Monday, March 17, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 3

Day 3: New Pass to Whitehorse Key
Feeling a totally lazy bum I kept putting off getting out of tent-time. Having to pee made the decision for me. By the time I’d packed everything up, before dawn as not to reveal my stealthy whereabouts, I was on the water a wee bit before some colour tinted the sky. It didn’t take me long to appreciate that I’d camped just before New Pass, and before the Pass actually spills out into the sea, there were many good sandy spots to wild camp on another dark, windy night, without fear of being arrested and consequently deported; or even shot, as Chief had so warned at the captain’s meeting the day before the race.

Forget meandering inland down to Wiggins Pass – I was all for the big open sea! It felt like eternity plus a bit more paddling the 48kms (30 miles) down the coast to Big Marco, battling against the winds. But it was still beautiful – only the occasional boat, no cross-chop from charging speedboats, distant hazy headlands (or apartment blocks) to head for and focus on as the next goal to reach and pass – working onto the next hazy headland (or apartment block).

I had to change my GPS batteries at one time, and sighed at the lost metres as the wind drove me back from where I’d paddled. I sighed even deeper after I realized that I’d put a spent pair of batteries back in the unit and had to change them out again not two minutes later. Surely I’ve seen this bit of coast before…

Last year, with SandyBottom and NatureCalls, we’d entered the Everglades via Caxambas Pass. With these now familiar and bosom-buddy headwinds and sea chop, it just wouldn’t happen this year. I decided to go inside via Marco Pass, another new route for me.

It bodes well that there’s a wreck of a hull lying just outside the entrance.

Two companionable stingray cruised under me.

Let me not forget the 1.5m shark that had earlier whipped up across my bow, circled twice under me, and headed back on his way again. There’s something for having a scrawny rump.

I’d been worried about my water supply – drinking about four litres a day, and figured that with these headwinds I may well be an extra day reaching Chokoloksee and CP2. I was irrationally concerned that I could be about another four litres short to get me there. To stop worrying, you need to remove the source. I passed a house boat up Big Marco River, where a chap was fishing and pulled up along side. “I hope you don’t think this terribly cheeky of me, but you wouldn’t have a tap – I mean a faucet – I could beg some water off you?” “You bet,” Gordon said in a British accent, “and I know what a tap is!” We had a short chat, swapping a few tales of Blighty land, shook hands; and with a lighter heart – but four kilos heavier boat – up the river I headed – wind on the nose…

Just before sunset I stopped to change over my headlamp batteries, becoming an instant meal for the local mozzies. There was blood everywhere. Now in pitch black and passing a local restaurant, one of the refused guests, what felt to be a rather large manatee awoke from his/her slumber and with an enormous splash raised my skyline by a good few centimeters – I gave an appropriate squeal, rather impressed that not a cuss word left my lips.

Convinced that I was on my way to Chokoloksee that night, feeling fit and abound, I paddled into the dark, out the Marco River and into the 10,000 Islands – in the pitch black, I couldn’t even see one (1) of them. A fair bit later I resolved that enough was enough – it’s late and this dark of dark is a wee bit scary – I found a wee beach, already claimed by winged, buzzying, biting insects, and dragged the boat up. Not minutes later, nearly ready to strip my boat to camp, lights appeared. I called out, and it’s NatureCalls, who’d been having a very civilized dinner at the very restaurant the manatee had busted my composure outside of. As Jim so eloquently put it, “I paddle to eat.”

Jim and Lori had been sipping expressos, I water – we resolved to paddle on into the night! About an hour later, I felt brave and tired enough to call for a beach. A wee bit later we found Whitehorse Key – and safely tucked away, already sound asleep, were NiteNavigator and NiteSong.

It had been a very long day. We made camp.

Photo: KneadingWater on Day 1.


DaveO said...

Great race Kiwi! I envy you the paddling but not the biting insects. One advantage of the north country this time of year. Pretty impressive knocking a day off last years time, especially with the headwinds and all.

Silbs said...