Ah, February. The shortest month. Around here, it feels like the real start of the year, as if January was just a trial run. After taking a practice stab at the year, we line things up and set sail.
Literal sail, actually.
In February, there are no real free weekends. If we are not racing together on the Flying Scot, my favorite skipper is competing with others, and if it's not a regatta, it's prep time for the Everglades Challenge. Because that's the time of year it is.
Mr. Linton went to Lauderdale with the fierce IC37 team New Wave (they prevailed! Yay!). https://ic37class.org/schedule/ic37-winter-series-lauderdale-cup/
We made our pilgrimage to Lake Eustis (and the Oyster Troff) to race our mighty Scuppernong at the Flying Scot Midwinters (illness prevailed! Ugh!)
The Classic Moth Midwinters, which my favorite skipper and I host, launches Saturday. Hoping for delicious weather for my porch-light pals.
And in between times, whenever the schedule allows, while I've been working on book promo and (oooh!) writing the next one, Mr. Linton fixes up the Spawn of Frankenscot.
The Spawn of Frankenscot is a sloop that Jeff built to a design OH Rodgers and he specifically dreamed up for long-distance coastal adventure racing.
In 2014, Jeff and his crew Jahn Tihansky first pushed off the beach in St. Pete and hurtled down the coast to Key Largo in the annual Everglades Challenge human-powered race.
Our team of doughty Spawnsters has done very well for a decade: they hold various records in the 300-mile long race, and even, in 2022, won the 1200-mile extended version of the race known as the Around Florida Challenge.
But with the start of the new year (in February, natch) comes refurbishment for Spawn. What needs replacing in a mothballed sailing sloop after a year? Thanks for asking!
This year the biggest piece of new gear: a new storm jib, made by himself with help from Rod "Rappin Rod" Koch using Masthead Enterprises machines.
The wires that hold the mast in place (shrouds) got refreshed. All of the velcro that attaches the storage and sleeping quarters (what looks to me like a conestoga wagon tent affair) got replaced.
The bearings froze in the sliding rowing seat, the repair of which gobbled up an afternoon seasoned with solvent and elbow grease.
Even with an extra day in February this year, whelp, it's flying.
Going into the 2023 Flying Scot North American Championships, my favorite skipper verbalized his philosophy this way, “I’m going to let the race come to me.”
Well, okay, your highness.
Being strictly honest, however, I knew exactly what he meant. After lo these many years of racing together, we've come to share this sense of regatta destiny.
Here’s what we know as fact: You can lose a regatta from not preparing.
But the only way to win a regatta is to have at least one helping of good luck. Preferably many helpings.
Corollary truth: While you can be ready for good luck, you cannot force it to show up. In a word: destiny.
It was the usual Flying Scot good fortune that met us when we pulled our camper and the mighty Scuppernong into the spacious grounds of Lake Norman Yacht Club.
Locals Tim Porter, Steve Shaw, and Dave Rink and our fellow road-show gypsies –– the Cliftons and dear Henry Picco –– had saved us a prime parking spot overlooking the swimming beach and the hoist.
Before long, more Florida teams joined in –– Donna and Jon Hamilton, Dave Helmick and Caroline Chapin, Jennifer and Michael Faugust, PJ Buhler and David Ames, Laura and Scott Marriott, and Jim and Pam Burke.
Measurement was as neatly organized and well-thought-out as any we remember. Preparation being key.
The weather looked promising: aside from haze from Canadian wildfires and the occasional pop-up thunderstorm, we looked forward to good sleeping temperatures and peaceable breeze in the range we like the best: 7-10 knots.
In actual fact, we sailed under beige, smoke-darkened skies, and the predicted winds –– not unexpectedly, given how regattas go –– did not quite appear as promised. Still, even after a drifter of a single qualifier race, the future looked pretty bright. After all, the race organizers fed us morning and night and provided any number of adult beverages (plus a bourbon tasting!).
Once the wind filled in on Tuesday, we headed out to the racecourse to start the actual competition. We checked the current (yes, it’s a lake, but one whose levels are carefully managed) by tossing our sponge into the water by the starting buoy and counting to one minute. During the qualifier, current set us away from the start at one boat length per minute –– try charging that line! On Tuesday, it was far less dramatic, giving us just a nudge away from the starting line.
