To Part Three
To Part Four
To Part Five
From Tom Pamperin’s excellent reporting from the 2010
"And here is the first filter of the race: every crew
has to launch their boats unassisted from the beach. Some do it
by pushing hard. Some, like Mike Monies and Andrew Linn, do it
by using plastic fenders as rollers. Gary Blankenship sets an
anchor and starts to haul Oaracle off the beach, then shifts to
pushing from behind. Gary has done this before, and his boat has
found its share of fame on Duckworks. As he works Oaracle off
the beach, someone in the crowd asks, ‘What have you learned
"‘That it’s a lot easier shoving this thing
with two people than with one,’ he says, and keeps pushing."
And so it was. But fortunately – unlike launching –
doing the entire 300 miles of the annual WaterTribe Everglades
Challenge solo was not significantly harder that doing it with
Although I had entered four previous Everglades Challenges and
finished three, this year would be different as I would be doing
it for the first time without a crew. I’ve done a fair amount
of singlehanding, including daysailing on Oaracle and overnighting
on a larger boat. But nothing compared to an undertaking like
||Oaracle’s course for the 2010 Everglades
The Challenge is an annual event run by WaterTribe (www.watertribe.com)
for kayaks, canoes and small sailboats. The rules are ingenious
and tough. All boats must be beach launched from above the high
tide mark at Ft. DeSoto Park. All boats must stop at three checkpoints
along the 300-mile route. The first checkpoint requires passing
under a fixed bridge, 8 to 10 feet high and with about 12 feet
of horizontal clearance. No problem for the kayakers, but it’s
masts down for the sailboats and some frantic paddling.
||Around 70 boats and kayaks line up on the beach
the day before the start
The second checkpoint is at Chokoloskee, just south of Everglades
City, at the northern end of the Everglades. The ingress and exit
channels are narrow, with the wind potentially blocked by mangrove
islands, and subject to strong tidal currents. The third checkpoint
at Flamingo is a bit easier to enter and exit, but can have its
own eccentricities. And then there’s the final leg across
Florida Bay to the finish in Key Largo. But more about that later.
(All these requirements are described as "filters,"
which is a WaterTribe euphemism for obstacle.)
||Oaracle and Mullet, a modified Blue Jay class
racer, on the beach. The two boats also would spend some side-by-side
time during the race.
||Grok and The Blue Laguna
||John Wright makes adjustments to Grok –
I wish I had taken more time to study this boat.
We had a impromptu Duckworks Team for this year’s event.
Mike Monies brought his new Jim Michalak-designed Laguna
Dos with Andy Linn as crew. And John Wright brought his innovative
14-foot Grok, a scow-bowed boat that I wished I had more time
to inspect. I had Oaracle, a Michalak-designed Frolic2
which, as noted above, has managed to overcome her owner’s
best efforts and finish three Challenges.
Arrival at Ft. DeSoto Park, the EC start, was not encouraging.
I had reserved a campsite and hoped we could all fit, but my memory
of its size was . . . somewhat generous. Fortunately, Mike and
John were able to find a nearby unfilled spot at the last minute
to store the overflow of boats, trailers and tents and we settled
in on Thursday, March 4, to meet other competitors and do last
minute jobs. In Mike’s case, a fair number of last minute
jobs. We had launched Laguna Dos the previous Saturday in Tallahassee
and sailed again on Sunday in the nearby Gulf of Mexico. The Laguna
was impressive, but equally impressive was the number of last
minute details to be worked out – cleat locations, sheet
leads, rigging, and the like. Mike tackled it all with notable
perseverance and patience.
He had been at Ft. DeSoto since Monday, hoping to get in more
sailing, but the weather had been uncooperative. It echoed much
of our winter in Florida this year, cold, rainy and very windy
as front after cold front assaulted the state. Andy joined him
Wednesday, and then John and I arrived on Thursday. I was accompanied
by Noel Davis, who has sailed with me in past challenges. This
year, he would be running the checkpoint at Flamingo, and then
would pick Oaracle and me up at the finish line at Key Largo.
My big concern for this year’s EC, aside from doing it
alone, was the weather and the aforementioned cold fronts. All
had plenty of rain and many had substantial winds. Marine forecasts
with gusts to near gale force were common along the EC route.
But we got a break. It became clear a couple days before the start
that there was going to be a break in the steady march of fronts,
at least for most of the Challenge. Temperatures, however, would
remain well below normal. I wondered if my three sets of long
underwear would be enough.
||Some of the kayaks in the Everglades Challenge
||Matt Layden (Wizard) launches his 9-foot Elusion
to take wife Karen on a ride the day before the start
Part of the fun of an EC is meeting old friends before the start,
as well as newcomers. It’s a good reason to come down a
day before registration. The Friday before the start is usually
a blur of pleasant activity. Register. Put your boat on the beach.
