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By Gary Blankenship and Helen Snell - Tallahassee, Florida - USA

Rather than participate in the Everglades Challenge this year, Gary Blankenship and Helen Snell volunteered to man checkpoint three at Flamingo in the Everglades. They will be posting updates as the race progresses.

Friday, March 6
Saturday, March 7
Sunday, March 8
Monday, March 9
Tuesday, March 10
Wednesday, March 11
Thursday, March 12
Friday, March 13
Saturday, March 14

Friday, March 6th

Before taking their post in the swamp, our intrepid reporters stopped by the starting line at Fort Desoto to take a few pictures. There were some familiar faces and some newcomers.

Past winner Grame Byrne's EC22 - Southern Skimmer.
First time entry, a 45 foot Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe is sailed and paddled by a big crew - they are in a new "Exhibition" class. See their Blog.
Miamiproas is back but his proa has become a trimaran.
Danceswithmullet is sailing a Bluejay.
Crazyrussian is back with his Crazy Russian Catamaran.
Pelican and his partner Egret are on a prototype Hobie Adventure Island Tandem.

Saturday, March 7th

Since Gary and Helen did not have to be at Flamingo before the first boats, they decided to stay in Fort Desoto for the start of the race. Gary reports that conditions are mild with light winds ESE expected to increase a bit and change to NW in the afternoon. Gary took this short video clip:

Chief was good enough to forward these pictures for Gary:

Everyone gathers for the traditional group photo.
Graham gets ready to launch Southern Skimmer
Egret patiently waits for Pelican. Gary reports that they were the last boat off the beach.
Matt Layden in his new 13 foot kayak.
Nitesong and Nitenavigator come down from Michigan each year for this event.
Lumpy and Bumpy ready their boat to try to win two in a row...
... but Gary reports that Sewsew (Randy Smythe) in his high tech trimaran was leading the sailboats going out of Tampa Bay into the Gulf.
They're off! Gary says the kayaks headed south in the ICW and the sailboats went out into the gulf.

Sunday, March 8th

Noon

Gary called this report in just now. They got to Flamingo last evening about dark. So far today they have not seen any Watertribers, but know that Lumpy and Bumpy are past CP2 (Chokoloskee). Since they have the finish line lockbox, they will have to take it on to Flamingo at some point, but don't want to miss any of the racers. At first they thought L&M would beat any other racers by 24 hours to CP3 and that the interval would allow them to deliver the box to the finish line, but the found that Jarhead in a Sea Pearl is only a few hours behind last year's winners.

DNF's include Miamiproas and Sewsew.

11PM

I read on the Watertribe site that Lumpy and Bumpy were a mile from the entrance to Flamingo so I called Gary to let him know. He could not see them then but called just now to let me know that they were leaving and heading around Florida Bay for the finish line. Gary and Helen plan to sleep at Flamingo tonight and then head to Key Largo tomorrow with the sign-in box, hopefully ahead of them.

Gary gave me this LINK to Lumpy and Bumpy's Spot display page.

Monday, March 9th

8AM

I checked Lumpy and Bumpy's track (see link above) this morning and found that they had already made it to the finish line so I called Gary and he was there greeting them. So, Lumpy and Bumpy win the 2009 Watertribe Everglades Challenge.

Gary says Lumpy and Bumpy's secret weapon was a borrowed red, white and blue foresail of some kind that allowed them to go fast in light air - even upwind! They certainly did that. The next boat is not yet at checkpoint 2.

Randy Smythe has recovered his boat with no loss of anything. He even got his grainola bars back. Aparently, he had a problem and had to climb out on one of the amas to do some work and a wind gust caught him, capsizing the boat. It was supposed to be possible to right the thing, but an unexpected leak in a hatch and the resulting extra water weight in the boat made that impossible.

Tuesday, March 10th

8:30AM

Gary tells me that RiverSlayer's girlfriend was there at Flamingo last night checking progress and that he and ArdieO got there at 4:23 this morning. They slept for an hour and a half and set off about 7 to cross Florida Bay. They figure 9 hours will do it for them in their CLC tripple.

JRock and LRock - in an I-20 beach cat - got as far as east cape around midnight, but has send no further signals. Gary thinks he probably stopped for the night.

Wizzard along with NiteNavigator and NiteSong appear to be traveling together down the Wilderness Waterway together.

Jarhead left CP2 this morning but winds in that area are not great.

Noon

Gary says there was practically a traffic jamb today as JRock and Roo hit CP3 10 minutes apart. JRock had anchored off Cape Sable last night for a little sleep, only to be awakened by Roo sailing past this morning. JRock got busy and sailed the catamaran past Southern Skimmer to arrive at CP3 first. Both left with intentions of sailing around Florida Bay as the East wind would make the sail through really tough.

