Today, March 6 four builders familiar to readers of Duckworks Magazine begin an epic journey of personal discovery, the Everglades Challenge. Gary Blankenship, Andrew Linn, Michael Monies and John Hargrove Wright are part of the unofficial “Team Duckworks” sailing from Tampa Bay to Key Largo, Florida, over 300 miles in small, wooden boats, boats they built themselves.
Duckworks will follow the four, along with other challengers here daily with live reports from the route.
Once a year adventure boaters leave Fort Desoto, Florida’s beach for a trip most small boat sailors and paddlers only dream of starting. This year seventy boats will meet on the beach to begin the trip leaving for destinations within the Everglades Challenge, a trip of 300 miles from Tampa Bay to Key Largo or the Ultra Marathon, a two-day race from Tampa Bay to Placida, Florida. For those eight challengers taking part in the Ultimate Florida Challenge, it is a 1,200 mile race that starts and ends near the entrance to Tampa Bay, an event that must be completed in less than 30 days. The Ultimate Florida Challenge or UFC happens only once every four years while the Everglades Challenge is held annually.
WaterTribe is a group of over 2,000 like minded individuals who choose tribal names to represent themselves. It was founded in 2000 by Steve (Chief) Isaac, a former U.S. Marine, to create opportunities for people to compete in long distance small boat adventure races. All WaterTribe events are expedition style, unsupported races for human or wind powered craft. No motors or assistance is allowed from support teams. Challengers must decide for themselves how far or how fast to travel. They face shifting winds, tides and waves while pushing themselves to their personal physical limits.
Checkpoints and time limits are set for each segment of the trip. Filters in the forms of the checkpoints and routes limit type of boats utilized, as to draft, size or sail and mast setups. The boats must be physically launched by human power from the beaches, if sailed, rowing and paddling is usually necessary. Both human and sail powered boats must meet the same time constraints. All craft departing must arrive in Key Largo within the same deadlines, making all checkpoints along the way.
WaterTribe has over 2,000 members. This year’s events with seventy participant challengers is the largest that has ever assembled at Fort Desoto. It is common in these events for less than half to complete the entire route. Commitment and determination get you to the beach to start. What kind of skill, luck, karma, sheer will power gets you to the end?
Gary (LugNut) Blankenship is the veteran among the four “Team Duckworks” sailors, in his Michalak designed “Oaracle“, a Frolic2 with a small cuddy cabin. Gary added a small mizzen sail and a hard cover for the cabin slot. Gary/LugNut has entered five previous Everglades Challenges, he has completed four. His previous challenges can be read about here in Duckworks archives. As the most experienced of the group, Gary has assisted with routing, GPS coordinates, chart information and other sailing tips for the new members of Team Duckworks. This year, for the first time, Gary will be sailing in the Class 4 monohulls category as a solo competitor.
Gary commented, “No matter how many times you do the Everglades Challenge, it is never the same. The weather, the tides, everything is different each year. I have always wanted to do the EC as a solo challenger and this year it worked out that I did not have a partner.” Doing it solo is Gary’s personal challenge this year.
John Hargrove (Krank) Wright, a veteran sailor but a first time participant in the Everglades Challenge. will be sailing a self-designed 14 foot scow , the “Grok.” “ Grok “ was previously known as “ U-14 “ when John sailed her in last year’s TX 200. She has changed to a single masted boat, with a roller reef main and jib. Last year she was a schooner rigged, twin masted scow. John has added a dodger of clear vinyl for protection from the cold and wet conditions, some additional water diverters on her deck and a self-steering vane. She now has foam insulation on the interior of the cabin, removable wheels for moving, her, which makes her amphibious. “ Grok” is extremely shallow draft and can sail in six inches of water. John has repainted her but says, “She is the same ugly little boat!” John will be celebrating his seventieth birthday by single handing in Class 4 monohulls category as a solo competitor.
