The tarpon shot out of the water like a fleshy javelin, intent on gobbling a bait fish. Four shiny feet of muscle and eyeball, it landed all willy-nilly in the water a scant boat-length from Spawn. Then another silverking leaped and belly-flopped. Then another. And another.
"Whoa," commented one of our weary sailors.
"Yeah," replied the other.
Just another day off Cape Sable.
TwoBeers and Moresailesaid brought their 22-foot boat, Spawn, safely to harbor in Key Largo on Monday, March 6 at around 6 pm –– after a 300-mile, 50-hour Everglades Challenge.
They were first to finish, having worked through a pack of boats that started ahead on the course. The event is unique in many aspects, including the sometimes-fluid starting line. This year, for instance, the weather on Friday before the start was fairly gnarly, with an on-shore gale and a big surf pounding.
In fairness, it was not awful by tee-time the next day, but as Moresailesaid has said, "To finish first, first you must finish."
Of the 80 or so boats competing, only about 20 (including Spawn) chose to start traditionally, pushing off the beach at Fort DeSoto park in St. Petersburg. Others drove down the coast and put in where they felt comfortable.
At checkpoint 3, a spot deep in the Everglades National Park notable for poor cell coverage and a resident salt-water croc who likes to keep an eye on the boat-ramp, Spawn had unwelcome congress with a manatee.
Tethered to the dock, with the sail up while Moresailesaid went to check in, Spawn suddenly began moving to windward. Then there was a bit of gentle gyration until a quick-thinking TwoBeers raised the centerboard.
The manatee mating frenzy continued apace, but without the non-consensual participation of the boat.
Without a "yes," o manatee, it's "NO."
Departing Flamingo, our sailing heroes used their wiles and ways to get past their last forward competitor by splitting tacks around Joe Kemp Key. Instead of using the usual channel, the boys went east.
Skittering along in the very skinny water, says TwoBeers, "Is not for the faint-hearted. There are lots of wading birds. You have to ask yourself, are they seagulls or are they herons? If it's herons, cool."
Among the spectators on shore, eagle-eyed Rappin Rodney Koch called it: "No risk-it –– no biscuit."
For around three miles, the team navigated by appropriate sea-birds. Perfectly innocent sharks minding their own sharky business were startled out of their wits, half-climbing, half-swimming to get out of the way of the boat as it whistled over the shallows.
But the route cut off enough distance to put Spawn in the overall lead.
Says TwoBeers of navigating that section of Florida Bay, "My socks were dry the whole way until the end of Twisty Mile. We had to get out and push the boat for the last 100 feet to get to the deep water toward Russell Key."
How much sleep did they get?
A princely three hours a night! The conditions were favorable for the odd daytime nap and even a rough watch-system.
Did they run out of food?
No! They enjoyed fried chicken dinner twice, plus plenty of granola bars and other snacks. At the dock, there was ample water and ––ahem–– two beers left in the cooler.
Why does their track have long time-gaps?
Mostly because their SPOT tracker is not very good at its job, but also because the entire SPOT system (so we hear) went down briefly on Sunday night. And yes, FULLY AGREE, a Garmin Inreach is the better option.
How much rowing did they do?
More than a few hours, TwoBeers admits.
But it made the difference between first and fourth place when they were able to navigate in no wind and foul current, especially in the passes around Choko and Flamingo
How long did it take?
50 hours. Saturday at 10 through Monday afternoon. Two full nights's sailing.
It's not their longest trip (60 hours), nor their shortest (33 hours). On the eye-of-the-beholder scale, I give it about a four out of ten: They looked tired, but not wrung-out; raspy but not death-defying; creaky but not gimpy. Neither fell asleep in his dinner.
Amy's favorite anecdote so far?
Typically, I don't hear all the most "exciting" details for a day or two. My favorite skipper is a considerate husband and doesn't like to alarm me all at once.
Still, I liked this, overheard over breakfast at Mrs. Mack's: "Yeah, I was glad to be going out Gasparilla in the dark. We could hear the waves breaking, but we didn't have to see what we were getting into."
What's it like at the finish line?
The finish line is a pocket beach at a little 1950's style resort on Buttonwood Sound (the inside of Key Largo); the welcoming committee included Paula Paddledancer, the Chief, our dear Flying Scot friend Jim Signor, some extra WaterTribe shore crew, and a sprinkling of hotel guests who get a surprise floor show as the boats arrive amidst cheers and a random conch moo.
