Monday, March 28, 2011

RIP Thomas Eisner

Nothing to do with kayaking, but lots to do with enquiry and adventure.

Thomas Eisner, a world-renowned authority on animal behavior, chemical ecology and evolution, died on March 25, 2011. He was one of my favourite people. When I worked at Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, I was lucky to help arrange a film interview with Tom, talking about his Sigma Xi-sponsored research project trip--a true adventurous learning experience--he took with E.O. Wilson at the very beginning of their careers.

The interview's 9:05 mins (scroll down to an interview with Thomas Eisner(9:05) and click on that). You will recognize the excitement of an enquiring mind and a true believer in the wonders of being a scientist.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

EC 2011 Gear Reflections

It was a challenging Everglades Challenge this year, with strong headwinds and numerous weather fronts wrecking havoc on times during the race and somewhat slowing things down. It was a race when you needed your boat and your gear to perform to its best. But most of all, it was a race where you needed yourself to perform both physically, but even more so, mentally. Of the 74 boats that started the race on March 5, only 30 finished.

So what gear performed well, or didn’t, for me this year, my fifth Everglades Challenge.

The boat: As always, and perhaps even more so, my Sisson Arctic Raider performed brilliantly. In the 80km (50mph) gusts we experienced when the front hit us Thursday; in the pitch black, high breaking shoals we got caught in outside Big Carlos Pass; to the 25mph winds on the for’ad quarter all the way home on the last day, I gained new respect for the boat.

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. It was particularly useful when we got caught by the breaking shoals off Big Carlos Pass and Thursday's front.

Pacific Action Sail (PAS): Another brilliant Kiwi product. Contrary to all the “wind-on-the-nose" stories, I did get a bit of sailing in this year. But be prepared when you have a front bearing 80km (50mph) winds. I didn’t get the sail down in time—the winds hit so quickly and I thought I’d have time to reach shelter. When the wind and rain hit, I immediately let both sheets go. I deliberately have the sheets a length that if I do have to let them go, the sail won’t flop over the bow of the boat and catapult me with trapped water. The wind was so strong I couldn’t bring in either of the released sheets, so I grabbed the knife on my PFD and cut the windward sheet. Only after slowly bringing the bow of the boat up into the wind could I furl the sail and lash it to the deck. Another trick to remember with your PAS is that when you're sailing direct down wind, never to let it oscillate—pull one sheet in a bit. It sounds as though this contributed to Dolphin Gal's capsize.

Knife: As mentioned above, I had to cut the windward sheet on my PAS in able to furl it. It’s the first time I’ve ever used my knife—a NRS Pilot Knife—“in anger”. It’s an EC rule to carry a knife on one’s PFD; and I surely appreciated that at the time. (Unfortunately, I lost the knife after the PAS incident, when I didn’t correctly click it back into its holster—another lesson learned. Thanks to KneadingWater for lending me his for the last leg of the race.) It also made me appreciate that I didn't have a folding knife, as I've previously used—one hand was on my paddle for bracing, the other for the knife.

SPOT tracking system: I lost mine half-way through Day 1. This year, folks seemed to have a few problems with their SPOTs, losing "transmission" during particularly stormy weather, or just crashing. I was loaned a new one (thanks, Etch) when I reached CP1, and never had a problem with that one. I still believe them to be great products. I've bought a replacement secondhand (yet never used) old version.

Sleeping system: Tried and trusted 1C (30F) discontinued REI synthetic sleeping bag and Exped DownMat 7. I still have the old bellows Exped, and like the bellows bag stuffed with dry clothes for a pillow. I am getting quite tempted by the Exped air pillow

Tent: As always, my Macpac Microlight, which is not free-standing, but I can string up quite happily on a chickee. At 1.8kg (I have the older version; new is 1.6kg), heaps of solo room, and the inner pitches with the fly, I'll use no other.

