Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 2

Day 2: A few miles shy of CP1 to Sanibel Bridge

But the real delight of being shy of CP1 (apart from dragging our boats down the mud, as per the photo above) was that for the first time I actually got to see in the daylight those last ten miles or so, in previous ECs spent in dark, scary obliviousness. And very scenic they are too. You can now see the car ferry crossing, rather than just hear those enormous motors bearing down on you.

1040 and we arrived at CP1, also quite different in the daylight. We sadly learned that the two young lads from Singapore had had to withdraw the previous day, after one of them had broken his wrist—his hand dangling between the two kayaks, it had been crushed with the rough wake of a passing speedboat.

Photo by Amy: replenishing water supplies at CP1

But after signing in, replenishing water supplies enough for the couple of days to get us to CP2, replastering sun screen and pressure points and the obligatory chatter, we were off. Into a stiff 10-15 knots headwinds and a very lumpy open harbour chop. We chopped up to Sandfly Key, taking what lee shelter we could, watching TroutHeart and Trader away to our left cutting into what shelter was possible, and there met up with SandDollar, DrKayak and StripBuilder.

To keep out of the hugely exasperating boat wake and chop of the Intra Coastal Waterway down western Pine Island Sound, we decided to head down the eastern side—a first for me—and what a blissful experience. Very few craft, well posted and not so “open.” But not before a very civilized lunch on a small white warm beach at the northern end of Pine Island at the eastern entrance to Bokeelia Island.

Lunch stop, Bokeelia Island

As dusk crept on, the wind died away completely, a huge moon reflecting our every dip. Just KW, SB and me by this stage, trudging along around 2knots towards Sanibel Bridge, against a strong tide, time ticking later and later while we tiredly mused where to spend the night. KW paddled over to the very luxurious hotels just before Sanibel Bridge and called back over to us, “$250 dollars a night!” While I was all up for it, SB loudly retorted that such an action was “not in the WaterTribe spirit!” I still beg to differ, particularly around 2300 hours.

But just under the bridge and around the corner to your left, a wee paddle past the bridge’s toll gates, is a length of sandy beach interspersed with the occasional shrub to hide oneself just enough behind. Here we found NatureCalls, tandem kayak drawn up the beach, tent pitched, sound asleep. And here we made our last stand for the evening. What traffic?

Image: Google Earth: camp spot outside Sanibel Bridge

Monday, March 30, 2009

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 1

Day 1: Race start to somewhere short of CP1

SandyBottom (aka Dawn) and I had had another excellent road trip down to Florida’s Fort DeSoto on the Thursday before the March 7 race. Highlight, of course, was stopping for the best fried chicken in the US midway through Georgia—a hideaway we’d discovered last year. And the flat tire early Friday morning in the campground, which only held us up for 15 minutes before using Dawn’s fabulous new Christmas Garmin to find the nearest breakfast joint serving eggs benedict, our traditional day-before-the-race-starts-breakfast.

Another wonderful coincidence was that our Durham neighbours, not four houses up the street, happened also to be camping at Ft DeSoto, and with their Canadian friends served us cocktails Friday night, and were also there on the beach at 0630 race day to wave us off—cheers, Kathy and Doug!

Friday afternoon’s captains’ meeting brought together many wonderful old friends, as well as new faces for their first Challenge. One new face was StripBuilder, the first EC contestant from Iowa, who arrived on the beach to pack his spanking newly built strip-built kayak with three beautifully handcrafted laminated Greenland paddles, and left with two—sporting a thinner and slightly longer loom than my previous, and narrower longer paddles, his newly-purchased-by-me-GP was a delight the entire 2009 EC.

With all the boats packed and prepped ready for an early departure the next morning, we trotted off as the park closed to carbo-load at the local Italian (beer from the pub next door purely for additional carbs).

0700 Saturday morning and we are off! Into the light to medium winds and against the tide pretty much the entire race. Not as bad as last year’s wind-on-the-nose EC, with excellent weather this time the entire race, but still noticeable.

Photo by Doug and Kathy: We're off the beach!

And then my GPS died—probably only managed ten nautical miles. Charts and a good memory (courtesy of having been there before and Google Earth) are just fine… (I ended up borrowing one of KneadingWater’s three GPS, but only used it the last day. But one of my best conversations with FliesWithKiwiBird a few hours later, when advising her my GPS was no more was her reaction: “Well, what about your backup?!” to remind her that she had banned purchasing a backup, as part of my boating cost-cutting exercise.)

For some unfathomable reason (perhaps only two paddling episodes on local Lake Jordan prior to the race that I deemed to be “my training”), today and each day felt as though I was towing a drogue—but perhaps that’s age as well—yet considering I’m one of the “younger” paddlers in both my Class 1 and Class 2, that’s no excuse. Yet I had made the conscious decision (reinforced by FliesWithKiwiBird) that this year I was to be in the cruiser division, not out to break any more records or again win Class 1 as last year, but to enjoy the challenge, take a few new routes and spend some quality time with KneadingWater and SandyBottom.

And that’s how Day 1 panned out—a slower day than the previous two years, spent taking out-of-the-boat pee stops (a new civilized concept for me—in fact, only once in the entire race through necessity did I need to use my sponge), sneaking snack breaks while not paddling and, heaven above, actually stopping and alighting for lunch!

Photo by SandyBottom: What she calls my "AndrewMcAuley look."

Which may be why, convivially accompanying KW and SB, we stopped for the night around 2230 hrs, about seven to eight miles north and shy the total 67 miles (108km) to Placida’s CP1, hauled our boats out of the water up on to dry land, cooked a bit of a meal and “slept” until 0700, ruined by that early morning’s switch to daylight saving.

For more fabulous photos of the start, click here, courtesy of Kathy and Doug Roach (our neighbours up the road).

