Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Team Kayak Lake Mead - Everglades Challenge 2010

Druce Finlay off of Cape Romano, Everglades Challenge, 2010
Druce off the Naples Coast, Day 2 of the Everglades Challenge 2010

In March 2010, Druce, aka TheJuice, and myself, aka IronBob, would enter the Everglades Challenge for our second time. This time we would enter in Class 1, as an expedition kayak with downwind sail. We even kept the rudder on the boat, as opposed to our taking it off for 2006, ha, ha!  As of this writing, we have done the challenge in 2011, 2013, and 2014.  

In 2010, we would paddle an Eddyline Whisper XL, a beautiful all Kevlar, 21' 6" by 30", expedition kayak. Our name for her name is The Blue Boat of Happiness. We would swing Epic Mid Wing paddles for the 300 miles of the race. 
Druce Finlay readying to load out our Eddyline Whisper XL, Everglades Challenge 2010
Getting ready to load out our Eddyline Whisper XL

We would have a downwind sail this year, this would be our last year to do so. In our hearts, we are Class 2 paddlers, in other words, paddlers without sails. 

We hadn't really trained for a long distance paddle race but we were strong in that indiscernible adventure racing sort of way. We could mountain bike fairly well, we could run fairly well, we could trek over mountains and deserts, and we yes could paddle fairly well. 
But still, 300 miles of paddling is a long ways, and this year would tax us hard yet again.  

Saturday, Day 1:
Start Beach Everglades Challenge 2010, Ft. DeSoto, FL
Race Day: The Start Beach in 2010, Ft. DeSoto, Florida 

Well, as Class 1 with a downwind sail, we were a lot having fun that first afternoon. We were screaming down the Venice coast at times at 7 or 8 knots, watching the winds increase, watching the waves get bigger, watching three Coast Guard rescues of other small craft - having a lot of fun.  

The first 30 sec. of this video show what the afternoon winds started off like...

Note: Let this video load completely. I will refer back to its different time intervals throughout this article. 

The winds were out of the northwest, our course down the coast was southeast, this put the wind and waves directly behind us. As the waves got bigger in that shallow water of the western shelf, curling but never quite breaking, they got louder. They sounding like freight trains approaching, causing us to keep turning our heads around in disconcerted
Running downwind in the early afternoon of the Everglades Challenge 2010
Showing us running downwind, photo from early in the afternoon... 
unbelief. This time of year the sun would be setting in the northwest or directly behind us as our course was southeast.  As the sun got lower and the waves got bigger, the shadows of the waves would overtake us before the waves themselves would - that too was a bit disconcerting.  

After witnessing a third Coast Guard rescue, the helicopter with the rescue swimmer still suspended and dangling from the hoist cable, circled around us to determine if we were alright. Always confident, screaming along on a down swell, we raised our paddles over our heads to indicate, "OK Here!"  

We were having a lot of fun that is until our sail broke. Now with sail and lines fouled, we were floundering in the water, being drug over on our side, we barely prevented a capsize. Making a good surf landing, we beached up, cut the fouled sail off its mountings, rolled it up, changed into our dry suits, took the opportunity to refuel ourselves, and we soon continued on our merry way down the coast.

Now with no sail, in the approaching darkness, with increasing winds and waves, we found ourselves broaching sideways to these freight train sounding monsters over and over again. Each time, we successfully high braced, preventing a capsize, and returned to running downwind with the waves.  

As the winds were not abating and the waves continued to increase in size, we decided it was in our best interest to get off the Gulf and into the safety of the inter-coastal waterway. Our next entry point to do so was Stump Pass, about 13 miles away, a notorious pass, unmarked, with shifting sandbars, and a known hangout for Great Whites. Great!

Our navigation to the Stump Pass was perfect. But to enter we would be navigating across sandbars with a tail wind and headlong into the ebbing tide. The situation was a gauntlet of sandbars and 6 to 8 foot breaking waves.

Twice we broached, and twice we sideways surfed 50 meters or so, and again, each time we successfully braced and rode the wave out without capsizing and all in the dark. As we finished our second sideways surfing session, pulling out of the broach, we found ourselves paddling right into the safety of the pass. We couldn't have planned it better than that. 

We were now in the safety of the pass with the crashing waves behind us - or so we thought. As we passed the headlands of the pass, there were Water Tribers from Class 4 or 5 (sailboat guys) on each side of the pass making repairs to their sailboats. Continuing a little further into the pass, we stopped paddling and drifted for a spell, letting the tension of all that drama on the sea drain from our minds and bodies while we had a bite of our sandwiches. Within a few minutes, the sail boat on our right must have put in because it was now passing us - or so we thought. A few moments later, crashing waves were right at our stern! In other words - the sailboat on our right had not put in, it was our boat that was going backwards with the ebbing tide, taking us right back into the surf zone! It was, "grab the paddles boys and let's get out or here".  

