Big Seas!


Watch this video in HD - click here!

"At first you are afraid you are going to die.
Then you are afraid you are not going to die".

This is what my support boat driver Matahil Lawson says about sea
sickness. I can now attest that it is completely true, and in the
midst of barfing my guts out for the third time in a brutal 9 hour
training session 20 km into the pacific ocean off the west coast of
Vancouver Island, I was having serious doubts about what I was setting
out to do.

It was an amazing experience - one that I will never forget, but also
a real eye opener for me.

My buddy Murray and I met Matahil for breakfast at 7:00 am at the
WeighWest marina in Tofino, BC where WiTHiN was docked, and we were on
the water by 8:00. Matahil has a 24 foot open aluminum boat that he
built himself and agreed to support me for a full day out on the
Pacific. My friend Murray from Houston, TX kindly agreed to come along
and help out (he didn't know what he was in for). I had been watching
the surf report closely for the week leading up to our sea trials, and
I was anticipating some 5 meter (15 feet) waves further west off the
coast. This would be my opportunity to experience some real open ocean
conditions in WiTHiN - I was excited and ready.

Packed on board was 7 liters of drinking water and a few packs of
dehydrated meals with my JetBoil camp stove. I was wearing my life
jacket with a personal emergency locator clipped on and had my GPS,
SRM power meter, and iPod charged up and ready to go . I was in 2-way
radio contact with Matahil and Murray, and I had a cell phone for back
up. The objective was to get as far west off the coast in 4 hours as
possible, then turn around and pedal back.

I was immediately impressed with the visibility through my front
window. During my last trip to Tofino, I had to use my video camera
monitor system to see outside because my window fogged up on the
inside, and water drops collected on the outside. This time, I had
installed a manual window wiper, and my doctor buddy Chad gave me a
bottle of his special surgery liquid that stops fogging on optics.
Both worked perfectly and I had clear vision through the front window
for the first time.

We cleared the northern tip of Wickaninnish Island and headed west out
to sea. The swells started to grow and within the first hour we were
in 12 footers. I was apprehensive at first, but I didn't find them too
scary. After a couple of hours the waves grew bigger and started
coming in from different angles and my comfort level had grown
considerably. I had my top hatch off and both side windows open for
venting. As the water mountains grew in size, I became increasingly
comfortable with how WiTHiN and I were handling the conditions.

The new keel really helps dampen the rocking and it's all I need for
stability to stand up without tipping over. My speed was about 7 kph
on 150 watts into an oncoming sea. The wind was low and there is a 1
knot current that runs from south to north along the coast for about
200 km from shore which I was cutting directly across. My speed ranged
from 5 km/hr riding up the swells to 12 km/hr surfing down. I headed
West for 4 hours at an average speed of 6.4 km/hour and reached 20 km
west of the coast.

After 2 hours I started to feel a bit queasy, at 3 hours I felt very
nauseous. It took every bit of concentration on the horizon to avoid
throwing up. At 4 hours we reached a pod of feeding hump back wales
(watch the video - truly AMAZING shots by Matahil and Murray from the
support boat!) and as soon as I stopped moving I got violently ill.
Serious projectile vomiting over the open top hatch - repeatedly until
there was nothing of my breakfast left. I felt horrible. How was I
going to make it back to shore now - maybe it would go away.

Nope. I got sick 2 more times - each just as violent as the first, but
the last time there was nothing left in my stomach so I just choked
after each dry heave. By 6 hours in I had eaten exactly NOTHING and
drank about a liter of water all day. Typically on long training rides
I eat 300 calories per hour to keep my muscles fueled and my blood
sugar levels up. I was TRULY running on empty - an empty stomach, low
blood sugar and dehydrated. And on top of that, I felt like I was
going to die. - no, I felt like I wished I would die. We couldn't tow
at this point, as the ocean was just too big and it would have been
too dangerous - this was obvious. I just had to suck it up and keep
pressing on back to shore.

I think Murray had it worse. He started to feel sick almost as soon as
we reached the open ocean and he was sick for almost the whole 9 hour
ordeal. When I saw him at the half way point I thought he looked like
Fred Flintstones green Martian friend Kazoo. When Murray saw me he
wondered if he looked as bad as I looked, and I was wondering the same
thing about myself. Dam it, there goes another new friend. My friend
burn rate is pretty high these days.

When we reached the protected waters of the coast Matahil used a rope
and a bucket as a drogue which he tied to my stern and he towed meback
to WeighWest marina. I was completely spent.

