ken Deem of team Wave Forager made an impressive mark on this year's Race to Alaska -- in his self-designed and home-built boat, Lost Heron 2022.
We were on the edge of our seats watching the R2AK race tracker as we followed the progress of the Under 20s on the home stretch to Ketchikan. Who would win our Under 20 side bet?! There was not only $1,000 on the line, but a set of one of a kind tactical sporks, a custom-made trophy contributed by our good friend Brandon Davis at TurnPoint Design. And of course, the bragging rights that go with it.
Back when our prize was first announced, we got a few of folks on social media asking, "what the heck is a tactical spork?" Well, now you know:
Tactical Sporks: Because a set of steak knives is an impractical use of space on a small boat. ;)
Ken's impressive feat rowing himself to Alaska in his home-built boat ultimately won him not just one, but TWO side-bet prizes: our coveted Duckworks 20’ and Under prize of course, but also the Team Oaracle Blister prize awarded to the first team to finish in a human powered vessel! The Under 20 prize is historically expected to go to a sailboat -- yet Ken managed to outpace some of his sail-assisted competitors.
The proof is in the winning.
I recall looking over the teams for this year’s race in the weeks leading up to the start, particularly looking at the teams in boats 20’ and under. I noticed several boats; the modified Angus RowCruiser, the Faering and the surfski looked like front runners to me. But one boat stood out as unique and really caught my attention, which turned out to be Ken’s boat.
I noticed that the rowing station was quite far forward as opposed to further aft as you see on most other boats. Also, the planks looked different than I am accustomed to seeing. A sheer plank with multiple scallops out of it, two “elliptical” planks and what appeared to be a flat bottom.
How could this rowboat not catch your eye?
The Design Concept
Ken shared a bit about the design concept in Wave Forager's R2AK race bio:
"Lost Heron started as a 24-inch paper model riding the shag carpet in my living room in early 2022. It is now a 19.5 foot expedition scull carrying me forth in this 2023 R2AK adventure. In the design, I tried to maintain a responsive feeling at the catch while adding stability and storage. The build is a plywood stitch and glue construction. The rowing station is biased toward the bow, with storage hatches fore and aft. Sealed bulkheads with closed cell flotation are at the bow, stern, port and starboard. I added a 5 foot mast with navigation light and raised a generous splash skirt to keep the rowing station dry. From the rowing station there is room to secure essential daytime gear, a self bailer, rudder lines and of course the means of propulsion: slide, seat, rigger, oars and foot stretcher."
After the race, I had the pleasure of getting to speak with Ken for an hour or so after he returned home to Tacoma, WA. I was particularly interested in hearing him talk about his boat - the choices he made in the design process, what the build was like, and how those choices worked out on the water.
Those unusual design features that originally caught my eye were well thought out choices that Ken made when dreaming up his boat. When I asked about the rationale behind the forward location of the rowing station, he described a magic moment when you’ve finished your stroke and are recovering (returning to the beginning of your stroke), the boat has lifted slightly and has surged forward, and with a forward rowing station you can actually “surf your own wake.”
A smart idea, but would it work? Again, the proof is in the winning.
Ken at the race finish in Ketchikan. (Psst, if you know who took this pic, please let us know so we can give credit.)
The Build Process
As is commonly done with new boat designs, a scale model was built first. Ken made a paper model, from which all of the plank shapes for the full size boat were taken. Ken shared with us his photos of the build, and how the paper design translated into the real physical boat in his shop. He tells me that much of the transfer went well, except the forward “ellipse” didn’t quite work out - and a quick spilling of the shape was required.
Ken's paper model, showing the unique angles and shapes that make up the hull of 'Lost Heron 2022.'
The real boat ready for fiberglassing, cloth draped over those unique planks.
I didn’t directly ask Ken about the thought that went into the unique planks, but in looking at the build pictures I can see how that forward elliptical plank would both pierce waves at the stem, and provide lift as you transition aft. Without question, a winning design.
Ken was very generous with his time as I soaked up the conversation. He clearly had a purpose in mind, thought critically about how he wanted to solve the design challenges, and pulled it all together in a winning boat. Then he went out and persevered through 750 miles of rowing to arrive safely in Ketchikan, even beating some of the sailboats in the process.
The proof is in the winning.
Congratulations Ken, our hats are off to you sir!
Ken says, "It's like holding twins!"