Press kit in preparation.
Hank’s Life Story
My kayak journey from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic began in my youth. My interest in the sea and adventure dates back to the long, breezy summer vacations spent at my grandparent’s 700-square-foot bungalow in Ocean City, New Jersey. This former fishing shack had been a wedding present to my paternal grandparents from my grandmother’s parents, an inducement for the newly married couple to spend time near the older couple’s home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When I was young, my parents would load my brother and me into the family Edsel or whatever ancient jalopy my father was driving at the time. We left the post WW II housing project where we lived in the borough of Queens, NY or our later home on Long Island for two glorious weeks at the shore. Inevitably, my father–nicknamed Hap–and my uncle Carl would find an old wooden skiff that was within their $25 budget. One of my first jobs was to replace the caulking between the boards so the boat wouldn’t sink. Even so, when the boat was launched and before the wood swelled, the water shot up from between the boards like hundreds of baby geysers. The boat never stopped leaking, so on fishing trips with the elder generation, my brother and I were in charge of the bailing bucket.
When young, I was usually the last one chosen in pick-up games, and for good reason; I once went an entire “Little League” season without having my bat contact the ball. Ironically, it was one of my athletic failures that led to some success. During tryouts for the track team, I finished near last in the hundred-yard dash. Rather than turn slower runners like me away, the coach assigned us to distance runs. I soon learned that I had stamina, and by punishing my body, I could outrun most other boys. My detractors called me mule-headed or worse, my few supporters called me indefatigable. I transferred this concept to other areas of my life and found that if I worked harder than most others, I could succeed.
When a teenager, I saved enough money from a paper route to buy a 14-foot lapstrake skiff, complete with an ancient 5 hp motor. Although I never checked to see if public moorage was allowed, I rigged up a mooring anchor and tossed it into Oyster Bay, on the “Gold Coast” of Long Island Sound. The Gold Coast was only about an eight-mile hitchhike or bike ride from my home in Hicksville, NY–but seemingly in a different world from where my family and I lived on the “shores” of the Long Island Expressway. Later, with some additional money earned from my 75 cents per hour job in Mickey’s Luncheonette in the Plainview Shopping Center, I stepped up to a 15-foot molded plywood runabout with a newer, but only slightly more dependable, 25 hp outboard motor.
In what was probably my most foolish early adventure, I somehow convinced my parents to allow my younger brother Bob, my close friend Carl, and me to take the boat from Oyster Bay to southern New Jersey, about 170 miles down the east coast. I had already survived walking the land route with help from Bob, Carl and my dad and biking with another friend Bob. After negotiating the swirling currents in Hellsgate between the New York City boroughs of Queens and the Bronx, we motored past the many ships in the East River and out into the Atlantic Ocean. The outboard motor only stalled twice but we were able to restart it by convincing my brother to endure mild shocks as he secured the wire leading to one of the spark plugs. Fortunately, the motor kept running when an afternoon storm forced us to head for shelter through Absecon Inlet just north of Atlantic City. To avoid any tightening of the apron strings, we kept our harrowing voyage under wraps; I doubt my parents ever realized how dangerous the trip was.
Despite several adventures like this, good friends, and a loving family my early years were not ones to remember. As with many families, the problem was alcohol. When my parents weren’t drinking, they were great, but the bad times seemed to outweigh the good. I wanted only to look ahead and became so reluctant to preserve the past, that I didn’t take photographs until I was in my twenties. I had no idea then that the joy of being a husband, parent and grandparent, combined with a keen interest in history that developed in me as an adult, would make it enjoyable to look back on my life and the lives of others.
As a teenager I had no interest in going to college, preferring to enter the merchant marine or become a forest ranger. My mother had other thoughts, so she submitted several college applications for me. Unlike the other U.S. military academies, a competitive exam and extra-curricular activities were the primary criterion for acceptance to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. I did just well enough on the exam to be accepted. Entering near the bottom of my class may have pushed me to work harder. I embraced the challenges I faced, both academically and by overcoming my fear of going aloft to furl the sails on the Eagle, the Academy’s three masted square-rigged barque. At the beginning of my last year at the Academy, I was in the top 10 percent academically, but I began to question whether I would make a good officer. I found myself drawn to the civil rights movement, and developed concerns that my career as an officer would run counter to my objection to government policies.
