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Island man faces hurricane at start of epic sea journey

Rory Wilson takes a seat in the vessel he designed and built, KROS, in the waters off San Diego shortly before he embarked on his journey across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. - Rory Wilson photo
Rory Wilson takes a seat in the vessel he designed and built, KROS, in the waters off San Diego shortly before he embarked on his journey across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.
— image credit: Rory Wilson photo

Bainbridge math teacher Rory Wilson has embarked on his great one-man journey across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and beyond.

After starting his voyage from San Diego on Sept. 19, Wilson charted a course toward Guadalupe Island located 150 miles off the coast of Mexico. The island is known for its high frequency of great white shark sightings. He made it past the island and began searching for the right winds to take him west to Hawaii.

Once rounding the southern end of the island, Wilson began heading west. As of his last check in, he has traveled 1,067 nautical miles and has 1,531 nautical miles ahead of him to Hawaii.

Wilson is traveling via his self-designed and built KROS (kite, row, ocean, solar); a 21-foot-long vessel resembling a large, very well equipped super-kayak. But this vessel is much more than any simple kayak.

Wilson incorporated the construction of KROS into classroom projects with his students. He will power the boat with a combination of rowing, and using wind power captured through kites. The vessel is large enough to include a small cabin for Wilson to take shelter in, and storage for kites, food, and other supplies.

At the start of his journey, the winds were coming from the west, which only allowed him to move south. He also found himself fighting against a pretty tough western swell pushing against him.

“He did fly the kites one day, his hands got sore from all the rowing,” said Wilson’s brother Shane in the week following his departure. “He took a break from rowing and flew a series of delta kites and in 24 hours he made 50 miles with very little rowing.”

Communicating via satellite phone, Wilson has kept in touch with his brothers Shane and KC, providing location updates.

On this first leg of his journey, Wilson, and his brothers, had been paying particular attention to the weather and it seems luck was heading, or blowing, his way.

Hurricane Miriam had been traveling up off the Baja Peninsula southeast from his position and was heading his direction at 12 miles per hour. The hurricane amassed winds of up to 120 miles per hour, but the Wilsons knew early in the week that the hurricane was expected to calm down significantly by the time it reached the sailor’s position.

“This weather will certainly impact Rory in some way; the question is in which way,” Shane said. “Since Rory is north of the hurricane, he can expect winds from the east, which is exactly what he’d like to have. But, a large storm like this will also cause large swells and wave action, which can be troublesome.”

Miriam was later downgraded to a tropical storm, and Wilson was seeing some success in moving west. Previously, he was mostly heading south, but making little progress west. He was able to catch favorable winds, however, that put KROS’ nose toward Hawaii.

It was a relief to his brothers. If KROS travels too far south, the journey to Hawaii will become far more difficult. And if the winds take him past the island chain altogether, then he might not make it to Hawaii at all.

While the winds in the first three weeks of this trip were favorable, the last check in with his brothers indicated that the winds have died down considerably.

“Rory also seems to have worked himself into an epiphany about rowing versus kites. Now that he is well into the trade wind zone and has found the trade winds largely absent,” Shane said in a Facebook update on KROS’ trip.

Thankfully, KROS doesn’t rely on wind alone, and Wilson is steadily rowing his way to his goal.

After Wilson reaches Hawaii, he will gauge the weather conditions, take into account his experience using oars and kites so far, and consider his physical state to decide his next step. He will either travel north aiming for Alaska and on down toward home in Washington state, or he will head south to Fiji and other Pacific islands and return to the West Coast via a southern route.

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