Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sailing Class3 in the 2007 EC

This year, wanting to try something a little different, but still wanting the comfort of a Kruger Canoe, I borrowed a Kruger SeaWind and Balogh Sail Rig from a friend, and registered as a Class3 participant in this years WaterTribe Everglades Challenge. Detailed rules for boat classes can be found here. Basically, Class3 means you have an expedition kayak or canoe fitting the Class1 rules, with the addition of a sailing rig, including lee board or centerboard (that does not pierce the hull) that can be fully stored in/on the boat so the boat can paddle as a Class1 when not sailed.

If you look back at some of my previous postings over the past couple months, I've described my experiences both learning to sail and learning to use the sail rig with the SeaWind. It was not particularly difficult to learn enough to get the job done (not the same as being a good sailor), and the Balogh is very easy to use. My initial difficulties were in getting used to sailing fast, trusting the stability of the outriggers (amas), and feeling a bit out of control. A seakayaker in conditions is all about being in control. In the end I decided to use my beloved Kruger Dreamcatcher with the Balogh sail. She and I are just so comfortable together after having traveled the 1200 miles of the Ultimate Florida Challenge together last year.

However, none of the practice and learning I did on Jordan Lake (though truth be told I only managed about 5 days), even on the windiest days, fully prepared me for the wind and sea conditions I experienced the first three days of the Challenge. Winds were often 10-18 mph with higher gusts. Tampa Bay had swells 5-6 ft (I swear towards the end of the Bay we were surfing 6-8 ft swells), and again outside on the Gulf on day 3 we experienced similar wind conditions with even larger swells with NE winds and quartering seas. As in most of the EC's I've done, we are often challenged with small craft advisories, forcing each challenger to make decisions about routes to take, and to continually assess their skills and abilities, and risk taking.

KiwiBird and I had driven down to Florida together, and on Friday, the day before the race, we were setting up on the beach at Tampa Bay and looking forward to a wind change, from South to North as was predicted for the start of the Challenge.

Saturday morning as last minute preparations were taking place and I was setting up my sail, I noticed that Mark (ManitouCruiser) had totally reefed his Balogh sail for the Tampa Bay crossing. He's the man when it comes to experience with Krugers and Balogh sails, so I figured he knew something I should. I too put in the 2 reefs of the sail. Mark is the owner of Kruger Canoes, and has entered and completed every and more WaterTribe Challenges than any other.

Crossing Tampa Bay I just continually repeated my new mantra "trust the amas, trust the amas". And was glad for previous advice about how to use the leeboard in a following sea (keep it up), as even then the bow of the Dramcatcher would occasionally bury in a very frightening way. I was very glad for the reefing as I crossed the bay in no time flat surfing many of the swells and waves, faster than any paddling or sailing I'd ever done. The GPS recorded a few seconds of wave surfs at 11.4 and 12.3 mph.

Once across and in Ana Maria Sound things calmed down a little. Still had the wind, but the swells were more chop than wave, and by this time, I was having fun and feeling much more confident. I pulled over behind a spoil island to unreef, and even put up the Pacific Action Sail, to act as a jib. Things got a bit faster in larger Sarasota Bay, and I would occasionally just put the PAS down to depower as it suited me. I had originally brought the PAS along for use in the Everglades Wilderness Waterway (WW) when I'd planned to store the Balogh rig. The WW is full of narrow connectors and creeks into fairly large bays that would easily accommodate a down wind sail. The PAS was certainly coming in handy.

This year was very interesting for me, the first few days I was constantly passing or being passed by many of the Challengers, often the same ones over and over. The wind conditions seemed to even out many of the cruisers pacing, regardless of sail or rig, so often it felt like much less of a solo experience, and allowed lots of time to visit with Challengers as we crossed each others paths.

I found it interesting that sailing was not necessarily faster than paddling. But while sailing, one can move at a very decent clip without paddling at all, conserving lots of energy. However, many of the strong paddlers, and especially those with the aid of a PAS or Spirit downwind sail, could often keep up, or even go faster than those just sailing without paddling. Cruiser that I am, I had decided that if I could sail 4.5-5.0 mph, then I didn't need to also paddle unless I wanted to take a few strokes to stay warm.

