Thursday, April 08, 2010

EC Freak Out

I’m a bit of a tough old broad, not much of a girly girl, and little in kayaking scares me anymore, including kayak sailing. This is not true regards sailing in general which I am just learning, but as Silbs used to always say, I digress… However, there was that one day during this year’s EC where I let myself get freaked out.

The WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, from Tampa Bay to Key Largo offers many different options for routing, on the Gulf, various ICWs, and other various routes in and out along the way that one can choose. Actually working out navigation for an EC is really one of the fun things I think. Except for the requirement to check-in at 3 different checkpoints along the way, challengers can choose to navigate whatever suits them, often determined by weather, camping options, and some by boat type. I usually set off each year with a goal to try at least one different route, and have done so every year I’ve participated.

I’ve also found I really enjoy taking the Everglades Wilderness Waterway, even though it adds an additional 30 miles. The WW is just beautiful, a labyrinth of mangrove swamps, islands, and grassy shallows, and where submerged logs are likely to be gators. You sleep at beach campsites or, where no dry land exists, on wooden platforms called chickees, constructed by the Park Service. I’ve taken the WW now 4 times. Even inside the waterway, there are narrow cuts one can take and explore.

This year, my plan was to take the WW route called the “Nightmare” between the Broad River and Broad Creek. Warnings are written that you can only take this route at high tide, so WaterTribe allows one to leave Broad River out to the Gulf, and come back in joining the Waterway off Broad Creek, or the Harney River if the tides are wrong.  I’d previously paddled Broad Creek in from the Gulf with KiwiBird in 2007, and recalled it was a nightmare. So I wasn’t sure what something actually called "The Nightmare" would be like, but I was going to do it.

Broad Creek in 2007 in Kruger DreamCatcher, a narrow twisty tangled Creek of fallen trees.

Planning the tides, I actually left the night’s campsite about 4:30 in the morning with KiwiBird, KneadingWater, and Seiche still sleeping. I would have to fight the incoming tide on the Broad to hit the Nightmare at full tide. There is a very narrow twisty short-cut off the Waterway at Cabbage Island toward the Broad that I’d taken before. It’s so small it’s actually just called ‘The Cutoff’. Just before getting to it I saw Scareman paddling and opting for the longer route hoping he’d get to work some sail on the River. I tried to tell him that inside the WW, it didn’t seem to matter the direction of the wind, any turn you take is a headwind, but I also didn’t think he’d fit in the cut with his large outriggers, so we split and I headed into the cut.

The thick purple line shows the cut on it's right, narrow purple line shows the longer WW route.

I did remember that when I’d taken this route before, I’d seen more alligators than any other section of the WW. But I was feeling a bit brave… until I started seeing them. These are really really big alligators. Alone, I found myself too scared to even look at them. I couldn’t take a picture because I knew my flash was set to on, I just didn’t want them to even think about me. Aligator picture below taken a couple years ago in this same cut, they've grown even more.

I was actually still okay until I saw and/or heard alligators ahead of me slip in the water in front of me, and then I’d see their trail of bubbles going under my kayak. It was finally when I heard one crashing in the woods, jumping in the water in front of me, and then thrashing in the water on the side of me, and saw his bubbles going under my boat that I was finally totally freaked out, just waiting for him to start thrashing under my kayak.

I had a big sigh of relief when I finally got out onto the River, hoping I’d see Scareman (I didn’t). I kept paddling against the tide the remaining 5 miles to the entrance of the Nightmare. As planned, it was full tide and I just sat there and sat there looking at this narrow little creek. The longer I sat there, the more I just psyched myself out. I kept hoping Scareman would show up and I could talk him into entering with me, I even hung around the Broad River Chickee right next to the entrance, had a little lunch and still no one showed up.

In the end, I just chickened out, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew it would actually be a harder and much longer paddle going out and around on the Gulf. There were small craft advisories with 15-20 mph winds out of the South, yet still, I chose to go out. And it was a tough paddle, white caps breaking over 2-3 feet swells in the shallow waters near the shoreline, and a hard headwind. But it still seemed the right thing to me at the time.

I spent the rest of the day paddling alone, got back on the Waterway at the Harney River, then towards the Shark River Chickee that we'd reserved for our camp that night. KiwiBird, KneadingWater, and Seiche all  started later in the morning than I, and each had chose to take the Nightmare even at a lower tide. We all eventually hooked up together only a few hundred yards in front of our Chickee just at night fall.  They reported it wasn’t such a big deal.

Guess I’ll try for it again next year.


Michael said...

Great posting, Dawn!

Scareman said...

The headwind and extra mileage put me way behind meeting up with you after the cut and Broad River Bay merged.

However, I had a blast getting about 2 miles of sailing downwind though, pulling 5.3 mph on the 1.5m^2 PAS. The only downwind sailing I had during my paddle o n the Wilderness Waterway.

I wish I would have been with you to "enjoy" the alligators. I should show you some of my wildlife encounter videos sometime


Floatsome said...

That was a stunning description of the cut: Got me going!

Kristen said...

Great story, Dawn.

We were so sure you could even have been in Flamingo ahead of us!

I reckon, that for alligators Cabbage Cut will always have more than elsewhere. Four for me this year.

Anonymous said...

I use to freak myself out sailboarding once I thought of sharks. Even in the Bay I was the quickest one out of the water when I fell!

Trey said...

Hey Dawn,
Great description of Nightmare cut. I have never been that far south in the Everglades National Park, even after living in Florida all my life. Your account has me itching to go now. It's funny that you should post about alligators. I have been doing some stand-up-paddling on the Peace River on the Expedition Windsurfer® and the gators are out in force, I guess after a long cold winter they are glad to see spring too. Most of the time they don’t really concern me, they seem to keep their distance, making a quick escape into the water until I pass by and then climb back out to sun themselves. Last Saturday I was paddling down through an area that has a large population of the old timers, you know the really big ones, when I startled one of the sleeping giants. He dove in on my left and swam straight under my board and the amount of water he displaced as he swam under my board created a wave that lifted me at least two or three feet. Yes that is an exaggeration, it may have only been a foot, but it was an adrenalin rush.
Thanks for your post,
Trey- WindWalker

Sundog said...

I became frightened sitting in my bedroom reading your account of the nightmare.

I shudder to think how I would have felt sitting alone in my boat.

I am puzzled how you can compare alligators to sailing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dawn. This is about another of your posts, but I was wondering how you liked using the under-deck bag by North Water? I'm thinking of using it for my race. Do you recommend it?