Friday, March 23, 2007

Everglades Challenge report: Day 7

CP3 to Key Largo
Four or five WaterTribe crews slowly mulled around the marina fingers where our boats had been tied up overnight. Silently and stealthily we one by one made our headtorch-lit ways out into Florida Bay for the final 35 miles leg of the 2007 Everglades Challenge.

SandyBottom and I paddled across to Joe Kemp Key, intent on a short cut. We should have known better. A few circles later, in the very dark, we finally got ourselves back onto Tin Can Channel. In the shallows I disturbed something sleeping. In a huge splash it soaked the heck out of me, and scared the heck out of me. SandyBottom said she couldn’t see me but could definitely hear my reaction from across the water.

Dawn slowly broke and I moved ahead of SandyBottom. We were on our own for this last leg. I caught up with Tyro and PaddleCarver and we chatted away as we paddled together. On the stretch across to Dump Key, I slowly pulled away from these marvelous gentlemen.

Navigation-wise, it turned out to be a fun day. I left the GPS to its own devices and concentrated mainly on my compass and the course I’d previously marked out on my chart.

As the morning wore on, the wind died away, leaving a flat calm sea. It was fascinating seeing the vast spread of Florida Bay all around, and then marveling at the specific narrow channels to make one’s way across. Reaching Twisty Mile, it was just that – a snaky mile of stakes that offered just a couple more feet of water to pass from one stretch to another.

Passing Brush Key I laid a course of 120degrees for the long stretch to Jimmie Channel. Finally through there, and very shallow, I tried to read the markers ahead to bring me up the west side of Manatee Key. They were lost among the green of the key’s mangroves. In a wee bit of impatience and uncertainty, I used my Greenland paddle to push myself across the shallows joining Manatee and Russell Keys. I had been warned not to step out of my boat under any circumstances, that I’d be gobbled up by the mud and never seen again!

Looking back, I could see the definite markers for Manatee Pass – I’d know it was there, as the chart so rightly stated, for next year.

Immediately the water changed colour – from the murky sea of Flamingo to Manatee Pass, to a gorgeous chalky aquamarine. And immediately the wind kicked up. It was a pretty stiff head wind and two-foot chop for the rest of the entire leg. I felt that I was making interminable progress as Stake Key, and then Bottle Key, and then Butternut Key slowly crept past. But kind of happy at the same time – I didn’t want to rush finishing such a great adventure.

Aside of Butternut Key I realized that I’d slogged up a bit high. It was great to be able to raise the Pacific Action Sail for the last time and I had an excellent off-wind ride back into the main channel, lined up for the last three mile or so slog up to Baker Cut.

Roo and Tinker’s EC22 sailed swiftly up to greet me. On board was Roo, SOS, DancesWithSandyBottom and Wizard, all out to welcome the last few WaterTribers coming home. I warned them that they were a wee bit behind me.

They headed off back to Key Largo, tacking all the way up to Baker Cut. It was fun to very nearly keep up with them as I kept up my direct slog into the wind.

Around Baker Cut corner, past Pelican Key, and I headed across into Sunset Cove. It was hard to believe, and somewhat sad, that these were my last few metres of paddling. There were WaterTribe waves from the jetty, and I gave a last quick paddle to push my boat up on to the beach. It was 15:08, and I’d been on the water for just over ten hours. There, waiting for me on bended knees with flowers and a very welcome cold beer, was a friendly face – KneadingWater.

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