In a Tiny Boat
Every few years, somebody casts off a perfectly nice dock, heads out onto the bounding main, and breaks the record for exceptional adventuring.
Among ocean-goers, minimalism makes the record: go small, go solo, go alternately powered. For instance, the Norwegian-American fellas who rowed from Manhattan to the Scilly islands in 1896, and then, just 'cause, they continued rowing their 18-foot clinker-built oak open skiff to Le Havre, France. (George Harbo and Frank Samuelson were Jersey clamming buddies, and their 55-day record stands still for two guys rowing.)
The 13.5-foot long Tinkerbelle sailed across the Atlantic in the mid-1960's (78 days of salty solitary, chronicled in a book entitled, helpfully, Tinkerbelle, the Story of the Smallest Boat Ever to Cross the Atlantic Nonstop.)
Then there's Father's Day, a boat only 5'4" long, which made the crossing from Newfoundland to Falmouth in 1993. The boat has an uncanny resemblance –– to my way of looking –– to a large Igloo® cooler. That sailor famously was nearly unable to walk after his 105-day crouch.
It's my nature to draw parallels. A good metaphor makes me unaccountably joyful, much like cash found in the street.
So when Jeff reverse jack-in-the-boxes into his 2.4 Meter, I think, "Does it look as if he is sailing his own boot?"
Giving the boat a titanic boost off the dock, I wonder, "Is that what Paul Bunyan would look like if he traded Babe for Courageous?"
I almost think we saw models at the New York Yacht Club that dwarf the 2.4.
But as we say of one-design racing, if all your friends are racing turtles, race a turtle. Or in this case, race an HO-scale turtle.
The bay was a hammered silver platter under flattened silver clouds. A cormorant rose and dove, rose and dove.
A tern sliced the sky and was gone.
Water seeks its level, but when something large moves under the surface, a bulge will flex and dimple. The displacement of mass made visible.
With a sound like the almightiest belch of all time, the bay heaved up one of her dead. Water and small fish poured from the wreck and the stink –– like a dumpster brimming with rotten calamari –– rolled in.
Tireless tides had yanked the soft furnishings away, leaving behind pink soft coral and grey silt. Nothing smooth was left unroughed.
Saltwater does not affect fiberglass the way it infiltrates mahogany or oak, but it will devour anything metal. Consequently the aluminum window frames let go. The glass windows of the wreck, clouded with growth, surrendered to the alien influence of gravity, smashing musically one by one on the deck on the way down to the newly retreated water.
Barnacles gulped and winked in the open air. Algae, fine as frog's fur over the hull, lay slick and flat. Something moved inside the dark cabin. Something swayed in the missing currents.
Where is the captain with her flat-topped white hat and a cigarette clamped between her long teeth? The party-goers, the fishing folks, the small children mesmerized by the churn of water from the propellers?
Time makes phantoms of everything that was.
Imagine butterflies metamorphosing –– but in reverse. One by one, brightly-colored creatures alight and begin removing their orange and yellow vests, their chartreuse-and-black drysuits, scarlet wetsuits, gloves, booties.
They are encrusted with salt. Their swollen, water-softened hands quiver. They struggle with zips and buckles, sometimes having to stop for a revivifying sip of nectar.
But they finally peel their waterproofing cocoons and emerge at Key Largo: smaller, barer, larval.
The transformation needs only a blast of the hot shower and some hours of sleep before, voilá! they transform into human caterpillars again, full of stories and potential, committed to mowing some vittles.
Off Cape Sable, as Spawn of Frankenscot skitters along under spinnaker a, a 5-foot-long tarpon lifts itself clear of the surface –– four or five feet out of the water –– big jaws agape, sides shining like a mirror, and splashes down just shy of the boat's port water-wing.
A near miss to a legendary fish story. Moresailesaid, from the other side of the boat, "What the hell was that?"
At Checkpoint 2, Bill Wright is the volunteer in charge of the administration of the race. Under Bill's watch, the duties include gleefully filming the technique of each team as they navigate the viscous grey mud that separates water from shore at low tide.
His videos are accompanied by an evil chuckle worthy of a Bond villain.