Much to my parent’s dismay, I resigned from the Academy at the start of my fourth and last year. After drifting at odd jobs for a while I kicked myself in the butt and went back to school, first at night and then full time. Marriage to Joyce, who I dated while at the Academy, made me want to show her disapproving father that he was wrong. I could amount to something. Three years after marrying Joyce who has now put up with me for fifty-seven years (in 2022), I had two degrees, a bachelors degree in civil engineering from The City College of NY and a masters degree in geotechnical engineering from Purdue University, and I was on my way to earning a Ph.D. While pursuing my doctorate, I was offered a Ford Foundation Fellowship to work for an engineering firm in Brazil. Joyce and I had only 24 hours to decide, but fortunately Joyce likes adventure.
This detour saw Joyce teaching and me working on dam design and construction. This was at a time when dam design focused on all the benefits the dam would bring but often overlooked the negative impacts to the environment and to indigenous people. While working on the Boa Esperanca Dam in a remote part of the State of Piaui, the U.S. government sent a friendly letter to me–by private plane–inviting me to join the Army. Strangely, I almost welcomed being drafted as a way to pay our Country back for the three years of excellent and entirely free education and personal development I received at the Coast Guard Academy.
A chance meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay with a senior Army officer and his wife (who became life-long friends) and a debate I had with my basic training drill sergeant (I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t chant “Delta Company, we are the best” because I had no basis for comparison) resulted in a direct commission as a second lieutenant. The Army lent me a 45-caliber pistol and provided me with an all-expense paid trip to another tropical paradise in SE Asia. The contrast between the discipline and esprit de corps of the Army in Viet Nam and the Coast Guard was dramatic, and not in favor of the Army.
Upon discharge from the Army in the middle of a recession, I found few jobs available. The G.I. Bill enabled me to return to Purdue where I completed a doctorate in engineering. My research focused on the failure of earth dams caused by the chemical reaction of reservoir water with the earth, a subject that was later encompassed within the growing field of geo-environmental engineering. After finishing my doctorate, I worked for a large consulting firm in Seattle, Washington, with one two-year furlough to teach engineering at the Federal University of Brazil. Soon after returning from Brazil, Joyce, our children and I decided that we would start an engineering company out of the basement we had dug below our home in Woodway, Washington. We scraped by and struggled to meet expenses until the federal and state governments began to require the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. All of a sudden, my doctoral work in soil-chemical interaction was in high demand.
I was appointed chair of the Washington State Department of Ecology Science Advisory Board, and Landau Associates began to grow and prosper to the extent that Joyce and I finally had some discretionary income. One of the first things we did was replace the old wooden boat in Ocean City with a new aluminum rowboat with oars. Even now, my brother Bob and I are just about the only ones to be found rowing the Intracoastal Waterway and back bays near Ocean City.
After an early semi-retirement, I transitioned to occasional paid engineering work, numerous volunteer efforts, most in the areas of environmental protection and human rights, and the study of history. I now had time for a solo cross-country bike ride, and a bike ride up the west coast from San Diego, California, to our home in Woodway, with our daughter, Amy and our older son, Greg. We soon added a plastic kayak to our human-powered fleet in Ocean City, and an Eddyline Whisper double kayak to the west coast two-boat fleet, and I began to seek out kayaking adventures.
After Greg and his younger brother Mike kayaked around San Juan Island in Whisper, I invited Mike to join me on a shorter trip around Lopez Island. When Mike came down with the flu on the morning we were to depart, I did the circumnavigation myself, starting early in the morning and finishing late in the afternoon, completely exhausted but very pleased; I had overcome strong currents, rough seas, and my fears of kayaking solo. When I finally pulled ashore onto our cobble-covered beach, I was so exhausted that Mike had to help me out of Whisper.
Approaching 70, I found it difficult to accept that I was no longer able to successfully compete in almost all the activities where I had previously done well. Many years of running wore out my hips and bicycle riding led to several crashes including one near death collision with a monstrous SUV that resulted in over 700 stitches, 15 broken bones, a titanium plate in my skill and a bunged-up shoulder. To make things worse, my heart began beating irregularly and stopped occasionally, which resulted in the need for a pacemaker. I was no longer able to keep up with my Joyce and friends and my three children had long since passed me by. It was depressing. The only thing I still had going for me was my ability to propel a rowboat or kayak over long distances, at least until the pain in my shoulder forced me to stop.
I wanted to return to the time when I was good at something. Reading about the Lewis and Clark Expedition drove my quest to learn what a trip like that was really like. Was it possible for me to paddle upstream on the Columbia River? I wanted to find out. Joyce and my friends thought I was crazy, but their doomsday attitude convinced me to try. I needed to show them I still had it!