|Druce Finlay, Everglades Challenge 2015|
This is our sixth story of The Everglades Challenge (the EC). Some of this story is about the event, the Everglades Challenge 2015, much of this story is about me and how I think, what my experiences are, what my emotions are, what my passions are, and even how I act and interact with fear, pain, and mental anguish. After delving into this article, you may quickly come to the conclusion that I am completely nuts, and you might be right to think that. But, I hope (we'll talk about that word later) you'll enjoy the read, because I am going to hold nothing back.
The Everglades Challenge is a Water Tribe event. Those that participate in the event have Water Tribe names. They are Water Tribers.
I am IronBob (aka Robert Finlay) and was paddling again with my main paddle and adventure partner and son TheJuice (aka Druce Finlay). Once again we paddled 'Sunshine' (at night her name is 'Ranger', never forget that) a 23' - 6" SEDA 'Triumph' triple kayak and for paddles once again we swung our Quick Blade 'Sydneys'.
The Everglades Challenge is a 300 mile, more or less, coastal challenge for paddle and small sail craft. One makes one's way from Fort De Soto to Key Largo, Florida checking in along the way at Cape Haze, Chokoloskee, and Flamingo. This year, several hours into the race, The Everglades Challenge 2015 was cancelled. That saddened us when we found out but it didn't effect our journey.
We had spent months preparing for this year's event. We had spent thousands of dollars on gear, on training, and on travel. We had spent months training, months planning, and months dreaming. We had driven 2550 miles across the country from my home in Arizona to the Start Beach on Mullet Key, Fort De Soto, Florida. So, here we were, we were paddling, and we were going to continue paddling to Key Largo no matter what, just as we always have.
At the check-in point at the Cape Haze Marina, 60 miles into the race, we found out the race was cancelled. We also found out that KayakVagabond (aka Greg Stamer) also intended on continuing to the finish at Key Largo. Druce and I had entered in Boat Class 2, which is the class of paddle craft without a downwind sail. Greg had entered in Boat Class 1, which normally is the class that includes a downwind sail, but Greg was paddling without a sail, so essentially he was paddling a Class 2 boat. The race was on, two boats with like minded paddlers, Druce and I in our boat and Greg in his, all of us would be striving for our personal best for the next 206 miles, how fun! This is that story.
The event was cancelled. I don't know why exactly. The Coast Guard cancelled it. They arrived on the scene of the initial few hours as Water Tribers were making their way across Tampa Bay or out of Tampa Bay to the Gulf and they found many craft; paddle craft and sail craft alike, capsizing. I do not know why so many boats were capsizing. This all happened behind us. Druce and I portaged our boat 'Sunshine' into the water, pulled her through the shallows, entered her efficiently, and made our way with good speed across Tampa Bay. There was an east wind up on our port beam, the seas were about 4 feet. So, from our perspective, things were interesting but not desperate. Druce remarked that conditions were average. I thought to myself and then remarked to Druce, sea kayaking is sort of boring unless there is at least the hint of a capsize. In other words, I thought the conditions were lively but fun. As we finished crossing Tampa Bay, other paddle craft tribers near us; in front of us, to our left and right, or slightly behind us were; Kiwi Bird (aka Kristen Greenaway), PaddlePeddler (aka Paul Shaw), HammerStroke (aka Will Shaet), and KayakVagabond (aka Greg Stamer). But behind us there was a disaster brewing and we had no idea.
We train hard. We shudder at the thought of being found wanting for skills or fitness or fortitude anywhere on any race course. Some years, we've only had a few weeks to prepare for the Everglades Challenge. In 2013 for instance, I had surgery and with post op recovery I only had 5 weeks in which I could train and prepare for the EC. This year however, we started training in December. We would paddle once a week. That one day of paddling would be part of a 2 or 3 day weekly training evolution. Our training goal was to train for Day 2 of the race. Day 1 of each week's training was deprivation training where we would trail run 10 miles or mountain bike 25 miles, with elevation gains of upwards of 2800'. Interspersed within the run or ride, we would cross train, doing push ups on the summits, sit ups in the valleys, pull ups on random man made objects or from hand holds on rocky overhangs, burpee-pushup-high-jumps, or burpee-pushup-broad-jumps. Day 2 we would paddle 35 to 50 miles. One such day 2 training paddle, we paddled in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, upstream from Willow Beach to Hoover Dam 11.5 miles stopping on a sandy beach for wind sprints alternating with burpee-pushup-broad-jumps , then back downstream 9.5 miles, then back upstream to the dam 9.5 miles, then back to Willow Beach 11.5 miles for a total of 42 miles. On the upstream portions, sometimes our speed was only 1.2 mph, on the downstream portions we sometimes hit speeds of 9 mph. Every time we paddled we worked on a self rescue of some type, either a re-entry or a roll. On day 3, we would mountain bike if we had run on day 1 or run if we had mountain biked. With the occasional canyon run or talus slope run; we worked on our agility. With the occasional free climb without a rope; we worked on our finger and hand strength, our flexibility, and on our confidence under pressure. We worked on our strength, we worked on our endurance, we worked on our agility, we worked on our skills, on our resolve, on our courage. We were training!
