Monday, March 31, 2008

Yukon 1000: Gear, gear, which bit of gear...

Like anything to do with boats, half the fun is the preparation and planning. And that's just what Dawn and I are finding with the upcoming 2009 Yukon 1000.

As well as finding sponsors for the race. First up, is that Macpac, NZ's leading outdoors brand, is on board. We'll be using their Apollo free-standing tents (free-standing being obligatory), as well as their Sanctuary 900 down sleeping bags.

If you're a regular peruser of this blog, you'll probably have figured that I'm a great fan of Macpac, having used their equipment since 1982, on all my backpacking, climbing and kayaking expeditions and trips. I can't wax enough about this gear.More updates to follow!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Be careful who you go to sea with...

We hear stories via our blogs of paddling trips that don't go so well. Well, here's a real life sea mutiny, in New Zealand, of all places.

The New Zealand Herald reports, that Nelson (where my brother Rob lives) accountant Bill Heritage (photo above) said he was forced to abandon his 7.9m sloop Air Apparent about 90 nautical miles west of the Kaipara Harbour on Wednesday when his inexperienced crew ignored his orders and set off the yacht's emergency locator beacon.

However, one of Mr Heritage's crew said the boat was inadequately prepared for the journey they would not pay for its loss unless ordered to by a court.

All four were air-lifted off the yacht by an emergency services helicopter and flown back to Auckland. Mr Heritage could not stay on board alone because it was too dangerous.

The Compass 790 yacht was left floating and a navigation warning was issued to shipping by Maritime New Zealand.

The maritime rescue involved two helicopters and cost more than NZ$20,000. The crew's admitted they mutinied as they feared for their lives when the engine, sails, drogue and instrumentation packed up on them.

How to lose good friendships...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2009 Yukon 1000 #2

Well, SandyBottom and I are into the planning for next year's inaugural 2009 Yukon 1000 Canoe and Kayak Race. That means, I've started a spreadsheet to list expenses (ouch), looked up what charts we'll need, checked that flights do indeed go to Whitehorse, and are actively looking for a boat.

Initially we had high hopes to use a
Kruger Cruiser, but it seems the race rules don't allow that boat in the canoe class, using single blades with a rudder. We can enter the Cruiser as a "kayak", but that means double blades and no rudder. This has started an interesting discussion on WaterTribe's discussion forum, and it's nice to see race organizer Peter Coates contributing, as well as Mr. Kruger himself, Mark Przedwojewski, aka ManitouCruiser.

So, if anyone has any good ideas on a suitable tandem for this great adventure (minimum beam of 26"), we'd be open to suggestions!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

2009 Yukon 1000

Well, here’s a new race of interest, and now the longest of its kind. Not only has the inaugural 2009 Yukon 1000 Canoe and Kayak Race recently been advertised, but mandatory equipment includes carrying a SPOT. In fact, the race's organization is based around SPOT.

Because the 1600km race is unsupported, paddling down the Yukon River from Whitehorse, Yukon across the US/Canada border and on to the Dalton Highway Bridge North of Fairbanks, Alaska, officials are relying on competitors sending two SPOT OK messages a day to confirm their positions – before 2130 to confirm that you’re off the water and camped, and again at 0530 the next day from the same position to confirm you’ve rested at your campsite the entire night. And then another SPOT OK message every six hours while paddling. Otherwise you’re disqualified.

The official starting date of the 2009 Yukon 1000 Race will be Monday July 20, 2009 at 1100, at Rotary Park in Whitehorse, Yukon. Solo kayakers are allowed, but for safety reasons you have to travel with another solo kayaker to make up a team. And you have until August 3 to finish the race.

Unfortunately for me, but perhaps fortunately for FliesWithKiwiBird, at least one member from each team must have completed the Yukon River Quest to be eligible to enter the race. I e-mailed race organizer, Peter Coates, to see if he could open entries up to WaterTribe. And he responded quite smartly: “You know that is not a bad idea. On the other hand, we have had people completely loose it on the River Quest because of how Big and Empty the river is, and the Flats are much Bigger and Emptier. There are only about 1000 people living along the river from Dawson to the highway bridge, 600 miles. And we want to be confident people know how to pack for an expedition in the Arctic.”

But he did say that they’re relaxing the Yukon River Quest prerequisite for the first year. “Pretend the rules say ‘or equivalent racing and wilderness experience’.” And Peter’s happy to review your experience with you, as he did with me.

And another point quite interesting is that FliesWithKiwiBird says I can do the race, if SandyBottom makes up a team with me. I can see us in a Kruger...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Remember the WASP of WWII

Laura Jane Cunningham, WASP
"This is not a time when women should be patient.
We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability
every weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS,
in this particular case,

are a weapon waiting to be used."

