Extreme Sailing: Locals take on Indian Ocean race in hollow-log vessel

Special to the Record-Eagle/Adventurists A team sails a ngawala in the Kraken Cup race.

Two area sailors are about take on the Indian Ocean. All that will stand between them and peril is a hollowed-out mango tree, a bamboo mast, a rustic sail — and their wits.

Heather Jankens of Acme and Homer Williams of Boyne City depart Dec. 18 for Zanzibar where their “UnSalted Nuts” teammate Greg Flanigan of Baltimore, Maryland will join them for training followed by an eight-day, 311-mile sailing race off the coast of Tanzania.

The trio will compete against 22 international teams in the extreme sailing race, the 2019 Kraken Cup. Teams launch Jan. 1 in handmade “ngalawa” fishing boats, a design used by islanders for centuries.

“I’m walking into it knowing everything can and will go wrong and will be prepared for it as much as possible,” said Jankens, a Maritime Heritage Alliance board member and long-time volunteer of the organization dedicated to promoting and preserving Great Lakes maritime heritage.

Jankens, an industrial seamstress by trade, has crewed area heritage ships for the last 16 years. She and her UnSalted team share a passion for historic vessels and connected when crewing Viking replica vessels.

“I like the lack of technology,” said Jankens. "Sailing on a rigged boat gives a better connection to the water. Sometimes we forget what we’re capable of until we pare that away.”

The UK-based nonprofit The Adventurists present the third Kraken Cup, formerly known as the Ngalawa Cup. The course tests sailing skills in the turquoise sea waters between the Zanzibar Archipelago and the Lindi region to the south where weather conditions change quickly, requiring racing teams to bail out their boats almost constantly.

“It’s more of a survival challenge than a race,” said Williams. “We must take all our food, water and supplies.”

Race checkpoints take competitors to uninhabited islets. They'll camp overnight on islands with locals and fishing villages, using hammocks and mosquito netting.

“I’m not much for all-inclusive travel,” said Williams, a Great Lakes sailor and building contractor. “I like it more spartan. We get to experience more of the culture in the 500-year-old fishing vessels.”

Flanigan began sailing at age 3. The shipwright on the Lady Maryland spices up the team with his “salted” skills.

“He’s hilarious,” said Williams. “Being miserable with him will be great fun.”

Teams must raise at least $1,300 for charity in addition to entry fees. Half of raised funds are dedicated to the Adventurists’ official charity, Cool Earth. Cool Earth is an environmental organization preserving rainforests and rainforest communities.

MHA’s SAIL Champion Program is also a beneficiary of the UnSalted team’s fundraising. SAIL was created by the MHA and Mental Wellness Counseling. It combines hands-on sailing experiences with onboard one-on-one counseling sessions to teach leadership, responsibility, and self-awareness in at-risk youth in northern Michigan. Jankens said SAIL was chosen as a beneficiary because like the Kraken Cup, the program provides people opportunity to discover their own abilities.

The team’s financial contribution will fill program funding gaps, said Anne Donn, AmeriCorps VISTA SAIL Champion program coordinator.

“We’re thrilled to cheer her on and inspired by her courage to do this,” Donn said. “I wish I could hop in her pocket and go with her.”

Visit the Unsalted Nuts’ GoFundMe page to donate. Look for their Facebook posts and go to The Adventurists website to track the team’s race progress.

Ngawala stats

Speed: 5 - 10 knots

Hull: 5-6 metres

Draft: 0.7 metres

Beam: 0.5 metre (hull)

Beam: 5-6 metres (outriggers)

Sail: Lateen/ Settee

Sail area: 30 - 40 m2

Steering: Tiller

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