Evidently, one of the liveaboards in the Sound has a conch and he's not afraid to use it.
And the big question, of course, is Will they do it again?
We shall see.
Meanwhile, it's not a joke that Spawn is available for purchase.
Turn-key operation. Proven winner. Complete Ultimate Florida program available! No tire-kickers please.
It's Day 2, but it feels like the second month of this unsupported adventure race from St. Petersburg to Key Largo.
Over the past nine years, this Sunday in March is traditionally the day when I juggle my electronic tracking stuff and hustle myself to Key Largo. Toting a boat-trailer and fresh clothes and such trappings of society as fit in the vehicle, I drive distractedly while my favorite skipper and his communications officer JT slalom down the left side of Florida aboard Spawn.
I often joke that after checking their SPOT locator from the rest area on Alligator Alley, I have to skedaddle in order to get to Key Largo ahead of my sailors.
This year? No skedaddling required.
They might, as I type this Sunday night, have another 18 hours to go.
Slowly, slowly are they making their track south.
So it's a draggy race this year, one might say.
Draggy but not without drama: what with having some Challengers start half a leg or a leg ahead because of Plan B, and the tracking a bit of a mess –– and with the extra complication of having Spawn's personal locator SPOT suffering some form of hysteria that makes her operational lights flash as if she's working... but lemme tell yah: she ain't working like she flashing.
Anywhahoodle, the Spawnsters seem to be in good spirits.
I am a bit concerned that they might run low on snacks (for once), but since they once fueled half the event on Little Debbie Snackcakes and salted peanuts in a packet, I trust they can fend for themselves.
And didn't TwoBeers pack a fishing line?
As Paula Paddledancer (organizer and all-round-Mamma Bear for the event) pointed out –– the racers are going to have a pretty night of it anyhow.
Have I mentioned the wracking of nerves that is the Everglades Challenge Experience for Shore Crew?
No, we shore-folk aren't taking red-tide flavored breakers over the bow. No, we aren't sitting in our damp sport clothes for days at a time (I speak for myself anyhow). Neither are we watching for flotsam, marine life, and poorly-driven powerboats.
While waiting for team Spawn to reboot their malingering SPOT personal locator this afternoon, I channeled my nervous energy to good: I washed and refueled the van, I vacuumed, I pressed the reload button several dozen times. I texted and e-mailed Moresailesed and resisted the temptation to leave a frustrated voice-mail about CHECKING the dang SPOT.
I knew they had their hands full. I knew they THOUGHT the SPOT was working.
I knew they were cheerfully squeezing as much speed from the wind as they could, knowing that the conditions are liable to turn flat and light overnight.
When one of the other shoreside crews called to inquire my opinion about how many half-gallons of ice cream were recommended to help her through the week, I said, I didn't know, I only purchase pints at a time. [On reflection, it was a brace of pints today, which––Huh!––adds up to a half-gallon. Never considered that math before. Answer: one per day, I guess.]
This is not the time to keel over from starvation.
I jest only a bit.
I hope my water-bound Spawnsters have snarfed many pieces of cold fried chicken, homemade chocolate bar, and savory chunks of home-dried beef jerky.
Neither sailor is especially food-motivated, but they too have a smorgasbord of things to tempt them. Jelly beans, dried whole tiny bananas (monkey guns, baby!), jars of trail mix, banana bread, a stash of strawberry-yogurt-covered pretzels.
Of course, I cannot make those sailors of mine do anything from here on shore. Not eat, not check the dang SPOT, nothing.
We can but watch and wait and keep fingers crossed.
Here's their SPOT link, which seems to have had a revivifying nap and is back to work.
The WaterTribe website has been working for approximately 15 minutes over the course of the past 6 hours by my reckoning.
And so it goes.
In light of past years' performance, I anticipate a few cri de coeur about the failings of SPOT as a personal locator, but new year clean slate, right? The personal locator is how the tracking maps keep track of the 100+ adventurers. So, while sometimes the locater maps are slow, sometimes it's the personal locators corking the bottle.
The SPOT is a hockey-puck sized piece of kit that promises to ping a satellite every 20 minutes or so. It also has a couple of buttons for specific messages ("We're OK!" "We're in trouble, but we're safe," and of course the panic button that calls the Coast Guard). It's proven finicky.
Yes, we have heard that GARMIN makes a superior product with far nicer interfaces and reliability. Had we the option ten years ago, we would have chosen differently.