Clothing: Kept it to a minimum. I wore a pair of ExOfficio boy shorts cut for underwear, with an old pair of Macpac cotton shorts over those. On top was either a long-sleeved REI SPF 50+ polyester shirt or an Icebreaker 200 Bodyfit Crew top. My paddling jacket is a Steve Gurney light racing jacket—sadly he doesn’t make then anymore. When it chilled down in the evenings, I put on a Mysterioso top. Every night I’d strip off and leave my clothes hanging on a nearby tree. There was a dew most evenings, and the fresh water helped a bit with the salt in the clothes.

Wet weather gear: Once again, my Reed Chillcheater Coverall cag was invaluable. When the front hit us Thursday at noon with stinging rain and 80km (50mph) winds—and the temperature dropped from 27C to 10C degrees (80F to 50F) in just half-an-hour—I threw the cag on over my PFD and made for CP3 in Flamingo. The cag was also measured to fit my ocean cockpit rim, offering double protection from the waves over the sprayskirt. I wore it again all the last chilly day (10C), from CP3 to the finish at Key Largo. When the winds hit 40km (25mph) on the nose I had to take it off and put my PFD over the top of it, as it was ballooning like a parachute and even with fierce paddling I couldn’t make headway!

Lighting system: The head lamp I used the most is the Underwater Kinetics 3AAA eLED Vizio Headlamp, which is excellent—light and comfy, and also has a red diffuse. For spotting camp sites in the pitch black I used a new Fenix HP10, which was very good.

GPS: My new Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx arrived two days before I left for the race. Loved it. And the batteries seemed to last for ever.

Food: I ate a lot this year! And I don’t think I lost any weight, which I normally do (dang!). I probably consumed around 10-12 energy bars a day, eating an entire bar every 90-120 minutes. But I needed the calories with all the headwinds and hard paddling experienced this year. And thankfully, even after nearly 19 hours of paddling on the first day (and then only two hours of “sleep”), I felt remarkably energetic the entire week. I discovered a few new bars I could eat one or two of every day: Cliff 20g protein Builder’s Chocolate Mint (YUM!), Cliff Bar Cool Mint Chocolate, Honey Stinger Protein Bar (sure packed a punch when needed!), and Hammer Chocolate Gel. Funnily, one of my favourite bars is still the Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey, bought in bulk from Costco. Sadly, I cannot eat Larabars anymore—the fruit content kills my gums after Day 1. And my dried mango always goes down a treat—a real energy boost. Every evening I’d down an Ensure Plus, now with 350 calories. For the first two evening dinners—at 0300 and 2200 hours respectively, I scoffed a tin of sardines in oil—fabulous. Every other evening we cooked up a freeze-dried (we ate at the new restaurant in Flamingo on the last night). I always try and buy a few Back Country Cuisines when I'm back in NZ, and they make a tasty change. Of the 6.87 kgs (15.5 lbs) of food I packed, I returned with 2.1kgs (4.6 lbs). So I can still get better… ;)

Personal health: I worked hard at this this year. In previous ECs, my derriere has suffered. This year, every morning, I lathered myself with Desitin. What a difference that made! I still had one abrasion—from the very wet of the first day—but it was limited pretty much to just that. After Day 2, my right heel cracked—I kept applying Desitin to that every morning, and the heel cleared up in a day. Every night, no matter what time I hit my pit, I cleaned myself down thoroughly with one extra large wet one and a couple of smaller wet ones. Then I’d coat myself with baby powder to dry up any excess moisture. I am convinced that going to bed with a dry body gave me time to dry out—even if for only a couple of hours. As usual, the tip of my right forefinger is numb—usually takes a month or so to repair itself. As always, I religiously used my SunPaws, from Hydraulics—anything to cut out the sun on the back of the hands. This year, I was not going to have my
lip crack on me again—I wore a full cover Kokatat Destination Baja sun hat. It was a pain in the butt whenever I wanted to sip from my drinking hose, or eat, or talk—having to clear away the Velcro and then use two hands to replace the Velcro when you’d done, but it sure did the trick in keeping my lips out of the sun. Next year I’m going to try a High Protection UV Buff—much easier to yank up and down.