Total time spent pedaling was about 8 hours, total time spent on the
water was 9 hours. The distance traveled west out to sea was 19.88 km
from the far northern tip of Wickaninnish Island. The distance I
ACTUALLY traveled as measured by my GPS track was 20.7 km. The 4%
additional distance actually traveled is due to how much WiTHiN was
veering off course due to directional stability issues caused by waves
and surfing. You could call this a 4% "wobble factor". If I had to
travel a 4000 km straight line, I would actually have to travel an
additional 160 km due to the wobble factor.

My moving average as measured from the GPS was 6.4 km/hour and my
average watts of power was about 125 watts as measured by my SRM power
meter. That compares to about 7 km/hr without the keel.

Overall, it was a pretty thrilling experience. The ocean is one wild
place - very humbling. We saw sea lions, a bunch of sea otters,
numerous whales, an albatross, and some seals. Matahil was impressed
with the average speed I maintained, and the fact that within a few
hours we were 20 km out to sea in my human powered boat WiTHiN, which
at it's basic essence is just a tandem kayak. He thought that pitching
is a problem as is the directional stability. In some of the video
footage, I can see the bow swing from right to left as waves push it
around. He also thought that WiTHiN could benefit from a dagger board
which would help her track straight when surfing down a wave. He
noticed WITHiN veering right or left in the troughs rather than
pushing straight through. Because my situational awareness inside
WiTHiN is so poor, I really have no feedback aside from watching the
heading indicator on my compass fluctuate wildly. Matahil said that
ANYONE would get sick in WiTHiN in the conditions we were facing. It
was really rocking and pitching quite a bit.

Where do I go from here? I just don't know at this point. I need some
time to digest these recent events, as it seems that there are many
problems with this expedition and solutions aren't exactly obvious. I
will expand on that later.

"Life is a series of experiences, each of which makes us bigger, even
though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop
character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we
endure help us in our marching onward."
Henry Ford

Greg K

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14 Responses to “Big Seas!”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    that is big ? put a 30 mile per hour gusting wind in the mix now you are talking
    talk about your "wobble factor".
    you may need a doubble fin in back like a surf board.  

  2. # Blogger Adventures of Greg

    Please don't post comments anonymously. You are right, but it would be helpful to qualify comments.


  3. # Blogger Kitlani

    Just about every one of the greatest sea-faring captains got sea-sick. The sea isn't always choppy and rough but maybe some effort should be spent in finding out just how many hours might be 'sea-sickness causing' in the time period you would be dealing with. You may have to medicate and sleep when it gets bad, then power on when it isn't. Your resistance to it may increase as well. Being a sailor I've encoutered it many times and would pray for someone to shoot me, but a doctor once told me it is better to stop and rest instead of trying to force the body to work through it. I'd get more info on this before I'd get discouraged. -r. girard-  

  4. # Blogger Bruce

    Under those conditions, I would say that a 4 percent "wobble factor" is not too bad at all - I would think that most sail or powerboats under similar conditions would be hard pressed to come close to this ratio of distance travelled/distance made good. Certainly a sailboat going to weather under these conditions is looking at a "wobble factor" (including the need to tack) which is closer to 50 percent! However if you really feel you are spinning out and can't maintain a heading (no evidence of this in the video), then you could increase the size and/or aspect ratio of your rudder.  

  5. # Blogger "the Dude"

    Greg, awesome.

    Chapter One: Well Done!

    a design for bumpy water:

    On flat seas, same as Within.
    But on bumpy seas, everything changes:

    From recumbent supine to prone position (twist torso 1/2 turn so laying flat on belly), becomes like laying on a surfboard while paddling with feet (like superman flying).

    The bow is now the stern, so you'd need a window in front and back. And an adjustable console for gauges etc.

    It's like a recumbent bike that swivels forward to become a mountain bike.

    Have you ever seen a seasick duck/dolphin/seal/pelican? no. why? because their face is leading their body posture, not a reclining seated posture.

    I would have designed Within to enable both forward/recumbent and reverse/prone travel.

    But I'm not an expert, could be wrong.  

  6. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Hi Greg,

    Wow, those were some seriously big waves! Shouldn't your drive leg or ballast mount fin act like a dagger board?

    I hear that after you puke your guts out for a couple days you get used to it. So you have that to look forward to. :) Better stock up on the dramamine.

