The Everglades Challenge sends a fleet of adventurous boating folks on a 300+ mile voyage from Tampa Bay to Key Largo in March. We've been hard at work on a highly modified Flying Scot we're calling Frankenscot that we hope to enter into the event..
A trip like this is not like gassing up the station wagon and hitting the highway.
The course includes three check-in points along the way. Between here and there, we have open water and the Gulf of Mexico, various rivers and marked channels, mangrove islands, the Intracoastal Waterway. Plus, in this race, there are no rules against -- say -- cutting a corner and yanking the boat over shallow spots on foot, if need be.
Plotting a 300-mile course along the left side of Florida and through the 10,000 islands of the Everglades means making provisions for alternate routes, and alternate-to-the-alternate routes, and third-option-alternate routes. Is it better, one might consider, to stay inside the barrier islands or in the Gulf if the wind is piping up? It's not just the volume of breeze, but the direction, the likelihood of the wind backing or clocking (changing direction, in sailor-parlance), and of course the sea-state. Plus the tide, the waves, the time of day (it's good to avoid high-traffic Saturdays, for instance, along some of the stretches of water), etc. etc. etc.
As with so many human endeavors, it's best to think about the options early: if it's dark and stormy and something (knock wood) goes bang, it's good to know already where to bolt to make repairs or take shelter.
Far better to have already figured out that Tin Can channel is not recommended in certain wind conditions than to try to figure it out in the middle of the night. With the wind in the unfavored quarter.
To that end, taking advantage of Moresailesed being in town, TwoBeers and Moresailesed got together recently to test the boat and to meet with Jarhead.
The veteran of seven Challenges, first single-handed finisher in Class 4 in last year's EC (aboard a SeaPearl), and proud former Marine, Jarhead has been openhanded in sharing his wisdom. He may see us as young whippersnappers, but he's willing to tell us what he thinks about routes and alternate routes, especially for the toughest spots of the Everglades Challenge.
With an amber FatTire close to hand, Jarhead walked an attentive group of sailors through his main navigation points. As he talked, the crowd built. Nothing speaks to sailors like experience, especially about something as tricky as nighttime, sleep-deprived navigation.
My pages of notes include things like this: "Hug the shore to the lights on Chokoloskee Bay. Head for the lights, not the dark." And: "It's very tough to tack in the channel on an Easterly. Here's a thing to remember: if you are going to go aground, get stuck on the upwind side of the channel."
And, yes, we resolved to squeeze in a few more reconnaissance trips to Florida Bay before that March 1st starting line.
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