Stumbling Thunder recounted the singular joy of sailing out Murray Channel to find a –– is it a congress of manatee?–– manateeing around.
He also said he was surprised by the number of porpoises that swam up to the boat to give the program the side-eye, as if to say, "Y'all crazy!" Mind you, he and JustAnotherSailor were on a 2-hour watch system, so they were not as sleep-deprived on the mighty Dovekie as might others have been on their various other kooky vessels.
So, my favorite skipper, TwoBeers along with Moresailesaid sailed in the kind of conditions that are hard to top for Spawn racing down the coast: good breeze, mostly NNE, with favorable tides and excellent luck.
"We've never pancaked so much," announced TwoBeers, meaning that the boat was skim-boarding along large swaths of the racecourse, occasionally outrunning the scrim of water and belly-flopping into the soft sandy mud. The new gasket he'd installed along the centerboard worked well, but sadly, they forgot to close the automatic bailer. Hello Old Faithful of stinky mudflat mud.
The team crossed Florida Bay in an astounding 4 hours moving like a scalded cat under reefed main and jib. The water-ballast and trapezes came into play on and off.
As they often express, they got their wish to finish before the second sunset, each sailor getting a couple of hours' worth of naps as the boat planed off on a (port) run.
In fact, the vast majority of the Challenge was completed on port, aside from the odd tack and jibe through passes.
Prudent superstition did not permit them to utter the words "record" until they were safely ashore in Key Largo, but they finished in something like 33 hours, breaking their own course monohull record from a few years ago by a smashing three hours.
We stretched out the clean-up and putting away of gear for a few days in Key Largo so that we could share in the triumph of other finishers; the event passes so quickly!
Until next year...
Crossing the Sunshine Skyway as playful gusts of wind nudge my RV from one side of the lane to the other, I dart a quick look to my right.
Of course the fleet of adventure racers is long over the horizon. Even knowing that my TwoBeers and Moresailesaid are sporting fine Gortex® waterproofs, I knock wood that they're hauling (dry) butt ahead of the rain.
Rain that is just starting to ping against the windshield.
When my favorite skipper and Moresailesaid push Spawn off the beach for the Everglades Challenge each March, their focus is 100% on getting to Key Largo.
The event is an "unsupported" adventure race, which means the racers carry whatever they expect to need. Preparation is key: for months, I'll find lists of how many AA and AAA batteries, of food ideas, of which things need fixing.
There are long looong phone calls about how best to stow gear.
I stay out of most of it. I consider myself a quartermaster rather than a chef d'équipe for the team. I obtain and make stuff in advance of the event.
But when they take off at 7 am on the first Saturday in March, my focus changes.
I'm ground control, so I keep an eagle eye on their SPOT track. And another eagle eye on the weather news.
And another on the WaterTribe tracking page and on the RaceOwl page when the WaterTribe page gets bogged down.
Plus one more on what's shaking on the social networks. Oh, and maybe a peek at the weather radar.
How many eyes is that?
(Whatever you do, do NOT Google "eagle spider." Jayshusmaryandjoseph)
Among the many management challenges of the Everglades Challenge each year, the only thing tougher than organizing batteries and gear and the boys' socks –– for me –– is keeping a lid on worry.
Knocking wood and crossing fingers and so on.
For the full history of the Spawn program, browse around on the blog. The event is marked by thrills, spills, no frills, and saltwater crocs. Plus sleep deprivation (for those on the water and for us on shore keeping an eye on them) and a fixation on the weather.
Each boat is equipped with a satelite tracker as well as a cartload of safety gear.
The naturally socially-distanced event selects for mad-scientists and salty mariner types alike. Still, my own Dr. Frankenstein made only a few small adjustments to his program for 2021.
He rewired the water-ballast pumps and beefed up the battery situation. He added hinges and latches to the ports leading to the forward "stateroom."
He rejiggered the storage bags. He shaved a few inches from the rudders and added tent-poles to make roomier camping accommodations.
The race begins at sunrise on Saturday, March 6, 2021.
Click on the map below for a link to the WaterTribe tracking map. BTW, that site is sometimes overloaded during the event.
Additionally, I will try to update the Spawn Facebook page with news as the event unfolds over the weekend.
Fingers crossed and knocking wood...
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