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942

March is Women's History Month.

From my couple of years working for Sally Ride, the WASP have become living deities in my mind. Representing Sally's company, Sally Ride Science, at the annual Women in Aviation International conferences, I was lucky enough to meet a few of the surviving WASP. All the most amazing women of their generation.

During World War II, a select group of young women pilots became pioneers, heroes and role models. They were the
Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft.

Their stories are amazing. And every now and then, by pure coincidence and via the wonderful world of the Internet, I have the chance of meeting another WASP, whether it be virtually or in the flesh.

One of my favorite stories is that of Bucky Richards and the case of the missing trunk. You can read that story courtesy of BubbaGirl.

But just the other day another WASP came to light. I happened to be e-mailing Sea Kayaker magazine’s editor Chris Cunningham on an article I was writing for the magazine, when he mentioned his mother had been a WWII pilot. I asked Chris whether she was a WASP, and he was surprised that I had heard of them.

Chris’ mum was Lora Jane Harris (nee Cunningham). Lora Jane trained in Sweetwater, Texas. She flew the Stearman trainer, got her multi-engine licence and flew a B-17. She was in one of the last groups training toward the end of the war. When the WASP were disbanded she joined the Red Cross and went to the Marshall Islands.

Chris wrote me, “Of course as a boy the coolest thing was the time she got in the tail gun of a B-17 and shot at rabbits in the desert. (At least that's what I remember.) She also told of going out on the runway when it was blowing hard enough to bring landing planes almost to a standstill while airborne. The WASP would grab the wings and pull the plane down out of the air. Her buddy Velta Benz was too short to qualify for the WASP, so she hung upside down from a tree and actually got an inch and a half taller, tall enough to get in.”

Chris also recommended watching the History Channel and its program on the history of beverages. “On the popularization of coffee during WWII, they have a shot of a babe serving coffee in a mess hall in the South Pacific. The babe turned out to be mom. My little sister happened to be watching the program and about fell off her chair. Her best known customer on that gig was Tyrone Power.”

Sadly, the WASP are slowly passing away, Chris’ mum being one of them. But we should never forget.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Florida Keys: a first

What does a tired kayaker and her family do once everyone's scarpered 2008's Everglades Challenge? Explore the Keys! Off we headed for three days, basing ourselves in the Bay View Inn Motel, in Conch Key, right on the waterfront on the Bay side. A marina finger was being upgraded right outside our front porch, which the WeeOne and I watched each morning with interest.

First off was feeding the tarpon at Robbie's Marina, on Islamorada. Only for the brave, who don't mind the risk of losing a finger or three! For just a few dina you get a small pail of herring to feed these massive hungry fish. First, you think there aren't enough fish in that wee pail - don't worry, you'll soon change your mind, that there's just enough, or perhaps one or two more than necessary. And if it ain't the fish that get the herring, watch out for the pelicans! This was so much fun.

Then an explore and walk around Bahia Honda State Park. Rated one of the top beaches, we'd have to agree - not a big beach, but beautiful all the same.

And I have always wanted to drive over Seven Mile Bridge!

Our day in Key West was one of rain, but braving the elements we wandered around quite happily. Enjoying a drink on the waterfront, old ships atied beside us, with some great live music, made up for the soggy streets.

In fact the weather wasn't the best for most of the trip, cancelling snorkelling trips and glass-bottomed tour boats; but who cares when you can still wander around wearing shorts, knowing that way up north, snow's afalling!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Everglades Challenge 2008 gear reflections

Most things didn’t change from last year – I used the same boat, Grahame Sisson’s 5.32m Arctic Raider, with Pacific Action sail and a Lumpy Paddles
Greenland paddle (only person this year who used a GP) – and was just as pleased with all performances, if not more so re the boat and GP with the tough head wind conditions.

Sleeping system:
Even though I packed my Hennessey Hammock for a possible night on a chickee or in the mangroves, I didn’t use it, relying solely on my ever wonderful 1.8 kg single-pole Macpac Microlight tent. Bug-proof!

A big change for sleeping comfort was the replacement of a typical inflatable sleeping mat with an Exped 7 down mat. Absolute bliss. I wrote about this mat in an earlier entry, and it performed splendidly. The only slight criticism I have of it, or perhaps those camped near me may have, is that the mat’s down right noisy (bad pun) when you move around on it! I also saved a bit of room by not packing my inflatable pillow, as this year I just stuffed some spare dry clothing in the mat’s bellows bag and used that as a very comfy pillow.

Once again I used REI’s Nooksack UL +30 sleeping bag (discontinued), but the inner Primaloft Sport was superb in this year’s very sandy and salty conditions. Once home I just threw it into the washing machine and tumble dryer, and it looks brand new.

