Sunday, March 27, 2011

2011 EC Report - The Start

Keeping with our annual traditions over the past 5 years, we picked up Kristen (KiwiBird) before 5:30 am, towing the Dawn Patrol and with our 2 kayaks on the van, we headed for our favorite fried chicken lunch at the ‘El Cheapo’ gas station and grill in Midway Georgia. We arrived at the Ft Desoto campground about 6:00 PM, set up tents, headed for dinner at the Italian restaurant down the road, and then headed over to the annual WaterTribe party put on by PaddleMaker and SavannahDan.

Kristen and I on the way down to Tampa

Friday morning started with our annual Eggs Benedict at a local breakfast spot, and then Paul and Alan dropped us off at the start beach, while they headed off for some shopping at West Marine. The rest of the day was spent setting up our kayaks, checking out boats, visiting with old friends, and meeting new members of the Tribe. This year’s Captains Meeting was big event, with 84 boats starting (Everglades Challenge and UltraMarathon), there were more challengers there then ever before, and all getting to introduce themselves at the meeting.

Chief and Tribe at the Captains Meeting

Saturday morning while still dark, we took down camp and drove over to the start beach for last minute final packing of boats, wishing everyone well, and roll call. At 7AM the fog horn sounded, and the Challenge began. The start is always an interesting event. I’ve heard one describe it as a bit of chaos, the horn sounds and everyone gets in their boat, gets on the water, and all seem to go in a different direction. Many head across the Bay towards either the East or West sides of Anna Maria Sound, other’s go West past Edgemont Key and out into the Gulf.

I've no pictures on the water, but found this great article of the EC start, it's descriptions and pictures give a good idea of the diverstiy of the craft that come to the Everglades Challenge (including 2 Paddle Boarders), though it doesn't speak to the numbers of kayakers who attempt the challenge.  This year's EC had 33 kayaks and canoes in both class 1 (kayak/canoe with downwind sail) and class 2 (racing and no sail) starting the Challenge.

Kayaks on the start beach, Seiche (standing) and KneadingWater (kneeling)

We had a bit of a windy start, 15kts out of ESE, my Flat Earth Kayak Sail, which sails up wind to a degree, was doing very well, and Tampa Bay was not too terribly rough. During the crossing, I noticed Kristen up ahead, her PAS seemed to be set at an unusual angle, rather than sitting upright and turned in, it was tilted way over to the right side, almost hanging off her kayak. I recalled she’d had trouble with her sail mount once before, but I’m not sure this actually wasn’t her way of trying to get the most of what most would call headwinds and unsailable in a kayak.

There were WT boats all around.  At some point I paddled a bit with Boat1984 (yes, that's his year of birth :). He was quite excited about the Challenge. He was an MissouriRiver340 veteran many times over, and knew that I also had completed an MR340 a few years ago. In last years MR340 he’d met and paddled a bit with SaltyFrog and had decided to do the EC. This he said was the first time he’d ever paddled in salt water. I never saw him again during the Challenge, but expect he had some great adventures.

Once I got towards Sarasota Bay, the wind was howling, and in my face. No sailing during this crossing. In the distance I saw a few Kruger’s on shore taking down their Balogh rigs, just too much windage if paddling.  I would often see many other WaterTribers around, mostly kayakers, it’s a very big Bay.

Further along and just under the big Sarasota Bridge I heard my name called out, and turned to see Steve (KneadingWater). He was paddling his new TideRace kayak. I was a bit surprised to see him, figuring he was up ahead with Kristen, but also knowing that being from Michigan, and not having much opportunity to paddle over the past months, the first couple days has him needing to get out of his kayak every once in a while to stretch out. He told me he was thinking about dropping out. WHAT, I couldn’t believe it, Steve has finished 9 various WaterTribe events.  Was the new boat giving him problems? He’d said it had just arrived, and he’d only once had it in a pool.  It turns out his shoulder was really bothering him, he was having tingling down his arm and numb fingers, and worried about possible nerve damage if he continued. He'd been having a problem since starting.  His friend Denny(Seiche) then also joined us, he had been waiting for Steve at the bridge since Steve had slowed down earlier.

Steve said he was going to paddle a bit more, take his time, and then make a final decision soon.  He encouraged Seiche to put it in high gear and catch up to KiwiBird, who they figured wasn’t too far up ahead.  I'd offered to paddle with Steve a bit, but I too needed to get going; so feeling a bit left out, but ready to continue my own Challenge, I too paddled on.

I stopped again this year at a little beach at the swing bridge at Blackburn Point to put on some warmer clothes, change out my water bag, empty my bladder, and to call Steve (my shore contact).   I remembered last year when Floatsome and I stopped here, we were very cold and really needed some warmer clothes on.  The Sarasota Bay crossing was very hard, and very slow.  Lots and lost of wind.  My report to Steve which he posted on his blog included the word 'Brutal'.  Funny how you don't remember how bad it is afterwards, guess that's why I keep coming back :)

I hit a great tide in the Venice Ditch past the Venice Inlet and around the airport, continuing to either be passed or passing other paddlers over the next few hours.  A few were talking about stopping and camping the night, then starting early to make the checkpoint (CP) before 10am the next day. I recalled that in 3 previous challenges I too camped at this part of the stage, and offered my advice for good spots I knew about.  But I was still feeling good and felt it was still a bit early for me, I'd not really paddled enough distance yet to stop.  I’d decided to get through Lemon Bay and get within a couple hours of the CP before I’d consider camping.

Right before entering Lemon Bay, I heard someone shout out ‘Are you WaterTribe’. It was KneadingWater again, only this time on shore and not dressed for paddling. He said he was looking for KiwiBird and Seiche, he’d seen on the forum that KiwiBird had lost her SPOT, and he was going to lend his since he had dropped out.  I was surprised to hear they might be so close; both are faster paddlers than I, maybe they’d stopped for lunch along the way. I never did see them, during the challenge, though thougout the challenge I'd hear that they were never too far away, either in front of me or behind me at various times during my 3 days.

I was pretty sure KiwiBird would try and make the CP, then camp that night about a mile further, but I was getting pretty tired, and had slowed down in the dark. I decided that since I wasn’t going to make the CP before 2am so decided I’d camp about 8 miles away, and arrive there in the morning. I stopped and camped about midnight; the results page shows KiwiBird and Seiche arrived at the CP at 19hrs 50min which was 2:50 AM. I’m not sure I believe that, else I would have been in front of them when I pulled off to camp. I think there are a few errors in the results times posted.

After a great night sleep in my Hennessey Hammock, I left about 6am arrived at the CP (about 60 miles) a bit before 9am (my times on the results page are wrong, I’ve requested a correction).  I remember how disappointed I was when Pelican the CP Manager told me I was the last kayaker to come in. That just couldn’t be true. I’d decided to camp but couldn’t believe all other kayakers paddled through the night to get in, heck I knew a few who had camped as far as 20 miles north. Pelican also said that DophinGal and a few other’s had just left the CP about 20 minutes ago after camping there that night. Something must really be wrong with the result times on the website, as her CP arrival is listed as 1 Day 9 Hours32 Min. She would not have even arrived yet.

Getting help landing at CP1, one of the Adventure Island kayaks behind me

to be continued......

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