|Confidence training and pullups in the Cerbat Mountains|
Here's an album of our training.
|Skills come from practice and more practice|
If you're a Water Triber, you've met my son, TheJuice. You haven't met my daughter yet, I sincerely wish for you to meet her someday, she too can be quite the adventurer.
But back to that sea story. On that first leg, seas were as described above and seven kayaks sank on that first sea leg. The Mexican Navy had their hands full rescuing paddlers and they seemed to like it. We finished that sea leg in first position having paddled 35 miles in 5 hours and 20 minutes. The wind and the swell direction coincided. Because of the nature of the race course, we paddled up swell, cross swell, and down swell. Miles off the coast, the tops of the swells were breaking, at times our kayak and my crew sitting in front of me were completely awash. On the up swell or down swell, you could quickly judge the wave height. Our boat was 22' - 6" long, the swells from crest to trough were higher that our boat was long. Surfing down swell towards the take out beach, I braced my crew mentally for the pending disaster. Let me tell you, the surf exit was very exciting indeed, but we nailed it! We were one of only two boats that did not capsize that day. That day, there was a lot of adrenaline flowing on the ocean.
All the fun sea stories aside, we do not consider ourselves experts, on the ocean we will always be apprentices. Every time we paddle, it is our intention to learn something new, to improve in some way, to be the best we can be with the time we have. This year before the race, we launched from the start beach on Thursday afternoon and went for a 5 mile paddle; against, sideways to, and with the wind. We intentionally dumped 3 times, twice practicing our rolls, once practicing a re-entry. We always practice. While we do not like to describe ourselves as expert, we do strive to be competent.
Part of this story is the story of Sea Breeze Ninjas. The Sea Breeze Ninjas were born during the Everglades Challenge of 2013. During dinner before the race with PaddleDancer (aka Paula Martel) and DirtyLittleRunnerGirl (aka Dana Clark), Ridgerunner (aka Doug Cameron) and GreyBeard (aka Michael Collins), GreyBeard explained much about the sea breeze. We listened. During the next days of the challenge Druce and I applied those lessons. During the course of the event, we began to call ourselves Sea Breeze Ninjas. Since then, a whole fantasy story has developed around the concept of Sea Breeze Ninjas.
Sea Breeze Ninjas are from the planet Aldebaran of the Aldebaran Star. Their planet is mostly sea with harsh desert being the only land form. They live high up on desert spires miles from the sea. Druce and I are both climbers, we live in the desert hundreds of miles from the sea. Here is one of many climbing stories from a life time of climbing. Aldebaran is in the constellation Taurus, I am a Taurus.
|A lifetime of climbing, soloing The Sentinel...|
Man is not the only sentient being on Aldebaran. Sharks and serpents are also sentient there, both can at times move on land or sea, both are determined to wipe man from their planet. Technology cannot work on Aldebaran. Man, a fading species hanging on by a thread, must survive by muscle and wit alone. Sea Breeze Ninjas are man's only hope (that word again).
The head of the order is the Master. He represents the perfect warrior-climber-paddler. He is about 500 years old, no one knows for sure. He speech is very much like the Emperor of Star Wars. He's proud of us when we do good as in "you have done well my young apprentices." He chides us when we make a mistake or show weakness as in "you have failed me once again, my young apprentices." He punishes us when we really screw up as in "upon your return you shall be demoted to the Sponge Bob Platoon, where you will stand in the shallows of the shore, shivering, and hoping (that word again) for the chance to sponge out the kayaks of returning true Sea Breeze Ninjas." Of course, for full effect, you'll need to be sure you've read the above quotes of the Master in the Star Wars Emperor's voice.