Pre-race training: Bugger all, to put it mildly. I managed three longish paddles in January and February (which were my first since late September 2010), but was fairly consistent with 15-20 minutes of core exercises every other day. I should be shot. But, really, an EC is all mental. And that I am well prepared for.

Coming up: day-by-day blows of the race.

Thanks, and more to come...

A huge thank you to Floatsome (David) for managing my blog and race updates on the WaterTribe site during this year's Everglades Challenge--he did a magnificent job.

And a big thanks to all my fellow WaterTribers--truly kindred spirits.

I'll get my gear and race review up as soon as possible.

In the meantime, it looks as though the race results are now up on the WaterTribe website. With losing my SPOT (tracking device) around mid-day on Day 1, and a new one being brought on line for me (thanks for the loan, Stan!) at CP1, my times for CP1 and CP2 are a bit skewed--just read them the same as Seiche's.

Some of the photos and video are being kindly posted by folks:
Bumpy & MachoMan
and more video here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I had a great conversation with Kristen late yesterday afternoon. She'd had a nap (not to mention that hot shower) and was feeling pretty excited about the previous six days. The trip across Florida Bay was truly harrowing, and there are more details about the passage of the front that I think everyone will find interesting. There was also an encounter with four young men in the Everglades that led to a finger-lickin' good meal (not something you normally expect deep in the nowhere).

I'm going to leave it to her to tell those stories--as well as do her usual gear review--so be sure to check back regularly. It's been a great deal of fun, if at times a little nerve wracking. Thanks to FlieswithKiwiBird for meticulous reporting and to you for your support. Maybe we'll meet here again next March.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Photos at the Finish

Courtersy of Paul Stewart (DanceswithSandyBottom), here are some images at the finish. Thanks, Paul!

Waiting. Notice how everyone is bundled up. Might be wrong, but I think that's RunningLiz and KneadingWater at far right. I should know KneadingWater, as the day I paddled with him, that was my view.

At left, that's Dawn Patrol. I think Yellow Thing (Meade and Jan Gougeon) is on the other side of the pier.

No mistaking the KiwiBird rig. That's Seiche's boat to the right.

Cocoa. Maybe a tall, cool one(s) later.

Word from Key Largo

FlieswithKiwiBird heard from the KB a few minutes ago. It wasn't a long conversation as KW was very anxious to get into a hot shower and warm up. The conditions on Florida Bay early this morning were pretty appalling. At Manatee Key it was blowing 25-30 knots and was in the 50s. She and Seiche were together the entire time, and KB extends her gratitude to a fine teammate.

No photographs as yet, but they should start flowing later this morning.


KiwiBird alit at the Bay Cove at 10:30 this morning, for a total time of 6 days, 3 hours and 3n minutes (don't have the exact minutes yet). [Update: 6 days, 3 hours, 24 minutes.] This will be her second fastest EC, bettered only by 2008, when she finished in 5 days, 10 hours and 15 minutes.

I'll post photographs as soon as they arrive (well, maybe not during the Carolina-Miami game).

7 Miles To Go

KiwiBird and Seiche just passed Bottle Key and will soon be in "the ditch" (Intracoastal Waterway). They have been able to see antennae on the keys since Manatee Key, if not before that--perhaps as early as dawn. I imagine that's quite a motivator, and they may be needing one if the predicted 20+ knot winds from the north have actually materialized. At Key Largo the temperature is 58 and the wind is gusting to 21 mph out of the north. At least they'll be in the lee of some islands soon.

The big question in my mind: Is 10:00 to early for a tall, cool one?