And once again, I had food left over, perhaps even a bit over half of what I took. I packed six freeze dried meals (Mountain House compact vacuum pouch), and ate only two of them on the first and second nights – and that second one I really had to force down. The rest of the time it was too late to have the energy to cook, and I just wasn’t that hungry, making sure to keep my body calorie-loaded and hydrated throughout the paddling day, normally 12 to 18 hours.

I also packed seven Ensures – those were just right for slurping down each evening as I fell into my tent, or as a liquid breakfast.

I am so over Clif bars – I said it last year, but this year I really mean it. NatureCalls recommended the Hammer Nutritional bars – not cheap, but energy packed and tasty to boot – I’ll test those over the next few months. I did have a few Larabar bars, which can be expensive (I got them on sale, and there are some good online deals), but tasted great – wish I’d had a few more of those, and I’ll probably rely on those a bit more next year.

A treat I thoroughly enjoyed are the Philippine Brand Naturally Delicious Dried Mangoes – a big bag bought from Costco and to die for. I’ll definitely take more of those next year.

But I still had two heavy bags of bars and goo left over by race end.

Cooking system:
The MSR Windpro stove still stands tops for me, primarily because it's simple to use a gas cartridge in saving boiling water time, and because the stove doesn't sit precariously atop the gas canister; but I only used it twice. And next year I think it’ll only be packed because it’s compulsory to have one.

Light sources:
For the second year, my (replacement) Princeton Tec Apex LED Headlamp gave out on me (though it was working again when I got home). When it works, it’s fabulous – especially the spotlight feature. For use inside my tent, to save the headlamp’s batteries, I used a small waterproof Pelican Mitylite 2AAA, which also tucked away inside one of my PFD pockets, with my VHF. I’d put some cord on it so I could wear it around my neck at night. I inadvertently left it on one night and drained the batteries, and had forgotten two replacement AAA batteries... My spare (dive) torch, a Pelican Recoil 2410 with photoluminescent shroud (lens ring) was a real boon. This year, I left my heavier Sunlight C8 Dive Light at home.

Cell phone:
This year I used the Aquapac flip phone case (rather than last year’s Pelican case) – only way to go.

Packing it all out:
As I promised myself this year, I did pack everything out. I used three Phillips WAG Bags, inside the privacy and safety (mosquitoes) of my tent – worked a treat, dumping them in local rubbish bins at each checkpoint. The other mornings I had the use of public loos. One tip: get rid of your used Wag Bags as soon as possible with the warmth of the Everglades…

SPOT satellite messenger:
Brilliant. Just love this new toy. I think there were about seven of us that used a SPOT – KneadingWater, NatureCalls, Pelican, ThereAndBackAgain, RunningMouth, Lumpy & Bumpy and myself. We all have stories on how well they worked. I did discover that I couldn’t have the unit on tracking and press for an OK message at the same time – red flashing lights would appear. But during the final three days when I didn’t have cell phone coverage, my spotters knew exactly where I was as I pressed OK at every turn. And then the OK messages sent to their e-mails (and cell phones) had a URL to Google Earth, also showing on that map my long/lat. Because of my SPOT signals, FliesWithKiwiBird knew that I was coming in a day early, and managed to book me a room for that night, before our room for the rest of the week came open.

Personal health:
Getting over the sleep deprivation probably takes the longest. I figured I probably got fewer than 18 hours of even slightly approaching some form of decent sleep in the entire six days of the race.

I wore gloves this year the entire race – my hands were a bit of a mess by the time I finished, being wet all of the time, but cleared up in a day or two. Taping my right hand up for the last day probably saved me. The moral here is to not feel over rushed and to take a bit more time in the mornings to tape anything up that looks even slightly dodgy.

I’m still a bit numb in one of my little toes, with a little bit of numbness on the inside of one of my wrists – nothing major there at all.

It took just over two weeks for the blister on my bottom lip to heal – not helped with the WeeOne whacking it very now and then.

A couple of weeks later, the skin’s growing back on my rear end and the deep hole on my left thigh’s slowly filling in – there’ll be a nice pink scar there to boast with – the latter caused with friction against my thigh pad. Overall, the derriere just got too wet and sandy.

Interestingly, I had none of these problems last year. I need to figure out what shorts I can wear, with dollops of Glide or the like, that are still serviceable for long hours paddling without possible shore stops, and which the sand will easily wash out of. Suggestions are welcome! Perhaps I too may have to paddle naked, sitting on sheepskin.

And now the planning starts for EC09!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: The next few days…

Over the next few days, waiting for the final racers to make Key Largo, we started to appreciate the toll the conditions had taken on the race this year. Eleven teams pulled out over the course of the race, and two didn’t make CP1. Some are calling it the hardest year yet.