The Sea Breeze Ninja eschews all hope. I mean really, what are you going to do, hope to get to the finish? The Sea Breeze Ninja knows he will get there. Are you going to hope for tailwinds, when clearly there are only head winds? That seems hopeless (ha, ha, get it) and useless. If we are on the course, and we begin to express hope, the Master immediately chides us, "My young apprentices, why are you so slow in learning the principle of abandoning all hope, by now certainly you've learned how useless the very concept is. Your only true friends are fear, pain, and mental anguish."
Everyone who has done the Everglades Challenge has experienced fear and pain. Though I've mentioned pains suffered on the course in the individual race reports of previous years, I'll recap them here leaving nothing back from this telling. In 2006, I was bitten by a spider in Nevada before leaving for Florida. By the time I arrived at Chokoloskee, my lymph gland was in overdrive, I had a black streak down my arm, my arm ached, and I was feverish. I should have gone to the hospital, but I continued down range, Druce and I continued down range. The day after leaving Choko, I could only go about 5 miles at a stretch, I was still feverish. I slept for a long time on the Highland beach, a very long time, where finally my fever broke. In 2010, I had that funky yellowing toenail and fingernail disease. In the sea water it spread to the skin of my hands, by Chokoloskee, my hands were like lobster claws, painful and near useless. In 2011 and 2013, I had some darn overuse thing going on in my left upper arm, the muscle rubbing on bone, each year by the time we reached Florida Bay, it was excruciatingly painful. In 2014, I was experiencing some sort of anaphylactic shock to something I ate or came in contact with, I'm not sure. Everything I touched in the kayak became a serious chaffing issue. By Big Marco Pass, I had 2nd and even 3rd degree friction burns all over my body, I did not think I could continue, I prayed on my knees for the strength to go on. At Chokoloskee I received a lot of help which allowed me to finish. SparkleRocket (aka DJ Staub) and Married2Paddler (aka Sherry Olsen) provided much needed neosporin, bandages, and tape. NorthernLight (aka Emily Algera) then bandaged me in a very professional manner. Karen Russell, a friend of the Water Tribe, gave me some homeopathics. Emily said she couldn't believe I was going back out there, I didn't know what to say to that. Before getting back in my boat with Druce, someone on the beach mentioned that they had heard that I had received some chaffing, I answered, "little bit I guess" in my best cowboy drawl. Because of the help I received at Chokoloskee, I made it to Key Largo.
Enduring fear and pain is different for everyone. For me, fear, truthfully there is nothing to endure there. I do seem to love it. It would seem I have always sought out situations involving fear. Whereas I will pull my hair out enduring the realities of real life, like when opening a bag of potato chips or an envelope. When in situations of fear, I feel calmer, more under control, more at home. Here is another climbing story to perhaps bear that out. With fear I find I can fine tune my actions, making decisions and movements ever the more precise.
|Another life or death climbing story, drowning on Dream of Wild Turkey...|
Pain however is certainly different. Does enduring pain make the celebration afterwards sweeter? I guess it does. I've noticed something about enduring pain for hours or for days, there becomes a rhythm, whereas the pain synchronizes with your breathing, with your heartbeat, becoming almost like music or song. It helps you forget it's there, but at times you are jarred back to its reality. Of course, without a doubt, the enduring of pain makes the accomplishment of the adventure all the sweeter.
So, the lesson is; the Sea Breeze Ninjas' best friends are fear, pain, and mental anguish. Fear and pain are real, we all know that, but you must learn to turn each to your advantage, and of course the very real threat that you might be demoted to the Sponge Bob Platoon is extreme mental anguish... can be.
Now can we talk about this year's experience? Jeez!
We got to Fort De Soto one day earlier this year than usual. It's nice to have a couple of days rest after driving 2500 miles. Druce and I don't stop when driving cross country, one drives while the other reads or sleeps in the back seat. Some of my favorite memories of the race is eating Subway sandwiches and drinking dark coffee as we travel that well known route to Florida.
As we backed into Site 20 at the campground we met LuckyMe (aka Dan Mann) and BoatBum (aka Jake Mann). They were first time entrants, Class 5, experienced sailors. I was looking forward to seeing them perform on the course.