Roo reports that they had a nice sail from CP2 and even got to use their spinnaker - this was a nice break from the 5-6 hour rowing sessions earlier. They had a real problem sailing into Gasprilla Pass toward CP1 earlier as they caught a foul wind and tide. At first they were able to make headway, but the wind waned and the tide waxed and they found themselves losing ground, even when they rowed. So they anchored in the pass for 6 hours.

Wednesday, March 11th

8AM

Gary reports this morning that SaltyFrog arrived last night at 10:41 and spent the night there at Flamingo. He is set to be the first solo finisher in the race. Insignificant arrived around 6:00 in his Hobie 14 reporting high wind threatening to withdraw from the race.

All continuing entries have now passed CP2 and are on the way to CP3 or have reached it already.

NiteSong and NiteNavigator have arrived and Jarhead is in sight, tacking up toward Flamingo. Wizzard is expected to arrive shortly and MadRussian is not far behind. It's getting busy at CP3.

1:30PM

Our roving reporters have been busy for a change today. At 10:58, Wizzard came in having spent the night at Midway Key. He then waited until about 2:15 for a favorable tide to leave for the finish line.

Jarhead arrived at 11:15AM but reported seeing the Flamingo channel light as early as 4AM - he had a hard beat up to CP3. After a short time he left headed across Florida Bay.

Whitecaps arrived at 11:50 and left with NiteSong and NiteNavigator.

At 1:05PM CrazyRussian arrived in his inflatable catamaran and left almost immediately with plans to sail around Florida Bay.

DancesWithMullett arrived at 1:55 in his Bluejay dinghy.

Insignificant has not withdrawn but is drying all his gear out. Gary thinks he will spend the night there at Flamingo.

9:30PM

Gary reports that NatureCalls and NatureCalls2 arrived at CP3 at 7:52 this evening. When Gary informed them that the convenience store at Flamingo closed at 8, they made a bee line there for some "real food". They will spend the night and head for the finish tomorrow morning. They reported being overcome by a dirtdevil/waterspout today. They barely had time to release the halyard on the sail before it hit. Then they were showered by dust and debris. It was a close call but nothing broke.

Insignificant finally decided to withdraw at Flamingo. He told Gary that earlier, when he pulled ashore on Marco Island for a little rest, he was adopted by someone in one of the million dollar condos there and given a bed for the night. He ordered pizza delivered there - presumably for his host and him.

There is kind of a mystery going on with Jarhead. As you can see in the image of his track at the right (click to enlarge), He left Flamingo heading southeast toward the first Florida Bay channel - he had told Gary he was going across rather than around - but suddenly turned west as if he had changed his mind and decided to go around after all. Then, just as suddenly, he turned back toward the east, ending up, aparently, on the beach at East Cape (the darker icon represents the latest position - the icons represent spot "I'm Ok" signals. You can check his progress by going to the mapper, and selecting 'Jarhead" from the drop-down there). Did he break something and then head back only to run out of steam and stop for the night? Did he change his mind about route twice?

Thursday, March 12

8:00AM

This morning, Gary reports that Tyro and PaddleCarver (two gentlemen in a tandem kayak who have a combined age of over 150) arrived at Flamingo at 3:15AM after paddling all the way from Chokoloskee. They are resting now and plan to leave around 10AM for the finish.

NiteSong, NiteNavigator and Whitecaps got reached the finish line at 4:04. Wizard followed closely at 4:33.

PenguinMan and OceanDiva arrived at CP3 at 5:15 and left just after 7, heading across Florida Bay with their tandem Hobie Mirage drives.

NatureCalls and NatureCalls2 left Flamingo around 6:30 AM heading across Florida Bay.

Aparently, Jarhead did stop at East Cape last night around 7PM. This morning, his track shows that he left there about 1:14AM and sailed east, back across Florida Bay and by 8 this morning was about halfway across. It will be interesting to hear his story.

3:45PM

Pelican and Egret arrived at 9:58AM and have just left Flamingo along with Paddlecarver and SavannaDan who had arrived at 2:30PM.

SandDollar and DrKayak arrived at 3:40PM after paddling outside from Chokoloskee. It was Ok until they hit Cape Sable then it took 4 hours to get from there to CP3 against the strong head wind. They plan to spend the night and leave in the morning.

SavannaDan reports that they bought a big Papaya last night and had a nice fruit salad.

