Thursday, March 27, 2008

Off to the Beach

Yes, I still owe posts for "EC Day 6 and 7, the Finish". And they were some of the most exciting of the challenge with 25 kt winds and gusts of 35 kts. But, you'll have to wait till next week.

I'm off to the beach with the WOWs, our local Women on the Water Group. A beach weekend at a beach house, it doesn't get better.

Sunset Beach the most beautiful 3 miles of coastline in North Carolina. Established at the southernmost tip of the state, it's the smallest and quietest of three barrier islands which together, make up the modestly famed South Brunswick Islands. This small sequestered island is crowned with a naturally wide, gently sloping, white sand beach and a shroud of undisturbed sand dunes. It's a natural habitat and nesting ground for the abundant coastal wildlife, including the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle.

And there are some great paddling trails in the area.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Adventurous Minds Think Alike

KiwiBird and SandyBottom during 2007 WaterTribe Everglades Challenge

I got the same email as KiwiBird about the new Yukon 1000 race, and was already talking to Paul and trying to figure out how to make it happen when I got an email from her asking if I was interested. I'm more then interested, I'm in. See KiwiBirds posting "2009 Yukon 1000".

I've had my eye on the Yukon River Quest for years, and was quite pleased when they opened up a Kruger division last year, (older post 7/1/2006) though I'd not been able to work out the logistics of getting there with my Kruger Dreamcatcher. The trip up there would have been longer than the actual YRQ distance.

This new race would be worth working out all the details. And I've already suggested to KiwiBird that we team up for the 2009 EC as a shakedown training race. This in hopes that FlysWithKiwiBird will allow both races :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

EC Day 5

KiwiBird commented on my last posting "And we do this for fun!". Absolutely we do this for fun. Don't mistake my attempts to provide an accurate accounting of my experiences as complaint. Certainly it was hard, and I choose to describe those difficulties to give the reader a feel for the challenges, but they are not meant as complaint. There was really no where else I'd have rather been. And, those I saw and paddled with during those later days, never wanted or really considered giving up, accepting the difficulties as part and parcel of the event. Actually in a wierd way, the harder it is, the more intersting and greater the feeling of success and accomplishmen. After all, it is a Challenge.

In my accounting of Wednesday's (Day 4) adventure, I forgot to mention how important RiverJohn was to me late into the paddle on Broad River. We arrived at the campsite about 4:30, but I had petty much hit bottom about 2AM. It was late, pitch black, and against the tide. I often would just zone out into a mechanical mode of moving forward at only .5-1.0 mph. RiverJohn used all the tricks he had to keep me digging in.

At daylight, we'd all had more nap then sleep. I finally gave into my bladder and got up. Trader and TroutHeart were softly talking to each other in their native Spanish, and it wasn't long before RiverJohn poked out of his tent. With no complaint except at the no-see-ums who were lying in wait for us that morning, we all began the process of packing up and getting on with it.

RiverJohn had actually gotten his SeaWind up on land when we arrived, which had made room to tie up the other two boats, and we were grateful for the help of Trader and TroutHeart in his launching. We then paddled on, getting a little head start while Trader and TroutHeart finished their breakfast and packing.

Finally, for the first time, we enjoyed a morning of riding the tide down the Broad and then up the Harney for awhile. Between the two, we had to get out on the Gulf for a short ways. While out there we saw a paddler a ways in front of us, wondering which WaterTriber this would be. Then we realized he was paddling the wrong way. As he got closer we also realized he was paddling a Kruger SeaWind, an unusual sight actually since he wasn't in the Challenge. I got a real surprise when he called out "Hey, it's the famous SandyBottom".

Paddling up the Harney River, Trader and TroutHeart finally caught up with us, and I found myself watching and enjoyed their differing paddling style. Trader uses a very short stroke with high cadence. TroutHeart style looked the more natural and relaxed yet with a more traditional and heavier wooden canoe paddle. It was quite mesmerizing watching them paddle and listening to them speak in their Spanish with an occasional word in English here and there.

