Tuesday, March 30, 2010
A Chatham fishing boat went out to tow it in, and found his dinghy and kayak securely lashed topsides, everything snug down below, baskets of fruit still hanging in the companion way, and his dog--scared but okay.
As you can see from the photo atop, the reefed mainsail's thrashed, as is the headsail. But even without bad weather, which it appears from everything snug below may not be an overriding factor, sails can deteriorate very quickly when not tended to.
It hasn't been mentioned in reports, but it looks like this is another possible case of a yachtie peeing standing over the side instead of in a can/something (!) in the safety of the cockpit. When at sea, sit to pee ;)
Police are currently scouring his GPS tracks for any clues.
Courtesy of the New Zealand Herald, you can find some good photos and video here.
Monday, March 29, 2010
While the weather wasn't shorts-friendly as last weekend's trip, we still had a grand time. One good thing about picking a site with power is that one can turn on a small heater for the jolly chilly mornings one encounters. And we left the kayak on the roof of the 4Runner...
I also dug out the old and very worn awning that was thrown in when we bought the Shasta, which was great for Friday's showers.
Once again we spent many an hour on the bikes and exploring Jordan Lake's beaches. I now appreciate that boys throwing rocks into water is an inherently male genetic trait.
And Doug-and-Kathy-up-the-hill joined us on a beautiful spring Saturday for lunch and a walk on one of the campground's many trails. Every bridge had to be checked for taniwha!
SandyBottom and I were away paddling by 0730, leaving the boys packing... We had to wait for dawn before decamping to have enough light to take some decent photos of our Shark River Chickee set up!
The wind was up, the expected 10-15 knot sou’easterlies kicking in rather nicely, contributing to a very nice wee chop up Whitewater Bay. With that flying in our faces, we headed east behind the lee of Whitewater Bay's northern keys to take Joe River down to Flamingo. It was going to be a long 42km (26-mile) day.
Taking Joe River adds a few kilometres and doesn’t shelter you 100% from the wind, but at least it decreases a fair amount of the chop that builds up the length of Whitewater Bay. And there are many small mangrove points you can tuck in behind to take a few minutes respite from the wind (above. Can you see the chop in the background? That's Joe River chop--imagine Whitewater Bay's).
For nine hours we plodded down the river.
Half way down, we bumped into RunningMouth and Scareman: RunningMouth solidly plugging away in his Kruger making good time; Scareman sheltering (above) behind the lee of a mangrove point almost at a standstill with the head winds battling his aka/ama arrangement. In the true spirit of WaterTribe, KneadingWater and Seiche took him in an inline tow, for three miles to Joe River Chickee. (He rested there until later that evening, coming into Flamingo with HammerStroke and SunDance.)
At 1645, we pulled into Flamingo and CP3 (a daylight stop!); first and foremost on our minds that the store was still open for their 45-second micro waved hamburgers and Dove ice cream bars—never in my normal life would I eat these burgers, but in Flamingo after six days paddling 483 kms (300 miles), they taste pretty darn fine. With a beer. We fantasize about these burgers for a full year.
Wearily we loaded boats on to trolleys and trundled them on to the grass verge opposite the ramp on the Florida Bay side of the marina. We ate and drank. We bantered for a few hours on tonight's forecast wind and rain and tomorrow’s even more dire forecast. And as night fell, we found the best place yet to stealth camp, without a tent or hammock. For the first time, I was too hot in my sleeping system. And there was the occasional mosquito. (And no rain.) Finally, we’re in Florida.
0530. Still dark, we arose from our hidden pits. Everyone was all a-tizz. Was a dreaded forecast storm heading our way, with lightning, thunder and heavy rain? Or not? On Seiche’s iPhone, the very colourful and impressive storm cell over the middle of the state was dropping four inches of rain every hour, but heading nor-east over Venice. Root, Flamingo’s checkpoint volunteer, was not too keen on us heading out into near death. We ummed and we aahed and we figured, hang it, we’re WaterTribers! SavannahDan‘s advice also helped—never in recorded history has a kayaker been struck by lightning. That cinched the deal. We ate, packed, carried boats over to the ramp, and scarpered; Savannah Dan and PaddleMaker in their tandem, SandyBottom and I on the water by 0700.