It was kind of nice lounging around for a couple of days, waiting for the remaining paddlers to come in, swapping stories, catching up with fellow WaterTribers, introducing FliesWithKiwiBird and the WeeOne to the Tribe for the first time.

Root and the WeeOne

Friday and Saturday, as forecast, the conditions worsened, blowing right in on our landing beach, the tide not even retreating. We expectantly waited for updates from SandyBottom, ManitouCruiser, RiverJohn, DaBiscuit and SuperBoo, not forgetting Trader and TroutHeart in their Bell Northwoods 18’6” canoe. Calls that did manage to make it through from the water finally had them in Flamingo, and then sheltering behind a mangrove island waiting for calmer winds.

We were helping prepare Saturday’s awards lunch when I got a call from DancesWithSandyBottom. He and SOS, KneadingWater and Lumpy (or was it Bumpy;) had taken Dawn Patrol out to try and find SandyBottom, ManitouCruiser, RiverJohn, DaBiscuit and SuperBoo. They couldn’t. I looked out over the bay and told him that they were coming in now – sadly for both parties, they’d each taken a different route.

Above: SandyBottom, all smiles. Below: DaBiscuit and SuperBoo are in!

I must admit, I had tears in my eyes, standing on the dock cheering them in. Thankfully, NiteSong said she did too.

Tyro and PaddleCarver did a wonderful job with the awards, as they did with the race’s management; Archangel and helpers did a fine job making lunch; and SharkChow and SaltyFrog, in their inimitable kindly manner brought much levity, graced with a dose of gravity, with this year’s special awards. PaddleCarver and SavannahDan

It’s all a bit sad when everyone packs up to head off home. We weren’t leaving Key Largo to further explore the Florida Keys until Monday; SandyBottom, DancesWithSandyBottom and SOS had plans to leave earylish Sunday morning for the long drive back to Chapel Hill, NC, so gratefully complete with my boat and gear; and Wizard and Karen weren’t leaving until later Sunday.

Cooking dinner for the small group of us in the “Clubhouse” on Saturday night, we were delighted to be able to welcome Trader and TroutHeart in at 1915, share dinner with them and create a small awards ceremony, just for them and their waiting families. A terrific couple of chaps.

Wizard and Karen encouraging the WeeOne to think EC2020

Next post, EC08 gear reflections...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 6

Day 6: Flamingo, CP3 to Key Largo, finish
At 0400 I reset the alarm to 0500. And at 0500 I reset it again to 0600. At 0530, guilt got the better of me.

With just a hint of dawn, NatureCalls wandered off to the store for breakfast, NiteNavigator and NiteSong (who had got in later in the night after once more completing the Wilderness Waterway) and WhiteCaps (who had got in much later after a windless sail around the Cape) were also packing up their boats ready to leave. NiteNavigator and NiteSong were the first off, and I about half-an-hour or more behind them.

It’s a bit of a dog’s hind leg, the route out of Flamingo, and you’ve paddled near 3.5kms (two miles) to achieve what seems to be just a stone throw from Flamingo’s marina entrance. SandyBottom and I botched it badly last year, trying to take a short cut; and this year, in the dark, I found myself once again in Joe Kemp Channel instead of Tin Can Channel.

Back on course, I could just see NiteNavigator and NiteSong way in the breaking dawn’s distance.

Soon after Buoy Key, the headwinds woke up. Chopping away with my Greenland paddle, I slowly made up the distance between NiteNavigator and NiteSong. Just a mile or so before the entrance to Jimmie Channel, I saw them angle off to the south. I wondered if they knew of a different route, or were testing me that I was blithely following them. I kept on my 120degree course to Jimmie Channel; and they soon turned to follow me. Half way through the narrow Channel, with my paddle leash wrapped around a marker as I changed over my GPS batteries, they caught up to me, and thanked me for showing them the way, as all three of their GPS’ had now given up the ghost.

We hit even more severe head winds as we rounded Manatee Key. And this is where I let my concentration slip, thinking more of home and the WeeOne and a cold beer rather than my position and direction. The moral of the story being, if your compass chart work says 96degrees and you’re heading 120, your chart work is not wrong. And if your GPS’ purple line shows thataway and you’re heading thisaway, your GPS is not wrong – not matter how much you think they both may be. But sadly, NiteNavigator and NiteSong followed me. And I may have been just plain weary.

