So I want to start by apologizing for not posting during the race. Class 3 (Sailing Canoes & Kayaks) was a lot more work than previous years in Class 4 (Sailboats). Also not all of these photos are mine. Being a sailor I sometimes like to live the life of a pirate….. Thank you to those who posted pics on Facebook where I got most of them from.
The boat was stuffed almost to the max with lots of gear. Normally I carry the minimum and stay light but this year was a trip with my daughter so I was prepared for an apocalypse on the water. I had enough food to probably feed all of Watertribe for at least a few days. I was also prepared for a cold snap but one never materialized…..
The weather for the start looked good. There was more wind prior to sunrise and we were prepared with our dry suits but they came off quickly as we quickly found out that the wind was going to be light and the sun warm. The launch from the beach went well. We were right in the middle of the beach and had nice loud bag pipes to send us off.
Here are a few of are new friends who were entered into the same category, Class 3 Mixed Doubles or sailing canoes. LeewardLauren looks tiny next to WindwardMark but thats because Mark is a big boy. Super nice WaterTribers who I enjoyed getting to know at the finish.
This is Meade Gougean with his very fast Class 3 entry.
One of the things participants are warned about is to avoid getting in the way of large ships in the channel. This is always part of Chief’s pre-race speech. This year’s start didn’t disappoint.
Here is WildBlue crossing Tampa Bay
Going to CP1
Leaving the beach the first navigational decision you have to make is to go outside in the Gulf of Mexico or stay inside and take the Intracoastal. We elected to go outside. Hindsight is that this was a bad decision. The current was with the WaterTribers who when inside and against those who went outside. There was light winds all morning and we didn’t make the progress I hoped for.
Another unidentified WaterTribe team
SavanaDan and Paddlemaker
Early afternoon the wind picked up fast and strong. WaterLily was getting soaked by waves sitting in the front of the canoe so we changed course and went in Big Sarasota Pass. Not a great navigational choice but the right one to keep moral up high on our first day.
We arrived at CP1 late. I think it was about 12:30 AM. The place was PACKED! WaterTribe boats everywhere. Not wanting to be one of those guys who hung around too long we signed the log book, took a bio break, chatted quickly with PaddleDancer, DLRG, and Danito before taking off to find a campsite for the night.
CP1 to CP2
We decided the best option was to get past Boca Grand swing bridge and pull over. We just put in a 70 mile first day. We had been on the water from 7 AM – 3 AM. As we pulled up to a spoil island we quickly noticed there were a lot of WaterTribers already there. I set up the tent for WaterLily and buttoned up the boat for the night. By the time I went to bed I realized I had forgotten the sleeping pads!!! We didn’t care. We slept fine on the lumpy island. Morning came around and the tent was soaked with dew. No time to let it dry so it went into a drybag as is. In the morning we woke up to find several WaterTribers with us. Kiwibird and SandyBottom were going to head to Matlacha Pass. I have always wanted to try this route and the winds looked like they would cooperate.
This was tactical error number 2! I failed to realize how far east sailing to Matlacha pass would be. As we got further across we got headed and ultimately sailed into Bokeelia and found Jug Creek Marina. We made the best of it by grabbing a couple drinks and ice cream then paddling through Jug Creek over to Matlacha Pass. By this time the wind had gone calm and we were paddling. We were joined by KneadingWater and someone else for a bit but the kayakers were way faster than us in calm conditions.
The sails were completely down by this point and as we approached the Matlacha bridge I heard someone yell Tom! Waiting for us was my good friend Weedy who snapped this pic. Lots of fun seeing people you know while out there. Unfortunately all he saw us do was paddle away. We had another couple of hours of calm conditions before the wind would ultimately pick up out of the west. Yes the west! So if I would have taken the easier route and sailed into Pine Island Sound I probably would have been hours ahead and then had the wind fill in behind me! Tactical errors punished by extra paddling were becoming a daily occurrence! But there is no whining in WaterTribe so we sailed on.
After Sanibel Bridge
In past years we have had relatively calm conditions from Sanibel to Marco making it an easy decision to stay outside. This year was looking the same. My main plan was to stay inside for safety reasons but with very calm seas and a light breeze I made the decision to stay outside and possibly make the run all the way to CP2 without stopping. At this point the decision to be made is do you tightly follow the coast line or take the direct route to Naples which takes you a couple miles off shore. I tried to do some sort of compromise and stayed offshore until about Wiggins Pass. When we reached Wiggins its was a little after midnight. I could hear the surf breaking and it didn’t sound like a lot of fun trying to get in there safely. The weather report was also showing a nice wind shift to the northeast that would push us down the coast. WaterLily slept as I pushed through the night.