The four-legged race showed us a little of Lake Norman’s tricksy, lakey quirks in decent 7-knot-ish conditions but we managed to win the first one.
On Wednesday, we packed our apple-and-peanut-butter stacks, our salami-and-cheese rollups, our Gatorade, and our beer for the day. I fondly remember once sailing to the starting line on a Lightning racecourse in Ecuador and having the guys in the boat next to us look –– and then with comedic exaggeration look at us again before exclaiming to one another: “THEY’ve got BEER!” Indeed we do. So there.
The story-telling highlight of the day involved a pontoon boat trailing an inflatable laden with children. We were sailing at a pretty decent clip along the right side of the windward leg, close to shore, with Tyler and Carrie Andrews. the boat builders and speedsters, just behind us and two other lines of boats to leeward when, like a tugboat with a barge under tow, along comes the pontoon boat. Crossing right in front of our bow –– I mean, a boat-length or so in front of the plow-like bow of the mighty Scuppernong.
It's a fact that nobody looks stupider to a racing sailor than Johnny Powerboat Driver taking a leisurely tour of the racecourse. And to be fair, it’s a free country. But as Carrie and I agreed, these pontoon people must have had it up to HERE with those kids.
Belatedly noticing the fleet of pointy boats, each driven by a fierce-eyed competitor, and possibly heeding the suggestions of said competitors, the powerboat driver punched the throttle and made an abrupt left turn. The float whip-lashed over the wake, and, as night follows day, it caught air and landed with a breath-taking wobble. But good luck (and possibly preparation) allowed the youngsters to hold tight. But jeesh.
Intense, focused sailing (is that a puff? can we connect? Yes, trim a touch.) gave us a 3rd and a 1st at the end of the day, leaving us a decent lead. No lead, however, is safe, especially on a lake and with competitors like anyone in this fleet.
Cue Thursday, when we set sail in conditions where everything seemed magnified. Puffs were bigger. Shifts were bigger. Holes were bigger. In the space of a few minutes, we’d go from fully hiked and vang-on to me on the low side, struggling to keep moving, while boats all around us were experiencing wildly differing conditions.
We didn’t find a pattern to predict the shifts: oftentimes, the wind will oscillate at a regular interval, or a cloud will indicate a puff, or wind will touch down in such a way that the initial header modulates into a lift. These conditions were like what bull riders call a "honker." No telling which way the beastie was going to buck and twist.
After deciding not to hit the middle of the course, we found ourselves in the middle of the course on the first leg. When we might have tacked and ducked a bunch of our competitors, we hung left and got hung. We passed boats and we got passed back again. It was one of the most frustrating hot-and-cold days of racing I can remember.
We clawed our way into 5th for the fourth race of the series, watching our comfortable cushion vaporize. Heading into last race of the series –– a 3-legger to finish us closer to the club –– we did not talk about the stakes. We never do.
The conditions continued to span the spectrum, with puffs as high as the mid-teens with drifters in between. We went left and, as the phrase goes “got smushed.” We sniffed out a puff or two and made some gains downwind, noting that the wind was tending –– inconsistently –– to go left.
Halfway up the last leg, we had a clear lane to go left. Leaving a lake-smart team like John Eckart and Ryan Malmgren, who were bee-lining for the right-hand shore, took some nerve. Not my nerve. But as we got closer to the left side of the course, we could see the flags on the finish boat showing a 30 or so degree shift. A favorable shift, at that.
When the puff came to us, we eased first for speed, and then took the lift (Ding! Ding!) all the way to the finish line, sliding into fourth place behind local skipper David Rink. With that, by a single lucky point, we won that shiny belt-buckle of a trophy.
We’ve notched that belt a few times, but it’s always a thrill.
Thanks to the excellent organizers headed up by Tim Porter (and Jennifer), the steely-nerved race management under Matt Bounds, and the amazing Florida Flying Scot District, whose competition (six of us in the top 15 of the Championship, with two top 10s in the Challenger Division) that make us all faster and better sailors.
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.
There's a bit of reentry shock –– whoa, did you know that reentry culture shock is enough of a thing that the State Department has prepared this white paper on it? I am going to say the same applies when returning to the pro-growth, population-exploding, overextended state of Florida.
Where was I? Yeah: coming back to Florida after a summer at the Would-Be Farm. The differences are few, in truth, though they shock us: the rate of travel, the volume of humankind, a factor larger of generalized chaos.