Twisty Mile

KB was underway again at 02:50 and is currently in Twisty Mile, the most notoriously convoluted and narrow section of channel in Flordia Bay. It is marked by sticks and is not a lot wider than a powerboat. This is roughly halfway across Florida Bay, but in terms of navigation, there are only two more significant landmarks to make: Jimmy Channel and Manatee Pass. Then she'll come around the north end of Manatee Keys and have a more-or-less straight shot at 90 degrees true to the Intracoastal Waterway a couple of miles south Sunset Cove.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Perhaps a Hold

It's been an hour and a half since any position info has come in. The last Spot coordinate indicated a turn to the north, toward Rankine Key. This island has some lee shore tonight, and maybe they'll bed down there. I'll be snoozing on and off, but when and if I'm awake and I know something, tune in.

Into the Night

It's been more than an hour since I've been able to see a new KB Spot track. The last received was at Dump Keys, which is about three miles west of Twisty Mile, where her intended course across Florida Bay would become clear. Thus the decision has been made, but we can't see it yet.

I'm learning that this is becoming routine when conditions are difficult. Two other competitors disappeared for more than five hours today according to Spot tracking, but at this point they appear to be okay. I've noticed that overhead vegetation can prevent transmissions; apparently a rocking boat can too. Sometimes no news is unnerving.

On the image above, you can see Dump Keys at left. If KB goes north, Crocodile Dragover is at the south end of Big Key. If she takes the usual route, which I expect she will, Twisty Mile starts just east of End Key. You can see the channel just above "Google."

On the Move

Apparently the weather is offering a break and KB is on the move. The first Spot transmission was at 18:12. She's not to the point where the route chosen is clear. I'll be watching and will report back.

Late Friday update

Some of you may have seen a post on the WaterTribe site suggesting that KB, Seiche, Hammerstroke, Sundance and PaddlePeddler were about to head out of CP3. As of 17:49 KB's (well Etch's) Spot remains off, and Log entries from Sundance and PaddlePeddler suggest that they are planning to do exactly what KB and Seiche planned to do: see if the winds calm in the wee hours.

I suspect they were all portaging their boats over to the Florida Bay side, and it looked like they were getting ready to depart, which they probably were, except not for many hours. I'll keep checking this evening, but it looks like things are according to plan.


They have arrived but have not yet portaged around the dam. A front went through about 12:30 with a torrent of rain and wind. They were well protected from the wind, and the rain was likely welcome--just a preview of the intentional shower yet to come.

I'll keep an eye on the Spot track this afternoon to see what they decided to do. If KB can get text messages, she has the weather forecast and the info about my GPS.

Update: A quote from ThereAndBackAgain on the WaterTribe Discussion Forum:

"I've been told that just a little while ago when a front came upon Seiche and KiwiBird that it caught them off guard. Kiwi had her PAS up and the winds were so strong that she couldn't bring it down. Quick action with a knife saved the day! We can now see once again why we have some of our rules; like a knife on our PFDs."

For those of you who don't do kayak initialisms, PAS is Pacific Action Sail. If she was unable to bring the sail down with the sheets, she would have been forced to cut at least one of them to let it luff. Quick thinking on her part. Just glad she's okay.

Update Two: FwKB talked to KB a few minutes ago and got the full story. At 13:15 KB and Seiche were about five minutes from CP3 and paused for Seiche to take a picture of KB against a very black cloud. With no warning the wind instantly went to 40 knots. Waves became very large very quickly and sheets of rain fell, as the temperature dropped from 80 to 50 degrees.

Seiche capsized, and KB had to cut both sheets to get her sail down. He was able to self-rescue and KB managed to get ahold of one of the sheet ends and pull the sail out of the water and onto the deck. She got out her cag, which is basically a raincoat that attaches to the lip on the boat where the spray skirt normally snaps. That helped her get warm, and they proceeded on to CP3.

At CP3 they were met by Seiche's spouse, along with KneadingWater and his spouse. Dry clothes and a microwave burger made everything better.