Instead of passing on the north side of Bottle Key, I paddled lower, directly into the wind above Stake Key to Low Key, leading us into a myriad of sandbanks. To escape, we found a small pass south of Bottle Key through Upper Cross Bank. But it was a long tiring paddle, into a brisk 15 knot headwind to reach the Intra Coastal Waterway, and head nor-west to regain all our lost ground and time. Just off Hammer Point we could finally ease off. If I hadn’t led NiteNavigator and NiteSong this way, I wouldn’t have felt so bad, as the 4.58 kms (2.85 miles) run from Hammer Point right up to Baker Cut was the best sail of the entire race; but they were solely paddling their Kruger. With Floatsome following me on my SPOT, he could see I paddle-sailed that 4.58 kms (2.85 miles) in 22 minutes – I felt as though I was windsurfing!

Up on the right course, under full Balogh rig, I could see NatureCalls tramping across the bay. I wasn’t to catch them, no matter how hard I paddled.

A mile or so from Baker Cut, out appeared Southern Skimmer, Roo and Tinker’s EC22, and Dawn Patrol, SOS and DancesWithSandyBottom’s Core Sound 20. And just approaching the finish line, SandDollar and Dr.Kayak appeared beside me. With everyone else lined along the dock, one always appreciates the rousing welcome!I hit the beach at 1715, finishing 2008’s EC in 5 days, 10 hours, 15 minutes, 22 hours earlier than my time last year. NiteNavigator and NiteSong stormed in just a few minutes later.

What a ride!

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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 4

Day 4: Whitehorse Key to Mormon Key, via CP2
Again practicing to be a better lazy bum, especially after not making Whitehorse Key until shortly after midnight, I sneaked a peak outside under the tent flap in the dawn light to see NiteNavigator dragging their Kruger down the tide-out beach. We waved at each other, and I thought more seriously about getting up. I could hear NatureCalls stirring, and off we were. It doesn’t take too long to pack everything up, drag boats down the beach, grab a dried apricot or two and scarper – but NiteNavigator andNite Song were gone.

Another camper a wee bit along introduced herself – Dana. She and her husband camp here regularly, living off the sea, and had very much created a home-away-from-home, with shell-lined footpaths leading to their tent clearing, and crab buoys hanging from numerous branches. She had shared their fish dinner with NiteNavigator and NiteSong the night before; they’d been having some GPS problems, and were wary of stumbling around in the pitch black. We left Dana scanning the mudflats, looking for breakfast.

A bit before Tiger Key, who should catch up with us, but SaltyFrog, and giving no hints of not feeling well, he glided off in his Epic 18 with wing paddle – one of the few paddlers I’ve seen who really knows how to use a wing. He headed off inside Tiger Key to find some shelter from the winds, and we followed, he kindly stopping alee of the Key for us to catch up and swap stories. He’d camped the night before at Gullivan Key, just before Whitehorse Key. With a bit of map studying, we planned a route to Chokoloksee, trying to by-pass the main entrance. It was a little bit later that we passed the moored launch, when one of the chaps came up for’ad, saw the name on my boat and exclaimed, “It’s the infamous KiwiBird! I follow your blog!” To me, this has to be the strangest event of the entire race.

With a heavy beat ahead of us, across a wind-swept, choppy bay, SaltyFrog left us to come around the bottom end of Chokoloksee. We continued around another direction, found instant respite from the wind, and made for Chokoloksee from the north. SaltyFrog finished about ten minutes after us, and it wasn’t long after I feared something may be up, when I saw his boat atop his small wheels, tucked away outside a quiet-looking hotel room.

Ever-smiling race managers, Tyro and PaddleCarver were there to greet us, as was Archangel. Archangel’s Raptor hadn’t stood up to the conditions on reaching CP1, so he’d made the sensible choice to pull out, and was now working with Tyro and PaddleCarver to help with the race. Can’t say enough about this wonderful young man – beyond helpful.

Not having a hotel room to shower in this year, we stood under the hose at the fish-gutting bench to wash the salt off for the first time. Still a bit damp, PaddleCarver very kindly drove NatureCalls and me along to the Everglades National Park Ranger Station to pick up our compulsory camping permits – we opting for a night at Watson’s Place and the next at Middle Cape, down along Cape Sable. And what really perked our hopes up, was that the weather forecast was for more favourable winds from the west and then north. Hurrah!

Following Jim’s edict, “paddle to eat,” PaddleCarver dropped us off at a local restaurant for lunch, promising to pick us up again in 45minutes.Real food! And two hot cups of tea!

Back at CP2, Chief arrived in his Tridarka Raider, looking pretty beat. After not having slept for two days, and his wet weather gear falling apart at the seams, he decided to call it a day here at CP2.
Now 1545, we furiously repacked to head off down the Wilderness Waterway, refilling water bags and changing over charts. Archangel kindly helped carry my boat across the road to the waterway-side boat ramp. The first open bay was windswept, so we swung over to the left to follow the lee side for some protection. And those first few miles through the Waterway were glorious – no wind and the current with us. Bliss.

