Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 5

Day 5: Mormon Key to Flamingo, CP3
0400 and my headlamp failed me, trying to pack up in the pitch black (and this was a new replacement, as the same thing had happened about this time last year). My wee Maglite’s batteries had died, as I’d inadvertently left it on all night on Sunday. Which left my spare torch, a last minute why-not-better purchase, tucked safely away in my cockpit bag. Lori kindly shone a beam on me as I scrabbled to find it. Torch gripped between my teeth, I quickly packed up. There was sand all over my boat, artfully marked with tiny footprints, and thick in the cockpit. Considering that it was the constant fine sand you just can’t completely get rid of that was sandpapering my derriere to a fine pink, I made care to try and wipe out as much as possible.

By 0445, we were on the water, negotiating the low tide around Mormon Key in the dark. Out to sea and south headed, we eagerly awaited the forecasted northerlies…

Soon after dawn, NatureCalls parked on a nearby key to stretch their legs. We agreed I’d head on, and they’d catch me up. I wasn’t to see them again until they arrived at Flamingo, over four hours after me.

Listening on my VHF to the revised forecast, the northerlies had just been a cruel joke for everyone in the race – the southerlies were here to stay, and were rising to 20-25knots in the next few days. Our plans had been to camp around Cape Sable and take an extra day to reach Flamingo, but I could see the best thing to do now would be to head inside Snake River to Whitewater Bay, and make a direct run south for Flamingo, finishing the race at Key Largo a day earlier.

I kept expecting NatureCalls to pop up any second, but couldn’t see sight nor sound. An hour or so later, WhiteCaps appeared from South Lostmans’ direction, paddling away his Kruger, his set Balogh rig catching a few light airs. We had a chat, and I asked him to let NatureCalls know, if he was to see them, of my change of plans. He duly did so a few hours later.
As with the long day paddling from New Pass to Marco Island, I would spy a distant headland and use that as my bearing, watching it with glee as it got closer and closer and then passed by. Finally spotting Shark Point in the distant was a highlight. By now the wind was slowly dying, leaving a small sea chop – nothing too uncomfortable. A Loggerhead turtle raised his head just a few metres from me. And this far off the coast, I was surprised by how shallow it was in many patches, awakening me from my stupor as my Greenland paddle sometimes hit sold ground.

Another shark, a fair bit larger than the first one, cruised by…

Dark storm clouds rolled over a couple of times, and their heavy rains finally washed all the raccoon-deposited sand from my decks and my salt-crusted-stiff-as-a-board Tilley hat. It was quite something to turn back and see WhiteCaps’ sail shining brilliant white from low sun under dark clouds. I even had my own sail up once or twice to try and catch the gusts from the storms.

By the time I turned Shark Point, after 40 hard-won kms (21 miles) in about eight hours paddling, the wind had pretty much died out completely for the 4kms (2.5 miles) paddle across Ponce De Leon Bay to Shark River. I waited until I got closer to try and pick the correct one of the many entrances to Whitewater Bay as they meander around Shark River Island and its accompanying mangrove islands. I said a small prayer as I realized the tide was coming in, and fairly scooted into Whitewater Bay with what must have been a 3-4knot tide. And then the wind came up abeam, and for most of the Bay, I enjoyed a great sail, paddling madly away.

The long 4.8km (three-mile) paddle down Buttonwood Canal, the narrow dredged canal leading into Flamingo, is one of the hardest of the lot – you know you’re nearly there, but just not quite. I reached CP3 – around 77kms (48 miles) in total for the day – around 1745, and found no one around. Feeling pretty much drugged with a gait to match, I “walked” around the marina area to find the check-in box and boat trailer, chained and padlocked safely together. Don’t ask me again to remember Pi (the check-in box’s combination) after 30 minutes sleep in nearly 40 hours!

After some negotiation with the large tyres of the boat trailer, which I found floated very nicely (and keeping in the back of my mind that a very large croc famously makes this ramp his home), I managed to haul my boat atop the trailer, drag boat and trailer up the ramp and lumber everything the 100m or so to the other side of the marina, the salt water side and my exit point for tomorrow’s “short” 56km (35 mile) run to Key Largo. Ever so gratefully, Flamingo’s store was still open (hours: 0600 to 2000). I dashed down a two-litre bottle of Gatorade (my first time ever drinking it), a 40second microwaved burger, an Ensure and a half-litre of water. I didn’t pee for another two hours.

As I was tidying up my boat, and me under a nearby tap, Gordy, our CP3 volunteer arrived. He offered me a hard-boiled egg, some cheese and we shared an ice-cold beer. Bliss. The egg, that was.

As dusk got darker, I tied my boat up aside one of the empty marina fingers, dragged out my camping gear, and set up stealth camp in the “secret” place SandyBottom and I had found last year – tucked away behind the trees with a harbour-side view of Florida Bay. Nearly fast asleep, around 2200, I heard NatureCalls paddling past me, having rounded the Cape, fully Balogh-rigged, but with no wind. I jumped out of tent, and advised them to camp near me. Which they did a half-hour or so later.

I set the alarm for 0400.

1 comment:

Noel said...

More! More! We want more! :)