It's quite windy and cold in Flamingo now, and they're not considering continuing until very early tomorrow morning, when the winds might ease enough.

Whitewater Bay

KB slept in this morning. She and Seiche weren't on the water until 06:55. As you can see, they've decided to cross Whitewater Bay. The winds are reasonable at the moment, and they passed into the bay on the end of a flood tide, so progress is good. Winds are predicated to increase to 10-15 knots by 13:00, but they should be mostly clear of the bay by then.

Weather is supposed to deteriorate markedly tonight. The marine forecast for Florida Bay includes a small craft advisory starting this afternoon through tomorrow. The wind will shift to the northwest late this afternoon rising to 20 knots and gusty, then 20-25 and gusty overnight. Intermittent rain and scattered thunderstorms. Winds go to the north tomorrow afternoon at 15-20, then to the northeast, and the "bay waters very rough."

I hate to mess up a respectable prediction record, but tomorrow might be a day for a different route across Florida Bay. Rather than going through Twisty Mile, a paddler can turn north and go through Crocodile Dragover and The Dragover, which is what Salty Frog did yesterday. This would keep them pretty close to the windward shore, meaning smaller waves, since the fetch (distance over which wind can blow and build waves) would be smaller. Trouble is, I don't know if they have this plotted in their GPSs. KB has the same routes and waypoints in her new Garmin as Seiche does, because they all shared (including Kneading Water). KB has my Garmin as a spare, and it has that route, but she probably doesn't know that. Oh, well. Idle speculation.

In any event, they should make Flamingo at a reasonable hour today--early enough for a microwave burger or two. The only hitch is the portage at the dam on Buttonwood Canal. Fortunately, they can help each other, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Want to know more about Whitewater Bay? Here's a good source.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

At 16:35 KiwiBird (and presumably Seiche) were a little more than 5 miles from Shark River Chickee, the location of which is shown above. I know that isn't terribly informative, and zooming in in Google Earth doesn't actually show anything I could be sure is a chickee, so if you want to see more, please have a look here. Everglades Diary has nice descriptions of the chickees of Everglades Park as well as directions for getting to them. KB should be there by 18:00 assuming the tidal current isn't too bad.

The attrition rate in this Challenge continues to be pretty challenging. SandyBottom declared this morning in Chokloskee, reporting oozing abrasions that had no business on the Wilderness Waterway. I've actually paddled with Dawn more than Kristen--although trips with both have been the best--and I can assure you she is not a quitter. This is her eighth Everglades Challenge and only DNF. She is also the only woman ever to complete the 1,200 mile Ultra Florida Challenge. One notable characteristic that Dawn has that matches her toughness is her sound judgment. It was hard for her do, but it was necessary. May she enjoy tall cool ones in Key Largo this evening!

Unless something changes, I'm going to take the evening off. Talk to you soon after sparrow fart tomorrow.

How to Earn an Alligator Tooth

Apologies for the delay in posting this morning. I had an early meeting, and work just doesn't seem to have the right priorities.

KiwiBird overnighted at Lostman's Five Bay last night and was underway again at 06:05. On the image above, her overnight position was at waypoint 33. As of 10:20 this morning, she was at 50. Once she and Seiche get down to the second horizontal "lake," they'll turn westward on Broad River to the Nightmare, which actually runs vertically a little ways in from the gulf. Despite their names, Broad River isn't broad and the Nightmare isn't so nightmarish. KiwiBird and SandyBottom reported last year that Broad River was actually the narrowest and most overgrown spot in the Challenge.

The Nightmare intersects Harney River, and they'll turn back to the east to Tarpon Bay. There it's a right turn onto Shark River, and Shark River Chickee lies just a little ways past the split of Shark River and Little Shark River on the Little. Speaking of, if you didn't already beat me to Wikipedia, "chickee" is the Creek and Mikasuki language word for "house." The style of construction was adopted by the Seminoles and Miccosukees during the second and third Seminole Wars. Chickees typically have a palmetto thatch roof, as seen at Shark River (photograph once again purloined from last year's E.C.), which may explain why Lostman's Five Bay isn't called a Chickee.