The trick with Flamingo and tackling Florida Bay is just to leave. If grotty weather runs in, there are plenty of keys along the way to pull over and hide from the elements. And then there’s always the next day to finish the remaining 58kms (36 miles) from Flamingo to the finish at Key Largo.
With that in mind, we headed off. We even had the sails up for a wee bit, in breezy yet flat calm conditions. But for the long stretch from End Key to Jimmie Channel, we hit a true headwind—about 10-12 knots—with a very messy chop. And even then we managed 3 knots.
From the twists of Jimmie Channel to the finish at Key Largo, it was one of our best rides ever. Very nearly a broad reach all the way, with sails flying, averaging 4.6 knots, even hitting 11.4 km/h (7.1 mph) on the last stretch.
We arrived at the finish at 1632. An hour later, the heavens broke--thunder, lightning, pouring rain and 26 knot winds. But of the last paddlers coming, no one got hit by lightning...
Another year over.
Of the 42 boats who started the 2010 Everglades Challenge, 24 finished. Cheers to all 42 of you. And to the additional eight continuing on the Ultimate Florida Challenge, kia kaha.
Key Largo: A very damp pre-shower Kiwi, on dry land once more. (The white on the merino Icebreaker top is dried salt--seven days constant use, and still smelled as fresh as a daisy ;)
Friday, March 26, 2010
Off Lostman's Five (above): Scareman left around 0400, and SandyBottom followed him about half-an-hour later, hell bent on doing the Nightmare for the first time. Guiltily I lay in my cosy pit and waited as dawn crept in.
Packing quickly, swatting the occasional mozzie (no, Florida's coldest winter on record had not killed them all off, merely made them hungrier for fresh meat), I left Seiche and KneadingWater as they heated coffee and packed, on the water just before 0700.
An hour or so later, the 7-10 knot headwinds kicked in. Reaching the top of Rogers Bay, I cut straight down the bay to enter Cabbage Cut, a bit of a shortcut to Rogers River, 3-4 kms long and about three to four metres wide. If you want to see alligators in the Wilderness Waterway (WW), this is the place to see them. And I was not let down—four this year! And some biggies (above, not using the zoom;)!
I reached the T-crossing of Rogers River, praying for at least a tailwind against the inevitable incoming tide. And who sped past me but Scareman, with Pacific Action Sail ablazing, full dry suit and bug net decor (above). I didn't feel so bad after all, him leaving three hours before me. But I did tell him he was going too fast for bugs!
Heading out the river, KneadingWater and Seiche caught me but lingered back. Offering a bribe of a lunch to stop at Rogers River Chickee from KneadingWater, I declined, to try and catch the Nightmare at a decent state of tide, the entrance being just past the Rogers River ground site.
The 13.7 kms (8.5 miles, but seems much shorter) Nightmare has conjured visions of horror and near-death experiences over my four ECs. I had to take it! The route serves as a "shortcut" between Rogers and Broad Rivers, so you don’t have to take the outside coastal route to either the Broad or Harney Rivers, the latter being the preferred re-entry to the WW. But if you do take the Nightmare, you are committed to the tangle of Broad River at its most western end, which I was familiar with!.
The tide was down nearly a metre, but the route was fine—hardly any overhanging branches, no pythons nor alligators, and just one thick downed branch across my path to scrape the boat over at a fast paddle. My fears had been conquered. And just as I met up with Broad River, KneadingWater and Seiche caught me, also taking the Nightmare (and having see one alligator guarding the Nightmare's entrance).
Reaching the tangle of Broad River (above)—much more exciting than the Nightmare—we pushed our way over and under fallen limbs. This was my second time taking this route—the first being my very memorable first EC, with SandyBottom in her Kruger, in the pitch black with only one headlamp...
Consistently against wind and tide we meandered along, down the Broad—taking a ten minute stretch break (above) on the Harney River Chickee—through to the Harney—a very long stretch hugging the sides of the mangroves, and then nipping around the corner onto Shark River.