Gary says the Crows at Flamingo are as bad as the Raccoons at Ft Desoto. While one Watertriber was portaging, one got a bag of cereal and flew away with it. Another stole an entire sandwich.

Still to arrive are Sundance & Hammerstroke - they have a chickee reserved for tonight so will not arrive until tomorrow - SandyBottom, KiwiBird and KneadingWater.

By the way, there is a new wrinkle to the Jarhead mystery.  It seems one of the posts showed his speed as 17.9 knots - unlikely for a SeaPearl so the speculation is that his SPOT is defective. Still it is only that one position that shows that unlikely speed and he did appear to change course twice.

8:00PM

Jarhead finally got in and it turns out that he did change his mind twice - because of conditions at the time. Not sure what that 17 knots thing was about. More later.

Penguin and Egret left as reported at 3:45 but had problems with the rudder cable that gave them problems earlier. So they returned to Flamingo, repaired the problem and decided to rest until morning and leave on a high tide and with minimal wind.

Gary is expecting Kiwibird, SandyBottom and KneadingWater to arrive this evening based on their SPOT signals. That just leaves SunDance and HammerStroke to go and no one seems to know exactly where they are.

10:PM

KneadingWater and KiwiBird are in and SandyBottom's Spot shows her about 45 minutes behind. Sundance and Hammerstroke were 20 miles from CP3 as of 7:30 this evening. Gary doubts they will make it tonight. They have until Saturday noon before the door closes. He is going to get some well earned sleep. Once the last two check in, Gary and Helen will decamp for Key Largo. Gary says he will have to enter the EC next year in order to get some sleep.

Friday, March 13

8:00AM

Gary tells me he got up this morning at 6:00 and walked down to the ramp where there had been a veritible village of Watertribers the night before and found everyone gone. Sandybottom came in at 11:30 last night and left at about 5:00 this morning and Gary assumes all the rest left at the same time. Still no word of SunDance and Hammerstroke, but the weather forcast is for increasing wind tomorrow so we hope for their sake that they arrive in Flamingo soon. The last position was at 7:30PM yesterday about 20 miles north of CP3.

11:AM

Gary reported that SunDance and Hammerstroke got in about half an hour ago and seem to be in good shape. They are talking shower and cheeseburger. Gary and Helen will be leaving soon for Key Largo and a room which has been offered them there. We should have a report from the finish line this evening and perhaps a few photos later this evening.

Saturday, March 14

Gary reports that he and Helen got to their room in Key Largo and collapsed - not sending a report last night - nothing much to report anyway. SunDance and HammerStroke left Flamingo around 6 or 7 and arrived at the finish this morning with one of the best times for crossing Florida Bay.

DaveonCujo (who is very neat and organized) asked Roo if his boat was neat and orderly at the end of the race. Graham replyed that he at least tried to keep the lines straight.

OceanDive related to Gary that when she and PenguinMan passed SavannahDan and PaddleMaker, they offered her beer and Guacamole in what she claims was a blatant attempt to throw the newcomers off their game.

Graham commented to Gary that this was one of the worst years for getting past Florida Bay. With East winds veering to SE in the afternoons, there were not any good options. Graham, who before has crossed Florida Bay, this year sailed around and even then had to do some tacking. Kayaks had it bad too, although they mostly went across the Bay, if they waited for favorable tides, the wind was bad and vice-versa.

So ends another Everglades Challenge. Many thanks to Gary for reporting the event for Duckworks. Next on the horizon is the Florida 120 and since Gary and I will both be at that one, we may have to report from the field - isn't that what technology is for? We will see.

Epilog:

Gary called me on the way home this evening with a few thoughts. The first is that he will be associated with the EC next year. He is not sure how but he is sure he will be there. Then he related a few tips from the guys and gals who had just finished. Pelican told him that his secret was power naps. He took 10 minute naps when he thought he could not go on. Then he felt a lot better. Tyro told Gary that when the pain got too great he thought about something his mother said: "Just carry on, in a hundred years you won't care anyway." NiteSong says her secret to avoiding rashes was to keep clean and to change clothes often. Savanna Dan has a noseeum net that he rigs to the mast on his Sea Pearl. It has rope around the bottom to hold it down. He finds that if the wind is blowing hard enough to lift the rope, the noseeums aren't bothering him anyway.

Among the gag awards was a stuffed, spotted dog to Pelican who lost his Spot satellite locator. PenguinMan sailed a prototype Hobie Adventure Island with his partner, OceanDiva. They had problems and once had to stop to make fiberglass repairs to stop a leak. Their award was the prototype bailer award - a plastic cup.

Gary is sending a few pictures from the finish line tomorrow and I will post them as soon as I can.

*****

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