Later that night at CP 1, 63 miles into the race at Placida, FL, using a multi-tool, zip ties, and some duct tape, we converted our deck mounted kayak sail to a hand held sail which we would use later in the race to good effect. 

Sunday, Day 2:

At the breaking of the dawn, Day 2 found us about 30 miles downrange from CP 1, or 93 miles into the race.

That day we would continue paddling/slugging our way down the Naples coast from Ft. Meyers Beach to Marco Island just outside the surf zone. This would be the last time for this route so close in to shore with all the inherent difficulties of surf, tide, wind, and shallow

Robert Finlay watching the sunset on the Gulf of Mexico
I'm watching the second day's sunset... 
water. In later years our course would find us much further out in the Gulf in smoother, deeper water. While slugging painfully down this coast this year, we would name it "The Dreaded Naples Coast". 

We would paddle about 50 miles that day.

Monday, Day 3: 

The morning of Day 3 found us rounding Cape Romano and crossing Gulliver Bay to the 10, 000 Islands, paddling straight into the rising sun, no land in sight, 25 miles to go to Chokoloskee Island and CP 3. Our bodies were hurting now. d 

Video: Referring back to the top video, from 2:03 to 3:39 depicts this interesting bit of paddling drama with TheJuice narrating...

Another interesting bit of personal drama to my experience in this challenge was that I had that bacteria that turns toe nails yellow. But by race time, that bacteria had spread to my finger nails and then to the skin of my right hand. So, about the time we arrived at Chokoloskee my right hand was more or less a lobster claw, just about completely useless and not particularly fun. 

Arriving at Chokoloskee mid afternoon, while Druce was getting us some wonderful Cubano food from the Havana Cafe, I made a deal with the innkeeper for a 'half day at half fare'. All he asked was that we clean up the room before leaving and that we checkout' at midnight. 

My right hand ached so much that trying to get a few hours sleep was near impossible, Druce woke to find me soaking my hand in my large cup of ice cold Coca Cola that came with my Cuban meal. 

By 11:30 PM we were paddling again, heading out of the 10,000 Islands back to the Gulf. At the edge of the islands looking west across the Gulf, we were treated to one of the most beautiful and surreal scenes we've ever seen. The sky was gray but not overcast, the ocean was gray, the stars of the sky reflected upon the gray waters but one could not discern a horizon. It was an endless view of ocean and sky and stars and yet you could not tell where one began or the other ended.  

It was a windless night but by sunrise, and about 200 miles into the race, we were gaining a slight tail wind, just enough to use our hand held sail.  

Morning of Day 4, we're about ready to enter Ponce de Leon Bay and the Everglades
Ponce de Leon Bay and the Everglades ahead...
Tuesday, Day 4:

Dawn on Day 4 was stunningly beautiful, overcast just enough to provide drama to the sky, light rain sprinkles, heavy rain squalls on the horizon, and just enough slight but steady tail wind to fill our sail and help move us forward. 

But by this time, about 200 miles into the race, I was tired, dead tired. I had had very little sleep since the race started.   

Video: Referring back to the top video, from 3:40 to 8:28 shows our drama, my exhaustion, Druce's chipper attitude, the use of our hand held sail, and a beautiful sunrise on the Gulf waters of the Everglades Coast. 

This day would see us enter the Everglades via Ponce de Leon Bay and the Shark River, cross Oyster and Whitewater Bays in the Everglades, and arrive at CP 3, Flamingo, FL around 10 PM. At that time having paddled about 230 miles. 

Wednesday, Day 5: 

We started our Wednesday by leaving Flamingo around midnight. All we have to do now is cross Florida Bay. In 2006, it took us about 36 hours to cross these 35 miles. This year, we should do much better - or so we thought. Well, we did kind of, it would take us about 18 hours to arrive at the Finish Beach on Key Largo. 

Just a few miles into this paddle, our GPS was getting no signal. Later we found out that our model GPS was deprecated and therefore not able to get all available signals. As our luck would have it, right here in Florida Bay where navigation is not exactly so simple, and at
Morning Day 5, Everglades Challenge 2010, Florida Bay
Morning Day 5, Everglades Challenge 2010, Florida Bay
night, our GPS stopped working. Great! So, as you can see by the above photo, we have backup! Simple map and compass skills worked for us and our navigation went smooth that night. 

Our next trial, the wind came up - a head wind, a quite pronounced head wind. Our forward speed became 2 mph or less all night long. 

Morning saw us with another beautiful sunrise and in good spirits.  

Video: Referring back to the top video, from 8:29 to the end, listen to Druce narrate a fun story...  

Around 6 PM on Wednesday, we arrived at the Finish, the Bay Cove Motel. We were the 10th craft to finish and the 4 paddle craft in among all Class 1 and 2 boats - and as is always the case when finishing an expedition race - we were happy, very happy.    

Druce and I, TheJuice and IronBob, crossing the final bay to the Finish...
Druce and I approaching The Finish of the 2010 Everglades Challenge, photo by Paula Martel

Go here for our 2010 Everglades Photo Gallery.

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