Thursday, March 20, 2008

EC Day 4

Another very early start on the water this Tuesday morning, about 1AM, and the winds were still howling. No pictures today, just paddling. Did I mention that ManitouCruiser makes a big pot of coffee for everyone each morning. Something I've never taken the time to do in WaterTribe, yet I am a coffee drinker. We had at least another 40 miles or more to get around Marco, through Goodland and out to the Gulf again towards Everglades City and the next checkpoint at Chokoloskee.

The weather reports on the VHF radio kept promising us a more favorable change in the wind direction, but this was just a cruel joke. The front never did move until Saturday morning with another bigger front.

There was some discussion about towing the Cruiser again, but in the end we all decided that after releasing the tow the day before, the Captn and Boo actually did as well if not better off tow. We were all going to have a difficult time of it today. Not only did we have winds, and swells that seemed to put the brakes on us every second, but now we also awoke to tides against us until we got to the Gulf.

The day was just all about hard work padding, and luckily we had kept all the sailing gear packed away, knowing today it wasn't going to help us. Slow going up to the Gulf. You start out pretty fresh, adrenalin kicks in to meet your plan at the start. But about 4AM in the dark, you body reminds you that you should still be sleeping. This effected RiverJohn the most, as he told me later he pretty much slept through Marco and Goodland. I did notice he was a bit disoriented, but, by about this time in the Challenge, none of us are exactly in top shape.

Once we hit the Gulf, the going was much tougher, as now we had a huge fetch bringing swells and waves on our boats. We knew what the tides were for Indian Key, the pass that goes into the CP. We also knew we would have to wait out the worst of the tide if we didn't time it right, it's impossible to paddle against. And there was the Ranger Station which closes at 4:30. Permits are required to camp in the Everglades National park. To be caught without a permit, and asked to leave the park, would disqualify one in the Challenge.

It became obvious that we were slowing down more. As hard as the Captn and Boo paddled, the going was getting tougher as we started to tire. All of us were fighting for every yard. ManitouCuriser and I started talking about alternative plans, the winds were building fast. We weren't sure if we actually had enough water for all 5 of us, if we decided to stop and proceed again later tomorrow morning. Stoppint meant taking a day more than I'd planned, and we were drinking fluids at a much faster rate than usual. Also, RiverJohn, without full sail rig, would not be able to take advantage of the promised winds to make the CP deadline the next morning at 10AM if we stopped.

We decided that RiverJohn and I would leave them at this point. They were going to continue to paddle to WhiteHorse Key, where they would rest up and leave when the winds changed, ride the next tide into Indian Key, and meet up with me at the CP about 3AM, for a non-stop sail to Flamingo.

And so RiverJohn and I continued on. The going did get rougher. The winds continued to build, and making it even harder, the seas really began to build as well, often with waves breaking over the shallows (and or boats) that extend sometimes a mile out from the keys (this is called 10,000 Islands). It's the fist time I'd seen anyone throw high braces from a Kruger. RiverJohn was not used to ocean paddling in large swells and surf, and was not comfortable in these conditions. I might normally find this fun, but not when having to hard this hard, and not when you know a rescue out here would be quite a difficult challenge.

We missed the tide, though not badly enought to stop. We also missed the Ranger Station, by 30 minutes. We pulled into Chokoloskee, at 6:20 PM, my comment in the log book was "17 hrs and 36 miles", that is slow going. Many had come in earlier this afternoon, KiwiBird at 1:00 and KneadingWater at 4:30, but they had all gotten back on the water and started on the Wilderness Waterway. We were exhausted and would wait for a start the next day. I would wait to sail with Manitou and the Captn, and RiverJohn would get his permit in the morning and take on the WW.

SaltyFrog was doing race management at the CP, and I noticed he was pretty cleaned up. He told me he had decided to drop out, having started out a bit too hard, and been beaten badly by the weather. He said physically he felt at this CP as he usually does at the finish. This had me a bit worried. For a racing WaterTribe veteran like SaltyFrog to drop-out, this did not bode well. Chief's Traidarka was also beached, and I'd heard he also dropped out. He came by later and told me his woes about equipment failure. His boat is beautiful, and should shine in Challenges like this, but he had not really had time to give it enough shake down cruises. I also heard that ThereAndBackAgain had also dropped out, this upset me the most. I realized that he lived near Marco, and wondered how hard it must be to keep going when the going is so tough, and comfort is just right there in front of you. TABAs challenges are so different, and much harder than most of ours, being without legs, yet, he is one tough guy, and I know will be out there trying again another year.

Every year at this checkpoint I indulge in ice-cream from the small store and this year was no different, treats are important. The big difference this ear was the mosquitoes, they were out in force. I was getting eaten alive standing around talking and setting up camp. Now matter how hard I tried to hurry, I realized I was really moving in slow motion. I was asleep by 9:30, totallly bled out, and did not even wake up when Trader and TroutHeart paddled into the CP that night.

Up at 3, hoping to see Manitou. The water level had me realizing they surely missed the tide, and the winds meant they were not sailing. We had agreed that if they didn't make it by morning, I'd get a permit and head out on my own without waiting. And this is what I did. Winds not changed, I decided to paddle the Wilderness Waterway again this year, and RiverJohn was more than pleased to have the company. All I could do was hope Manitou and the others were on the water and were going to make the Checkpoint in time, but I still had to finish my own Challenge. I heard later that night that they made the checkpoint by 2 minutes.

RiverJohn, Trader, and I all got a ride to the Ranger Station just down the road, and we each got our permits. Optimistically, I planned on the Harney River Chickee, and the fallback was the Broad River campsite that Trader reserved, which we could share if we only got that far. We also got some great help from SaltyFrog and Chief carrying the boats across the street to start on the inside.

Not to much to report about this day. Paddle, paddle, and more paddling. We continued to battle winds all day, we hit every incoming tide possible all day and night. My legs and butt was covered with mosquito bites (after landing at the CP in baggy shorts), causing me to squirmed and itch continually. Totally exhausted, we didn't pull into the campsite on the Broad River till 4:30 AM. Trader and Troutheart joined us a half hour later.

The minute we stopped, we felt this terrible stinging on any exposed flesh. We were being attacked by no-see-ums. Your not supposed to see no-see-ums, but when there are trillions of them, it's like looking through a fog. And they bite, each one of them. When Trader's canoe got there, we needed to maneuver the boats and make room in the mud in such a way that we would be able to leave the next day. The no-see-ums were very happy. After unpacking and settling boats, I boiled some water and we all ate our hot meals. None of us slept more than 2 hours, daylight seemed to come up just as we started sleeping, and all were restless. But that is day 5.


Kristen said...

And we do this for fun!

Michael said...

Of course you do! These accounts are even making me jealous... Is there an EC in my future? LOL