• 12th April 2008 - By adventuresofgreg

    Am I destined to end up as yet another Sea Biscuit?

    After hearing the 100th story about the Sea Biscuit from the locals in Tofino, Murray and I decided to do some investigating and learn more about this ill-fated world circumnavigation in an eight foot sail boat.

    Sea Biscuit is a 8-foot (yes, as in EIGHT feet long from bow to stern) sailboat that Floridian Harley Harlson built to circumnavigate the globe, nonstop. Construction details here. Previously, the smallest boat to circumnavigate the globe is 12 feet long, sailed by Serge Testa. I highly recommend his book called 500 days. A really great read! In my opinion, Serge really knew what he was doing – I’m not so sure about Harley, but then again, perhaps people are saying that about me.

    Harley arrived in Tofino to start his world circumnavigation in August of 2006. He made it from the trailer to the public boat launch dock where he discovered a foot of water in the bottom of Sea Biscuit that leaked in through his rudder bolts. Failing to repair the leak, and missing his weather window, Harley returned home and docked Sea Biscuit at the marina at the end of Olsen Road in Tofino where Murray and I found her on Sunday.

    The two stories we heard from the locals were: “He was lying in a wet bed pan for 2 weeks bailing water out with a sponge” and “The coast guard seized his boat and wouldn’t let him go”. Neither story was true. It’s funny how a story sort of has a life of it’s own that may only be loosely connected with the truth.

    I am not sure just how much testing Harley did previous to his failed launch in Tofino. I did read in an interview that he tested Sea Biscuit in a lake, but I am really not sure about how much open ocean sailing he did with her. That might have been a good idea.


    I have said this before and I think I need to repeat it – if not just to re-confirm my own objectives regarding this record attempt. About 1 year ago in my blog, I said:

    I want to make this clear – this challenge is NOT about doing a solo, unsupported survival adventure across the Atlantic ocean. I have the highest respect for those who do that like current ocean crossers Roz Savage, Jason Lewis, Bhavic, Ralph Tuijn and previous ocean crossing expeditions Leven Brown, Greg Spooner, Colin and Julie, and the many others I follow and have followed.

    My ‘thing’ is the combination of technology and human performance. A fully supported human powered Atlantic speed record attempt is exactly what this expedition is. The support / safety boat will accompany me and provide supplies, traffic lookout, water making, equipment backups, communications, repairs, food, company and even occasionally a safe place to escape to (if ocean conditions allow). This allows me to focus on designing and building the fastest, most efficient human powered ocean boat possible, and my ability to pedal the machine 3000 miles across the Atlantic ocean in less than 40 days.

    Since then, I have decided that a “fully supported” speed record isn’t a fair comparison to the existing unsupported Atlantic crossing record of 43 days set my Emmanuel Coindre, so my support boat will be a safety boat only, and will not be used for support of any kind unless there is an emergency in which case my unsupported crossing either becomes a supported one, or I am rescued and have to abandon the crossing.

    I certainly hope that this project is viewed by others as a serious endeavour to demonstrate the potential of something long forgotten – our human power in all of it’s forms. PedalTheOcean is a physical, mental and emotional challenge unlike anything I have ever set out to do.

    Seeing Sea Biscuit falling apart in a pile of seaweed under the dock at the end of Olsen road, is a really good reminder of how I could potentially be viewed by the people of Tofino – those who saw me on TV, read about me in the paper, or have seen me come and go from the WeighWest marina.


    Like every worthy challenge, there is always more to it than you can ever imagine or can possibly plan for. At times like this I need to remember this bit of greeting card wisdom: “Persistence prevails when all else fails”. Following are a few of the “learning experiences” that I am dealing with right now:

    EXPERIENCE: After Mondays 9 hour training session on the water I know first hand how important gaining the appropriate experience will be in my ability to succeed at this challenge. The best kind of experience will be time spent in WiTHiN on the ocean – there would be no substitute for that. Murray and I discussed this during the drive back from Tofino, and what I would like to do when the new boat is finished (calling it “Ocean WiTHiN” for now) is dock it in Tofino fully equipped and provisioned for multi-day trips. Then I can fly out from Calgary which is a very easy and inexpensive flight and head out to sea in WiTHiN. I could start with a day trip similar to what we did with Matahil’s support boat, but do it on my own. Then I could slowly advance to an over night trip, then a 3 day trip, etc. I would experience all kinds of weather and ocean conditions and I think this kind of training would be very good for me.

    Sea sickness: They say it can’t be trained, but I doubt that, as I know from many others that 2 to 3 days is usually when the body gets accustomed to this alien rock and roll environment and stops getting sick. That is basically what training is. There was an episode of Myth Busters a while ago where they tested sea sickness cures. They found only 2 cures that worked: Ginger and medication. I will experiment with both, as well as some trampoline training. I used to be a gymnast in high school and was very surprised at how dizzy I got doing simple flips on a trampoline a while ago. I am certain that I can train this motion sickness away by simply doing trampoline flips every day. If that’s the case, perhaps there will be some residual inner ear / spacial awareness that I develop that will carry over to the ocean environment.

