Pagosa crew sets off on round-the-world sailing adventure


By John Barry III

Special to The PREVIEW

Three local Pagosa Springs sailors are expedition team members in an Around The World Sailing Expedition aboard the Colorado flagged yacht, Avalanche.

Avalanche is a 54-foot trimaran sailing yacht, designed and built as an offshore racing boat, that has been modified for fast, long distance, blue water, ocean crossings.  Avalanche was purchased immediately after she won the TransPac Race for a second time.  The TransPac Race is a 2,000- mile, single-handed sailing race from San Francisco to Hawaii.

The Around the World expedition began Dec. 16, 2011  with the cross chartering yachts sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay with a dangerous coating of ice on her deck. Avalanche plunged out into the Pacific Ocean winter and bolted south towards her first warm weather landfall at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Pagosa Springs sailors Kenny Daniels, Karin Kohake and Nicki Alley joined the expedition at Cabo San Lucas.  Their first passage was a 36-hour, overnight blue water crossing of the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico.  Then, the crew island- and cove-hopped their way down the west coast of Central America.

The sea conditions varied from dead calm to horrific storms with wind velocities of up to 42 mph.  Due to Avalanche ’s small crew requirement, all crew members were required to stand their watches and perform every duty, including manning the helm, trimming sails, navigating and food preparation, and to perform yacht, sail, and diesel repairs, especially during the three intense storms Avalanche faced during her passage to Panama. The turbulence often jiggles something out of place and it requires trained people to notice exactly what is wrong.

The team’s primary focus was to visit and integrate themselves into third world cultures and environments in an attempt to get to know people and places rarely visited by American yachts.

Despite the dangers of running aground, the three hulled sailboat was often sailed up freshwater estuaries though rain forest environments.  The crew met indigenous Indians in dugout canoes who must have thought that the strange looking trimaran, incongruously flying the Colorado flag, was from outer space. The crew constantly had the feeling these rain forest fishermen were lusting over their small dinghy outboard motor, so the sailors took turns sleeping on the deck next to the chained up outboard motor at night while at anchor.

The other focus of the sailors was to view as many land and sea creatures as possible.  They saw huge numbers of whales, porpoises, sea turtles, sharks, barracudas, iguanas, birds and even a saltwater crocodile or two.  While it was Karin’s job to provision the yacht, the crew would almost daily dive overboard and spearfish and gather lobsters for their daily protein requirements.

The voyage also included anchorages in small villages on islands and in coves all along the Central American coast.  The crew mostly encountered incredibly wonderful, friendly and helpful people.

Their one frustration was due to less-than-honest customs officials who constantly required additional cash fees for a large variety of bizarre reasons. One island, off the Panama west coast, was a nature preserve that was recently converted from a maximum security Panamanian prison.  The nature preserve employees were ex-prison guards and the reserve director was the ex-head prison guard. The guide book said  the anchorage fee was $20 U.S. but the dishonest reserve director demanded $290 cash.   Daniels managed to calm down the heated exchange that resulted between Avalanche’s skipper and the corrupt official so the yacht and crew could pay and quickly cast off again without being confined to a prison cell.

Alley and Kohake had to return back to the real world from Costa Rica. Daniels remained on board and was truly appreciated until Avalanche navigated through the engineering marvel, the Panama Canal. Avalanche continued through the Panama Canal, out into the Caribbean to Honduras, Belize, Yucatan and Mexico, and finally ended her first 8,000-mile leg at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in April 2012.

Avalanche will remain in Florida being refitted and updated until April, after the 2013 ski season.  Then, for her second around-the-world leg, she will sail up the U.S. east coast to New England then sail on to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland, before being dryland stored for the winter in Cork, Ireland, in October 2013.

At that point, the Avalanche crew and friends will again come home to Pagosa Springs and ski.

The Pagosa Springs crew additionally trained aboard Avalanche by sailing through the Bahamas Islands in November 2012, testing new equipment like sails, rigging, GPS and onboard computers as well as sharpening their expedition skills.  Some of the skills they practiced also included spearfishing, sunbathing, rum boat drinks and very enthusiastic island dancing.

Kenny Daniels, first mate, is best known in town as an avid bike rider, skier and tri-athlete.  He is also involved in the Pagosa Springs Rotary. Kenny was picked for the team for his outdoor wilderness experience, his coolness under pressure and his athleticism.  His daughter, Janny, a professional sailor, who works with both Outward Bound and the NOLS program, will join the expedition in Greenland next summer.

Karin Kohake, galley captain, was selected primarily for her ability to provision and prepare delicious and nutritious meals for the crew, usually under extreme ocean conditions.  On average, each crew member loses a pound every 100 miles sailed.  Her job is never ending and demanding, but she  manages to maintain her enthusiastic and adventurous attitude.

Nicki Alley, crew, is usually found in Pagosa Springs at her coffee shop, Higher Grounds.   Nicki also helps Karin in the galley but her primary crew responsibilities on board includes manning the helm, sails, navigation, translating Spanish and anything else that is required while at sea.  Nicki is well known locally as an accomplished bike racer and tri-athlete.