The SPOT hasn't failed, really, but it's disappointed me by not performing as I hope. We weren't ready to invest in yet another piece of expensive electronica for Spawn, so we'll be SPOTTING again this year.
Here's a link to that website. It follows Spawn only.
How long will the adventure last?
I have an entire country-western song bemoaning that exact question. It's already playing in my head.
The short answer: we hope the gang starts arriving in Key Largo on Sunday evening, but the awards ceremony and official end of the time limit is the following Saturday. It's really anyone's guess.
With less than a week until the WaterTribe is set to push off the beach for the Everglades Challenge, it's now all about the weather.
Every year, it's the same backing-and-forthing with my favorite skipper and his gang. What will the future hold? Will there be a cold front and a line of disturbed weather, or will a high pressure stall over us. Will it be the dreaded easterly? Or more exactly: WHEN will the cold front roar through, and WHEN will the dreaded easterly kick up.
Each sailor seems to have a personal preference: Sailflow. Predict Wind. Windy or Wunderground. NOAA avionic or the local weather.
My opinion, and soothsayers will confirm, predictions are only as good as the memory holding them...because que sera, baby, sera.
Not so much challenging as Challenging. The Everglades Challenge to be precise.
Each first Saturday in March, a swarm of small and eccentric craft takes to the water and head south from Fort De Soto Beach toward Key Largo. This year, on March 4 (casual National Military Day, let's say), the starting conch will moan at 10:00 am, a few hours later than usual.
Among the WaterTribe's many members will be my own beloved skipper TwoBeers aboard Spawn with his doughty partner-in-adventure Moresailesed (Jahn JT Tihansky). Again.
NO they will not be racing around the entire state of Florida this year. That event is held in alternate years.
YES, there is serious talk about bidding a fond adieu to both Spawn and the speedy canoe Miss Patsie.
Anyone in the market for a battle-tested and record-breaking sail-and-canoe platform for adventure races? You can be the next owner!
Step right up!
Because of the success of last year's Ultimate Florida Challenge –– longing to recall those times? Here's a link to past blogs –– Spawn has required little to no modifications for 2023.
Spawn went to the spa at the Morgan's place and came home looking all fresh and Mediterranean bluey.
As usual, the WaterTribe concors d'elegance will be open on Friday afternoon, March 3 at the beach at Fort DeSoto, for those who want to check out all the dreamers' machines.
The variety and diversity of ideas in action on the beach boggles the imagination. People approach the challenge from such different places and with such novel solutions!
I recommend taking the afternoon to soak in the enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, between 2.4Meter races, Flying Scot events, Merlin, Moth Midwinters, AND the upcoming Challenge, our house is humming with activity.
It's command central for the annual big pile-up of survival gear. Checklists and girthy blue Ikea bags full of waterproof duffles have begun multiplying. Floorspace is starting to close in.
Perhaps because Spawn is more or less turnkey at this point, (aside from some tidying and refreshing), my sweet skipper has been able to sail with fellow WaterTribesfolk.
He and Andy "Andyman" Hayward sea-trialed the Dovekie, a generously-beamed creature that was first sailed by a cheerful Kiwi team a few Challenges back.
Andyman will again hit the beach with Nate "Natedog" Vilardebo; spousal hopes are high that this will be a less dramatic year for team Dovekie.
Mr. Linton came back considerably wind-blown after a morning with Dave "DeSea" Clement on the Prindle 19. A catamaran will do that to a person.
DeSea will be competing as a trio this year, with teammates Chris "CCock" Growcock and Ed "SailEd" Ruark. They are also hoping for low drama/high fun.
Crossing fingers and knocking wood.
If past performance is any kind of predictor, this month will slip under our keel like the tidal surge at Fundy.
Stage 4 of the Ultimate Florida Challenge has begun for Moresailesed and TwoBeers. After two days of weather hold in St. Mary's, Georgia, they loaded their things in to the Miss Patsie and cast off.
The time was 11:40 on Sunday, March 13. Allow me to let photos tell the story...
Extra big thanks to Andy "Andyman" Hayward for coming to hang out and then offer to convey Spawn and trailer back home.
Click on the map to pick up the SPOT track for the MissPatsters...
The river diverges from land, flowing toward Europe –– as if the magic carpet lift would eventually feed you and your rental skis out onto a double black-diamond slope. It's key to remember to exit the lift.
So after a slumbrous night of recovering from Stage 1, the team bolted for the magic carpet ride.