ManitouCruiser who finished the EC in 3 days 14 hours (as opposed to my PR finish in 6 days 10 hrs), chose a very different approach. As a racer, he optimized sailing and/or motorsailing for speed and energy sailing, and started the race utilizing the favorable winds by not stopping to camp for the first 38 hours. Even with the hard headwinds we all faced crossing Florida Bay, he'd made such good time that he finished
1st place in Class3 and 3rd place overall. Carter (XLXS) who paddled a surfski in class2, without sail, and even less stoping and camping, finished in 2nd place overall in 3 days 2 hours. A lot of factors go into people's finish times, it's not just about paddling or sailing, or which boat is faster. This actually is what makes this race and Challenge so interesting.

Right before Venice inlet I stopped for a few minutes to visit with Team RAF. They had gotten off the beach a bit later then some (they were still building the boats on the beach on Friday when everyone else was packing). They were setting up to go out the inlet and sail down the coast, rather than staying inside on the ICW as most chose. With alot of Mom control here, I just smiled and waved, "have a good time I said", trying not to show my worry.

I had opted to stay inside today and was about to paddle through the ditch around Venice airport with the company of KiwiBird, Oracle, and SavanahDan and PaddleMaker (shown here as ultimate cruisers).

That night, I discovered that I don't like sailing downwind in a following sea at night in the dark. I recall our first night was pretty dark with cloud cover, despite a full moon. Darkness settled in while I was in Lemon Bay. That evening the winds picked up again, and I hadn't thought to reef when I could have pulled over. It definitely freaked me out a bit, and I eventually stopped about 5 miles from CP1, put the sail down and came into CP1 using just the PAS and paddling.

Leaving CP1 early the next morning at dawn, I sailed down Gasparillo Sound and Charlotte Harbor on the ICW towards the Sanibel Bridge, getting outside and onto the Gulf about 4pm, passing NightNavigator and NightSong (paddling a double Kruger Cruiser, no sail). It was my first time paddling these huge sounds during the day, choosing to follow the markers down the ICW route as many others seemed to do, wondering how I'd ever done this at night in the dark on previous years.

Making the turn off Pine Island before the bridge was most challenging, a strong headwind forced me to drop the sail and paddle very hard against the wind with the drag of the amas. It was about this time that Pelican (pictured on his Hobie Adventure Island), Team RAF, and KiwiBird were also heading outside. I stopped at the bridge causeway to drop the mast, then again on the other side to put the sail up with reef for the night. Once outside, interestingly the wind died for a couple hours, only to pick up with a vengeance. That evening the winds shifted some and were more NE with fairly large quartering seas. Glad to have reefed, but again, overly optimistic, as I had only put in one reef. Reefing is possibly while underway, and I've done it a few times, but it's difficult and easier done if you are brave enough to stand in the boat ("trust the amas").

On a straight track to Marco, I was about 2-3 miles offshore when the wind picked up, and the sun started to come down. Nature Calls in a double seakayak with Balogh, came up behind me, and we all agreed it was getting a bit nasty and time to move closer to shore. By the time we came on Wiggens Pass (a well known WaterTribe camp site), it was agreed it was time to go inside and hide for awhile. I entered the pass with my flashlight in my mouth, keeping the markers well lit intent on going through the inlet right down the main channel, trying hard to avoid the breaking surf of shoalings on both sides of the pass. NatureCalls cut the corner just a bit too tight and had a wild ride in through some of the surf. Once inside we found a great campsite (part of a county park) with KiwiBird and eventually with DaveOnCudjue anchoring his Sea Pearl Maggie off the beach. A WaterTribe alumni Kontiki was also there, he and his friends had been out on a boat taking photo's of the Tribers as they passed.

The next morning, after a great sleep in my Hennesey Hammock we got an early start off the steep beach, and paddled out the inlet. We later heard that some of the Challengers had a bit of trouble with surf landings off Wiggens, and others called a weather hold that morning rather than go out again for awhile.