KB and Seiche could easily go farther today, but I'm guessing they won't. If you divide the distance between Lostman's Five Bay and Flamingo, you pretty much come up with Shark River Chickee. Another choice would be Oyster Bay Chickee, but I haven't heard much about that one. It's also a bit out of the way if they're planning to cross Whitewater Bay. The wind forecast suggests they will, so Shark River makes sense. Incidentally, if you'd like to see something with more detail, the National Park Service has a nice downloadable pdf map of the park.

Finally, if you're wondering about the title, what KB and Seiche started to do yesterday and will finish tomorrow is follow the Wilderness Waterway from Chokoloskee to Flamingo. It's about 30 miles farther that the direct outside route, not to mention overgrown in many places and well populated by large creatures with big teeth. A Challenger earns an alligator tooth for her or his trouble.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lostman's Five Bay

The photograph above is cheating. It's actually from last year's E.C. That's Scareman and SandyBottom on the chickee. Why chickee? Don't know, but I'll find out before KiwiBird and Seiche reach the Shark River Chickee tomorrow. What chickee? That's pretty apparent: essentially a pier that connects to nowhere with a PortaPotty for amenities. These are maintained by the National Park Service, and in a region where there's not much solid ground, they're just what the discerning paddler is looking for.

I don't imagine that KiwiBird and Seiche have gotten there yet, but I wanted to post a picture before it got dark. ;) Perhaps KiwiBird will lob in a Check OK on her (well, Etch's) Spot when she gets there. More when I know more.


KB checked in with FwKB a few minutes ago. They arrived at the ranger station about 08:30 and were there for about a half hour; by now they should be at CP2. They left a message for SandyBottom with the ranger and included her in the reservations for camping at Lostman's Five Bay (tonight) and Shark River Chickee (tomorrow night). While at the station, they also rinsed out some clothes, filled all water bladders and ... got ice cream.

KB said they have seen many, many turtles. She reports that they are both feeling great and are really looking forward to getting into the park.

Approaching CP2

KiwiBird and Seiche arrived at Indian Key about 20:30 last night, and were back on the water this morning about 06:00. The yellow line shows the path I expect them to take, but I've never been there, so I could be wrong. The yellow flag at the top of the image marks the Everglades Park ranger station, where they will stop to get a permit to camp inside the park. The station is open only from 08:00 to 16:30, so there was no point soldiering in last night against the tide.

I expect to hear from KB when she reaches Everglades City, although it may be indirectly through FwKB. That will be probably the last cell phone signal until most of the way across Florida Bay, most likely some time on Friday. Sometimes there's a weak signal at CP2 at Chokoloskee. When they check in at CP2, I won't be surprised if there's an ice cream cone in the offing.

SandyBottom stopped for the night at White Horse Key and was underway about the same time that KB and Seiche were. I'm hoping they'll cross paths at the ranger station or at CP2. When she gets to CP2 I'll be surprised if there isn't an ice cream cone in the offing.

DanceswithSandyBottom and SOS reached the finish at the Bay Cove Inn on Key Largo about 01:40 this morning. According to Steve, they had a great time crossing Florida Bay, but when I checked about 01:00 the winds had mostly died--hence their relatively slow progress. No matter. They came first in class and third overall. Way to go guys!

Monday, March 7, 2011

On the edge of the Glades

Heard from KiwiBird about 10 minutes ago. The connection was very bad, so I'm guessing she was on the edge of Verizon coverage, which would have put her close to Gullivan Key. She said it was an absolutely beautiful evening. In my imagination--because I've never been there--I see this as the beginning of the most special part of the trip. Of course, she's the one who's convinced me of that, and by all evidence, I'd be a lifeless lump IF I could get that far.