“Grok” is a term meaning to share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity. Coined by the writer Robert A. Heinlein in his best-selling book “Stranger in A Strange Land”, the Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as “ to understand intuitively or by empathy, to establish rapport with, also to experience enjoyment.” In an ideological context, a grokked concept becomes part of the person who contributes to its evolution, by improving the doctrine, espousing the belief, refining the idea or proofing the theory. What better boat in which to do the Everglades Challenge than a “Grok”?
“Laguna Dos-The Blue Laguna” is a 23 foot Michalak designed Laguna, built and captained by Mike (WoodCutter) Monies and crewed by Andrew (Krunch) Linn, both veteran sailors and part of the Texas 200 “legends”. Mike and Andrew met in the 2009 Texas 200 when Andrew helped rescue Mike after a capsize in Corpus Christi Bay. Mike went on to finish the 200 mile event with a borrowed and improvised sail, thanks in part to Andrew. They formed a friendship and found that both had always wanted to compete in the Everglades Challenge. Mike was building a Laguna for the Texas 200, as was Andrew. Andrew’s Laguna was to be beach built, so Mike’s was decided to sail in. They formed a two man team, Mike building and equipping the boat, Andrew making sails and planning the navigation and route. Mike launched Laguna Dos one week prior to the EC, taking her to Florida for essential practice and Andrew met him one day prior to the race, with one day to practice as a team.
This years Everglades Challenge has a total of twelve boats entered, in the monohull class, counting “Team Duckworks.” The boats are as varied as the entrants themselves. There are three Sea Pearl 21’s, shallow draft Florida built boats that have done well in past Challenges. A veteran Blue Jay 14,that has finished in past Challenges, a Core Sound 20 designed by Graham Byrnes, legendary Everglades Challenge designer and sailor, sailed by past winners of the Challenge. A Wayfarer 16, an O’Day 17, and a new and revolutionary design from Matt Layden/Wizard, that is also entered in the Ultimate Florida Challenge. Most unique of all is a board boat, “Yellow Thing” designed and built by legendary designer/sailor Meade (Yellow Thing) Gougeon of West System Epoxy.
With a field so interesting, where to start? “Yellow Thing”, a 17 foot sloop best described as a board boat is perhaps the most unusual of all entrants. Meade says “Yellow Thing” was so named, for lack of any other way to describe her. He designed her two years ago for a flats fishing boat, for the waters of St. Joseph Sound where he has a winter home in Oscona, Florida. “Yellow Thing” is a seventeen foot scow, twenty-seven inches wide. She can be poled, paddled or sailed.
“Yellow Thing” has a large flat surf-board shaped surface, with threaded inserts every twelve inches around the outer edges. Appendages can be bolted on, giving her great flexibility of use. Her overall weight for the EC is about 140 pounds.
Meade and his brother Jan began building ice boats in the 1960’s using epoxy, going on to form West System Epoxy. They continued to build light, fast sailboats as the Gougueon Brothers, Inc. and have won numerous DN iceboat championships, as well as building numerous record setting catamarans and trimarans. Age has not slowed Meade down, as he will sail in the Everglades Challenge as a young seventy-one year old.
Meade said, “I was attracted to the Challenge this past summer after hearing Randy Smythe give a talk about his recent attempts. I began making changes on the “Yellow Thing” in the fall and began sea trials in November. By the first of February I felt I had a viable candidate worthy of the Challenge that was at least capable of getting me there within the eight day time limit, which is my main goal. I have been a life-long sailor for over sixty years and for the past twelve years have been a committed cruising-sailing canoe skipper. I started my career in small boats is it is now appropriate and joyful that I finish it in small boats.
The Challenge is a great event of which I hope I can be a worthy entrant .”
Matt (Wizard) Layden is a legendary builder/designer of small sailboats for coastal cruising. He has designed a number of coastal cruisers, however it was his sixth micro-cruiser, “Enigma” a light twelve foot v-bottomed boat, weighing only 140 pounds that accomplished the incredible feat of completing the 1200 mile Ultimate Florida Challenge as her maiden voyage, a trip that included a forty mile portage of his boat.