Once out the pass and sailing at a good clip down the coast, I noticed my left ama was dangling off the aka, and being held only by 2 of the 4 connector loops. I don't think anyone has dropped a Balogh sail as fast as I did. Still with KiwiBird, she attempted a fix, but unfamiliar with the rig, and in unstable conditions wasn't able to help me. I was pondering either a surf landing at shore (sure to lose the ama that way, likely a few other things as well), turning around and paddling back through the inlet (a hard paddle into the wind), or just paddling on for awhile. Then unbelievably, NatureCalls came up behind and we managed an emergency fix on the water. I got up behind him till he could grab my aka (he was sitting in the back of his double seakayak). I was able to released the pin and he pulled the aka and ama onto his lap and made the repair. The amazing thing was that I was able to continue paddling to keep up with his boat while he managed to fit that aka back into the crossbar to complete the repair (a needle in a haystack kind of maneuver). Not an easy thing to do in the larger quartering swells.

I had one other funny "incident" later that day. KiwiBird was taking a rest and holding onto my ama when a wind gust came along. As my boat took off, she accidentally grabbed onto the valve on the ama, and "Pssssssst", it immediately deflated. She said she'll never forget the look on my face. the "Bird" then simply blew the ama back up from her boat.

NatureCalls, KiwiBird, and I then all caught up together and paddled towards CP2 taking Caxambas Pass off Marco to avoid Cape Romano. We weren't going to make the Ranger's Station at Everglades City in time for our camping permits that day, and for some reason (possibly still fueled by adrenaline or just the need for a shower) opted to paddle against the tide through Indian River Pass to CP2. A hard, hard, slow, slow, last few miles. KiwiBird and NatureCalls making better time of it, while I in no real hurry, I took my time, stopped for a rest, and paddled in very relaxed just after dark.

I had always planned to paddle the Wilderness Waterway (WW) this year. This was part of the reason I entered as Class3, to try and buy some time for the extra 30 miles and slower route. I was thrilled to have gotten to CP2 with the extra days to spare, and that KiwiBird and KneadingWater were interested in also paddling it together with me.

There is another story here, but it's been told quite well.

Truth be told, after 3 days of sailing, I was excited about packing up the Balogh sail for some paddling. I'm such a paddler at heart, and though I did fine with the sailing, had a very exciting and thrilling ride, and had not really exerted myself physically up until now, I found myself really looking forward to just paddling for the next few days. I never did put the sail rig back on the DreamCatcher. I could occasionally use the PAS while on the WW route, but the route was pretty protected, and it's help was nowhere near what we would have gotten outside. Then with continued NE winds, Florida Bay was all about headwinds. 13 hours for 37 miles, not too bad, solo cruising the whole way.

SOS (my son Alan) who's Team RAF finished earlier in 4 days 0 hours, borrowed ManitouCruiser's Kruger SeaWind and Balogh Sail and motor sailed out to meet me for my last mile of Florida Bay. He hasn't stopped talking about wanting his own Kruger with Balogh Sail since. It's not just the EC that gets you, there is something wonderful about those Kruger's. Alan's interest was a bit surprising to me, as he is quite a committed sailor, and is crew and co-skipper on a semi-professional sailing team, Team Velocity Sailing.

As happens every year, the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge really hooks you. Every year it's a different experience, and most always plan to return again. Many like myself have become regulars. KiwiBird and SOS were already talking and planning for next year's EC before even leaving Key Largo. In fact, SOS was the first to officially register for the 2008 EC when he saw it was scheduled again during next years Spring Break. For myself, I can't imagine not wanting to do an EC every year. Joe and Ed (Tyro and PaddleCarver), regulars at 71 and 75 years old, are setting a great example.

There are quite a few good slide shows and some video being posted on various blogs and through the WaterTribe forum, including Team RAFs blog, Scareman's slideshow, SaltyFrog's slideshow, and CrazyRussian's.

Also, keep checking in on Kiwibird's new blog. She has already posted a great detailed account of her's and our adventure.


Kristen said...

I'll hang my paddle with yours anytime, Dawn. Proud to be a friend and fellow paddler.

Capt'n "O" Dark 30 said...

"Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship" - (Rick) Humphrey Bogart

DancesWithSandyBottom said...

Thanks for the great write-up and photos!