    OW (Ocean WiTHiN) design: One of the causes of motion sickness is a miss-match between where the eye registers the bodies location in s
    pace, and it’s actual location in space. As soon as I looked away from my small front window, I got sick. I also found it very difficult to see anything outside – I rarely saw Matahil and he was always close to me. I think I would like to re-visit the sliding canopy idea for the new boat design. The Naval architect Stuart Bloomfield designed opening hatches and a small sliding pilot hatch on the roof, but I don’t think this is enough to provide me with the ‘livable’ open environment that I want in the cockpit. I would like to ‘really be there’ – not watching everything from the detached view point of a closed-in cockpit. The advantage of a sliding canopy cover is that I always have the option of sliding it over for really bad weather or big seas. Of course, the sleeping cabin is closed off with a bulkhead and hatch, as is the bow storage locker, so with the bilge pump on the cockpit floor, even if WiTHiN flooded, I would still be capsize safe.

    Stuart Bloomfield and Ricks closed canopy/hatch design (click to enlarge)sliding cockpit cover

    I noticed how much work it took to stay on my bearing and I think I will look into installing a small autopilot. This should not only make my forward progress a bit more efficient (always on track), but will also ease the work load for me. If anyone knows of a small, very efficient autopilot, let me know. The smallest I have found is this Simrad TP10.

    Support boat: Being the optimist that I am, I always thought that I would be able to find someone sailing from the Canaries to Barbados who would be willing to accompany me as my safety boat. I know now that this is a lot to ask, as staying even in the broad vicinity of me in the middle of the ocean takes a lot of work. After speaking with a few boat brokers and yacht management companies, my best bet is to arrange my own crew, and buy a yacht capable of a trans oceanic voyage, then sell it at my destination. My friend Stefan Dalberg has volunteered to skipper the support boat, and I hope I can find a few more crew interested in the experience.

    Spanish coast guard: This is a problem. I have heard from others who tried to deal with the coastguard, that they do not negotiate with individuals. Letters and attempts to contact them go unanswered for months. So far, every independent ocean rower who has departed from Canary Islands has left at night incognito. One option is to join the Atlantic rowing race in December of 2009 which includes a support boat shared by all of the race participants, and Spanish coast guard clearance. I like this option because of the community and the publicity opportunity. Speedy WiTHiN is an interesting contrast in amongst all the sluggish row boats.

    Shipping WiTHiN: I had budgeted about $7000 to ship WiTHiN to the Canary Islands. Because she is over 20 feet long, she has to go in a 40 foot container which is twice as expensive as a 20 foot container. Plus, it will take up to 2 months for delivery! OUCH. And another $14,000 to ship back to Miami.

    Schedule: December of 2008 is definitely OUT. There is no way I can get proper training, finish building WiTHiN, test her and ship her this year. Looks like December of 2009 for Canaries to West Indies route, or I could leave as early as June of 2009 if I were to change routes and head across the Pacific instead (this is an option that I am considering, as it also eliminates my shipping problems. More on this later).

    We have made some serious progress since I made that comment about the support boat a year ago, but I still have very far to go. I need to remember that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. This journey will be a long one, and I need to stop every once in a while and remember to enjoy it.


    Here are a few more photos from Mondays sea trails in Tofino:

    Soon after we left the dock, I started to over heat. With the new keel, standing up in WiTHiN is no problem

    Leaving the Weigh West marina at sun rise

    Long Beach

    WiTHiN leaving Tofino with the town in the background

    We got home just in time – just missed a big winter storm!
  • 11 Comments to “Am I a Sea Biscuit?”

    • Anonymous on April 13, 2008

      There were some very good comments on the previous post regarding sea sickness.

      I suggest you concentrate on gaining sea experience in a small boat before you make changes to the design of Ocean Within. It would be foolish to waste time on an issue that you must solve before you make the crossing irrespective of the boat design.

      Certainly seeing the horizon helps but you have to sleep, prepare meals and operate in the roughest conditions with the cockpit enclosed. The ability to open the cockpit will only help for a short period.

      Having experienced sea sickness a few times and watching many others overcome the problem it is difficult for me not to conclude you are over reacting to a minor issue. Sure you feel like dying. For me it was not too different to food poisoning. Feel like crap but it eventually goes away.

      I think you are a long way ahead of Sea Bicuit. Give it another year of experience and you will find getting into the boat something to look forward to with considerable confidence.

      I think most people would be impressed with the distance you covered particularly considering your state of health and sea conditions. You can look forward to a lot better when conditions are right.

      Rick W.

    • Frank on April 13, 2008


      Sea sickness is something that affects everyone to some extent. Opening the cockpit for fresh air and keeping your eye on the horizon helps but it won't totally cure it. Every motion sickness is also wavelength dependent and some people are more sensitive to certain wavelengths over others. Hence some get car sick or air sick, but do better at sea.

