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.
Training for the Ultimate Florida Challenge adventure race has been ramping up around here. Slowly. We all know how long it takes to recover from a simple bout of tendonitis.
Over the summer at the Farm, Captain TwoBeers hiked a few miles every morning (minus a couple of lay-days for fishing and sailboat racing), and each week we tried for at least one tandem kayak trip.
The tandem boat is an excellent addition to our summers. Instead of tethering my kayak shamefully to Jeff's when the mileage on my hinky shoulder is up, I've got built-in rescue propulsion. AND it feels like I am contributing to his fitness regimen.
Each time I set down my paddle and pick up the camera, the binocs, the Googlemaps, it's for the Spawn team effort.
I'm not just dreamily contemplating the scenery, dang it, I'm coaching.
But as summer passed, we stepped up. Jeff hunted down and ordered a racing canoe made of Kevlar®. The supply-chain kinks felt palpable as the small factory in Wisconsin kept us apprised of when/if they were able to start building again.
Our faith in capitalism was rewarded when a nice fella drove up in his truck and unloaded the as-yet-unnamed canoe one sunny October day.
Thanks to the advice of young Chip Clifton, the team will be using kayak paddles on the canoe –– a seemingly small distinction, but one that should save mileage on everyone's hinky shoulders.
So while Moresailesaid and TwoBeers are working on their physical stamina and paddling skills, as well as sailing all sorts of boats in all sorts of events, I am thinking about the ground-control challenges.
It's an unsupported adventure race, which means that between stages, our heroes are on their own. They can stay at hotels if they want (they won't, but they could), or eat at a fancy restaurant along the way (they might, weather dictating). And at the end of each stage, I can meet up with them, replenish their supplies, usher them into hot showers, et cetera.
There will be a lot of road to cover chasing the team, which also translates into a lot of tourist-y opportunity for me. Fort Clinch, for instance, is a race check-in point, and ALSO where they switch from sailing Spawn to paddling the as-yet-unnamed canoe.
What did I know about Fort Clinch? Absolutely nothing. I might guess it's a former military outpost, probably historical, possibly a good spot for making out.
A few clicks later, and I know the fort was first started in around 1847, and it has a bit of a tradition of being not ready for the conflicts that come its way. It was restored by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s (Ooh, I wonder if Grampa Navy worked on it? Note to self: research employment records for the CCC).
And it's right next to Amelia Island. Huh. That leg of my road-trip just planned itself.
The Ultimate Florida Challenge begins on the first Saturday in March at sunrise at Fort Desoto beach. Depending on what time a person keeps, either the clock is ticking or the drums are calling...
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...
Oldgeezering: the tendency of anyone over the age of 20 to start reminiscing about how the world has changed.
Identify by use of temporal phrases like "when I was a kid," "back in the day," "nowadays."
Also, Proustian locational references: "the video arcade," "my grandfather's farm," "the five-and-dime."
Oldgeezering in practice:
When I was a kid, my dad used to drag us around behind a boat in pretty much anything that floated. Once it was a wide mahogany door: hard to grip –– and there must have been some additional flotation, right? Huh. It's all blur of water up the nose.
The safety rules were few but iron-clad: lifejackets for all kids and somebody was charged to act as spotter. NEVER take eyes off your mark.
I guess I was spotting for cousin B in this picture.
Check out that flex. Daddo looks mighty buff; always with the Ray-Bans, the cigarette (gasoline canisters be danged!) and the bottle of beer.
Kids these days –– they don't even.
It was a decent warm-up, as the team remembered (when prompted by text by an alert ground control) to turn on their dang SPOT tracker when they were already halfway down the Bay.
Which is why their track looks like a point-to-point sail rather than the actual circle route that it was.
Fans of the team will be surprised to know that zero major innovations are planned for the 2021 event (starts the first Saturday in March at dawn at Fort Desoto Beach! Bring bagpipes!). Of course three months does leave room for all sorts of shenanigans. We'll see.
Thanks to Dave Helmick, Dave Clement, Andy Hayward, and Nate Villardebo, most excellent WaterTribesmen, who offered help, companionship, and a place to park. Good luck in the most challenging part of the Challenge: getting to the beach.
*Time of year coming up...when armchair adventurers and make-it-real dreamers to prepare to participate in (or just watch) adventure: human powered watercraft (from kayaks to SUPs to catamarans, etc.) take an unsupported 300-mile-long voyage south along Florida's west coast.
The event offers both genuine danger (the waiver spells it out: "You could die") and possibilities within a budget's reach (a couple hundred bucks worth of required equipment, a little boat, ten days of vacation...).
The starting line –– the high tide line on the beach –– offers an astonishing vision of people living their dreams. And alarming, of course.
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