Jim has a knack with planning. To take advantage of the forecast northerlies for the next day, we decided to head down the Huston River to the sea, exiting the Waterway at marker 121, and find a sandy spot to camp for the night. As dusk fell, I felt a nibbling on my arms, and found mosquitoes biting through my Icebreaker long-sleeved Crew top. I stopped to take off my PFD and put my light jacket on. A brief rain shower offered only a few minutes respite. At one stage I thought I heard a helicopter overhead, and stopped paddling to listen better and to gauge from which direction – not a helicopter, but millions of mozzies buzzing around my head!

In the dark, every now and then I’d call up ahead for NatureCalls to slow down a bit, their stern light fading with old batteries. Spending some time with them helped me appreciate the benefits of a tandem – and these two are particularly compatible – always chatting to one another, always working together, one taking care of something and the other keeping the boat moving – not as easy for a solo paddler!

Following the coastline south, and searching the shores of the small offshore mangrove islands, we searched for a suitable campsite, finding none. Finding a wee bit more energy, we again headed south, and a few miles later found the beautiful white beaches of Mormon Key, albeit in the pitch black. Putting my religious proclivities aside, we dragged the boats up and made camp around 2140hrs.

The mosquitoes had followed us to the beach, and were having a field day. Quickly throwing off PFD, shorts and Icebreaker top to “dry” hanging from a bush, I dived into my tent. Only two things normally keep me awake at night – snoring and the buzz of mozzies – this year’s race was snore-free, but those mosquitoes kept up a constant fighter jet roar circling around my tent all night.

At 0200, and still wide awake, I heard the scrabble of tiny feet on fiberglass, and remembered that I’d left my bumbag, loaded with snacks, in my cockpit and had forgotten to put on the cockpit cover. Peeking under the tent fly, there was a raccoon happily munching away. Give these critters credit, she’d managed to unzip an industrial YKK zipper, and open the ziplock baggie loaded with beef jerky. And not only that, but as soon as I ran buck naked from my tent to scare her off, she called in the mozzies. Slapping myself and waving at the critter, she slowly ambled away. I threw the beef jerky left lying around into the sea, quickly put on the cockpit cover and tore back to my tent, bites galore. For the next wee while, all I could hear was the splashing of raccoons, rescuing drowning beef jerky. At 0330 I finally fell asleep; and the alarms rang aloud at 0400.

Thanks to Archangel for the photos!

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.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 2

Day 2: CP1 to New Pass
During the night, another competitor dragged his boat up in the brush beside us. Turned out to be WhiteCaps in his new Kruger, fast asleep still when I awoke, tucked away inside his boat. And my camping companion was Gus, support crew for SavannahDan and PaddleMaker. I had passed this wonderful tandem crew earlier in the day, and also wasn’t to see them again until they finished – last year we’d crisscrossed each other’s paths.

On the water by 0645 and following the sunrise, I had just enough breeze to help me along with a relaxed paddle style. As with last year, I cut straight across Charlotte Harbor to save some distance from following the marked ICW. But this year the tide was out, and nearing the entrance to Pine Island Sound I discovered a sand bank, and had to drag my boat across it. A few more scrapes along the hull...

A little further down Pine Island Sound I passed Nite Navigator and Nite Song in pretty much the same place as I’d passed them last year. We had a good chuckle together on that. And a little further down, NatureCalls passed me, moving well in their tandem Sega with Balogh rig.

This was about the last time I got any use from the sail. Well before Chino Island, the wind shifted around from a southerly direction. And it pretty much stayed there for the rest of the Challenge. It took some time to beat south into San Carlos Bay, past Picnic Island on a heading for the Sanibel Causeway Bridge – a constant one to two feet chop, with about a 10knot plus headwind. And once out in the open sea, passing my 100-mile distance mark, the chop and headwinds only got worse, all messed even further up by the constant to’ing and fro’ing of speeding pleasure boats. (I must admit, even though I’m not a fan of this method of transport, not a few days later was I envying the ease of their forward motion!)

It had been my plan to spend the night at Wiggins Pass, but in utter frustration I felt I was getting absolutely plurry no where. So east I headed, paddling abeam and inshore to Matanzas Pass. A fair number of boats were heading in the entrance at the end of their boating weekend, and with a scan of my chart, it seemed that I could paddle behind the “mainland” in relative shelter and meander my way down to Wiggins Pass thataway. And it was a new route to explore.

Matanzas Pass, behind San Carlos Island

While the chop definitely subsided, the wind didn’t; and slowly the sun wound its way down as I followed the well-marked channel past moored boats and shore-sided housing.