      Best is to get out as much as you can, as your body will then adapt and things will get better. Also consider medication. It does help.

      I would also advise that you add a few pounds. This will help you get through the bad spots better. The weight penalty is minimal on water. But you will have extra energy, extra buoyancy, and extra insulation. All these matter.

      There is an optimal weight for every sport and optimal for marathon running is not the same as optimal for ocean crossing survival.

      Also like your idea of tackling the Pacific. If you really want to do the atlantic you'd be better off building a boat in Europe and testing it there. Cheaper.


    • Anonymous on April 13, 2008

      Hi Greg.
      What an ill founded farce that turned out to be.
      Badly designed. extremely badly built and underfunded. The boat was also untested.
      Harley, who now calls himself a Yacht Designer, was just going to launch the boat, fill it with stores and sail off around the world into history!
      He had even contacted book publishers prior to the trip on the book he was going to write!
      The only thing that stopped the boat from sinking on its first few hours in the water was the fact that the storeage bins were empty with their tops just obove the water. If the top of these bins were a couple of inches lower or all the stores were in place, the boat would have sunk.
      He pointed out later that the reason it did not sink was through good design.
      In order to get the boat back home he asked for donations from various Yahoo groups.
      I went into print before his voyage to say I did not think the voyage would last more than a few days before him giving up.

      But then this is something which I cannot say about your attempt Greg.
      Well designed, well managed, well funded and well tested.
      Let's hope the "old engine" holds out 😉

      Jeff in the UK

    • Anonymous on April 14, 2008

      you need to be completely confident in your sea sickness
      rowing race in December of 2009
      is the way to go
      installing a small autopilot is a must, so much so I would have a back up auto

      the Vomit Comet can be a final test

    • Adventures of Greg on April 14, 2008

      to Anon: What's the Vomit Comet?

    • Harley Harlson on April 15, 2008

      In Sea Biscuits defense, there are a lot of farcical stories out there, as you learned in Tofino, Greg. My apologies to Jeff in the UK, but he is unfortunately amongst those who would repeat such stories without any basis in fact. Testing was to take place in Tofino, just as your trials were. The boat will never sink, her stores were and still are in place. I never asked for any financial help getting home or otherwise. Chuck Leinweber of Duckworks magazine did that on his own. No publishers were ever contacted for "book sales" or for any other reason.

      On a lighter note, don't worry about the Sea Sickness.. It will pass. You might talk to your doctors about bringing a few bags of saline solution for an IV if you get extremely dehydrated, though. That's the greatest danger of the malady.

      Come home, rebuild, and go out again next year. I will.


    • David Tangye on April 17, 2008

      Great trial. Very good feedback comments here and in the previous blog, especially re sea-sickness. I shall write offline fully shortly.

    • Anonymous on April 25, 2008

      Hi Harley.
      If most of what you say here is true then you should have scotched these untruths when they started.
      But I still stand by what I said in the first place that SEA BISCUIT was badly designed, extremely badly built and underfunded.
      I also still think that that 'Around in Ten' race is totally irresponsible if it is
      still on, with only two of the entries to my mind having a chance of finishing. If they are built.
      Each boat should be a team effort, not just the fancy of one individual working alone. There is just to much to organise and do.
      I know that there have been some successful lone voyages made by one man shows, but they were lucky or had time on their side. They also had larger boats and sailed west to east.

      I am sorry Greg for going off topic.

      Jeff in the UK

    • Harley on March 6, 2009

      Jeff, really now! I should have scotched these untruths when they started? Let's see you try to control what stories get passed around the Internet and by word of mouth. The fact is, as soon as I put myself into an open Forum such as the Internet, I started to get lambasted by all sorts of inconsiderate fools such as yourself. Oddly enough you get used to it. Idiots just love to repeat hearsay without regard to the truth, as you have just proven. Say what you want about me, I don't care. I'll be dead in less than six months anyway. But don't put down the Around in Ten people simply because they don't have access to the incredible amount of cash it takes to assemble a "Team Effort". Doing it alone and without millions of dollars to push around is the whole point of AIT. Sorry if that doesn't fit into your narrow-minded little paradigm.


    • Stan Roberts on January 12, 2010


      I understand your problems with seasickness in a closed enviornment. The motion in small boats is pretty fast and difficult to deal with. You would probably be better off in a design like the rowboat used by Tori McClure (the only woman to row solo across the Atlantic). Her requirements were similiar to yours, both of you are using human power. She had an open cockpit forward and small cabin aft so that she was rowing in the open. . There are obvious benefits to copying an existing proven design, not the least of which is that you know it works and that it is seaworthy. In her case she survived a hurricane. It is unfortunate that many people, like Harley are too proud or whatever to use an existing proven design.


    • James Maxwell on January 12, 2010

      Good to see your still up and about. Sorry to hear that Sea Biscuit didn’t work out. I’m working on the Harley-8 and am excited to get started.

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