TwoBeers and Moresailesed blasted through the back of Key Largo and achieved the Atlantic at Elliot Key, and were rewarded with a splendid 24 hour's worth of off-the-wind coursing. 270 miles in a single day, which is dang zippy.
They ran their dual-headsail rig: a jib and a screecher, and, as best they remember, a reef in the mainsail.
With a lively 15 knot breeze nudging them from their starboard quarter, the miles flew by. It was so civilized (especially in comparison with the upwind slog of Stage 1) that they were able to keep a watch system, whereby one sleeps while the other sails the boat.
And somewhere off Palm Beach, while one was sleeping, the time just slipped away. Rousing the sleeper from time to time to check that the heading was correct. It was the correct heading, but at a full gallop (18.6 or so was the top speed they recall; before their Tactick electronic compass sighed and passed away), well, that's how they went "to the Bahamas," according to Moresailesed.
Slight exaggeration. They never actually SAW Walker Cay.
More than 40 miles offshore, the sleeper awoke, checked his navigation, and called for a turn, posthaste! I am very glad to report that after the shenanigans of 2019, the boys generally go for a "chicken jibe," which is to say they tack.
The difference between a tack and a jibe is fairly academic as far as navigation goes, each being a roughly 90° turn –– until is isn't. As anyone who has tried to carry a poster board in a windstorm knows, the wind wants to grab things and fling them about.
To tack, a boat turns so that its nose points through the wind. To jibe, a boat turns away from the wind, presenting the boat's stern to the breeze. When a boat is traveling downwind already, one would normally jibe to change directions.
But things can happen on a jibe, especially when it's dark and the sailors are tired, and they are a long way from shore. A sheet can catch on a cleat, a sail loads up, and next thing you know, the boat is ass-over-teakettle (that IS the technical term) and there's a lot to do.
Prudent (cluck cluck cluck) sailors sometimes choose to do the slower maneuver of turning not 90°, but 270°. Even so, it took two tries to get Spawn tacked around and scooting back toward Florida.
Two tries. Back to Florida. Oy vey.
In the notoriously overcrowded waters of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, our sailors were pleasantly surprised by the dearth of poorly-driven and compensatorily overpowered powerboats. Nary a near miss to be seen.
Knock wood the price of gas has a silver lining.
After their champagne day of making 270 miles, Spawn came up against a line of weather and had no place to hide from it. One squall after another with enormous blasts of wind and nearly continual lighting ("Though it never came down. The lightning just went from cloud to cloud," my favorite skipper said, wonderingly.)
The sailors got drenched, of course, and they agreed that they got really good at reefing the main ("I don't even need a flashlight." TwoBeers said.) And then shaking the reef out again when the squall passed, leaving only a whisper of wind.
"It was the most heinous night of my life. And there was nothing to do but <intensifying invective> bear it." Moresailesed pulled a rueful face. "On a big boat, you can always go below, but on Spawn, you are just THERE. We couldn't even put ashore. "
At the time, the boat was off a wide, sandy beach with no handy inlet to inland waterways. Even with the storm wind gone, the water-state stayed wild and wooly. "I'm never going to need to see New Smyrna Beach ever again." Moresailesed declared.
TwoBeers chimed in: "Yeah, it was brutal. I mean, I built this boat, but I don't know how it stayed together. You'd go off one wave RIGHT in to another." It would become a theme, this statement...
We all share a collective silent moment of appreciation for Spawn holding together regardless the conditions. Good barky!
Aboard Spawn they had front-row seating for a SpaceX rocket taking off from Cape Canaveral. I'd texted them an alert after our dear Henry "Oh Henry!" Picco told me about the launch. Of course Henry, being a local, knows that NASA barricades off some portion of the waterways at launch-time. Being a good friend and shepherd, he checked to be sure Spawn would keep clear of the no-go zone.
Nothing like an international incident to slow a racing program.
Spawn did not get the text, and thought at first a blimp was on fire. "The cool thing is that there's a crackling sound after the sonic boom." TwoBeers observed, to which Moresailesed said, "Yeah, but sometimes there's debris, and we were really close to that launch."
Did they get a photo? Nope.
And, by the by, did they mention the electrical fire? "It never was a fire. It just smoked a little, and we disconnected the battery from the water pump."
There IS a fire extinguisher on the boat. I packed it myself.
The team is taking another night to regroup, tank up on sleep and hot showers, and wait for the anticipated weather-bomb to blow through. According to forecasters (now THAT's a job!), Florida temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s over the weekend.
Good thing Moresailesed and TwoBeers have a lot of warm work ahead of them, paddling upstream.