They were doing this Challenge in a Bell Northwood 18'6" tandem canoe. Trader told me about the training they did getting ready for the Challenge, and how he had developed their sail system, a small down wind V'd sail up front, with a mizzen in the rear which they used for steering. This was based on his reading the book "Alone In The Caribbean" by Frederic A. Fenger. this is the story of a cruise in the Lesser Antilles in a traditional canoe with sail, in the early 1900s. The book gave him the idea for the mizzen mast for steering sans rudder, and they were very pleased with it's performance thus far.

We kept their canoe in our sights for a few hours until they picked it up to get to the Shark River chickee for the nap they had planned. It was here that we would separate and take different routes. They had told me they were planning to take the Labrynth, and had showed me that route on the chart. During training , they had paddled this Wilderness Waterway on 4 different occasions, and were pretty familiar with the area. This route would take them North and West of WhiteWater Bay, while ours on the Joe River would take us East and South, with us both ending up at Flamingo.

Their route was a very complicated and unmarked route, taking lots of different turns and waterways, yet allowing quite a bit of protection from the winds. Looking at the chart I had visions of being lost for days, and opted to stick with the routing work I had already done on my charts. RiverJohn had spent the past year learning navigation and doing lots of chart work for this year Challenge, but he also prefered we kept on plan. Both of us had permits to camp another night if needed, mine at the South Joe River Chickee, about 11 miles from Flamingo, theirs I believe at Hell's Bay, also 11 miles on the opposite side.

Continuing on the Wilderness Waterway, the sun was just setting as we paddled down Oyster Bay and into the pitch blackness that was the Joe River. I'd head that SharkChow usually routed down the Joe River and said if you time it right, you can really ride the tide. I now believe that can be a great ride, because if not timed right, it's one heck of a fight. Yes, we had another hard paddle against the tide, but it would take too long to wait it out and we were now committed. We'd originally thought we'd just paddle through, but by midnight, and pretty tired, we opted to use the permit and get a good nights sleep on the Chickee.

We'd been listening to the weather reports, and were realizing that there was a good chance our Challenge could end in Flamingo. Friday's weather was still calling for 15-20 kts in our face, with a big front moving in that night. The wind would then change giving us a push, but with winds 20-25 kts, gusts 35 kts, and thunderstorms and rain throughout the night and morning. We needed to get some sleep and worry about it later.

The chickee was a double sitting out in the middle of a small bay. It had lots of room, and lukily wasn't too hard to get onto even with the lower tide. We both settled in, had a hot meal and prepared for sleep. The wind was so strong that to put my tent up, I had to first fill it up with weighted dry bags in order for it not to blow away. RiverJohn didn't even bother, and just slept in his bag without tent. Both of us got a really good nights sleep.

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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

EC Day 3

RiverJohn, ManitouCruiser, Captn, SuperBoo, and I were all up early and on the water by 2AM Monday morning. The wind was still blowing, and we slowly made our way up the boat channel and through the bridge. We’d set ourselves up for sailing with the Balogh rig once we got to the Gulf, but had the sails tied down on the aka in the interim.
It was a slow 5 miles, stopping quickly under the bridge to set the sails just before Dawn, about 5AM. RiverJohn was in Class 1, and at this point we separated, thinking he wouldn’t be able to keep up with us sailing. The joke was on us. He’s actually quite a fast paddler, who uses a 150 cm double bladed kayak paddle with his Kruger SeaWind. He chose to take the short Intercoastal behind Estero Island and come out at New Pass. When we got near the Pass, we could see him ahead of us coming out and paddling down the Gulf. We too were all paddling, motor sailing as they say, moving South, with winds South South East.

It was a very long day, getting past this 30 mile stretch down the Gulf. We’d already talked about getting inside away from the wind at Gordon's Pass. There is an intercoastal there that parallels the coastline going to the Marco River that will eventually take us past Goodland and back out into the 10,000 Islands area of the Everglades. The real positive of the day was some great sailing lessons from the Captn. A skilled sailor, he had lots of great suggestions that allowed us some forward movement at such a high point into the wind.