Neither the tides nor the ranger-station-open-hours favor an immediate assault on Everglades City. She and Seiche will camp somewhere (White Horse Key, Indian Key?) and decide on whether to leave at very small digit hours to ride the tide in.

They still have not connected with SandyBottom, and cell coverage will be minimal-to-none until they get to Everglades City. Even there, it will be a short period in range of civilization. After that it's black out for about two days.

PS I forgot to mention that DwSB and SOS are into the Twisty Mile with a trace of daylight left. By all reports, navigation thereafter is no given, but they may be through the worst of it. They could be 3-4 hours from Key Largo.

Surf's Up

KB checked in with FwKB about 1:45. She and Seiche stopped at Wiggins Pass for water, and it was an interesting surf landing. Little sand left there. She hardly recognized the place.

They are just short of Capri Pass into Marco Island, experiencing 6-7' swells. Had a dolphin get big air nearby and then disappear.

KiwiBird, still paddling with Seiche, is about 4 sm from Capri Pass at Marco Island and making excellent progress. I had thought they were with SandyBottom, but Steve talked to her shortly ago, and she hasn't seen them. She went inside at Gordon Pass and is just to the north in the image above. Others nearby are Whale to the southwest and Cwolfe, farther to the west. AhMaChamee is aat the top of the image.

Tides are not favorable for an attempt at Indian Key Pass this evening, so I expect they will camp and make the entrance to Everglades City in the wee hours tomorrow.

In other news DwSB and SOS have rounded Cape Sable and are less than hour from CP3. They should finish today, but perhaps not until after dark. They are first in class and third overall at the moment.

Monday morning

KiwiBird and Seiche camped near New Pass last night, and KB checked in with FwKB about 22:45. Yesterday was a tough but exhilarating day. KB had waves breaking over hear head in Charlotte Sound, but there was also much wildlife to be seen: numerous sea turtles and several manatee. She and Seiche are in good spirits and feeling healthy, and were on the water before 0700 this morning. SandyBottom camped nearby and launched a little earlier than they did, but I expect the three of them to be together shortly.

Winds are favorable for good southward progress today, and making as much of it as possible is their only plan. This is particularly motivated by a predicted shift to winds out of the east tomorrow. Will they pass up dinner at Marco Island? Without Kneading Water there to tempt them, there may be a tendency toward tunnel vision. We'll see.

In other news, DwSB and SOS are well are on their way to taking Class 4 and third overall. They passed through CP2 last night and were near Shark River this morning. They'll round Cape Sable before noon and sign in at CP3. Then Florida Bay is all that's left.

SewSew managed to reach the finish less than hour ahead of Bumpy and Machoman. Amazingly close race, and Randy should have some great new sleep deprivation hallucination stories to tell.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Late afternoon Sunday update

At about 1800, KB and Seiche were passing under the Sanibel bridge at Ft. Meyers. Winds have begun to turn in their favor and their speeds are quite good. KB's Spot report showed 5.5 nmph, which means they've either found a very favorable tidal current or the wind is helping--or some of each.

My earlier suggestion of Wiggins Pass for tonight is probably too optimistic given the hold before crossing Charlotte Harbor and the nasty conditions, but KB knows some places short of there to take a break. The winds favor moving forward as much as possible now, as they are forcast to come from the east by dawn on Tuesday. Shelter in the Everglades would be good. But they have dealt with some really challenging conditions, and rest may be a priority now. KB has shown an uncanny knack for making the best of such situations in the past, and there's no reason to think she won't again.

SandyBottom is not far behind, having pushed through with her usual persistence. DwSB and SOS are more than half way between Ft. Meyers and Marco Island; they may be leading Class 4, but it's possible I've overlooked someone, as the Challenger Mapper is still suffering some from the level of interest.

If I hear from KB tonight, I'll report again, but she is not required to check in again until 1000 tomorrow.