Yes, I have no idea how long I will be fielding peculiar demands from my team on the high sea.
Yes, I don't know when they will arrive at any particular place, or which way they intend to traverse any given set of navigational challenges.
Yes, I can't say whether they will camp out tonight and eat one of those delicious meals I packed.
I'm just driving the trailer (and The Miss Patsie) and a box after box of meals, haberdashery, and other diverse matérial for their restocking stops.
Oh, well, that and rescuing two Care Bears in Animal Suits and a White Bear from the bench by the red curvy slide at the playground by the skipper's meeting pavilion.
In what might be my most cheering moment of the week, I found the bears and got them back to their youngster -- the daughter of the friend of a former student of a friend sailing a different regatta on the other side of the Bay.
Still wouldn't want to paint it.
That being said, the latest telephone call from our adventuring crew at around 5 on Saturday put them at Checkpoint 1, Cape Haze. Their report: the wind was at first lively, then flattened in the afternoon. They rowed back toward shore where they caught breeze (brisk, puffy, and of course directly from the direction they meant to go), and had their hands full getting into the checkpoint.
They sounded wearied but resolute; perhaps the enormity of the event hitting them –– as it did me, nearly weeping for no particular reason this morning after the start –– right in the midriff.
Track them directly by clicking on the map below.
I hyperbolize. A tiny bitty bit.
But a quick recap might be in order. At sunrise on the first Saturday in March (the 5th this year), a hundred or so small craft take to the water on the start of a human-powered adventure race called the Everglades Challenge. The fleet paddles, rows, pedals, or sails (or a combination therein) south toward Key Largo.
The racers stop in at a few checkpoints –– Cape Haze, Chokoloskee, Flamingo –– before crossing Florida Bay to Key Largo. It's been a thing my favorite skipper has done for a few years. (Here's a selection of past blogs.)
Some teams take their time, stopping to camp and absorb the natural beauty of the wild Everglades. Some vessels travel in supportive, companionable packs. Some stop for hamburgers on the beach.
The Spawnsters? Not so much. When noting the beauty of their surrounds, my team is on the fly. They aim to shave minutes or hours off their best each time.
It's a grueling event: they might get a few catnaps on the way, but they arrive in Key Largo looking rode hard and put up wet.
But for 2022, in celebration of a big birthday, my team will not be calling it quits on the beautiful white sand beach in Key Largo.
Mr. Linton and his crew Jahn Tihansky (aka Moresailesed) plan to keep racing...threading through Keys, skimming past Miami and Fort Lauderdale and going, knock wood, all the way past Jacksonville.
North of Jacksonville, they will head up the St. Mary's river and leave the mighty sailing vessel Spawn and climb into the increasingly quirky canoe Miss Patsie.
They will paddle up the St. Mary's, eventually climbing out of the water and portaging 40 miles on the side of a county highway to the Suwannee River.
Another 300 or so miles of river brings them back to the Gulf of Mexico, where they will switch back to Spawn to finish the circumnavigation at Fort Desoto.
Miss Patsie started off as a perfectly standard 18-foot-long Wenonah canoe.
Muah ha ha.
She quickly grew a set of wheels, an old-fashioned lee board, and an outboard rudder. Then, after trial revealed error, Miss Patsie got an upgraded wardrobe.
At each stroke, a splash of water landed on the legs of both paddlers. This water quickly pooled and offered a damp proposition for both voyageurs and their big pile o gear.
A yachtful of thanks to Leslie and Paulie at Masthead Enterprises for the time and energy, plus gear and brainpower to make a full expedition outfit for the canoe. Their support is precious to all the Spawnsters.
Then too, what if it's windy on the St. Mary's and Suwannee? Sailors gonna sail.
Thanks to Tom Barry at Sail Technologies for the creative (and lightweight) sail.
During a trial runl, we found that the full batons and a section of old windsurfing mast (doubles as a handle when the team is rolling the barkey along the highway) gave us ~2.5 knots downwind.
Add one paddler, and the sail still provides a bit of lift going close to the wind. There is certainly a bit of extra zing when a gust of wind comes along, but nothing that catlike reflexes and the sturdy leeboard can't manage...
Now, to modify the expedition cover to allow for sailing...
And attend to a few Spawn maintenance issues...
And put together meals and first aid...
And...Wheee! Triple cork with a Geenie grab!
We hope to land at the beach on Friday, March 4 for inspection and Concours d'Elegance.
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