No matter how many times I do this particular part of the Wilderness Waterway, it never ceases to amaze me that if you have a headwind paddling west on the Harney, you will also have a headwind when you turn the 180-degree corner on to Shark River, paddling east. (I am open to explanations!)
Night fell as we searched for our stop for the night, Shark River Chickee. Convinced that Dawn was either fast asleep on the chickee, or perhaps even in Flamingo!, we called out to her in the pitch black… to hear an “I’m behind you!” from aft. She had just caught up to us.
Having been a bit spooked by the alligators down Cabbage Cut, she’d decided not to do the Nightmare on her own, and had taken the longer outside coastal route, re-entering on the Harney River.
Nice that we were all there together, arriving around 1930 hours.
Getting ourselves all set up over the next hour or so was one of the highlights of the trip. The chickee is a nearly 4x4m platform, with a narrow walkway leading to a Port-a-Loo. We wanted all the boats up with us for ease of unpacking and repacking the next morning. SandyBottom's and my boat were laid diagonally across the walkway, we hung KneadingWater’s in the rafters, with his cockpit full of everyone’s paddles, and Seiche’s boat lay across one side. We then pitched three tents (my Macpac not free-standing but fine tying chickee-level lines four corners out) and SandyBottom hung her hammock above my tent. This left a small space in the center for "lounging" and cooking supper. A great memory of the trip. Though everyone but me snored all night…
During all the heaving of boats, we lost KneadingWater's SPOT overboard...
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Up and off in the early daylight, thoroughly enjoying our sandy, secluded camp spot (above), we headed from White Horse Key for Everglades City’s Ranger Station and nearby CP2 at Chokoloskee.
Though the wind was against us, we made the delicious incoming tide up the longish Indian River, arriving at the Ranger Station around 1100. Grabbing my wallet, I headed straight up to the Ranger office for our Wilderness Waterway camping permits--another filter--with the campsites Lostman's Five and Shark River Chickee in mind. Sites were filling up fast, and the rangers had a white board up with all the full ones. A frustrating 30 minutes later, even though first in queue, knowing I was missing out on ice cream time, I had our permits for four kayakers in hand.
At the ramp, a group of Duke students were heading off in their rental tin canoes for a few days in the Ten Thousand Islands. I told them I was also at Duke, working at the Nasher Museum: “We love the Nasher!” Made my day.
We scooted under the causeway bridge and began the long paddle up to CP2 (above) behind the causeway, against the tide and wind, finally checking in at Chokoloskee's CP2 at noon. Seiche’s parents, Jerry and Mina, were there again to meet us, travelling the EC route in their RV. Topping up with a bit of water, depositing used WagBags, we headed off on our Wilderness Waterway (WW) adventure.
Paddling the Wilderness Waterway adds about another 48 kms (30 miles) to the overall EC route, but I can’t imagine doing the EC without not experiencing this section—it adds another whole exciting dimension and, you get an extra tooth for your troubles!
Dodging the stiff headwinds coming down the bay to the entrance of the WW, we scooted across to the more sheltered Lopez River—a slightly longer route, to meet up with the WW a mile or so on.
And on we paddled, into the night, through the very dark Alligator Alley, finally reaching Lostman's around 2015, having paddling 43.5 kms (27 miles) just from Chokolokee.
Scareman was already bunked for the night, with his huge tandem Passat and ama/aka system. We soon had him up and chatting as we ate a cooked dinner. Paddling the route unofficially, after missing the start due to illness, he was happily doing as much of the route as possible. A good, keen man.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Water supplies replenished at a very busy CP1, we were off at 0700 the next morning.
DaveOnCudjoe had capsized his beloved Sea Pearl Maggie the previous day, and after four hours sitting on his upturned hull, had been rescued by fellow WaterTriber, Ika. Just as I left CP1, Ika sculled in, with Dave on the bow (above). Tears welled up in my eyes, as I told him I was very glad to see him.
Paddling with Floatsome, we took a shortcut west of the ICW, cutting directly down the west of Sandfly Key. Deciding to take the inside of Pine Island Sound, we had a great sail across the expanse to the north of Pine Island. A large basking shark cruised by me.