Matt finished first in his class and third overall, an unbelievable accomplishment.
Most recently Matt built an eight foot cruiser, the “Sand Flea” which he entered in the Everglades Challenge of 2008, finishing near the top of his class. Matt has completed nine WaterTribe Challenges, including one Ultimate Florida Challenge. He has placed at the top of class 4 monohulls as a single male three times since 2003, again in 2006 and 2007, setting record times. Matt’s newest creation for this year’s Everglades Challenge was featured last month in Duckworks.
Paul(BroganTwo) Myers from Port Charlotte, Florida will be sailing in class 4 monohulls as a two man team with his partner Rod (Polecat) Hesse of upstate New York. Paul’s boat is the Sea Pearl 21, “Brogan“. She is a cat ketch, with a blue hull, sail #415. Paul says the only modifications he has made to the boat have been some additional safety gear, sleeping arrangements for a second person and some LED lighting, purchased from Duckworks, for night sailing.
The Sea Pearl 21 is an open cruiser produced in Florida for coastal cruising. She has leeboards and a tombstone transom, nearly double -ended, with a relatively narrow 5’ 6” beam on an overall 21 feet. The Seapearl has flared, rounded topsides, giving the impression of a miniature whaleboat, but in fact has the flat bottom of a dory. She is a scaled up model of Herreshoff’s l8 foot Carpenter dory/whaleboat/tender designed in 1929.
The flat bottom makes her easy to beach and gives her an unloaded draft of about five inches. The Sea Pearl is not a large boat despite her length, being narrow on the bottom and light. She sails best when well heeled and heels easily. She has considerable load carrying ability, but only weighs about 650 pounds.
Paul commented on his and Rod’s entrance into this year’s Everglades Challenge: “This is our first entry and will be a learning experience. Our goal is to finish this expedition in a safe and efficient manner, with as little drama as possible. The value of an event like this is to provide a way to challenge yourself and push beyond your comfort zone. The planning and preparation for this unsupported expedition-style adventure race starts long before the week of the race. In fact, just making it to the start line is an accomplishment! We plan on finishing the race and pushing ourselves to do the best we can, but just finishing will also be a win.”
Added Paul, “Rod and I are retired seniors who have sailed in a variety of boats for over forty years, but this will be the first time on a long distance coastal race in a small open boat.”
Channing (DancesWithMullet) Boswell lives in Bokeelia, Florida on the north end of Pine Island. “Mullet” is his 14 foot Blue Jay sailboat dating from the mid-seventies. He has modified her with a hard dodger to give a little protection from the spray, but also to house the electronic, provide a mount for the solar cell and make up the forward section of his canvas cabin. Channing has a removable seat for rowing and a small A-frame on the transom to forms the end of his canvas cabin. For the race he also added a very deep reef in the mainsail.
“I use a GPS plotter that is powered by a lawnmower battery,” Channing said. “I also use this battery to recharge the cell phone and backup VHF. In preparation for the race last year I removed and inspected or replaced all hardware except for two fittings, and that came back to bite me. The shroud chainplates were behind the glassed-in flotation tank. I remedied that situation this year with a Sawzall and some reinforced chain plates. Other than that, “Mullet” is ready to go again. I am just hoping it gets a lot warmer by start time.”
“Oh, and the value of the Everglades Challenge?” Channing added, “I am starting to think of it as a sickness. I just seem to have gotten addicted.”
The Blue Jay sailboat continues to be one of the leading one-design, sloop rigged sailboats in existence today. She was fathered by the great Drake H. Sparkman, head of the famed deign firm of Sparkman and Stephens, Inc. after he had chaired a junior sailing program at his yacht club. She was “pencil drawn” in 1947 and is still being produced today. Designed as a junior or “baby Lightning” it now numbers over 7,200 hulls. It is used from Florida to Maine, over 99% of all Blue Jays being on the East Coast. Originally designed to be constructed of wood, fiberglass was allowed in the early l960’s, however wooden boats continue to be built today. The original fiberglass molds are now being used by Allen Boat Co. , builder of the Lightning for many years, to continue building of the Blue Jay.
