First-class travel: Kansas farmer rides Earthrace to Hawaii

By Amber Thurlo Pearson | May 25, 2007
Harold Kraus has a story for almost everything that comes up in life. That's because he's served in two military conflicts, farmed for 46 years during some volatile times, and has six children and 13 grandchildren.

One of Kraus's stories, like the others, is close to unbelievable, but true. The 76-year-old retired farmer from west-central Kansas recently helped man the Earthrace boat from San Diego to Hawaii. Despite the exotic vacation destination, manning this boat isn't like taking a pleasure cruise. It is an intense, grueling and sleepless proposition. The wave-piercing boat is attempting out to set the world circumnavigation record while running on biodiesel fuel.

"If you feel like it, do it," Kraus said of his mentality before the trip. "I'm not saying what the 'it' might be. If you're capable, there's no need to sit at home and watch it on TV while you could be the one actually doing it."

At press time, the Eartrace trimaran was in India after several days waiting for parts in Koror, Palau. Although the record bid is still ongoing, Captain and New Zealander Pete Bethune has said time was built in for one problem while pursuing the record, not the three they've encountered. Kraus, a longtime National Biodiesel Board (NBB) and Kansas Soybean Commission member, sponsored and served as a crewmember on one leg of its ongoing journey. The NBB also sponsored that leg of the trip.

Kraus served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for six years in such capacities as hospital corpsman, amphibious boat crewman, and naval aviator/patrol plane commander flying bomber and patrol planes in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean. He also served on two destroyers, several amphibious ships and the USS Missouri battleship during the Korean War and Cold War eras.

Due to his naval service and biodiesel backgrounds, Kraus knew early on he wanted to be a part of Earthrace. In 2003, he became the first to sponsor a leg of the race. While on his San Diego-to-Maui leg, Kraus experienced several days of repairs while still in San Diego and days of storms at sea. Last year, he was also on a familiarization leg of Earthrace's U.S. promotional tour. It also ran from Santa Cruz to Newport Beach in California.

Kraus and Earthrace finally put to sea in early April. "One of my duties during the actual race bid was doing six to eight hours at the helm during the day to give the three crewmen a chance to get some well-needed rest," Kraus said. "My years of service in the Navy enabled me to understand seamanship, navigation, crowded living conditions and non-air-conditioned vessels. I used all of those experiences on the Earthrace. I do not think I could have been of use to the crew of Earthrace if I had not had the naval training and the summer training on Earthrace."

He continued, "The most exciting thing was just getting out in the water because I have missed it. We don't get that [chance] often in Kansas. I've worked hard in farming all those years, and while I've got the health, I wanted to play. Not everyone my age can do that. Feeling the ocean beneath the boat and the salt spray in my face made it worth the body aches. Between war conflict marine activity, and this one, my age tells me that this one was more intense."

The only incident Kraus and crew had en route to Hawaii was when they heard a noise under the boat and immediately had a severe vibration. "Marty [Mead, Earthrace's chief engineer] checked aft to see rope and nets dangling off of the prop," Kraus said. "Pete immediately jumped in with a knife, cut the stuff off and handed it up. Luckily, that incident, unlike others, only set Earthrace back by about 15 minutes."

Kraus realized the beauty of what he was experiencing, despite any setbacks the boat had up to that point in the journey. "I really enjoyed the wildlife along the way- various sea birds, dolphins and an occasional flying fish, one of which hit the windscreen. As we rounded the leeward side of Maui, the humpback whales put on a show for us. They had their calves with them."

He also realized the magnitude of the trip. "On my way back to Kansas, I was tired, happy and very satisfied that I was a part of this effort to promote biodiesel and possibly set a world speed record," Kraus said. "My hat is off to Pete and all the various ground and sea crews of Earthrace. They are extremely talented, hard working, and at the top of the list-volunteers for the cause."

Since its departure from Barbados on March 10, Earthrace was involved in a fishing boat accident that left one fisherman dead in Guatemala, and twice was waiting for several days for repairs or parts. Kraus said he admires the crew for its determination despite heartbreaking setbacks, and he was glad to share in that spirit for a time. "You talk about me in this story, but the real hero here is Virginia for letting me do it," he said of his wife.

Visit for more information on Earthrace, including how to support the record bid. Also, watch video blogs 07 and 08 to see Kraus in action.
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