Then Floatsome (above) started flagging. As an accomplished Ironman and triathlete, he recognized that the previous day, while more than doable, wasn’t normally followed by the same effort for another five or six days. For six hours we slowly sailed down Pine Island Sound, my concern mounting. His wife had threatened me to bring her husband home alive! I made the decision with him to pull him out, up ahead at the nearest hotel. Around 1700 hours, two miles from Punta Rassa and the western of the three Sanibel bridges, to my surprise, KneadingWater and Seiche appeared. We hadn’t seen anyone else doing the inside route and thought everyone else far ahead of us. Taking an on-the-water diagnosis, KneadingWater (cat vet extraordinaire) considered Floatsome’s problem to be a potassium overload. Taking him in an inline tow, unable to paddle, KW and Seiche had Floatsome on the beach of the Punta Rassa Marriott at nearly 1800 hours. Linda, the catering manager on duty at the dock went out of her way to ensure that his gear was safely stowed in her office, and that he found a dry, safe room. (The next week, back home, I called the hotel to have her commended.) Floatsome’s first EC was over. You can read his experience here.
Into the dusk and night we paddled down the coast, RiverJohn and his wife once again waving madly from the beach as we passed. In the very dark night, the shoals of Big Carlo Pass and New Pass were quick to wake us from any dosing, a wave or two suddenly breaking over us out of the dark. We made Wiggins Pass around 2240 hours, another long but satisfying day in the cockpit.
NatureCalls was already tent bound, having arrived about a half-hour earlier. And to my surprise, again thinking everyone would be ahead, SandyBottom, SunDance and HammerStroke turned up near midnight.
A leisurely pack in beautiful morning sun (above). At 0800, off and away, this time with SandyBottom aside me. Around Doctors Pass, KneadingWater and Seiche joined us, and we comfortably paddled down the coast toward Big Marco Pass. The plan was to have dinner at Goodland restaurant, up the head of the Big Marco River. An experience I had never given myself in my four ECs—eating for fun while in race mode!
For a change of scenery we headed into the very scenic Gordon Pass (above), adding some additional distance, but a new route for me, and nice to see it in the daylight, as it’s often a good escape route from grotty coastal weather when trying to make Big Marco. While KW and Seiche stopped for a nap, SB and I headed up the Big Marco River, tide and wind in our favour. (Can I comment here how many times this does not happen!)
Near 1700, we dragged our boats up some riprap outside Goodland restaurant (above), donned beanies to cover ghastly hair, plopped our wet bottoms in a nice dry cane chair, and ordered some wonderful sea food. Lovely.
Every time a paddler came by, we’d dash out on to the restaurant’s pier and wave them down to join us. We soon had FourFather, Seiche, KW, HammerStroke and SunDance. Fearing for his fragile amas, RunningMouth kept on.
We heard from FourFather (left; the father of four children) his previous night’s experience, of being caught by New Pass’ shoals—capsized, he swam the very cold half-mile to shore and spent 12 hours shivering in tent on the beach, trying to warm up.
As dusk fell, the seven of us paddled up and out into the Everglades’ Ten Thousand Islands, with White Horse Key in mind for the night, about another ten miles paddling. Arriving around 2230 hours, we split FourFather, HammerStroke and SunDance into one beach spot that fitted the three of them, and SandyBottom, KneadingWater, Seiche and I headed around the other side of the island, to another beautiful spot.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Prepared to endure Florida’s coldest winter on record, we’d packed many a fleece, down jackets and sleeping bags for the first two nights camping at Fort De Soto, before the race started March 6, at 0700. And downright chilly it was, too.
Seventy boats slowly appeared on Fort De Soto’s beach over the Friday leading up to the late afternoon’s Skipper’s meeting: 20 for the 67 mile UltraMarathon to Placida’s Check Point 1; 42 for the 300+ miles Everglades Challenge; and another eight for the every-four-years Ultimate Florida Challenge—1,200 miles around the state of Florida.
And what a variety making up the races’ six classes: sea kayakers—solo and tandem, an expedition windsurfer, self-designed and -built prototypes, stock Sea Pearls and class racing boats, Kruger canoes—something to mull over for everyone.
