Tuesday, April 01, 2008

EC Day 6 and Not Finished

While Paul and Alan are enjoying themselves in Key Largo with other WaterTribe finishers waiting to greet other's as they arrive, I'm still paddling and working my way over.

RiverJohn and I woke up at day break on the South Joe River Chickee, to the howling of the wind, again. Not feeling in too much of hurry, we packed up and got on the water. We had only 11 miles to Flaming, but the weather reports weren’t sounding very promising. We hugged the shore line as much as possible, tough it didn’t seem to make much difference to the wind, there just wasn’t any way of hiding.

It was a hard paddle into the wide expanse of the south end of Joe River and then across Tarpon Bay to Flamingo. We’d pretty much decided we wouldn’t attempt the Florida Bay crossing until the next day when the winds switched around. But the weather was predicting thunderstorms with the new front in the morning and 20-30kt winds through Sunday. We would just get there and decide what to do then. We arrived at midday.

ManitouCruiser, Captn and Boo were already in having come in non-stop from Chokoloskee taking the shorter outside route (the Wilderness Waterway adds 30 miles), Trader and TroutHeart had decided after their rest yesterday afternoon on the WW that they would paddle straight in, they arrived at 2:30 in the morning. We heard KneadingWater had left for Key Largo that morning, as had PaddleMaker and SavannahDan. There was still one other double still out there who dropped when they got in late that night.

Trader and TroutHeart were scavenging parts for their sails in the dumpsters, and getting ready to leave late afternoon. ManitouCruiser offered to catamaran with RiverJohn (who did not have a sail), and we would all leave and paddle together, paddle as far as we could, rest up at some key, and wait for the winds to change for sailing. Once we had a plan, I really stopped thinking about how strong the winds were. And I was glad not to be making the crossing alone, as I was very worried about my bent strut and sailing with such high winds. I borrowed a phone and called Paul to give him the plan, my Verizon cell has no service in Flamingo.

We had to set our sail rigs up, masts out, aka’s and outriggers on, and tie the sails down, but ready to rig, as we were likely not going to have solid ground to set up once out there. Trader and TroutHeart got a head start, and after eating lots of cheesburger, ice cream bars, and everything else the little store in Flamingo had, we too got dressed and ready to go.

Once out into the channel, we were hit with the wind. It was probably the hardest paddling I’d done in the Kruger. The winds were such that I had to paddle on one side only. Every time I’d try and switch sides, I’d lose my rudder control and the boat would turn away from the wind. I did this for X hours, with my arm cramping like crazy. I also dragging my ama (outrigger) in the water because of the bent strut, which with the mast and aka was really slowing me down. As I paddled, I found I was getting further and further behind the group. As hard as I tried, I could not keep up with them. Each with 2 paddlers were likely not having the problems I was having as they could each paddle and switch, they were making much better time than I.

It started to get dark, and I found I could not longer see them in front of me. I had only paddled 3 miles in X hours, and figured they were at least a mile ahead. So much for agreeing to stay together. I had thought that just before I lost sight of them that it appeared they were getting off the channel towards Palm Key. I too decided I could not continue and paddled over to Joe Kemp Key for the night. As I got closer I saw a very small small cove and what appeared to be a small sandy camping area on the key.

Looking over at Palm Key I could see what I thought was a boat light, and so I put my lights on, even lifted up my sail and put my spotlight on it, so the others would know I was there and safe. I also spent 30 frustrating minutes trying to hail them on the VHF radio. They later told me their radios no longer worked. Since my little cove was directly into the wind, there was much debris that had blown on the beach, which actually allowed me to get across the mud and onto the solid land. And it would let me know when the wind direction changed. I tied up the boat, put up my tent, kept my VHF on alternating listening to the rescue channel and the weather.

Weather reports were promising large thunderstorms crossing the area in the morning, then North East winds 20-30 kts with 35 kt gusts through Sunday. I decided not to go back to Flamingo (which would have been easy at the time) because I know that would mean the end my challenge.

My choices which seemed fine at the time were to camp till Monday when the winds died down, or if feeling brave, attempt to sail on after the front and storms moved in the next morning, I had till Sunday morning to legally finish the race (though I knew Paul would be worrying about me when he realized I was no longer with the group). I fell asleep worrying a bit about Trader and Troutheart in their canoe, but figured the other’s were well tucked into a mangrove somewhere, and not as comfortable as I.

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