I then hit my lowest ebb of my race – out of pure frustration with the conditions, which is a bit silly when this is what it’s all about! I remembered Chief’s words, that when you’re at a low and even feeling like pulling out, to make land, have a meal and sleep on it. Which I resolved to do. In the black I found a small strip of private beach from an apartment complex, and dragged my boat out of most views, pitching the tent in a very small clearing up past a couple of deck chairs. Even though I dreamed of someone coming to oust me at any time, guns drawn, I forced down a hot meal (my last for the race) and got a few hours sleep. The wind didn’t let up. But the rest gave me time to reflect, and to have a good chat with myself. This is an adventure, for heaven sake! Tell me again that we’re having fun! On y va!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 1

Day 1: Fort DeSoto to CP1
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.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reflecting from home

This year’s Everglades Challenge is indeed “over and in the history books,” as Chief so eloquently puts it. I’ll post a few blow-by-blow and gear-reflection entries over the next few weeks, but I have a few thanks and initial reflections to pass on here.

First, a huge thank you to my sponsor, BubbaGirl. Check out the new Web site! And not only did BubbaGirl sponsor me again this year, but they also sponsored SuperBoo, the 11-year-old sprite who completed the entire race paddling tandem with her dad – for 24 hours at one stretch. This is what BubbaGirl’s all about – not matter what your age or interests, be unique by being adventurous – get into real life. Send the BubbaGirl URL to all your friends – be unique, be adventurous, get out!

A big thanks to Floatsome, who more than ably updated my blog in my absence, and even more importantly tried to keep track of me to comply with the compulsory 24-hour race reporting rule. The last three days, while scurrying around the Everglades without cellphone coverage, Floatsome had only my BubbaGirl-supplied SPOT OK check-ins to decipher where I was and where I was heading, contrary to plans I’d issued earlier. Basically, I pushed the OK button at every “turn.”

And, of course, a big big thanks to FliesWithKiwiBird, who not only lets me do one silly thing a year (and this is it), but was there at the finish line a couple of hours after I arrived and unbeknownst to me (thanks to SPOT) had booked me a room – with shower – as I turned up 24 hours earlier than planned. With the Wee One, they braved tornado warnings and lightning storms to drive SandyBottom, SOS, and DancesWithSandyBottom’s trailer and van down from Tampa Bay.

So, a few reflections on this year’s EC:

  • This was the hardest EC of the two for me. Last year’s was new, and so exciting. Consequently, Day 2 of this year hit me hard – constant headwinds, chop, boat wake, a deliberate ramming from a keeler, and no respite from that headwind. I surprised even myself how down I got Sunday night
  • Wherever one pointed the bow of one's boat, that’s from where the wind was blowing
  • I got a bit lonely this year. The last time I saw SandyBottom was at the race start. Kneading Water, of whom I am very fond, and I separated mid-morning on Day 1. I was very grateful for some time with NatureCalls, but overall, I missed the camaraderie of paddling with a mate or two
  • I have no desire to paddle the Ultimate Florida Challenge
  • Raccoons are the cunningest of critters out, and deserve every scrap they filch
  • Everglades mosquitoes are savage
  • Raccoons and mosquitoes work in tandem at 0200hrs
  • Wherever one pointed the bow of one's boat, that’s from where the wind was blowing
  • My boat's the best: Grahame Sisson's Arctic Raider. Thanks, Grahame! Thanks, Mukesh!
  • When your chart work says 96degrees and your compass says 120, your chart work is not wrong. When your GPS’ purple line heads off one way and you’re heading off the other, your GPS is not wrong
  • I missed my family – I blame the Wee One for the wrong course I took only a few miles from the finish
  • Sand is a killer. Salt water never lets you get all the sand off, no matter how much baby powder you pat around. If I could, I would post a photo of my derriere – there was little skin left on it by the time I arrived at Key Largo
  • Wherever one pointed the bow of one's boat, that’s from where the wind was blowing
  • The wildlife is superb – this year I experienced two sharks, two stingrays, a loggerhead turtle, two late-night manatee bumpings (scary!), lots of birds and no crocs
  • When there's no moon, it is very, very, very dark, and a wee bit scary
  • The Internet brings the world down to the size of a marble. I was paddling up to Chokoloskee, miles from ANYWHERE, past a moored launch with two red inflatables tied up astern, when one of the chaps came aloft, saw me and my boat and exclaimed, “It’s the infamous KiwiBird! I read your blog!”
  • My fellow WaterTribers are some, if not the best and most honorable people this side of the black stump
  • The best mojitos to be found are at the mojito bar at Miami International

Where do I sign up for next year?