On Thursday afternoons before the race, we like to go for a short paddle, usually we paddle out to the Skyway Bridge. This time we just wanted to get in some wind and waves, there was a little breeze to the afternoon wind, so we went out, did a triangular course, and practiced some self-rescue skills. SewSew (aka Randy Smyth) came over to talk to us. He was on the beach with GadgetGirl (aka Linda Wright) getting things ready on her boat.
We then went to the historical Ft. De Soto, took pictures of coastal artillery, gave some thought to the Spanish American War. Tampa Bay was the staging area for our invasion fleet of Cuba, the guns at the mouth of the bay were to protect against a preemptive attack by the Spanish which never happened. The history of man is war.
|Coastal Artillery of the Spanish American War|
That night we saw some old friends and met some new ones at the rum party in the campground.
Friday's set up on the beach went very smooth. The vibe on the beach however seemed a bit subdued, and almost a little weird to me. I stopped by KiwiBird and asked some questions about her boat and her setup. She then helped me with our boat packing and logistics. She's pretty smart that one, and as a veteran I'm always eager to learn new stuff and improve. I told her she's a pretty tough chick and that I pack like a girl. That night we had the chance to practice our stealth camping. While my planning for the race might have been very detailed, the reservations I made for the Hampton Inn were off by a month and so we had no where to stay that night.
Saturday morning on the beach went very smooth, we had set our boat up on the eastern end of the beach closest to the restrooms. This alone shows we might be EC veterans.
|The Start Beach, Everglades Challenge 2015|
So the race starts with little fanfare. We like going outside to the Gulf if that makes sense but this year the tides did not line up for that. So we crossed Tampa Bay had a great time with it. I think KiwiBird was the first paddle craft across, crossing with graceful nonchalance and aplomb. But the winds were not NE as forecast, they were very E. We assumed this was due to the morning off shore breeze, but they continued to be E to SE winds all day.
About four and one half hours into the race, just as we were approaching Sarasota Bridge (25 miles into the race), we had a conversation with HammerStroke. He had been monitoring his VHF and told us Channel 16 was "lit up" and that there had been "some capsizing going on." Channel 16 is designated for distress calling and safety, ship-to-ship and ship-to-coast. In other words, there was distress behind us.
|Approaching Sarasota Bridge|
When crossing under the bridge, a volunteer advised us, "There is a temporary weather hold, call your shore contact." It was windy, it was hard to hear, Druce asked me what she said, I said, "She said you're doing great, keep going!". But, of course we called our shore contact right away and told her we were fine.
According to the rules there are "No Launch Weather" if the race has not started yet and "Prudent Weather" holds. I never heard of a 'temporary weather hold'. With a prudent weather hold, the final decision to hold up or continue on is up to each individual captain and crew. We did stop two and a quarter miles later on north Edwards Island to briefly confer with HammerStroke. His thoughts were we should "hammer on." I thought to myself, right on brother.
Other tribers were beached up on the southern end of south Edwards Island, some Hobie craft and such, as we paddled by, air horns, whistles, and yelling ensued to get our attention. Clearly no one was in need of aid over there, and I was not interested in discussing weather, weather holds, or whether we should stop or go. The bull in me was rearing up and I and Druce had a tide schedule to make.
TideTraveller (aka Joshua Morgan) was up ahead in his Class 3 Kruger Dreamcatcher. Every time we'd close the distance to a few hundred yards, he'd do some thing with the wind again. None of which I understand, I'm a simple minded Class 2 paddler. He beat us to Cape Haze, but there was always Day 2.
In the Venice Canal (42 miles into the race) there was no wind so we did catch up with a Class 4 boat; white hull, white deck, white sail. We came up on his stern, fast and silent, he didn't seem to notice us, though I think he did. I yelled, "stand by to be boarded." What a great guy, he calmly replied, "switching to guns," playing right along with us.
The winds were not great all day, especially in the inter coastal, but they were a nag to making great time to Cape Haze. Despite that we were on our time for Sarasota Bridge, for Venice, and even for the completion of the Venice Canal, then somehow we slowed to a crawl those remaining miles down Lemon Bay to Cape Haze.
|Slugging our way down Lemon Bay|
When finally reaching the marina (60 miles into the race) we were about an hour behind our normal time. That's when we found out the race was cancelled, that there would be no check points, no check point personnel, and that we would be completely on our own. I gave that announcement no heed. I was asked if we planned to continue. For Conan the Barbarian, to think was to act, to act was to strike, to strike was to kill. Like Conan, I quickly and easily replied, "of course." I looked to Greg Stamer who was standing next to us, he too was pushing on. Nice!
