Race day – March 1 – dawned clear and bright. No small craft advisory to send us on our way, as had been the case last year. And if it wasn’t for a kind bystander I’d probably still be on the beach chatting away. “Ah, Kiwibird, the race’s started?” And as I twirled around to face the shore line, sure enough, there was everyone else dragging boats or charging off into the sunrise. Off I sprinted, to kick off the 2008 WaterTribe Everglades Challenge.
SandyBottom, DancesWithSandyBottom and myself had arrived late Wednesday, driving a kayak, a Kruger and towing a Core Sound 20 from Durham, NC. SOS flew in the next day. For two frantic days, the men worked to finish off the boat at our campsite. Even Roo, the boat’s designer, lent a hand. Credit to them all, the boat was ready to sail at 0700 Saturday morning.
Day 1 turned out to be probably the nicest day of the entire race – winds light and variable but mainly from abeam, offering a few chances to raise the Pacific Action Sail. I soon caught up with KneadingWater, and we paddled for a few hours together, until he drifted behind a ways, swearing that he’d catch up. I didn’t see him again until he finished. I sorely missed his company this year. (SandyBottom headed outside and down the coast this year, and I didn’t see her again until she finished.)
Under sail, I passed under one of the many bridges on the Intracoastal (ICW), trying to steer clear of a 45-footer keeler waiting for the bridge to be raised. I couldn’t believe it when the two dudes on the yacht saw me coming -– locked eyes, in fact – and then deliberately went astern – under motor – to ram me. I couldn’t help but fend myself off by hand off their transom, with the chap on the wheel claiming, “You’re much more maneuverable than me!”
It’s a pleasant paddle via the ICW, but the constant cross wakes from passing boats does tend to wear you down.
Not having a moon this year made a big difference. It’s amazing how much of a friend even a wee bit of moon is on a dark and lonely night. Though the ICW has a fair bit of light pollution, the night did tend to nudge in just the wee bit more. And once the sun hits the deck, hardly anyone else is out on the water in these parts. Probably because the channel markers can be a bit dodgy to find at times. One chap passed me by in a small launch, and yelled out over the tonker tonker of his diesel, “Have a safe night!” My heart went out to him.
I made the 105kms (65 miles) to CP1 by 22:05, passing SOS and DancesWithSandyBottom rerigging Dawn Patrol for departure - checked in, filled my MSR waterbags and headed straight out again. Only Nite Navigator/Nite Song and Pelican were there. The place seemed deserted – a far cry from last year. After spending a sleepless night camping at CP1 last year, I’d resolved never to lay over there again – the concrete-packed shell ground cover bent my tent pegs and everyone else camped snored through the night. So off I headed for Bird Key, a small island only a mile or so’s paddle south away. Another non-competitor kayaker was already camped, so I tried to be as quiet as possible. I cooked a freeze-dried meal, and hit the sack. I never sleep exceptionally well on this race – adrenalin gets the better of me – but rest is rest.