“Maggie” is a Sea Pearl 21 sailed by Dave (DaveOnCudjoe) Combs. Dave is a veteran of many Everglades Challenges and resides on Cudjoe Key in the lower Florida Keys. She is hull #334, best described Dave says as a cat ketch rigged dory. “Maggie” stands out Dave added from most Sea Pearls. “She is fitted with a centerboard instead of the usual leeboards that most Sea Pearls have. She has been modified over the years primarily for this event.”
Dave has started and completed all five Everglades Challenges he has entered. When asked what he considered the benefit of entering an event such as the Challenge, he said, “This event is life changing in that it forces one to face unforeseen obstacles and danger and to dig deep to overcome these challenges.
Facing the unknown alone is something most people never experience and builds confidence that one can carry over into any walk of life. The competitors in this challenge have formed a bond unlike any other in life. We only see each other once a year, but oh, what a time we have!”
Changes that Dave made to the “Maggie” for the Everglades Challenge include a new rig with a lower center of effort, along with fully battened sails with moderate roach and slab reefing. He also added a mizzen staysail to her sail plan. He also added a full electrical system with VHF radio and a masthead mounted antenna, along with LED navigation lights, auto pilot and charging for a cell phone.
“Maggie” additionally has dual anchors with dual rodes, a parachute sea anchor an a drogue fitted to the bow to hold her into the wind in an emergency. She also has dual magnetic compasses, a porta potti to reduce environmental impact, and a canvas cabin for nighttime and shelter. Dave also added a foil shaped rudder for improved control, especially in following seas.
David (Freebyrd) Bolduc of North Carolina is sailing Matt Layden’s “Enigma” in this year’s Everglades Challenge. “Enigma” is the ll foot 10 inch legend of the past Ultimate Florida Challenge of 2006, sailed by her creator Matt (Wizard) Layden. David owns another Matt Layden design, a fifteen foot boat called “Little Cruiser” which he has sailed to the Bahamas seven times. David’s says his primary interest is in cruising, but he is doing the EC for the first time because he thought it would be fun to sail with others with an interest in small boat voyaging.
David has considerable experience sailing in Matt’s boats, as owner of “Little Cruiser” which Matt built and sailed for many years, David has logged over 10,000 miles sailing her to and from the Bahamas. He sailed “Enigma” in this years first North Carolina Challenge, 2009. “Enigma” was the lightest of all Matt’s boats when built, weighing only 140 pounds. She is stitch and glue, a sharpie that could be lifted onto the top of a car and transported. This design incorporated many of the best features in Matt’s older sharpies. It has an efficient roller furling system, and a distinctive low aspect ration lug sail. She also has an improved fold down dodger, as well as chine runners made shorter and wider.
“After watching this race from the sidelines,” David says, “it is my chance to be a participant, even though I know I have no chance of winning in tiny “Enigma”. For me, I’m just hoping for some favorable winds along the way so I can make the checkpoints and just finish on time.”
Duncan (Ika) Vaughan lives in the United Kingdom. He is English, his wife an American. They acquired the “Ika” Duncan’s 1969 O’Day Day Sailor from its’ original owner, his wife’s uncle, who had owned it continuously since 1969 and sailed her in Colorado lakes. “Ika” means fish in Fijian and also squid in Japanese. This is appropriate, as Duncan is a fisheries manager in England, having studied and worked in Fiji doing coral reef work.