Making our way to Charlotte Harbor, we ran into pod after pod of Manatees. Each time, the resulting Manatee panic panicked us. One poor thing ran away from us directly to our front, she (don't know why I think it was a she) lifted our bow and we sort of rode on her back for a few feet, a little power boost is always appreciated but I worried for the Manatee.
Well, the wind seemed up again on Charlotte Harbor as we made our way to and across Boca Grande Pass. The wind was from our E to SE, the tide was coming in, the waves were steep, frothing a little, maybe an occasional wave was breaking, perhaps a little like the morning's crossing of Tampa Bay. One thing about paddling in conditions in the dark is; you can't see what's out there, if you can't see it, it can't scare you. Anyway, the conditions again seemed sort of like average sea kayaking conditions.
It was a little bumpy and we did get a little wet so we made for a quick stop on Punta Blanca (76 miles into the race). It was about midnight and we went for a jog. A jog warms you up, moves some muscles that have been just sitting, and sort of reinvigorates you. As we jogged back and forth, we shared a Red Bull. Thinking on it, it does seem almost ludicrous, you paddle 76 miles so you can go jogging, and then paddle some more.
About eight miles later, in the middle of Pine Island Sound, with the wind having died down, but now coming more out of the N, we had following seas for a few miles. The waves were just 1 to 1.5 feet, but with a long wavelength, the moon was big, the sky was partially cloudy, the moon's light was diffused, the sky was silver, the water was silver, the wind and water were quiet, the Frigate Birds soaring all around us were silent and we stretched out our stroke, picking up our pace, matching it with the waves, we were going surfing! These moments were the most perfect ever. I could hardly speak for fear my voice would crack. To be right here, seeing what we were seeing, doing what we were doing, what a gift! But you had to earn it! You had to cross Tampa Bay, at Cape Haze you had to say you were going on, you had to cross Charlotte Harbor, you had to paddle 85 miles, and you had to be willing to sprint with the waves. If you could do that, then the gift was yours.
|Night on Pine Island Sound|
Our training must have been paying off, for usually when we are at this point on the course, halfway down Pine Island Sound, we are very, very tired. This time we were only very tired. Our plan was to make Sanibel Causeway and after resting a couple of hours head for the open waters of the Gulf with the full force of the ebbing tide. The winds all day didn't allow for that, we hung our clothes out to dry and got a couple of hours rest on the south of York Island (93 miles into the race) and left at the end of the ebb. At least it was slack and not flooding yet.
Laying down to sleep, my arms hurt in a terrible way. I didn't think I could sleep, but I did.
At dawn crossing to the causeway the wind was NNE, and I thought those approaching the causeway by paddle craft in a few hours against the flood and with this wind would have quite a time.
As we turned Point Ybel (98 miles into the race) on a southeast course we had following seas on our port quarter for about an hour. The winds were quickly clocking to the south however. Soon we found the winds right on our beam. I guess the seas were averaging about 3 feet, letting us just roll up and down for mile after mile. Great stuff, this was sea kayaking! But the winds were still clocking south, now they were on our port bow as they had been for most of the previous day and soon they were on our bow. We, Druce, I, and 'Sunshine' were pounding into wave after wave, up and over, up and over, mile after mile.
|Ybel Point to our stern...|
|Our Ybel to Big Marco Crossing|
Out there in the winds, pounding straight into the waves I gave a brief thought to the fact that the race was over, that it wasn't official. It may not be official but it still counts. Everything we do counts. Because it wasn't official and yet it still counted, with my paddle over my head, I yelled to the winds, "Do we paddle for glory, nay! We paddle to ruin!" And thus reaffirming we would paddle to Key Largo no matter what.
|Sea Breeze Ninja, Druce Finlay|
|Ybel to Gordon Pass Crossing|
We made Gordon Pass (126 miles into the race) at 1830 hrs, made our way to Big Marco River, and took a much desired rest on that strand of sand (137 miles into the race) on the south side of the inlet.
|Making our way to Gordon Pass|
By 0200 hrs, now Day 3, we were paddling again. Nothing to report except a light but continued port bow wind all the way to Chokoloskee Bay when the winds picked up, became SE and were right on our bow all the way to the old checkpoint (170 miles into the race).
|Entering West Pass to Chokoloskee|
I needed a little bandaging again, darn me and my chafing. I need to learn to kayak without falling apart. Druce needed some bandaging as well. With all the winds for the past two and one half days mostly on our port side, his right foot was doing double duty on that right rudder pedal. Therefore, his right heel was taking a whacking. We needed to keep that heel bandaged and greased with neosporin in order to keep the looming infection at bay. We both needed to keep looming infections at bay.
