To Part One
To Part Two
To Part Four
To Part Five
In the first two parts, Oaracle begins the Everglades
Challenge, makes it to the first checkpoint, and is now in the
open Gulf of Mexico off Florida's southwest coast.
This part of the Everglades Challenge is basically a straight
shot down the coast, hopefully in winds that don’t require
tacking. It’s about 40 nautical miles from San Carlos Bay
to Cape Romano and the turn toward Everglades City. It’s
about five miles less if the winds are right to cut in at Caxambas
Inlet on the south side of Marco Island, which allows sailing
down Galavan Bay to Everglades City from the north instead of
crossing the bay from the west.
About mid-afternoon, the westerly breeze picked up slightly,
and a few whitecaps formed. It probably wasn’t necessary,
but I put one reef in the mainsail and progress remained good.
By late afternoon, the autopilot had been put away and as Naples
passed by I could see the Marco Island high condos rising from
the horizon ahead.
||In the late afternoon on Sunday, the condos
of Marco Island grow larger.
The plan was to go in Caxambas if the wind remained favorable,
navigate up the river and anchor for the night by Helen Key –
I was tickled with the notion of sending a SPOT message from there
and Helen at home seeing I was at her namesake. The wind lightened
and the reef came out as the sun dropped lower in the sky. It
was clear we were in a race on whether there would be enough light
to see Caxambas. It was around 7 p.m. – and just about full
dark – when we ran for the entrance. At first it went well.
Oaracle scooted in and the spotlight picked up the first two unlit
channel markers, which were not shown on the chart but which I
expected to be there. But the condos there are built almost to
the water, seemingly close enough to reach out and touch. Sure
enough, they blocked the wind as we got to the first marker. I
hoped enough breeze would get through to keep me on my way, but
when the wind came back, it had swirled around the high rises
and came from dead ahead! A glance at the channel marker also
showed that the tide was ebbing. High tide had been an hour earlier
and I thought we might sneak in before the outbound flow started.
Reflecting on the joys of short tacking at night in an unfamiliar,
narrow waterway with unlit markers in a fluky wind while fighting
the tide, I decided to head back out and go around Cape Romano.
Oaracle picked up the northwest wind again, and slid out the inlet.
But things had changed. The dalliance with Caxambas had lasted
only about 20 minutes but the wind seemed stronger and the seas
steeper. The wind was also dead aft, which made me nervous about
a gybe. Kice Island was close on the port side, but I couldn’t
see it on the moonless night; only the GPS showed me how close
it was. Heading away from the island risked a gybe, which I feared
would flip Oaracle in the boisterous seas. Likewise, trying to
lower the main to reef risked a gybe, or drifting into shore before
that operation was complete. So it was white-knuckle time down
to the cape. I tried easing the main, which was out to starboard,
so the sail was actually forward of the mast. It didn’t
produce rhythmic rolling, which some other rigs will do, but it
did produce a heel to port. After a while, I sheeted the main
back to even with the mast, which eliminated the heel and was
a bit less nerve wracking.
||The course as we unsuccessfully try to enter
Caxambas Inlet, and then have a wild ride, complete with gybe,
down to Cape Romano.
Then, when we were most of the way to the cape, the feared gybe
came. But unlike my worse fears, Oaracle didn’t care and
continued tearing through the seas. The SPOT showed that between
Caxambas and Cape Romano, Oaracle’s straight line speed
was 5.87 knots – a half knot or so over her theoretical
hull speed. Allowing for the inevitable zig zags and the gybe,
that meant her average speed was 6 knots or maybe a bit more,
and certainly higher when surfing down some of the waves. Enough
to keep me on my toes. Done at night when being tossed by waves
that couldn’t be seen approaching and with invisible land
nearby, it was a bit disconcerting. I used the gybe to alter course
a bit and get some more distance from land. Then, finally in the
dim light, I could see the cape. After making sure we were past,
I gybed Oaracle back (again the boat handled the maneuver magnificently)
and shot past the point toward the infamous shoals. Amazingly,
the moment Oaracle passed the tip of the cape, the wind lost almost
half its velocity and the seas smoothed over the shallow water.