Marco and Caxambas Pass
We reached Marco just before dawn and I decided that we would be best off going in Caxambas Pass as the sun came up. At this point I have not idea why but I didn’t check the tides. We entered the pass with a raging outgoing tide. It was everything I had and WaterLily paddling too to make forward progress. Normally I can push a loaded Kruger Cruiser at about 4 MPH. Against the tide I was making inches. 300 yards to get in the pass was like a mile or two at maximum effort but we made it. As we got out of the strong currents and in the lee of the islands a tarpon about 60 – 70 lbs leaped out of the water about 4 feet about a half a boat length from WaterLily. Absolutely amazing to see and it lifted our spirits.
Soon WaterLily had to take a bio break. I tried to warn her not to walk off into the mud but she decided to learn that lesson on her own.
As we left Caxambas Pass and Marco we entered Gullivan Bay and the wind shifted on to our nose. It continued to increase. We tacked a little and finally ended up paddling at about 2 MPH into the headwind. Tired from Caxambas Pass and from paddling into the wind we took a 15 minute break on Gullivan Island. This is about when I realized that I had made my 3rd major tactical error in 3 days. I was ready to fire myself as tactician. If only we had gone around Cape Ramano we would have saved hours and hit the wind shift perfectly. Ughhh…. There is no whining in WaterTribe. Repeat after me….. There is no whining in WaterTribe……. Plus we had something to celebrate. We had made it1/2 way. 150 miles were down and it was the morning of day 3.
Indian Key Pass
We finally got a break in the early afternoon. The winds clocked from south to west and we were able to lay Indian Key Pass then sail up the pass wing on wing hitting 8 MPH on our way to ENP HQ.
It was on day 3 I realized that I could reef up on the mizzen and sheet in tight to allow the boat to point and still have room to paddle. This was probably one of my best ideas during the race. I have sail paddled with the mizzen sheeted tight and in my way far too many miles. This was a huge improvement.
Before pulling into CP2 we went to the Everglades Park Ranger Station to pull our camping permit. It was late afternoon. Pulling in at the same time was StripBuilder. An experienced WaterTriber who had completed the race in previous years. I asked him his plan and if he was concerned about not getting a decent site tonight. Nope. Plan was to get a couple hours sleep at CP2 and set off in the middle of the night for Broad River camp site which is about 1/2 way and located at the start of the Nightmare. This would put him in the right staging point for a high tide run through the narrow mangrove tunnel. I asked him if he minded if we joined him on the permit. No problem! ENP HQ was fun. The rangers were super nice and excited to see us. A few visitors treated us like rare wildlife sightings. “Look! WaterTribers!” and then the cheered us on! When StripBuilder asked for only one campsite to cross the 87 mile Wilderness Waterway the ranger gave him an interesting look. Part surprise that any sane person would do such a thing and part acknowledgement that WaterTribers were now in the park and normal daily distances no longer applied. With a nod of respect the single permit for the next day at Broad River campsite was issued. By this time the wind was blowing hard and I was not looking forward to landing on the west side of Chokoloskee. Instead we sailed around the island to the east side and a protected landing.
By this point we were aware that our SPOT was working but not tracking on the WaterTribe website. A small problem that was not going to adversely impact our adventure. The picture is of me proving we were using the SPOT. In conversation with Chief after the race the issue seemed to be 3rd generation SPOT devices not reverting back to regular update intervals. Oh well. I don’t think anyone in WaterTribe is thrilled about using SPOT any more.
Goofing off for a pic as I worked on organizing the boat.
WaterTribe had rented two rooms. One for the participants to use for a show/bathroom/nap. The other for the checkpoint captain NortherLight. NL decided that WaterLily could use her room and quickly got some rest while I tore down the sailing rig so we could concentrate on paddling the Wilderness Waterway. This went well until about sunset when I was ready to shove off and tie the boat to a dock. Not thinking clearly I went to shove off with the rudder down. A couple of hard shoves and I bent the rudder badly! Ughhhh… So on the shoreline I pulled the pin as the skeeters and no-see-ums fed on my flesh. I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to bend it back. Kruger rudders are tough. Once they are bent they don’t want to be bent back. I tried a few different ways including asking for tools only to finally find a 1 & 1/2 foot cut log sitting by the ramp. I used the flat cut as a hammer and was able to bend it back to within a degree or two of being strait. Then it was back to the shoreline to be eaten alive as I reinstalled the rudder.
With boat organized and the rudder fixed I tied it off on the dock and went to get a shower and a couple hours sleep. In the bathroom I got to see the extent of the bug bites. It was really bad. I took a couple Motrin and a Benadryl then followed it up by putting topical anti-sting medication on the bad spots. I think it all helped. I was able to get some sleep but that could have been due to the 36 hour session in the boat too.