Help other WaterTribers put their boats on the beach. Walk the
starting line admiring the boats and kayaks. Gab with old friends.
Meet new ones. Organize gear in the boat. Set up the masts. Watch
others do the same. Admire Matt (Wizard) Layden’s new nine-foot
boat. Go to the skippers’ meeting conducted by WaterTribe
founder Steve Isaacs (Chief) and listen to instructions and admonishments.
Back to the boat for some finishing touches. Out to a nervous
supper with Noel (well, I was nervous; Noel was fine) where the
food tastes funny for some reason. Then back to the camp for last
minute organizing of things (mostly food and electronics) that
won’t be loaded on the boat until morning. Finally to bed.
Sleep may be hard to come by in the next few days and starting
well rested is important. Chief has announced that the gates to
the starting beach will be open around 5:30 a.m., earlier than
in previous years, and I want to be there to mitigate the hecticness
of the start.
The alarm went off at 4:30 and water was boiled for breakfast.
Oatmeal was all my nervous stomach wanted and a thermos was filled
so hot drinks and soup would be available during the day. Noel
and I had sorted our gear for quick departure – my stuff
ready to load and his stuff in the back of the truck for the trip
to Flamingo. We got to the starting beach at 5:30 and Noel helped
me tote my remaining gear and supplies to Oaracle as the gradually
lightening beach became a beehive of activity. There were 70 craft!
About 20 were in the 67-mile Ultra Marathon, which ended at the
first checkpoint in Placida. Forty were starting the Everglades
Challenge (two who had signed up didn’t make the starting
line, one from last minute boat problems and one from illness).
Eight were starting the grueling 1,200 mile Ultimate Florida Challenge,
which would see them circumnavigate the north-south part of the
Florida peninsula, including a 40-mile overland portage between
the St. Mary’s and the Suwanee rivers.
||Another view of Oaracle, with two fenders acting
as rollers to help with the launch. Under just revised rules,
fenders and other launching aids now cannot be placed under
the boat until the 7 a.m. starting time.
There was a quick last-minute meeting on the beach for roll call
and a group picture. Chief cautioned that the north wind, which
felt gentle on the beach, would be stronger as we got offshore.
Back at our boats, we got the instruction to switch on our SPOT
trackers, a new feature for many of us racers. The SPOT sends
a message to a satellite, which in turn relays an e-mail message
that you are okay along with your position to a selected group
of people. It also, linked to the WaterTribe site, provides a
track of your progress. Neat. Mine would play a more important
role than I anticipated.
In past years, two of us had been able to muscle the boat into
the water using fenders, otherwise carried along the cabin topsides
for extra floatation, as beach rollers. The two largest fenders
were under Oaracle and a test yesterday showed the boat might
be movable by me by pushing only. But this morning it wasn’t
budging. It turned out one of the rollers had partially deflated.
It would be done the hard way. I waited a few minutes while the
boats on either side of me got launched, as the orange sun peeped
over the Sunshine Skyway bridge to the east. I hooked a block
to Oaracle’s bow, and then set an anchor about halfway to
the water. A Dacron line was run from the anchor through the block,
giving me a 2:1 purchase. I braced my feet, pulled hard, and Oaracle
began to move. A couple of bystanders had to be discouraged when
they offered to help; WaterTribe rules are very explicit. WaterTribers
can lend any assistance to each other and some help volunteered
by strangers can be accepted – except at the start. Each
boat’s crew must launch their craft without outside assistance,
and carry with them any equipment used to help. As Oaracle began
to move, I put one of the smaller fenders under the bow and then
paused to reset the anchor, this time in the water. Oaracle edged
over the top of the high tide mark and started down the gently
sloping beach toward the water. More fenders went under the boat
and I was able to get it the final few feet by pushing on the
stern, the anchor no longer needed. Then it was a leisurely storing
of the anchor, retying of the fenders along the cabin, raising
the sail and starting off. Total time to launch was less than
30 minutes, including waiting for others to clear the beach. A
short distance from the beach, I hit the SPOT button again, per
Chief’s instructions, to send another message indicating
I had started.
||Hauling Oaracle to the water. The line runs
through a block on the bow and then to an anchor set on the
other side of the boat, giving a 2:1 purchase. Note the fenders
under Oaracle, which act as rollers
||On the water, retying the fenders to the boat
where they serve as extra floatation.
||And we’re off!
The first few minutes had light winds, but a short distance out,
they picked up, as Chief had predicted. Not enough for a reef,
but enough to move Oaracle at hull speed. The Tampa Bay swell
and waves assumed a lumpy disposition, familiar from earlier EC
Launching photos by Noel Davis. Pictures of Oaracle at CP 2 by
Tom Pamperin. Pictures at Flamingo by Noel and Tom.
To be continued...