Friday, March 13, 2009

KiwiBird completes EC2009!

KiwiBird finished the EC2009 at 4:43PM this afternoon and made a quick phone call on the beach from a borrowed cell phone. Evidently she had a Heineken in her hand before the boat was out of the water.

She said she had a nice day of paddling with SandyBottom and was looking forward to a nice shower and attending to her war wounds. No doubt lots of war stories to follow in this space as well!

Congratulations to all participants in the EC2009!

Five miles to the finish!

KiwiBird's SPOT activity indicates that she is five miles from the finish at Key Largo. She called in last night at approximately 10:30PM and reported that she was "knackered". Lots of wind on the nose and working against the tide made for a hard paddle yesterday.

Apparently several WaterTribers had to turn back from KeyLargo yesterday due to poor weather conditions.

Will report more once I hear from KiwiBird via cell phone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Entering the Wilderness Waterway

KiwiBird and her mates stopped off at the Ranger's Station to get a permit for the Wilderness Waterway just after noon today. Then they headed down a couple of miles to Checkpoint 2 to fill up their bladders with water and get the latest standings from Ridgerunner.

Lots of wildlife kept KiwiBird entertained throughout the day...sea turtles, dolphins and pelicans that would fly so close that she thought they would nip her nose. She is still paddling with SandyBottom and KneadingWater and they plan to stay tonight at Lost Man's and tomorrow night at Jones River.

They aim to hit CP3 at Flamingo Thursday and reach the finish at Key Largo on Friday. Due to a lack of cell phone coverage in the Wilderness Waterway, SPOT will be our only contact with KiwiBird until Thursday. So please check http://www.watertribe.com/ and click on challenge mapper to chart her progress.

Monday, March 9, 2009

It's s-l-o-w going...

KiwiBird was once again frustrated yesterday by a light wind on the nose that frequently held her at a dismal 2MPH. She reached CP1 (photo) and then stopped just off Sanibel Island at midnight. This morning at 7:20AM she was up and hitting the water again, with CP2 as the next big destination.

In case you haven't been following the Watertribe's website, SewSew rolled over and was unable to right his boat, calling in for a Coast Guard rescue. In other news, another captain (who shall not be named, but if you check out the SPOT challenge map you'll figure it out) dropped anchor at night to wake up with no land in sight. Seems that the anchor wasn't set just right and he drifted out to sea 20+ miles and wasn't sure he would be able to make CP1 before it closed.

Chief called the overall winner this morning at 8:04AM...congratulations to Bumpy and Lumpy!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

And they're off !

The Everglades Challenge 2009 got off to an uneventful start compared to previous years. With a high of 81 degrees (27C), 35% humidity and a light wind on the nose, KiwiBird easily paddled out of Tampa Bay this morning.

This year she has opted to create a pseudo-team with SandyBottom and KneadingWater, which as it turns out is a good thing, since her only GPS system isn't working (a back up was not authorized by FWKB..tell me why one GPS isn't good enough I said...aren't they reliable, I said...guess they're not, eh?)

Thankfully, her SPOT is working beautifully, so she is able to send lat/long coordinates throughout the day and seems to be making good progress. At 10:30 the team stopped at Sister Key to rest their legs and at 13:33 they were a good 25+ miles in to the race.

The game plan is to hit Checkpoint One this evening and then paddle a bit past to camp for the night. KiwiBird is well stocked with eight liters of Gatorade/water for today along with her daily allotment of six Lara Bars, dried mango strips, and a Boost drink (Boost for each evening and morning as well as that requisite cup of tea...the withdrawals from her usual 5 cups/day will be her biggest challenge no doubt).

The Wee One is wondering where the heck Mum is right now. He asked about her first thing in the morning and ran to the front door yesterday about the time that she returns from work saying "Mum, Mum." What do you say to a 22 month-old? '"Mum is out kayaking on the water in Florida because she thinks it's fun "(and will make sure that you think so too very soon)? Hmmm...

KiwiBird is to check-in later tonight and so, hopefully, a final daily report will appear a bit later.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

On the road again.....

And, they're off! This photo was taken at approximately 0600 hours this morning as Sandybottom and Kiwibird departed for Tampa, Florida. The gals were in great spirits, even if their bodies are still wondering how they are going to manage the Challenge this year ,with a relative lack of training compared to previous challenges.

Kiwibird has sworn on her only Greenland paddle that she will talk to FliesWithKiwibird more than 30 seconds each evening to give her updates and that she will enjoy the scenery, explore new routes and take it easy this year...easy meaning if she comes in first she'll have some 'splainin to do!

Most Everglades Challengers will tell you that the camaraderie is just as important as the Challenge. Kiwibird was especially looking forward to meeting all of her friends at the campground tonight, where no doubt lots of tales will be told of Challenges past.
Good luck to Sandybottom, Kiwibird and the rest of the Watertribe as they embark on what we hope will be a lively yet safe adventure.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Because we love it...

Leaving for Florida with SandyBottom early Thursday morning for this year's WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, kicking off from the beach at Fort DeSoto at 0700 on Saturday, March 7.

Not a lot of training the past few months, thus hoping that with pointing the boat's bow south and not attempting anything too silly, I should be able to make the 300-odd miles in relatively good shape. Mind you, that's just what I said last year, as per the above photo...

Once more I have to thank my sponsor, BubbaGirl!

FliesWithKiwiBird and the WeeOne won't be coming down this year for the finish, but they will be keeping regular updates on progress via these pages, as well as via WaterTribe's tracking site (use EC2009 as the race code). With more contestants using SPOT this year, you should all know right where we think we are.

If you're new to the race, feel free to browse through my write-up of last year's and the year before that--all accessible by going back to March 2008's and March 2007's blog entries.