When abandoning the Caxambas option, my rough plan had been to
sail to Cape Romano and anchor behind it for the night. But now
Wizard’s words echoed again – don’t waste favorable
conditions. It was only around 8:30 p.m. and I still felt reasonably
rested from my afternoon sleep. With high tide only a couple hours
earlier, most of the water was still over the shoals and there
wasn’t any other hazard between the cape and Indian Key
Pass, which leads to Chokoloskee Bay and to CP 2. The passage
over the shoals was my easiest yet; not even the bottom of the
leeboard touched. I settled in, with Oaracle doing four to five
knots, for the broad reach to Indian Key. After a couple hours
and fighting drowsiness, I picked up the flashing green light
that marked the entrance channel. In another hour or so, we were
there. The original plan had been to enter the pass by going north
of Indian Key, but with the wind still west of north, it seemed
to make more sense to go south of the island and anchor behind
it to get out of the now lightening breeze. It took a couple tacks,
but we sailed about halfway up Indian Key and then pulled out
of the marked channel close to the island and anchored. It was
approaching 12:30 a.m. Even if I had had the energy, going on
made no sense as I would have been beating against an outgoing
tide in a narrow, dark channel. Waiting for morning, light, and
a favorable tide was a no-brainer.
I took the time to eat, attend to a couple chores and then went
to sleep around 1:30, with the alarm set for 6. I was close to
the channel, but I reasoned there would be little if any boat
traffic that early on a Monday morning.
That logic worked until 5 a.m. when what must have been the commercial
fishing fleet in Everglades City went storming by, rocking Oaracle
with a succession of wakes. I couldn’t really blame them,
they were making a living and I was there for "fun."
But it left me a bit grumpy to have my sleep disturbed. By 5:30
they were gone and I got another 30 minutes of light sleep before
the alarm went off. Crawling out of the warm bedroll and cabin,
the slowly brightening sky revealed only light winds. I made sure
to eat a good breakfast – both oatmeal and instant eggs
– and raised the anchor and the sail just before 7. After
a couple of long tacks, we cleared Indian Key and made the first
turn in the winding channel. But the wind died. The oars were
installed, and I took off my foul weather coat, fleece shirt and
one of the two polypropylene undershirts. There was so little
wind that I left the sails up in case it returned at a favorable
angle. At least there was a favorable current, and we made decent
time. I was still adjusting to rowing without someone doing the
steering and was careful to periodically look over both shoulders.
||Rowing in Indian Key Pass early Monday morning,
on the way to Checkpoint 2.
I was feeling somewhat smug about that, when having three channel
markers in sight, I hit a fourth – apparently looking over
each shoulder left a blind spot dead ahead. The marker –
#13, no less – bounced down Oaracle’s starboard side
and I managed to angle the oar to miss the pole. But the green
triangle at the top snagged the top of the mizzen mast. The mast
tip bent back and then with a snap cleared the marker. At the
time I thought Oaracle was unscathed. But a later check showed
one of the two bolts holding the mizzen mast mount to the transom
had failed and there was a crack in the transom, although it was
still structurally sound and solid. I kept rowing, but with a
renewed caution about watching where I was going.
Oaracle eventually emerged into northern Chokoloskee Bay. Everglades
City was across the bay and three miles to the south was Chokoloskee
Island and CP 2. But what greeted us besides open water was a
complete lack of wind. Nothing. Reluctantly, I began to row across
channel toward Everglades City, and then cut south, around some
shoals, towards Chokoloskee. A slight west breeze teased us about
half way down the bay and we tried to sail, but the wind petered
out after a quarter mile. Back to the oars. Oaracle touched the
beach at CP 2 just after 10:30 a.m. I had spent over two and a
half hours rowing.
||Who needs sails when you have oars? Oaracle
arrives at Checkpoint 2.
||Getting ready to reprovision, do a couple minor
repairs, nap, etc., before leaving Checkpoint 2. First solid
land in more than 30 hours.
The checkpoint was being run by veteran WaterTribers Leon and
Denise Mathis (Dr. Kayak and Sanddollar), and Leon generously
loaned me his phone to call Helen – who wasn’t there.
So I tackled other tasks. Signed in at the checkpoint box, hit
the bathroom, bought some water and lunch at the convenience store.
Another phone call got Helen and we caught up.
