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Story last updated at 6:14 PM on Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Boat of the Week: Her Majesty's Turtler

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo provided

Conor Flannery's kayak, Her Majesty's Turtle.

Not every boat that pulls into Homer is a 147-foot superyacht. About 4 p.m. Sunday, Conor Flannery, 30, of Santa Monica, Calif., paddled up to Bishop's Beach in Her Majesty's Turtle, a 17-foot British sea kayak, after finishing a 2,500-mile, 133-day trip solo trip from Seattle.

Flannery got the exploring bug after moving to California from Atlanta, where he went to graduate school at Georgia Tech. He's done backpacking trips and numerous sea kayak crossings from Los Angeles to the Channel Islands. His biggest previous kayak trip was a 275-mile circumnavigation of Glacier Bay.

"I've always want to do a long trip since high school and college," Flannery said. "Once I got into kayaking and saw how much more was possible gear-wise, I began to do Alaska trips."

Flannery's expedition, which he calls Cause to Paddle, also raised funds for MedShare, a program that redistributes unexpired medical supplies to poor hospitals and clinics in 80 countries. His goal was to raise $20,000, enough for 1,000 boxes of supplies. So far, Flannery has raised $18,400. Flannery works as a medical design engineer at St. Jude Medical Center in Los Angeles and has helped develop pacemakers and other equipment for heart patients.

Flannery started his trip on March 15 in Seattle — not the most auspicious day based on Julius Caesar's history, he admits.

"I figured, to hell with Shakespeare," he said.

Not wishing to risk a solo trip across the Gulf of Alaska from Cape Spencer to Cape Suckling, Flannery took the ferry from Juneau to Cordova. His trip continued through Prince William Sound and around the Kenai Peninsula and up Cook Inlet to Homer.

Flannery's safety gear included a dry suit, a personal flotation device, a VHF radio, a personal locator device, a satellite phone, an air horn and signal flares — also good for scaring bears. He practiced leave-no-trace camping with techniques like preparing meals below the tide line so as to minimize odors that would attract bears.

Each day Flannery paddled about six to 10 hours a day for about 18 to 20 miles. With days off and bad weather days, he spent 110 days on the water. He slept 10 hours a night.

"It sounds so lazy, and it was," he said.

In his off time he did "a lot of reading and writing and blogging," he said. Flannery kept a Web blog on a netbook computer, uploading entries when he get into towns with good wifi connections.

Cause to Paddle was broken up into five legs, with new supplies at the end of each leg. Over the trip he ate 120 packets of oatmeal, six jars of peanut butter, three jars of Nutella, 10 gallons of gorp and 250 energy bars — "all before dinner," he said.

His biggest challenge?

"The number of uncertainties. I progressed into it, learned more and got more comfortable with Alaska waters," Flannery said. "You can plan and prepare. Until you know what the weather systems are doing, it's hard to extrapolate."

His longest open-ocean crossing was the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver Island. The most stressful sections were Cape Caution, B.C., and Gore Point. Flannery took off for Gore Point from South Nuka Island.

"That was probably one of the bigger days," he said. "I was like, this is seriously big surf."

Coming up Cook Inlet into Kachemak Bay Flannery had 25 knot winds from the southeast and an incoming high tide. He camped Sunday night at Oceanview RV Park — a walk up from his beach landing — and flew out Tuesday from Anchorage.

At ocean level and camping out on remote beaches, Flannery got to see wildlife up close — the most fantastic part of his trip.

"I saw an eagle killing another eagle. I saw wolves. I saw orcas. Seeing the otters and the gulls and the humpbacks daily in so many routines," he said. "When you're out there that long, you get to be part of their environment."

For photos of Flannery's trip, his blog and other details, including how to donate to his fundraiser, visit www.causetopaddle.org.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong.@homernews.com.

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