Colin Angus has a lot of adventurous stories to share.
In his 44 years, he’s rowed in record-breaking time the 1,100 kilometres around Vancouver Island in a rowboat he designed and built himself, cycled and rowed from the northern tip of Scotland to the heart of Syria, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, and spent five years sailing a small boat across the Pacific.
He’s also the first to raft the world’s fifth longest river, the Yenisey, one of a handful of teams to successfully raft the Amazon River from source to sea, written four books, and was awarded National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year (with his wife Julie, who is often by his side) for being the first to circle the world exclusively by human power.
But if that wasn’t enough adventures for a lifetime, the Fairfield resident has added yet another accomplishment to his impressive list by recently becoming the first rower to complete this year’s 1,200-kilometre Race2Alaska solo. The days leading up to the big race were the most nervous Angus has ever been for an adventure.
“I didn’t sleep a couple nights before just because I was apprehensive and excited. The more time you spend planning for something the more apprehensive you become,” said Angus, who signed up for the race as a way to challenge himself and experience the wild West Coast.
“Once you are north of Bella Bella, it’s just completely wild, untouched landscapes. It’s amazing.”
Beginning in Port Townsend, Washington and ending in Ketchikan, Alaska, the race is North America’s longest human and wind powered race with squalls, killer whales and tidal currents that run upwards of 20 miles an hour. There are only two rules: no motors in the boats and no support boats.
Last year, 35 teams started the race but only 15 finished. This year 65 teams signed up for what’s been dubbed the most grueling aquatic race in North America. Of those, eight were in the solo category.
Angus designed and built a small trimaran that could be rowed efficiently with a sliding seat system and sailed at good speeds whenever the winds were present. For 13 days he lived continuously on the canoe-sized vessel, sleeping in a tiny coffin-sized cabin when anchored, and only stopped three times to fetch water.
Despite his training and experience on the ocean, Angus describes the race as gruelling. Less wind this year meant more rowing than sailing, which provides Angus with some much-needed rest.
“It’s very intense. There’s a huge level of discomfort, pain and mental motivation required to keep you going. This one took 13 days of just sheer willpower,” said Angus, who saw every marine mammal possible. On his last day a killer whale came full speed at his boat.
“Just before the collision it dove down and missed the boat by inches. I was just holy moly. It woke me up. For the rest of the day, I was completely alert and awake until I got into Ketchikan.”
The most challenging part of the journey was crossing from Vancouver Island to the mainland — an area known as a nasty stretch of water. On that morning, Angus woke up a day ahead of his next competitor, but the weather forecast near Port Hardy had a gale warning. He pondered whether to wait for a day, but felt confident with his boat and decided to go for it.
It was a crossing he describes as sloppy, the waves getting bigger the further he went through the strait. At one point the waves were so big that he lost sight of the fishing boats for 15 to 20 seconds at a time.
During the nights, Angus would row into quiet little bays and sleep for about five hours, then row an average of 12 hours a day. After the first day, he never saw another boat in the race, but was able to keep track of their whereabouts online.
On the last day of the race, Angus woke at 5 a.m. and arrived in Ketchikan at 3 p.m. the following day after 23 hours of continuous rowing. The only rest he had was for about five hours during the night when the wind was blowing strong enough that he could sail.
After 12 days at sea, eating high energy sugar laden foods, the only thing on his mind was a big, juicy burger.
“It was a combination of elation and fatigue,” said Angus about the feeling once the race was over. “I was just pleased with the way it all played out — no catastrophic failure of the boat running into the rocks. We love doing adventures and expeditions, but each time it’s something different and unique. This certainly was a great adventure.”
As for his next adventure, Angus said the couple has a few different projects they’ve been mulling, but at this point they are busy with their two children, aged two and five.