Next on the list was the mizzen mast. Duct tape went over the
crack in the transom, and some line was lashed around the mizzen
mast mount to solidify its position. The stop was livened when
Dave Combs (DaveonCudjoe) pulled up, trailering his Sea Pearl.
Dave had been capsized by two rogue waves on day one, and spent
some time on his upturned hull before being rescued by Duncan
Vaughn (Ika) on his O’Day 17. Undaunted and with help from
a couple other WaterTribe members, Dave went out the next day
and recovered his boat. It was missing the mizzen mast, boom and
sail, but otherwise had suffered only minor damage. Dave, who
exudes competence and good cheer, was already planning next year’s
High tide wasn’t until noon or so, and I wanted to make
sure the tide was going out before I left. So I also took the
time for an hour nap. I still felt good, not even particularly
tired from the morning’s row but it seemed wise to add to
the 6 hours of sleep I had managed so far. The prolonged stop
also allowed meeting some other challengers. Mike Monies and Andy
Linn came in on the Laguna Dos. Wizard arrived and left on Elusion.
Channing Boswell (DancesWithMullet) came in on Mullet, his Blue
Jay 14 – we had been side by side on the beach at Ft. DeSoto
I made one more phone call to Helen, and then shoved off at 2:30,
a few minutes after DancesWithMullet. He planned to leave by Chokoloskee
Pass; I planned to follow my track from 2008 and use Rabbit Key
Even with the 2008 track in my GPS, it was moderately tricky
getting out. I once thought I was very close to the track and
indeed was within 50 to 70 feet. But there was still a shoal patch
between Oaracle and where the boat should have been. Oaracle squeaked
over to the proper place with only a couple inches to spare. A
moderate west to northwest wind had sprung up and a new tactic
was tried. Rather than having the oars at the ready, I kept the
paddle handy and hoped it wouldn’t be needed for any long
stretches. That wound up working fairly well.
||The route in Indian Key Pass and out Rabbit
Key Pass to make the required stop at Chokoloskee, the second
checkpoint. Lots of rowing and padding here!
The first part of the winding course out was somewhat difficult
because it was hard on the wind and it was difficult in a couple
places to point high enough. Once in the maze of mangroves, there
was usually enough wind and the calms spots were short and easily
paddled. I found it helped to start paddling while Oaracle still
had momentum, rather than trying to start when the boat had nearly
At one point, I went around a corner and found a nice wind –
from dead ahead. It was too much to paddle into and I wasn’t
sure the oars would do much better. It was a narrow stretch, seemingly
about 150 feet wide. There didn’t seem to be anything to
do but trying sailing, and Oaracle responded like a champ, short
tacking through with ease, making good progress (the current helped)
and soon putting the channel behind us. A couple more turns, and
I could see the open Gulf, albeit at the end of a longer, wider
channel that required some long and short tacks before the northern
Everglades turned us loose. It had taken only two hours to get
A 10 knot or so northwesterly scooted Oaracle down the coast.
It was mostly cloudy, cool, but still pleasant.
||Passing Pavilion Key after leaving CP2. A beautiful
place to stop, if you have the time. But watch your food if
you camp; the raccoons are relentless.
Pavilion Key was passed after a few miles, and the southerly
course shifted a few more degrees to the east. This is another
long stretch of the course for those not planning to stop, like
between San Carlos Bay and Cape Romano. The weather forecast called
for 5 to 8 knot northwesterlies, shifting to 5 to 8 knot notheasterlies
overnight, which turned out to be an accurate projection. Progress
was decent but not stellar, with the wind gradually easing.
||A slightly bleary self portrait on late afternoon
Monday of a sailor looking forward to some more sleep.
Shortly after 9 p.m., it all but died and I sat rocking a bit
in the small waves. Oaracle was about two miles offshore, almost
even with the entrance to Lostman’s River (where Noel and
I had stopped two years earlier). After pondering the options,
I decided to drop the main, anchor (the water was less than 10
feet deep) and try to ignore the rolliness of the small chop.
I went below and climbed into the sleeping bag, drifting in and
out of sleep wondering if I would get any real slumber in that
motion. The next I knew, my watch said it was 3 a.m. The motion
was calmer and it seemed the wind was still calm. But poking my
head out showed that there was a light, steady breeze, from the
northeast. Just as the weatherman had predicted.
To be continued next month...