One man against the sea

Rory Wilson in his boat, KROS, on a test run in the Pacific Ocean. - Rory Wilson photo
Rory Wilson in his boat, KROS, on a test run in the Pacific Ocean.
— image credit: Rory Wilson photo

The sea is full of big dreams and big ideas.

Tales of big white whales or great white sharks requiring “even bigger boats” have always been popular. And over time, ships have grown larger to wrestle with the expansive sea.

But one day a Bainbridge Island man looked out at the ocean and thought to himself: I’m gonna need a smaller boat.

Next September, Rory Wilson, a math teacher at Bainbridge High School, plans to cross the Pacific Ocean in a small 7-meter-long vessel, using only the power of his oars and a little help from the wind.

“The boat is a combination of rowing and kites,” Wilson said.

He originally began building the small boat in 2006. The result is a Kevlar-and-fiberglass boat capable of carrying one person and a little bit of storage.

Wilson named the boat KROS; kite, row, ocean and solar — the main elements that power the boat.

His trip will take him from San Diego beach to the shores of Hawaii.

From there, he has a couple of options depending on the weather conditions, as well as his own. He will either head north and grab the western flowing winds to take him back to the Pacific Northwest, or head south, hopping from island to island.

“I would go onto

Fiji, Samoa, on down to

Vanuatu, then up to Guam, and up north and catch the westerlies,” Wilson said.

The closer he can get to the trade winds, the less rowing he will need to do, he said.

The reason the winds are so important to Wilson’s trip is that he plans to use the natural force to propel his boat, though not in the manner many might expect. This is no sailboat.

“I have 20 different kites,” Wilson said.

“I’m using some great big delta kites, they are carbon fiber and nylon. In addition to those, I have some big power kites, like the kite boarders use.”

Each kite serves a different purpose.

“If I’m using the kite boarding type of kites, I have to fly them in a figure eight to get maximum thrust out of them,” Wilson said. “So you are physically flying a kite.”

“The big delta’s that I stack, those are passive kites, I can put them up and get some rest,” he said.

Unlike sailboats that will turn sideways under the force of the wind, Wilson’s boat is more apt to plane across the water.

“The kites, as they pull, I get forward thrust and upward lift,” Wilson said. “So this boat planes really easily.”

There is a 7-foot-long cabin that Wilson will be able to slide into for sleeping. Aside from that shelter, the only other space on the boat is being used for storage.

The boat is equipped with a satellite phone, a GPS and chart plotter, as well as a device to communicate with other boats so he knows what vessels are in the area. All the electronics are powered by solar panels.

He will need the communication equipment, too. He plans to report data back to teachers in the Puget Sound area so they can use his travels in their classrooms.

In fact, ever since before he even constructed the boat, his classes have taken part in the project — mathematically speaking.

Students have undertaken class projects calculating friction and force, to kite designs, and even applications of solar power.

“One of the segments I’ve done with students was a whole thing on nutrition.” Wilson said.

“I know with my workouts how many calories I burn per hour with different heart rates. I’ve done the calculations in class for different rowing speeds and different exertions levels, how many calories I’m going to burn per day and per week.”

Food is another unique part of Wilson’s trip. With little room for storage, he developed a dry food mix for his diet.

“I eat all dry, raw foods,” Wilson said. “Seeds, dried fruits and dried vegetables. It’s a high-protein, high-fat mix. It’s primarily to get as many calories as I can in a compressed amount of space as I can.”

And though he will be out to sea, he won’t be doing any fishing along the way.

“Two years ago I went out in the North Pacific, and I tried a limited amount of cooking and tired to heat some foods,” Wilson said.

“It’s not worth it and it’s not essential,” he said.

His test run two years ago took him through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and out nearly 200 miles offshore. He spent almost a month at sea.

Wilson resigned his post as a math teacher at Bainbridge High School so he could take the trip. The journey will take a considerable amount of time and he is unsure how long it will be, and without knowing the specifics, he couldn’t put the school on hold.

He will finish out the end of the school year before preparing for his journey.

Then he will set course for Hawaii.

“The beauty of this is that you are going so slow, relatively, and it is so quiet, that you become more a part of the ocean,” Wilson said.

“Even in a sail boat you are banging around and in a power boat you never hear anything. But this boat is virtually silent, and so you kind of become a part of the ocean environment.”

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