Above photo: Cleaning up at Key Largo, the day after finishing. I look a bit beat...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Corona Time

The last coordinates I received were 1 mile from the finish, and that was at 16:54, so KiwiBird has likely had a quick shower, packed up her gear and headed home....

Just kidding. WaterTribe shows her finishing in 5 days, 10 hours, 15 minutes. Translated, she hit the beach at 5:15 pm EST. That's not a bad time to be on the beach in Key Largo, especially when it's the sunset side.

Let's review what's just been accomplished: Most of all, she's spent a week doing what she loves with like-minded people. But some of us enjoy minutiae, so here are a few details: First in Class 1 (or 2), first woman, a record time for a woman, improved on last year's time by 22 hours (rounded off). Bravo!

Now it's time for her to tell you about it. (Okay, give her a couple of days.) Enjoy.--Floatsome

In the Ditch

But that's a good thing, honest! At 16:16 Kristen activated her SPOT and her position put her in the Intracoastal Waterway (it's dredged, hence "the ditch") 5.77 miles southwest of the finish. The wind is blowing a steady 10 mph from the south, and her track is northeast, so she'll finally get some sailing in today. I'm guessing that she'll finish by 17:30. I'll be rescuing an ailing auto about that time, but will confirm the delightful details as soon as I get back to a computer.

Late breaking news: She just covered 2.85 miles in 22 minutes--just about surfing. Revise that ETA to 17:10!

Not Far Now!

At 12:35 she was 12.75 miles from the finish. Her track should make it possible to sail a little, but the winds are not up to predictions. Key Largo is reporting 4 mph shifting between S and SE. Between 3 and 4 hours should do it.

Results at WaterTribe have been updated, and KB was the first non-Class 4 boat into CP3. The update must have happened between 11:00 and 12:00, and at that point no other Class 1, 2 or 3 boat was logged in at CP3. So, at present she appears to be lead Class 1. Pardon me, but woohoo!--Floatsome

Pilgrim's Progress?

As of 09:47, she had made good 9.6 miles, mostly east but a little south of CP2. It's clear that she's taking one of the northern routes, but it's too early to tell which one. If you'd like to see what those routes look like, visit the Sailing Adventures of SOS. Scroll down to the entry "Dawn Patrol is in Flamingo," and double click on the image. Thanks to Michael, who has been maintaining the blog there following the progress of SOS, DancesWithSandyBottom and SandyBottom.--Floatsome

On to the Finish

At 06:27 this morning, KiwiBird's SPOT reported her location to be 0.2 miles south of CP3--essentially the mouth of the Flamingo Harbor channel.

She has only 30 miles to go, but in many ways these are the hardest 30 miles of the Challenge. Florida Bay is very shallow and dotted with islands. Channels are marked only by wooden stakes with red reflectors. The image above does little to convey just how convoluted the path is across the bay. There are actually three established routes she could take--two to the north and one to the south--and it will be clear in a few hours which way she's gone.

Winds are predicted to blow 10 knots out of the southeast, and either track means wind on the nose. Further, because Florida Bay is shallow, a chop kicks up very easily in response to the wind. Her decision to push on and arrive at CP3 a day earlier than planned may prove to be very wise, as winds are predicted to build tonight and tomorrow, with the possibility of storms.

Results at the WaterTribe Web site haven't been updated since some time yesterday--communications are difficult from Flamingo--but KB is certainly at least very close to the front of her class. It's entirely possible that she'll take first in Class 1, female or male. Amazing performance!--Floatsome

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


KiwiBird reached CP3 (Flamingo) at 17:53--a brilliant day's work! No word from her yet directly, but cell coverage is iffy there. If FWKB gets a report, I'll pass it along.--F........

Making Tracks!

I trust metaphorically, not in reality. KB averaged 4.8 mph across Whitewater Bay and is likely about to enter Tarpon Creek. At 15:40 she was 7.5 miles from CP3 (the top of the yellow line). Depending on how the wind and ebb tide balance out, she should be there between 18:00 and 19:00. I'm going to stop making a fool of myself and not predict what she'll do next.--Floatsome

Change in Plans?

Well, maybe it was the plan in the first place. Looks like she's turning into Shark River and going inside to CP3. 25 miles down in 8 hours. Working her way across Oyster Bay, Whitewater Bay and Coot Bay and then taking the Flamingo Canal, it looks like about 21 miles. I don't really know how this works, but KB never puts her body where her brain hasn't been--plans A, B, C....

Incidentally, if you're not using Google Earth, I encourage you to. This morning I discovered that the little blue dots are (mostly) photographs that pop up. I've been look at some of the scenes she's been enjoying. Coordinates at 12:57:

25.3427N, 81.1115W