Sandy Bottom and SOS have exercised their boat switch option, having loaded their gear into a Kruger expedition canoe for the long -- and difficult -- trip west across northern Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. As of Saturday around 7 a.m. they were approaching Traders Hill 2/3 of the way up the St. Marys River. Under the old rules challengers would have to continue to St. George to begin the portage. We'll see whether they follow that rule or take out at Traders Hill and start walking there. Water levels might be a factor. But I can tell you that distance between Traders Hill and St. George is one of the most beautiful and difficult sections of the entire challenge. There are snow-white sand banks on many of the bends and thick vegetation, dark mud and -- I'm told -- more water mocasins than you can shake a stick at. Although it does not look like much distance left to St. George, the river winds back and forth in tight turns all the way. Also there could be some trees down creating the possibility that they could have to get out and pull their boat over some obstructions, like monster gators. Since they are the first boat to reach this section of the course, they have the privilege of identifying any significant obsticles for the rest of the challengers and potentially feeding the predators. Of course, we won't know what they are dealing with until they emerge on the portage, or report to Paul. If the water level is high, that's both good news and bad news. The good news is that they will be able to paddle all the way to St. George (if they choose the harder course). The bad news is that the high water level will be flowing out of the swamp and creating a current against them. It isn't too fast, but 800 miles into a journey that push-back can matter. I can't overstate this -- this section of the St. Marys is tough. It will take them most of the day, and perhaps longer, to cover that distance. If they do it faster that just means they are superhuman -- which we already knew about these two. But if it takes them longer, it just means it is still a tough route. Watch their speed and watch their progress. Go. Go. Go.
Mosquito Magnet is north of St. Augustine and just about to approach a long dredged canal that connects the ICW and marshes north of St. Augustine with the ICW through the marshes south of Jacksonville. At about this point he has realized that the shore is no longer sandy and lined with mangroves. Up in that section of Florida the shore is muddy and lined with marsh grass. The marsh grass holds the most ravenous mosquitoes known to man. This is probably not a great development for a Watertribe challenger whose name is Mosquito Magnet. Hey Wayne, stay away from that grass. If he veers slightly off course and gets near the mosquito-infested grass watch his speed pick up significantly for three or four miles as he tries to outrun the blood-thirsty throng. When I went thorugh this section 500 years ago it was very cold and getting colder so the mosquitos weren't that bad. But the weather report for the next few days is mosquito friendly from a low of 60degrees at night to a high of 80 degrees during the day every day for about the next week. Also, the wind has shifted to south-southeast. This is a huge gift to the paddlers -- and to Pelican. Forecast calls for SE wind through thursday with Tues, Wed, Thurs extending from 10 to 15 to 20 kts. Mosquito Magnet should enjoy a nice push to Fort Clinch over the next day. The other factor Mosquito Magnet is about to notice is the extremely strong and high tides in the Jacksonville area. If he can time his arrival at the St. Johns River to the outgoing tide he will enjoy a nice fast ride to the river. Then he will have to paddle hard -- and I mean hard -- across the St. Johns to avoid being swept down river toward the navy base or into the path of a cargo ship. Once in Sisters Creek -- across the St. Johns -- he'll face the prospect of either stopping for a rest or battling a strong outflowing current.
Riverslayer and Whale are continuing to travel together up the east coast, apparently scouting out all the best eating spots. It looks like they have pulled to within a day of Mosquito Magnet -- so we might have a pretty tight race later if they catch him. Sunday morning they were passing Palm Coast and headed toward St. Augustine. Once they pass the Crescent Beach bridge the ICW becomes a bit twisty and it seems to take foreever to arrive at the oldest city in the US. But those southeast winds should speed their journey. The tide is also a factor at St. Augustine. Watch their speed. If they are traveling at about 2 through the city they are probably fighting the tide, then watch their speed pick up when they pass the city and get north of the ocean inlet. It will increase substantially. It all depends on the tides. Or maybe they will get there in slack tide and it will be a piece of cake. We'll see soon enough.
Pelican is moving north toward the Sebastian Inlet checkpoint. He may be considering dropping out, but before he makes that decision he should take a close look at the weather forecast for the next week. It is just about a perfect forecast for someone in his boat. They are calling for south to southeast winds at 10 kts this weekend builting to 15 to 20 by the middle of the week. Only Pelican knows his situation, but the weather would be very friendly and provide an amazing ride north to fort clinch. Again, we'll see soon enough what he decides.
And now a brief commercial:
Sharkchow (AKA Warren Richey) is author of "Without a Paddle", published by St. Martins Press. It is an account of his participation in the first Ultimate Florida Challenge in 2006. All of it is true, every word, except the exaggerated stuff.