by Jack Clayton

Long-distance test cruise
ends in miserable failure

Fellow DinghyCruising-phytes,

During the last year-and-a-half I built a Michalak designed Mixer (only slightly modified by me) to use as a kick-around sailer and row boat. Towards the end of the construction, I got this crazy idea to enter it in the WaterTribe's Everglades Challenge, a 260-300 nm adventure-style race down the West Coast of Florida. The Mixer has sealed storage in the bow and the stern, so keeping stuff dry and in the boat would not be a problem. But I knew that I needed to test the boat out in a number of different environments before entering the challenge.


So after rowing it through lots of powerboat chop, sailing it through fickle winds, and taking it offshore in 4 ft. swell and light winds (almost getting swept away to oblivion from the current), I figured on a most significant test. A 38 nm training cruise through the sounds of North Carolina and Virginia. I picked this area because it would duplicate some of the navigational challenges of the Everglades.

The preparation and planning for this event was fun. Picking and entering waypoints in the GPS unit, buying the proper equipment that was required for the race, organizing food, etc. Finally, I loaded my 80 lbs. of gear aboard my Mixer and shoved off from the departure ramp. Ideal conditions for my cruise would be SW winds at 10 kn, sunny skies, and 80 degrees. What I got was N winds 20 - 25 kn (together with a Small Craft Advisory), periods of rain, and 70 degrees. I had reefed my balanced lug sail, so I had only around 55 sq. ft. of canvas.

Needless to say, once I got beyond the protection of the shore and turned upwind I got blasted. Every wave created a fire-hose of spray in my face, several gusts heeled us over enough for water to pour in over the rail. A mere 1/4 mile from the beach I had significant water sloshing around the cockpit. I couldn't lean over and start bailing since the boat will heel over and more water would pour in. The N wind had made my 38 nm trip into an estimated 70 nm slog to windward. And there was no let up in the forecast for the next 2 days. As I was struggling with the conditions and contemplating my dismal future aboard an ever sinking boat, Providence stepped in and untied the line holding the head of the sail on the upper yard. In order to fix this problem I would have to lower the sail and retie it. I could have done it in the middle of the sound, but I decided to tuck my tail firmly between my hind legs and limped back to the launching beach. Thusly I ended my self-imposed torture and expunged myself of this silly idea of entering the Everglades Challenge; all before progressing even 0.4% into my test voyage.


The Mixer functions perfectly well as a knockabout sailer and row boat. It is more comfortable than my Sunfish and will carry more also. But it's not ideally suited for a long voyage in open water during Small Craft Advisory conditions. I also realized the relativeness of comfort. Yes, I am becoming soft in my relatively modest-and-not-even-middle age. I would rather engage in longer voyages aboard my 18 ft. Norwalk Island Sharpie, (see photo below) the one that has a cabin, and 700 lbs. of lead in the bottom to stand up to most conditions. I guess I learned my limitations.

Norwalk Island Sharpie

And that, my friends, is why tests are important.