In case your wondering. The Balogh rig has just a bit more sail area than a very large surfboard sail, from 32 to 38 square feet. In light winds, you are paddle sailing (easy and relaxed paddling), or sailing at a paddling pace. Often during last years EC, I was sailing with no paddling along side KiwiBird while she both paddled and used her Pacific Action Sail, going the same speed. It doesn’t have any of the speeds that Class 4 boats can get with their large sail areas. Also, if going from point A to B, and with a deadline, it is usually much faster to paddle than to tack and jibe like a sailboat taking on the extra distance. Though I admit to times that day when I really wondered about the truth of it.

We had a short visit with KneadingWater (photo below), who was also making his way down the coast, he had paddled into the previous night and had camped just North of Wiggens Pass, my original hoped for campsite. We also hooked up with RiverJohn later in the day, about 5 miles from Gordon's Pass.

Throughout the day the winds were building, and turning more Southerly. By the time we passed the fishing pier at Naples, the winds were directly head-on, and strong. We pulled off on the beach to de-rig the sails for paddling, enjoy some ice cold lemonade, and put up bimini top on the Kruger Cruiser for Boo.
The headwinds were so strong that Captn and Boo were having trouble making any distance paddling. ManitouCruiser (super human paddler) began towing them for a few miles up to the Pass. Once inside the Pass there was some protection, but the wind still continued to funnel down the channels. Again, RiverJohn, ManitouCruiser, Captn, SuperBoo, and I decided to call it an early night again (heck it had already been 17 hrs on the water), and we camped on Keewaydin Island which I had marked on my charts for camping. ManitouCruiser made us all a delicious Mac’n Cheese and Tuna dinner, and off to sleep we went, planning another very early 2AM start Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lots of Great Stories

ManitouCruiser, DancesWithSandyBottom, SuperBoo, SandyBottom, and CaptnOfTheODark30, (left to right) on the beach at Ft. DeSoto ready for the Challenge.

There are lots of great stories and photo's coming out about the 2008 Everglades Challenge. Everyone's challenge is unique to them, and reading the various reports gives one a great feel and the 'big picture' of the event. I'll continue to write up my stories every few days or so.

In the meantime:
  • Make sure you are checking KiwiBirds blog, she's already reported on her Day 1 through Day 4 experiences.

  • RidgeRunner (Doug Cameron) wrote up a great report from a Class 4 participant on the Messing-About forum here.

  • There are various reports and links to photo albums gleamed from the WaterTribe Discussion Forum, for example SaltyFrog's (Marty) account of his problems are here, ThereAndBackAgain reported here.

  • SOS (Alan) has promised some eventual reports on his blog.

  • And I can't wait to hear Boo's stories on her blog or the Capt'n reminiscing on his blog.

Monday, March 17, 2008

EC Day 2

Day 2
Up at 6AM, Sunday morning, and more routing decisions to make. I have always just gone right down the middle of Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound, staying just to the side of the boat channel to avoid the many shallows. This was also the route TABA had been planning. But even early morning had 10 mph South-East Winds, and these Sounds have as much as a 7 mile fetch. KneadingWater wanted to take the East side of Pine Island to avoid the wind and waves, a route I’d studied, but never taken. Looking at the map, I decided that the bays were large enough to still offer winds for my sail. If the winds turned more head-on, and built, Pine Island Sound would be a miserable place to be.

TABA decided he would be faster sticking with his original plan and not paddling in a group (which is always slower), and so we split up not to see TABA again. He describes his day in a report on the WaterTribe forum here..

It’s been said before, and I’ll repeat it again, WaterTribe is much more than a physical challenge, that's what makes it so interesting and so hard. With the right fitness, stamina, and skill, most can complete the physical requirements of the Challenge, repetitive paddling and a week of sleep deprivation (though this is not easy). The real test is the mental and emotional preparation and work during the event. Most of this comes as decisions needing to be made from weather reports, routing and navigation decisions underway, when to paddle, when to sleep, how hard to push, where to camp, dealing with demons during the night, maintaining hydration and nutrition, even such simple things as remembering to put on your hat and sunscreen. The Challenge is multi-faceted, and constantly demanding. Aside from equipment failure, it is often little mistakes in decisions made along the way that eventually result in about 1/3 of the competitors dropping out.