Duncan and his wife have owned the “Ika” for about six years and have sailed her in Florida and Georgia while they both attended the University of Florida. Duncan’s good friend is Channing (DancesWithMullet) Boswell, who is sailing “Mullet” the 14 foot Blue Jay again this year. “My friend Channing was telling me about the race and I was hooked. I have not tried anything like it before and think it will be a major adventure. The most I have ever sailed the boat before is for a four hour sail.:
The O’Day Day Sailor is a day sailor for pleasure sailing, as well as racing and is sailed throughout North America. Designed in 1958 by Uffa Fox and George O’Day, she is a 17 foot fiberglass sloop with a beam of six feet, flotation fore and aft, a small cuddy cabin, an aluminum mast and boom and carries a total of 145 feet of sail in a main and jib. Over 10,000 have been built and are raced throughout the U.S. In 2003 the O’Day Day Sailor was inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame. She is l6 feet, 9 inches on the water and draws 3 feet 9 inches.
Another first timer in the Everglades Challenge will be the team of John (SirPercival) Nasser and Ken (BlackwaterKnight) Winders. They will be sailing a Wayfarer 16 belonging to John. John’s Wayfarer has a green and white hull, with white decks. She is sail number 10195.
John said he had made a few modifications for the race, including the installation of oarlock sockets. He also said, “I have also given some thought to flotation issues. If you check the technical info on the Wayfarer you will see where the watertight compartments are located in the boat. Because they are low in the hull, there is a tendency in a knockdown to turn turtle. To address that problem I have had a pocket and flotation added to the head of the sail and have installed attachment points under the gunnels to which I will attach additional flotation.”
“Ken and I also modified the boat to allow us to unstep the mast from the cockpit. We had to change the attachment point for the forestay, which otherwise required work on the bow.”
John said that the Everglades Challenge was his first event of this nature. “However, I have been sailing since I was a kid in Fort Lauderdale, but until recently I have been kayaking. I have kayaked the Wilderness Waterway and kayaked in and out of the Everglades on numerous occasions, including a few solo overnight trips including night paddles. I am familiar with Indian Key and the channel that we will be taking for the second check-in.”
The Wayfarer 16 is a sloop of l5 feet, 10 inches length, beam of six feet and draft of eight inches. With her centerboard down she draws three feet, ten inches. Her weight is 365 pounds, and her sail plan includes a main of 95 square feet, as well as a genoa, jib and spinnaker. She features a kick up rudder and retractable centerboard . The design was first developed in the 950’s and has been continuously sailed and raced throughout the U.S. Until recently Abbott Boats of Canada was making the Wayfarer 16.
Bill (JarHead) Fite and his partner Jonathan (HonestJohn) Arthur are sailing the “Moon Shadow” a SeaPearl 21. The “Moon Shadow” is a cat ketch. “ Like all ketches, it has a main mast and a mizzen mast.
What makes it a cat ketch is the placement of the main mast well forward in the boat like a catboat and the absence of a jib.” Bill adds, SeaPearls are made one at a time in Tarpon Springs, Florida by Marine Concepts. I believe the popularity of the SeaPearl 21, which has been in production for over 25 years, is due to its simplicity and all around excellent performance.”
“Moon Shadow” has the standard sail plan of mainsail and mizzen that furl around unstayed rotating masts. “In addition, I can deploy a mizzen staysail between the two masts if the point of sail is a beam reach or close to a beam reach. I have made no modifications for this year’s race.”
“I am a retired Marine and live in Tampa, Florida. Jonathan and his family are from Melbourne Beach, where they have owned and operated Honest John’s Fish Camp on the Indian River Lagoon for many years. I have entered three Everglades Challenges and finished two. One my EC in 2007 my sails were severely ripped on pilings at the railroad trestle a few hundred yards from Checkpoint 1. We rowed to the Checkpoint but had to withdraw at that point. This is Jonathan’s first EC, but he owns a Sea Pearl 21 and sailed it alone to the Bahamas. I was going to do the EC solo this year when my partner from 2008 had to back out due to ill health, but I jumped at the chance to sail with Jonathan.”