And the word must be getting out about the race, as this was the biggest crowd I’d seen on a Friday viewing the craft and chatting with skippers, and seeing everyone off early on a Saturday morning.
Saturday, March 6, 0700: a cry goes up for the start. The kayakers are quick away, having just their boats to drag from above the highwater line. The bigger boats have a variety of ingenious methods to get themselves into the water, but whatever they use has to be taken with them for the entirety of the race. The first filter of the EC.
The weather was perfect. Cool and sunny. For the next three days we enjoyed predominantly northerly winds, pushing us along with our one square-metre Pacific Action Sails. For those craft that today headed to the outside, they were later to experience more severe conditions, resulting in two capsizes and rescues, both by fellow WaterTribers.
With the weather being so unseasonably chilly, following the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) for the first day was the calmest I’d experienced in my four ECs—hardly any pleasure boats were ripping up and down, normally contributing to a frustrating confused wash.
As night fell, SandyBottom, Floatsome (his first EC), Seiche (also his first EC), KneadingWater and I fell in together and paddled the last 15 or so miles to CP1. We finally made it at 2355 hours, the 68 miles taking us 16 hours and 55 minutes. We dragged our boats up amongst a sea of other boats, and set to pitching tents right there. After my first EC I have no interest camping at CP1—it’s too noisy and the hard coral ground makes pitching tents a chore. But no one else was interested in heading a mile or so away for a better spot.
It was very cold. Again I am grateful that FliesWithKiwiBird insisted that I pack a stack of handwarmers. I changed into every stitch of dry clothing I had and thrust a handwarmer down each sock against my solid white feet. Bliss. And still I experienced uncontrollable shivering.
Monday, March 22, 2010
In many ways, this gear reflections section is the bit that excites me the most of any Everglades Challenge--gear used, and what worked and didn't.
First, a big thank you to my sponsor BAD GIRL: Be Adventurous and Daring: Get Into Real Life, a subset of BUBBA GIRL. For four years BUBBA GIRL has supported my race entry, for which I am hugely grateful. If one woman, at whatever age, reads these tales and feels motivated to go for a hike, a paddle or a bike ride, I'll be happy.
The boat remained the same: Graham Sisson's Arctic Raider. Not a flawless boat this year: half-an-hour into the race, testing the foot pump, the strut across the boat broke, which severely compromised use of the rudder bar sitting above it. Hours later at Venice Inlet I spied a three foot sandbank, and dragging the bow of the boat up on that and leaning the hull on its side, I managed to squeeze myself inside and strap the joint with a zip tie. (Zip ties and duct tape: never leave home without them.) The one zip tie lasted the entire week.
Greenland paddle: Still using a GP for the race, and loving it. Once again I used a paddle made by previous EC challenger StripBuilder--a beautifully laminated stick.
Pacific Action Sail: This year I could test the Glowfast Luminous Sailtape I'd added to each side of the V of my sail, covered in a previous post. According to any paddling buddy around me at night, it didn't glow as "bright" as I'd anticipated. No body hit me: perhaps that as good as it gets. More testing to come on this one. As every year, or with any kayak outing, I can't imagine doing an EC without the sail--adds far too much fun.
Sleep system: Thankgoodness I bought an REI lightweight mummy fleece liner the night before we left for Florida. With that in my 1C (30F) sleeping bag, I achieved another 12C (10F) of warmth, plus all my sacrosscant dry clothes on the first two days of the race. It was FREEZING! FliesWithKiwiBird had insisted I also take along a stash of handwarmers. Thankgoodness I listened: those first two nights, after 17 or so hours paddling non-stop, with white blocks for feet, I tucked one each in my socks as I hit my pit. Bliss. Thankfully, the evenings warmed as Florida recovered from its coldest winter on record and we drifted further south. With the cooler temperatures, the Exped DownMat 7 came into its own, and even when warmer. I can't sleep comfortably on anything else now: age. One big lesson learned this year though, courtesy of Floatsome, is that you need another layer between the bottom of your Exped and the floor of your tent. Whenever shifting position, the noise has been driving me and my fellow tenters mad for a few years now, and we finally clicked as to what the problem was. So I tucked the Exped into my sleeping bag liner, and voila! quiet a a lamb.