Either route, KneadingWater's or TAB A’s ended up being hard, the winds were relentless no matter which way you seemed to turn, promising to be SE, they always seemed head-on no matter your direction. Though always within sight of each other KneadingWater usually chose to stay close r to land protected from the wind as much as possible, while I was always trying to make the wind work for my sail. This was supposed to be the year I got to sail more than paddle. Not to be. The winds seemed to actually funnel right down the bays and channels in my direction.

KneadingWater I met up again at the bridge where I had to de-mast to get through. It was then I noticed the damage to my rig. Sailing into the navigation pole the evening before seriously bent one of the struts that connect the aka to the hull. KW helped me to checked it out, and he thought it would be OK, and, we discussed all the possible disasters, none of which seemed something I couldn’t get out of. Then once out from under the bridge the route turned more south, and I was able to gain some distance sailing. Unbenownst and unfortunately for me, KneadingWater had a route that took him further east when he got to Sanibel, this differed from the route I was following.

I arrived at Picnic Island at the southern tip of Pine Island and realized I had made a big tactical error. My route, worked out a few years earlier, had me set to paddle/sail under the north end of the Sanibel bridge. The Sanibel Causeway is almost 3 miles long, with bridge openings on either side and in the middle. Both the middle and north bridge would have me 5 miles offshore on the other side, not where I wanted to start at in the dark with strong offshore winds. The alternative would be to paddle directly into the wind a few miles east down a very busy boat channel (where I’d already witnessed a few near misses) to the Southern opening of the bridge. I just didn’t the energy to do this, certainly not fully sail rigged.

I called Mike feeling pretty defeated. All knew that the weather was predicted to get worse. And most were trying to get out to the Gulf today and put as many of those miles behind as possible. I had been hoping to make Lover’s Key at a minimum, Wiggins Pass, possibly even Doctor’s Pass before stopping that day. Instead it was a very short day, only X hours and X miles. I’d asked Mike if he know other Challenger’s whereabouts. I was particularly interested in knowing where ManitouCruiser was. He has the most experience with Kruger’s and Balogh Sails and I really wanted another opinion about my bent strut. So early in the day, Mike did not have anyone’s location.

There was a group of young folks who’d motored to Picnic Island planning a party and camp-out. They invited me to join their group, barbecue and camp. But they were partying a bit too hard not to have consequences in my race. Then just as I was unloading my camping gear, there was my old friend RiverJohn, also planning to stay the night.

Within an hour or so, ManitouCruiser, and CaptnAndSuperBoo also arrived. All had struggled some with the wind, and agreed the winds had built too much to continue right then. So a new plan was made. We’d all eat a hot meal, get to sleep right away, and plan to be back on the water by 2AM, hopefully the winds would be lighter, certainly the boat traffic would.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Up Through Day 1

Wed Night, Day -3:
We were all packed and ready to go, planning to leave Chapel Hill and pick up KiwiBird at 5AM. EXCEPT, the boat was not finished. I finally went to bed at 2AM, Alan and Paul were up all night, and didn't stop till 8AM when Paul and I finally got on the road. Alan stayed at school and flew into Tampa on Thursday evening.

The drive was long (~14 hrs) and uneventful, 2 boats on top of the van, and the "Dawn Patrol" on trailer.

Thursday, Day -2:

Thursday was all about last minute food shopping, organizing gear, and meeting up with old and new WaterTribe friends at the Ft DeSoto Campground. Alan arrived later in the evening, and the boat building continued again, this time with a large audience, and some helpful suggestions from Graham Byrnes (Roo), the designer of the boat, and a veteran EC finisher and 1st place winner.