Our stay at Choko was a little long but probably not unnecessarily so. We needed to bandage ourselves, we needed fresh water supplies, we needed to eat, we needed a little rest. Greg came paddling up, which was our signal to get back in our boat. We exchanged some banter, and hopes (that word again), and plans and with the winds dead calm, Druce and I headed out.
|Greg Stamer arrives at Chokoloskee - photo by Santiago (aka Joe Spooner) who came by Choko to support where he could.|
We made our way out Rabbit Pass in dead calm waters but as soon as we turned southeast on our course - there they came, full on head winds. They started off strong and then became close to ferocious. We paddled and we paddled and we were slowly wearing out. About the vicinity of Plover (183 miles into the race) Key, I really didn't think I could make it another 20 miles to Ponce De Leon Bay. So, we rested. But first we had to pull 'Ranger' (it was night) up and over about a 100 yards or so of mud flats. We made camp on a pile of clam shells and fell asleep listening to raccoons fighting.
|Down the coast after leaving Rabbit Pass|
We really needed this rest. But tactically it was a mistake resting here or at least resting here as long as we did. As soon as we finished pulling out boat over the mud flats, the wind died down. It was still a SE wind, but it was now a light SE wind. This would have, and should have, been the time to go. It was midnight when we lay down to rest, we were paddling again by 0700 hrs. but we should have been paddling by 0500 hrs.
For an hour into the next day's paddle, Day 4, we just couldn't paddle worth a darn. We were just plain worn out. There was of course still a head wind. Just as we started to swing our paddles again, you know, like paddlers and not broken wrecks, the wind started building up and this time it built up like we had not seen it yet on this trip.
|We are worn out...|
The wind built up and kept building and we were only doing 2 miles per hour, then 1 mile per hour, and then .5 miles per hour. If we stopped paddling, we would immediately go backwards at 3 mph. Druce announced that we were not going to make it, that it was still 5.5 miles to the mouth of the Shark River. I had to agree. The numbers were what the numbers were. For a moment my well known rock solid fortitude faltered. I wanted to agree, I did agree, I was confused, I wanted to search for an alternate plan, but there was no alternate plan. So instead the bull came out in me once again. I turned and yelled loud enough so I could be heard over the roar of the wind and the waves, "I don't care if we have fifty miles to go, we're gonna find a way!" I lowered my chest over the front deck, slowed my paddle cadence down to strong deliberate strokes, and breathed, and chanted. I was myself again; breathe, stroke, exhale, chant, breathe, stroke, exhale, and chant - my chant; "straight into it." Each stroke, "straight into it, straight into it." Slowly our speed picked up to 1 mph, then 2 mph. By the time we reached Shark River, 22 miles from Plover, we had been paddling for 9 hours.
Normally, I like a good upwind paddle. I would say I'm pretty good at it. But after 200 miles of paddling, most of it upwind, my love for the sport (of upwind paddling) may have been waning a bit. That is the human in me. The Sea Breeze Ninja in me had this to say about the winds just after we had gotten through the worst of it, "we are alive and there are headwinds, there are headwinds and we are alive, there are only headwinds, without headwinds, there is no future."
We were in the middle of Ponce De Leon Bay, where we had met Greg in the wee hours of the morning two year's earlier during the 2013 edition of the Everglades Challenge. The wind's fetch was decreasing as we approached the entrance to the Shark River. One could talk now without yelling to make one's voice heard. We had analysed Greg's possible whereabouts; based on his state as we observed it at Choko, based on the timing of winds and tide, of our movement, of what his likely movements may have been. We put him in a six mile radius of us, we were sure of it. I remarked to Druce that I honestly hoped that he had already ducked into the Shark River entrance, I did not want to think of anybody, least wise the one guy on the course giving us hell, still being out there in that cauldron of those head winds. As it turns out, Greg had entered the Shark River around 1300 hrs, 3 hours and 6 miles ahead of us.