Tent: As always, my Macpac Microlight, which, as not free-standing, I can now string quite happily on a chickee. At 1.8kg, heaps of solo room, and the inner pitches with the fly, I'll use no other.
Hydration system: The new no hassle drinking system (left) worked perfectly! Check this previous blog post for details.
Food: Even after four ECs, I'm still trying to get it right. Once again I loaded too many energy bars, but at least this year I wasn't gagging over a primary base of Clif or Larabars. I mixed seven daily ziplocks with ten bars and a couple of goos each; I had four full bags left at the end of the race. The bars were a mixture of non-fruit Larabars (the acidity of the fruit very quickly attacks my gums, but banana flavour's okay), Luna Bars and Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey Crucnhy Granola Bar, which are my favourites (bought bulk from Costco). Varied with dry mango and Trader Joe peanut butter pretzels, I had more than enough energy every day. I even managed to cook up three meals late in the evening. Coupled with a high-cal Ensure for breakfast (with a few dried apricots and chocolate biscuits) and another for the evening, I was a lean mean paddling machine for the week. Lost five pounds, in fact--all the poundage put on since Christmas ;)
Clothing: With the cooler temperatures experienced this year, my stalwart upper clothing was an Icebreaker Crew 150. Even with the spray flying, this kept me warm. As the cool evenings set in, for the first time I used my Reed Chill Cheater Coverall Cag Deck--great piece of made-to-measure kit, and fits quickly over the top of one's PDF.
Overall health: No problems this year. Two pressure spots on each thumb after day 3, which were remedied with a new wrap of waterproof tape each morning. Using for the first time Hydropel Sports Ointment every few hours or so really appeared to do the trick--never used gloves at all this year. A must for future long paddles. As always, I religiously used my SunPaws, from Hydraulics--anything to cut down the sun on the back of the hands. Over a week later, the tip of my right forefinger is still very numb, just like the last few years. Once again, I still ended up with a rash on my derriere after a few days, but nothing as bad as previous years. For the first time I wore a pair of Mysterioso part-neoprene close fitting shorts. Seemed to do the trick, but I'm still looking for those perfect pair of long distance kayaking shorts for women.
Most of the rest of the gear remains the same as in previous ECs. You can find those here, for 2007, 2008 and 2009. If I haven't covered anything in particular, let me know.
Next: The EC itself.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Timing it just right for the WeeOne's afternoon nap, we arrived. He awoke: "Are we there yet?" I remember travelling like this with my folks--no stress.
Mat laid, chairs out, bike tyres pumped. Bless his heart--not even three yet, and we spent most of the weekend cycling around the campground, exploring the lake's beaches. This time I brought my own bike. The WeeOne rides a peddle-less Strider running bike, but I can't keep up with him now, running.
We lit the obligatory fire, and scoffed S'mores well into the night. Cannot believe how many the chappie's puku quite readily took. And, yes, we are wearing shorts--first time this year.
Camping's even better when your bunk mate wakes up with a smile on his face.
Bit chilly in the morning, but not enough not to push a few trains around while mum rustles up some scrambled eggs and bagels,
And we're off again next weekend!
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
She said it was a really rough day of paddling, only completing a bit over 20 miles in a bit over 9 hours. KW lost his SPOT in the water.
Dolphins and Manatee were spotted today, hopefully that will bring them good luck and good weather in the morning.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
KB is still paddling with KneadingWater, Seiche and SandyBottom and has reserved Lost Mans Place chickee for this evening. Wednesday will require approximately a 40 mile paddle to Shark River chickee and then about 30 miles to Flamingo on Thursday. If weather and her shoulder holds, a Friday arrival in Key Largo shouldn't be a problem.
No signs yet of gators!
Monday, March 8, 2010
Yesterday was a bit rough as KB lost her paddling buddy, Floatsome, at the end of the day. This was Floatsome's first EC and he decided to retire at Sanibel Island, where there was a very nice hotel and hot shower waiting for him.