We also met Archangel and Frontal Lobotomy at the campground, both also working on finishing and fine tuning their boats. Archangel had a Raptor proa, and FrontalLabotomy (a very famous sailboat racer including an America's Cup win ) a very sleek racing trimaran he designed/built himself.

While talking to Archangel, I discovered his father is Reinhard Zollitsch (a member of Team Kruger). Reinhard keeps a web blog that is full of his expedition travels. It is well worth the read, he is a prolific author, but more importantly, an expeditioner extraordinaire having completed many long distance expeditions of the same ilk as Verlen Kruger.

Friday, Day -1:
Paul and Alan finally finished working on the boat, everyone started getting their boat on the beach, and packed up for tomorrow's start. The Captains meeting was later that day, dinner out, and all to bed early.

KneadingWater and KiwiBird relaxing next to their boats on the beach

Variety of paddle craft and small sailboats lined up at the start

Saturday, Day 1:

Most arrive at the beach in the dark about 5:30 for the 7AM start. Everyone’s finishing their last minute packing of camping gear used the night before, and food and water not left out for the raccoons. Sails are raised, PFDs put on, and the excitement is everywhere. Just as the sun comes up, the Challenge begins.

Some of the best video and pictures (including the one above) of the start can be found at:

Winds were a bit light at the start, and I chose to take the outside route this year. I knew Alan and Paul would go outside with most of the Class 4 boats, and I wanted to watch the new "Dawn Patrol" in action. I sailed out the inlet and into the Gulf along side ManitouCuiser and the team of CaptnAndBoo (below).

My sail is a bit larger than theirs and I was pushing it with my Pacific Action Sail, so it wasn't long before I had gotten ahead, and had "Dawn Patrol" in my sites.

By afternoon the wind calmed and we were all paddling (me above) or rowing (Paul and Alan below). I finally passed my guys for awhile, but not for long. A north wind came up and I never saw them again.

With the wind and following seas building, I chose to come back inside to the Intercoastal Waterway through Venice Canal. I paddled into the canal at the same time another Triber in a surfski was coming in. He must have had a very wet, cold, and uncomfortable paddle in that tippy kayak. His eyes were the size of saucers, and he said he was stopping to camp on Snake Island, till a good 20 miles from the 1st checkpoint.

Paddling down Venice Canal, I happened upon KneadingWater, RiverJohn, and ThereAndBackAgain. Lots of laughter and stories, and my NOT paying attention as I proceeded to sail right into a navigation post. CRASH! I managed to release myself, but didn't notice the damage to the rig until the next day (another days story).

With lighter winds in the protection of the ICW, I paddle sailed to the 1st checkpoint, completing the 67 miles at midnight. Not wanting to camp at the checkpoint with many of the challengers still coming in, we filled up on water and TABA and I went along with KneadingWater to an island about 4 miles further south to camp. RiverJohn choose to stay at the CP and rest up for the next day. We landed about 1:30, asleep by 2:30, up at 6:30 to start the second day.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

1st Place ?

WaterTribe Everglade Challenges are different things to different people. For some it’s a race fulfilling competitive needs, to other's it's a personal challenge testing skills and mettle, some describe it as a spiritual event not unlike a “vision quest” experienced by Native American Indians. All who complete one say it’s a life changing experience.

Though competitive, I’ve never boasted about being a racer or wanting to race a challenge, and WaterTribe tradition actually tries to downplay the racing aspect. For me, these events are primarily about the “Tribe”; meeting and getting to know the people who do them. We are a varied, and interesting group of people drawn to an event that is a challenge regardless of our personal approach to it. Our boats, and the different boat classes are also as varied as the participants, from standard kayaks and sailboats, to some very original home made craft, all adding to my interest.

This year I entered in Class 3, sailing canoe and kayaks, with my Kruger Dreamcatcher, Pacific Action Sail, and Balogh Sail rig. Unfortunately this year was not a downwind sailing event, and I definitely paddled more than sailed. Photo below is me preparing for the start on the beach at Ft Desoto on Tampa Bay.

