|The Juice, The BluByU's and Salty Frog (Sharkchow is creating the wake on Druce's left ) - all of us having a nice paddle in the early afternoon of Day 1.|
This year, 2011, we had a good run. We were the first paddle craft to come in, coming in behind only six sailboats. We finished first in our Class. We had trained for this race by paddling every weekend. Most weekends we paddled 35 to 55 miles. By race time we felt that we were "paddle ready" for this race.
We entered as a Class 2 expedition style kayak with no sail. We paddled the new SEDA Triumph triple as a tandem, 23' 6" by 25", and we paddled this time with Quick Blade Sydney Paddles.
Winds were mostly out of the south; southeast to south to southwest the entire race until you have to go east across Florida Bay then of course the winds changed to east. Although at one opportune time frame for us, while on a southeast crossing, the winds were out of the west!
There would be a big dropout (DNF) rate this year.
Depending upon course choices one may have a course of between 268 to 315 miles. Our proposed course for this year measured out to be around 268 miles.
Below is our race report:
(a) At the start, when wading into the water to launch our kayak, I got stung by what I guess was a jellyfish, maybe an octopus, anyway something whacked me on my right thigh. If only I'd been stung on the left thigh as well - my stroke could have been more symmetrical.
The race started promptly at 7:00 AM on Saturday March 5, 2011.
(b) Our Sport Tracker 38 minutes into the race shows us at 6.28 knots. That is a hard pace to keep for days on end but at the moment we're looking good.
Headwinds were out of the SE.
(c) Winds picking up to around 25 mph still out of the SE.
(d) We made our way to the east shore of Sarasota Bay to gain the lee, but with the winds changing to S, this was to no avail.
(e) We made our way to CP1 inside the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW)...boring!
In our past two experiences, we've stayed outside and of course some disaster always ensued but at least we were not bored.
(f) Our Spot Tracker shows us at 6.08 knots at 4:07 PM. This was not indicative of our speed throughout the day which was a bit less. At this point in time however, we must have been following the wake of a power boat.
(g) Continuing down the ICW....boring!
(h) We arrived at Placida/CP1, 68 miles, at around 10:15 PM. We took a hot shower and transitioned out of there in 45 minutes. The winds died down and the evening on the water was perfect. We make another 20 miles before beaching to rest.
(i) Crossed Boca Grande pass at around 1 AM on Sunday. Tide seems slack, wind is down. The crossing is good.
(j) Around 3 AM the wind is starting to come up again.
(k) We made our way out of Captiva Pass with the intention of passing Sanibel Island to seaward. We made a bivy, sleeping from about 5:30 to 7:30 AM. Our plan of staying to seaward was changed with continuing and increasing winds out of the south/southeast. So, we made our way back into Pine Island Sound.
(l) Winds were still increasing and now steady out of the SE, making for a tough crossing.
(m) We rested and got a weather update in the lee of Chino Key. So, a new plan forms...winds are predicted to change around to the west.
We decide to proceed to the most east point of Sanibel Island (n) and cross to Big Marco River without veering to the Naples coast.
(n) Our course will be southeast and with the winds out of the west, we'll have a perfect setup with the winds on our starboard right rear quarter. This will be a 39 mile open water crossing at night.
We get a couple of hours sleep on Sanibel.
(o) By now the winds are out of the west and we are riding the swells. We hit some big animal on a down swell, our boat "Sunshine" shudders with the impact. But all is well. A few big waves, seemingly out of nowhere, we call them "assassinator waves", test our quick reaction bracing skills a few times.
(p) At this point we are veering towards the coast but, we still stay 1 to 2 miles off shore keeping us out of the surf and burble of refracted waves.
Since it is so shallow near that coast any wave effects will be multiplied so we make sure to stay out.
Note: We've never seen so many dolphins as we have since the beginning of this race.
(q) We make our way into Capri Pass and the Big Marco River at near slack tide, the breakers were not noticeable. I can't believe we have passed the entire Naples Coast so quickly, giving us both a high on life on the second midnight of this challenge.
(r) We had never navigated this "inside route" of the Big Marco River before. Druce did a good job with the map and compass.
(s) By now it is 4 AM Monday and things are beginning to get a bit surreal. We catch some more rest on a wee bit of a key.
(t) Though we observed low tide on our rest key, we're seeing some ebbing tide as we make our way up Indian Key Pass but it's not bad and we use the 3 stroke and glide method much of the way to Chokoloskee/CP2.
(u) Arriving at CP2 at10 AM, we see that we have about 25 to 30 miles on the nearest kayak behind us. So, while our stuff is drying out, we eat shrimp, rice, and bacon, and nap for about 30 minutes. We are paddling again at noon.
(v) The wind is around 12 to 15 mph out of the west/northwest. We have a good lead and we are high on life. We have covered about 190 miles and we are feeling strong. An inside joke, Druce makes the comment, "Somebody's been training, Mikey". Mike was my name as a kid.
We see our 7th sea turtle thus far. This is very uplifting. They are very cool animals!
(w) We take a little rest here. We actually want to slow up a little bit so as to hit the Little Shark River (z) with the flood, which we do.
(x) We're still running a bit fast to hit the flood at the right time, so we both stop paddling and eat.
Note: Throughout the race, while in the boat, but for 2 or 3 occasions, we've kept the boat moving at all times, when one eats, the other paddles, when one pisses, the other paddles, etc.
(y) This area is the infamous "Nightmare" of the Everglades, a tortuous winding passage. Druce and I have yet to experience this as we've always stayed outside.
(z) We enter Little Shark River, cross Oyster Bay, and make our way up the Joe River with the flooding tide. It is about 1 AM on Tuesday and things were starting to get surreal again.
(aa) It is 4 AM and my mind is gone. Again, Druce handles the navigation!
(bb) We arrive at Flamingo/CP3 at around 10:30 AM. This CP transition requires a 400 meter portage from Buttonwood Canal to Florida Bay. We handle the portage efficiently, moving the gear first and then the boat, and we even have time to grab a cheeseburger at the restaurant.
(cc) But we make a huge tactical blunder. We leave CP3 at 1:15 PM on Tuesday to cross Florida Bay in a full tidal ebb. The winds are now out of the east and will blow at a sustained 20 mph for the next two days. Florida Bay is only about 6 feet deep at its deepest.
The final 35 miles of the race will take us about 26 hours!
(dd) This is the twisty mile, it is only about 2 feet deep, if you can find it in the dark, and it takes us from around 3 to 5 AM on Wednesday morning to make one mile. We are doing less than 1 mph. We are reduced to taking turns holding on to a channel marker. If we let go, we are blown backwards at 3.5 mph. Not good Mikey!
(ee) Druce again takes charge. While I'm holding on the the channel marker, Druce does a map study. He discerns we can head northeast to the Brush Keys and stay in the lee of the wind as we traverse the Brush, The Crab, The Black Betsy, and Russell Keys. The chance we taking is that we'll be in very, very shallow water. So yes, we traverse these keys, we stay out of the wind, and we only have to portage and or push-a-boat for maybe one mile total as we manage the shallows.
(ff) We're in the wind again and we're near exhausted. I take the map and suggest we go straight to the "The Keys" near Tavernier Key. This will require 3 more shallow sand bar push-a-boat crossings but it gets us in the lee for our final 8 miles to the Finish.
(hh) We are in the lee and enjoying the serenity of the final paddle.
(ii) The Finish at Bay Cove, 3:43 PM on Wednesday; we are the first paddle craft to finish and despite the winds and the ridiculous time we had in Florida Bay, we beat our old time by about 2 hours 30 minutes.