WaterLily and I got up at Midnight ready to go. Not really awake I stepped into the boat only to have it go crunch against the dock. Then I looked down. The boat was hanging from the dock lines about a foot above the water with me standing in it! Damn! So I climbed out of the boat and had to cut the stern line jammed into the dock to release it. A few new scratches but no big deal. We were off into the night.
The night paddle was excellent. Clear skies, calm conditions and as the sun rose we were overtaken by two veterans. Whitecaps and NightNavigatior. We got to paddle with them briefly twice in the first half of the Wilderness Waterway. A real treat for me.
WaterLily and I stopped at Plate Creek chickee for bathroom break.
Boat pic at Plate Creek Chickee. Notice no sail rig. Completely stowed with our gear. True Class 3 configuration! (Please excuse my WaterTribe nerd moment)
Later that morning Stripbuilder caught up to us. It was good to see him again. At this point we were making incredible time. We started to discuss the possibility of making the late afternoon high tide at the Nightmare and pushing on through.
Unfortunately we hit Broad River and a strong incoming tide. With 5 miles to go we were going to be lucky to make Broad River campsite in the daylight. When we got there we would be exhausted. Our dreams of doing Nightmare the same day were crushed by exhaustion. Another issue was that the hard work pushing against the tide in the heat of the day started to put a larger demand on our water supply. I started to wonder if the 4 gallons was going to be enough for the two day trip. While this was not as significant as prior navigation errors, missing the chance to get through Nightmare the same day and having to work as hard as we did against the tides in Broad Creek was navigation error number 4. One big one each day so far. I was truly fired as tactician but there was no one to replace me. Oh well…..
Broad Creek Campsite. Erika safe from the bugs and StripBuilder in good spirits.
At some point Stripbuilder asked for one of my freeze dried meals. No problem but WaterLily also asked for me to cook one for her. As I went to pour the boiling water into the bag I made the dumb decision of trying to hold it in place. Well, the bag lid caught the water and closed. This sent the boiling water over my hand. I just covered my whole left hand in boiling water and we were 45 miles from either Chokoloskee or Flamingo. Not good. It hurt bad but there was nothing I could do. I cooled it off in the river a little but then I just had to bear the pain. WaterLily was a little upset. I was concerned my whole hand would have 2nd degree burns but as it turned out I had a lot of 1st degree burns and only where my watch held the boiling water against my skin did I develop 2nd degree burn blisters. I quickly realized I didn’t have burn cream in my first aid kit. Next best thing was Desitin (Zinc Oxide). I covered my hand, finished dinner and went to bed. I woke up around 4 AM hearing StripBuilder talking to another WaterTriber. It was DeadCat. The tide had seemed to come in early. He was packing up to leave. I helped him launch his boat and then started to get ready to go. It was still dark but we needed to make an attempt at the Nightmare.
WaterLily had gotten her first full night sleep and didn’t mind getting up early. In the front of the canoe she turned out to have young fresh eyes and easily navigated the small mangrove lined creek in the dark. The Nightmare didn’t live up to its name. The bugs were light and the navigation fairly easy. We made it through at high tide but in the dark.
A little later that day SandyBottom wasn’t so lucky. The tide dropped out on her and her traveling companion. They had a great story. The bugs were especially light for them too. SandyBottom cleaned up and changed close right there in her boat. The other WaterTriber cooked a meal.
Here we are in Broad Creek after the sun rose. WaterLily really enjoyed this section of our trip.
The rest of our paddle through the Wilderness Waterway was relatively uneventful. As we entered White Water Bay we were greeted with strong headwinds and had a brief stop at Oyster Bay Chickee where we met some Michigan college students on spring break. They were not prepared for the no-see-ums. I felt bad for them but we had to move on. Winds were to high for crossing Whitewater Bay so we decided that Joe River was a better choice. This worked out well for us as we caught a favorable tide.
We arrived at CP3 at about 9 PM. I was very pleasantly surprised that the Kruger Cruiser loaded up on the cart with no issues. We easily accomplished the portage to the saltwater side. Here we ran into all kinds of WaterTribers. KiwiBird, PenguinMan, and many others. I had a couple hour job of rigging the boat for sailing again. So I set the tent up next to my boat and let WaterLily sleep where I could keep an eye on her. Rigging the boat on the 4th night was a difficult task. I was putting starboard parts on the port side and all kinds of other mistakes. I really had to concentrate and take my time. By the time I was done it was late. The park was shut down and I had to make a decision on if we should launch or wait till morning. By this time I had found out that my VHF radio’s weather function had failed. I was relying on people’s accounts of the weather. What I was told was that the weather window looked good till about 3 PM Thursday afternoon. So knowing we had decent window the next morning I decided to lay down in the tent and get a couple hours sleep.
Ok, Thats enough for now. The rest of our adventure in a day or two.