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 ;)