We don't leave our keys in the car. We look both ways at a roundabout. We schedule our supply runs to avoid the angriest hours. Instead of counting deer crossings, we keep track of how many times we are startled by vehicles weaving through traffic at near-100mph. (I'm TRYING to watch out for you, motorcycles. Jeesh.)
But the flip side of the reentry shock is the sense of slipping right back into the balmy waters of home: family, fishing, and, naturally, the next sailing challenge.
The 2.4 Meter boat is about 8 feet long. I have described my favoite skipper's appearance in the diminutive vessel as a man sailing his own boot. Or possibly if Paul Bunyan were sitting in the companionway of a classic racing sloop...
He's been competing in the boat for a couple of years, primarily in preparation for the 2.4 Meter World Championships. which our home club has the honor of hosting for 2022.
Never mind that we've been trying to hold the event for several years and have been thwarted by various world events...The regatta will be held November 5-11, 2022!
I'll be keeping watch from the comfort and familiarity of a chase boat. Himself specifically requested that I devote the boat to him and his modest needs for the regatta. I'm officially the beer-and-sails-boat for Team Linton.
They pressed the "okay" button on their SPOT locator at 3:19 pm Sunday, March 20, fifteen days and 9 hours after pushing off from shore and accepted the hero's welcome from a gang of family, friends, and supporters at the Fort DeSoto boat ramp.
The final 27 hours of their circumnavigation of Florida took them down the Suwannee and finally –– finally! –– back to the Gulf of Mexico aboard Spawn. Mother Nature, who, by the way, ALWAYS wins, gave them a few additional affectionate swats during this last 84 miles.
At the mouth of the Suwannee, after a long day of tacking down the river, the team thought they'd anchor and have a meal and wait for the westerly to fill in. Alas this put them in the lee of a pestilential island at sunset. Swarmed by gnats, which managed to find a way to bite, even around a dry-suit. The margin between cuff and glove is particularly vulnerable.
Still, the wind came along, and the team headed to their Cedar Key checkpoint, knowing that some weather –– oh, yes, another cold front! –– was due. The cold front, they hoped, would give them northerly winds to scoot them down the coast to Fort DeSoto.
Around midnight, as they tried to check in to Cedar Key, the promised weather arrived, They had shortened sail already as they counted Mississippis between lightning and thunder. Even with radar coverage on the coms, "You just never know how it's going to be." TwoBeers said. "It started piddling, and then it was like Ut-OH, even though it didn't look so bad on screen."
Spawn grew restive, so they rolled up the jib, and as the wind built and built, they took the main down as well. They found themselves making 8.5 knots under bare poles –– in about 8 inches of water.
When the second line of squalls came along, the guys were anchored and snuggled under their boat-tent, ready for it, they thought. But in the teeth of the squall, it became obvious that the anchor was dragging. If it wasn't onto a lee shore, it was a decidedly shallow lee area.
Moresailesed let the centerboard down, TwoBeers found enough steerage to head into the breeze, and the anchor caught again. The two went back to sleep, and let the storm blow itself out.
Later, still in the predawn hours, they put up a headsail until the boat started planing. Two weeks into the challenge, less than 100 miles to go –– prudence is the virtue you want to court. Reduce sail again.
They sailed this last leg conservatively (as Moresailesed has been known to say, "To finish first, first you must finish."), giving the conditions their fatigued best attention. No doubt they knew that the record of 17 days was well within their grasp –– as long as they didn't have to, say, ROW all the way from Clearwater.
And suddenly, there they were –– a sliver of black sail on the horizon, flanked by an honor guard powerboat (the SPOT did some good after all!). Sailing under jib alone, the team made a stately entrance, docking at the same Fort DeSoto ramp where they had put in weeks before.
Champagne was popped, cheers sounded, and at least one person heaved a mighty sigh of relief.
Will they do it again next year? Thank goodness the event runs only every OTHER year.
Will they do it again in two years? I heard them say, "Well, that's one thing off the list." and "We don't have to do THAT again." but also, "If we had a little better weather..."
But I rather think not.
About the Blog
A lot of ground gets covered on this blog -- from sailboat racing to book suggestions to plain old piffle.
Trying to keep track? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or if you use an aggregator, click the RSS option below.
Old school? Sign up for the newsletter and I'll shoot you a short e-mail when there's something new.