    I don't think the equatorial Atlanic seas should be that rough so you should be ok.

    Keep up the good work,

    Google doesn't like my password anymore.


  7. # Blogger certifiable

    As to your seasickness, possible solutions might be:

    Dramamine - chemical based control for seasickness.

    Accupressure wristbands - accupressure based control for seasickness.

    Trampoline Training - used by gymnasts to desensitize the inner ear balance function to constant up/down, rolling and twisting motions that you are experiencing on the ocean. You have to practice as many forward, backward and sideward flips you can accomplish over at least a one hour time so the cilia in your inner ear get used to the sloshing around of the inner ear fluid. Only then will your balance get used to the conflicting sensory overload that is seasickness.

    As to comments by you and others that you need to reduce rolling, pitching and yawing:

    While the reduction of these motions would be more comfort inducing, they would probably entail larger (more drag), heavier and more numerous underwater control surfaces, which would penalize your limited power output. The underwater portion of your pedal drive unit already consists of a foiled wing, which acts exactly as a daggerboard, so there is no need to add another daggerboard. Just make your existing foiled wing go slightly deeper. A deeper rudder would reduce yawing when running into or down waves. A double rudder to increase rudder area would provide redundancy, but not significantly increased rudder control when pitching into and over waves.

    Your boat's tendency to roll, pitch and yaw is natural given the mogul-like conditions you are facing in the open ocean. Trying to resist those motions will always result in sapping your forward motion. That is why on calm days you would do well to pedal harder and take it easier on the rough days. Of course a following sea and wind will help enormously, so make weather mapping a high priority like the transatlantic sailors do.

    The only way you are going to eliminate directional "wobble" is to have flat calm seas. Given that the ocean's surface is affected by wind conditions up to hundreds of miles away, you can't obsess too much about how straight your course is since some cork screwing motion through the ocean is largely unavoidable.

    All in all your effort and thought in this project are admirable and inspiring! I will be watching from the sidelines and wishing you success in this adventure.  

  8. # Blogger Adventures of Greg

    to certifiable:

    You have a REALLY great suggestion regarding the trampoline. I used to be a competative gymnast when I was younger and did a lot of tramp work.

    My son Cody is a competative diver.

    (WARNING: Dad bragging content ahead: Cody is top 10 in Canada and recently qualified for Canadian Olympic trials in Vancouver next month. He has been recruited by Duke University where he is enrolled in the Engineering faculty starting next Fall. He was also offered partial scholorships to Notre Dame and Northwestern)

    Anyhow, I was playing around on Cody's trampoline a while ago and I was really surprised at how dizzy I got after only a few easy moves. My body still remembers how to do a full twisting back flip, but I almost get sick after doing it. I think a bit of daily practice on our trampoline could really help me.  

  9. # Blogger Craig

    I'm a retired merchant marine officer, I was in the (US) Navy, I captained a 35 foot salmon troller, and I cruised the Pacific with my family in a 32 foot sailboat. And I *still* got seasick at times. Especially at the beginning of a trip in the sailboat. Due to stress, I think. I did get over it after a year or so and after ten years I could ride through almost anything. Stay focused. Use ginger for seasickness. Mythbusters (tv program) found that it was amazingly effective. Good luck. It's quite a feat you're attempting.  

  10. # Anonymous Anonymous


    Talk to your docter about phenergan. It is also available in suppository form if you are experiencing the worst case senerio.

    Frank Ladd  

  11. # Anonymous Tony

    I would suggest a bit of keel design to help. The Aussies won the Americas cup with a "T" shaped keel. Also, the winners of a "Moth" class were able to get much faster overall speeds with keel that lifted the boat like a hydro-foil.

    Best of luck in ;your journey and I hope you get all the elements together for a record breaking Atlantic crossing!


  12. # Anonymous Anonymous

    ginger is an ancient remedy for seasickness. also, looking at the horizon and fresh air blowing on you is a remedy also. experience may help also.  

  13. # Anonymous Peter Le Lievre


    I do a fair bit of offshore sailing and I am usually queasy for the first few days. I then 'get over the hump' and become pretty bulletproof after that.

    Sure there are some who never recover as long as they are at sea but most do fine once they acclimatise.

    Next time you go out, make it for at least 2 days (preferably 4) so you can see if you are one of the majority of folk who get better after being green at the first.


    Peter Le Lievre  

  14. # Anonymous Anonymous

    way to go dude. im cheering for you.  

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