However, if I need to fulfill a competitive spark, I can truthfully claim 1st place in solo female Class 3 (sailing kayak/canoe). Being a class of one, I can also be labeled last place in solo female Class 3 :)

This year’s EC was as interesting, exciting, and diverse as any, and with weather conditions offering hard physical, mental, and emotional challenges for most. Many of this year's participants report on the WaterTribe Forum that this was one of the hardest challenges over the past few years. It was also fun. Fun seems a contradiction, but being on the water is my passion, and choosing to spend most days and/or nights with other Tribers when I could, rather than proceeding solo (as must be done by the racers) makes it so much more fun for me.

It was also a year I experimented with different routes. This year, my fifth, I took 3 different routes than previous years. For the first time I started the race by immediately going outside into the Gulf rather than down the Intercoastal Waterway, coming back inside at Venice Inlet. I also paddled East of Pine Island, rather than paddling down Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound on the second day. During the last miles of the Wilderness Waterway in the Everglades National Park, I chose to paddle down Joe River rather than White Water Bay. Each challenger is responsible for choosing their own routes, and navigating their own way to the required checkpoints. Having options allows for varied experiences, but also allows one to work with the different weather conditions. (More about routing in future postings.)

And of course, this year was also a family affair (adding somewhat to the emotional part of the challenge). My son Alan and husband Paul teamed up to race the EC in our new sailboat "Dawn Patrol" we had just built.

We passed each other on the course within the first few hours of the challenge. I actually paddled passed them for a couple hours while they rowed during an afternoon calm. Once the wind picked up, they sailed past me and we never saw each other again till the finish. Our presence on the course was always in our minds (and an occasional worry and concern), and we were generally aware of how each was doing through our shared daily contact person.

Challenge rules require a 24 hr land contact (when cell service available) reporting back to race management through the forum. Our shared contact was Mike, Alan's college roommate, and veteran of last year's EC as Team RAF. Mike also kept up Alan's blog, providing reports on all of us to our family and friends. Mike did a great job, my Mom was very happy. Thanks Mike. Photo below of Team RAF in 2007 WaterTribe Everglades Challenge.

Over the next week or two, I'll post some stories about my challenge, and the people I was fortunate enough to paddle and camp with. They're company made the even more than worth while.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Home Safe and Sound

We arrived home safe and sound. It felt a little like we were still in the Challenge, after dropping Alan off at school in Raleigh; we walked in the door at bit after 2 am. Luckily our navigation was right on during the race, but not quite perfect on the way home, as we missed an exit off the turnpike.

There are lots of stories to tell over the next week, though some rest and recuperation is necessary first. The relentless headwinds made this a really hard challenge for me (and for most of the participants). It was a sailor’s race (Class 4), and the sailors all seemed to come through pretty quickly, that is if there craft survived. The paddlers and paddlers with sails had a very different race. Though every year’s challenge has a day or days that are particularly hard, I would have to say that of my five EC’s this year was the hardest overall, a hard won battle each day after the 1st.

Physically I’m a bit beat up. My fingers and hands are still quite swollen, lots of calluses and blisters under calluses, and my fingers are a mess with torn cuticles (next year I’ll start with a manicure). My back and butt is covered with a heat rash and some sores likely from sitting in the salt water as it was a very wet challenge (luckily I’ve not suffered any chafing). I’ve some sores on my lips and I’m covered with mosquito and no-see-um bites. And darn, I’ve got my usual numb toes again.

Mentally I’m drained and tired, and still a bit confused. Sitting on the couch, I still feel a wind on my face, and howling in my ears. Yet as always, it was a great adventure, and even now, I’m thinking and planning next years challenge :)

A special thanks to Mike for his excellent updates and reporting of events on Alan’s blog. And for being there by the phone for my phone calls (even the very late ones).

Today is clean-up day. We’ll clean and wash all our gear and boats (yuck). Tomorrow it’s back to work and life’s more normal routines.

Over the next week(s), I’ll write up some stories about my adventures, and start to switch my mental focus towards my Ironman training which now starts to slowly begin.