Inside the Shark River, on Oyster Bay, and even up Joe River (215 miles into the race) we kept seeing sea turtles, lots of sea turtles, 40 or 50 at least. That was grand! Also up the Joe we saw dolphins, also grand, and an eagle, a hawk, and osprey of course! We love the way the Osprey talk, love their screech.
|Sea Turtle in the Shark River|
There were still head winds across these inland waters. Druce at the rudder, navigated these waters and islands brilliantly keeping us in the lee as much as possible.
|Druce navigating the inland waters...|
The paddle up the narrow corridor of the Buttonwood Canal; dead calm waters, overhanging limbs, the watching eyes of crocodiles, a huge bright moon, made this as it always is, a gorgeous four miles of paddling.
We reached Flamingo (233 miles into the race) at around 2300 hrs or still about 3 hours behind Greg, though we didn't know that at the time and would not find out until after the race.
One has to take their craft out of the water here and portage from the inland everglades side to the ocean side of Flamingo. We, and most everyone else, usually takes out at the boat ramp and the portage is about 400 yds. This time we paddled past the boat ramp all the way to the dam and took out at the last dock, making our portage only about 50 yds. During the day, this dock probably wouldn't be appropriate to use as it's the dock for rental canoes and kayaks, but at night no one was around. So we pushed a few canoes out of our way, emptied 'Ranger', pulled her up on the dock and made our way incrementally, portaging 'Ranger' and our gear to the strip of grass next to the marina's quay. We emptied our trash, found the shower rooms open, so availed ourselves, the shower was not a hot shower but nor was it cold, cleaned our wounds, bandaged ourselves again, cooked up and ate a wholesome meal, and went to bed around 0100 hrs on Day 5.
Greg was sleeping, though we did not know this at the time, only 100 yds. away from where we were sleeping. I thought about walking around to look for the guy, but decided sleep was a wiser option. Had I taken that walk, the race would have resumed with more vigor. Instead our alarm was set for 0530 hrs and I think Greg was paddling by 0500.
Once again, I could not sleep that night, not initially anyway. My arms and shoulders, though they worked fine all day everyday, were just too painful when I lay down to sleep. This night I got up to get some more aspirin, when I crawled back into the tent, I noticed my sleeping pad had dried blood all over it from the wounds of chafing on my legs and lower back. I thought to myself, "yes, a Sea Breeze Ninja paddles until he bleeds and then paddles some more." But despite all the Sea Breeze Ninja bravado I couldn't sleep this time at all. However, I finally did manage to fall asleep dreaming that the muscles in my arms and shoulders were being transformed into a synthetic fiber, the process was painful, thus the pain I was experiencing was normal, and when I awoke my shoulders and my arms would be indestructible and stronger that ever. I fell asleep happy.
Druce and I and 'Sunshine' were paddling again around 0700 hrs. The views, the landscape, the seascape on Florida Bay on this last day, Day 5 of this race, provided some of the most beautiful views of nature I can ever remember having. The sunrise, the sky, the waters all possessed remarkable beauty. You know as I do, no one can put such beauty into words. I took some photographs to try and convey that beauty, but even the photographs do it little justice. Every time that I've crossed Florida Bay, I've had some remarkable experiences. To have these experiences, do you have to paddle with your hardest effort for 200 plus miles to really see? I think so.
|Sunrise on Florida Bay|
The crossing of Florida Bay was, like almost every other portion of this course, against the wind. But by now, we were fully accustomed to 'against the wind'. It is what a Sea Breeze Ninja does.
|Crossing Florida Bay|
Druce and I finished up the paddle, our sixth time across Florida Bay, talking about our lives, our failures, and our triumphs, and about ourselves as father and son, we finished paddling in sync as always, paddles and hearts in sync, paddling as one.
|The final miles...|
What a vacation. That was coastal cruising.
We arrived at the Bay Cove Motel about, maybe almost exactly but not completely sure, 2 hours behind KayakVagabond (aka Greg Stamer) and were happy to do so. He's a man who loves his paddling.
When I shook his hand at the finish, the first thing I asked him was, "Was that fun or what"?
From the Chronicles of the Sea Breeze Ninjas
21 March 2015
Photos: Here is our photo album of the journey.
Postscript: A day or two after having arrived in Key Largo, I asked Druce, "We both know that the Master is not real, right?" He answered, "Riiiiiiiight!"
|Hero shot at the Bay Cove Motel|