Bill feels that the Everglades Challenge is a great adventure for all participants. “It is one that has surely made each of us a better sailor or paddler. Jonathan and I will treat the EC as a race in order to push ourselves. Our personal measure of success will not be where we place but how closely we come to doing our best while pushing within the limits of responsible boating.”
Doug (Ridgerunner) Cameron will be sailing his Coresound 20 along with his partner Michael (Greybeard) Collins. Doug said, “Michael and I are veterans of many WaterTribe Challenges. I worked as a volunteer in 2002 rather than race because of a bout of pneumonia. I got to meet Michael and his son Brian who finished second that year in their schooner rigged Kruger Cruiser. The next year he competed with Brian again and I did the EC solo in a Sea Pearl. As I finished, Michael waded out and handed me a beer. As we talked through the evening he told me that Brian was going into the Air Force and asked if I would like to race with him the following year.”
“In 2004 we had perfect weather for a Class 3 boat. There was almost no wind for the first thirty hours, then 20 knot following winds for the rest of the race. We surprised ourselves by winning and setting a record time. We had one leisurely year, taking our time and going through the Wilderness Waterway to get our alligator tooth and another where we cut five hours off our record-breaking time, only to be beat by eight hours by Graham Byrnes in his Coresound 17, a boat he designed.”
“I then bought a set of plans for the faster Coresound 20 from Graham and built it. Michael and I then raced it in 2008 in a wild Class 4 monohull race where four Coresound designs finished in the top five.
Doug has also volunteered to help run three Everglades Challenges and will be helping with the Ultimate Florida Challenge after the Everglades Challenge is finished this year. Michael and his son, Brian also raced in the Michigan Challenge and experienced rudder failure. Michael and Doug entered this year’s North Carolina Challenge but due to inclement weather were turned back.
Doug is a retired high school science teacher living in Tennessee and sailing mostly in Alabama and Tennessee. Doug also teaches whitewater paddling in canoe and kayak in summer camp and is a lead instructor for Wilderness Medical Associates. Michael, along with his son Brian, designed the altered Kruger Cruiser set-up used today.
“I do the Everglades Challenge because they are fun and challenging. I have become great friends with many participants and learn much from them each year,” Doug finished.
His partner, Michael (Greybeard) Collins added, “I started doing the Everglades Challenge because I was looking for an adventure to share with my son. I had been his crew and coach for several years but I wanted to find something that didn’t leave me on the sidelines. Our WaterTribe experiences were a shared adventure from the beginning. We worked together on choosing a boat and converting it to a rather unique sailing canoe. Every year we worked together on routes, strategy and boat improvements.”
“After Brian left home, I was lucky to find a compatible sailing partner in Doug. I continue to find enjoyment and variety in the Challenges, even after doing so many of them. Every year brings new experiences and friendships. My favorite year was the year we took the “leisure trip” through the Everglades. It is always fun comparing our 40-hour leisure trip of the Wilderness Waterway to other accounts of people rushing to finish the same route in four or five days.”
Warren (Sharkchow) Richey has written a book about his experiences in the Ultimate Florida Challenge, “Without a Paddle- Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida by Sea Kayak. It is available through amazon.com or at your local bookstores. This is what Warren had to say about this year’s Ultimate Florida Challenge and why he does this: “One of the great things about WaterTribe is for all the talk of racing and competition, we really aren’t racing.”
“What we are doing is pushing ourselves to the edge, to the very brink of our own concept of what is possible. That is a different journey for each of us. Not a single race but individual challenges. When we get there and break through to some new place it is the most glorious thing.”
“Think about it. When you participate in a WaterTribe event you get a tee-shirt, a paddle and a shark’s tooth. But what you really get is proof that you can do more and achieve more than you ever imagined. It is breaking down barriers, it is seeing things in a different light. It is doing the impossible. And there ain’t no grander thing on this earth.”
No grander thing on this earth.
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