Late morning Sunday update

KB called about 1000 and left a voicemail message wondering about weather reports. She and Seiche are holed up on the north shore of Charlotte Sound waiting for the wind to drop. It was too rough to attempt a crossing. Likewise, ArdieO has reported high waves at Sanibel.

The weather forecast obviously missed on this one. It may be that the front that was supposed to arrive overnight tonight is already making an appearance. If so, that will eventually bring the wind back around from the north, which will be a great improvement.

If you've tried the Challenge Mapper, you're aware that it's not working right now. Overload most likely, which is a testament to how popular the EC has become. Unfortunately, because KB is using someone else's Spot, I can't log into the account to see exactly where she is.

I left her a voicemail message with a weather report and an update on the Challenge Mapper situation. Next time she turns on her phone, she may see that and check in. I'll let you know.

Underway on Sunday

I had an e-mail from FwKB a little after midnight saying that KB had reached CP1 at 2348. (That is an amazing accomplishment considering the conditions; last year under quite favorable winds, we reached there just before midnight.) Then at a little after 0200 this morning, FwKB sent a text saying that KB had gotten the Spot from Stan (Etchemin) and was leaving CP1 with Seiche. They appear to have camped on an island a little way south of CP1 and were underway at 0800 this morning.

A few words about CP1 are in order. First, getting there is a difficult navigational feat, particularly in the dark. Here's what it looks like to a seagull.

The checkpoint is at Grand Tours Kayak Center, which is the yellow-orange square toward the top of the image, back on a creek. The competitors must first get under the highway bridge at left, then they must hit the small opening in an old railway trestle that's no longer used. This is not lit and is very hard to see on a moonless night. From there they cannot go straight for the channel opening as it's too shallow. They must go up until the entrance is abeam and then make the left turn. There are shallow spots either side of the channel up to the yacht club just right of the Placida marker. From there on up it's unmarked with plenty of shallow spots. Tide also matters; the current can be considerable on changing tides, and low tide can spell trouble, particularly for the sailboats.

Speaking of, few of the sailboats can get under the highway bridge without lowering their masts. In WaterTribe parlance, this is a filter, equalizing the competition between sailboats and kayaks.

There's one more small gap in the old railroad to hit, and they're at the checkpoint. This is actually a very pleasant spot, with freshwater and facilities. But it's not really a great place to camp for the night. The ground is very hard and unreceptive to tent pegs, and there's noise all night long as competitors come and go. We camped there last year only because we were too cold to continue safely. I was the only one who slept at all, and that amounted to about an hour. That's why KB and Seiche went on to an island south of Boca Grande.

At 0830, the temperature at Boca Grande was 69, and winds were forecast to remain out of the south southeast (on the nose) but perhaps a little lighter than yesterday. A good goal for the day would be Wiggins Pass, south of Fort Meyers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Evening Update

Etchemin has generously offered to lend KiwiBird his Spot, so once she gets to CP1, she may have a track in Challenge Mapper once again. I haven't heard from her since the 1445 call, so she is not yet aware of this arrangement. I've advised FlieswithKiwiBird in case she gets a call this evening.

By all accounts, this has been a tough day for the kayakers. SandyBottom's position at 2050 was roughly where she was last year a little after 1800. Like KB, SB is one tough cookie, and she will soldier through. Of more concern was a Log Book report on the WaterTribe discussion forum that KneadingWater has dropped out with a shoulder injury. Very sorry to hear that. Seiche appears to be making good progress considering the conditions.

Outside, the sailboats have been headed some as well, but they have the option of tacking and can continue to make progress into a headwind. DwSB and SOS are making good progress toward CP1, but it won't be an early arrival.

At the front, SewSew seems to be pulling away a bit from Bumpy and Machoman. These are all international calibre sailors, and I suspect they'll take it down to the wire. The conditions aren't particularly favorable for a new record, but who knows?

This is probably the last post for today, as halftime is about over in the Carolina-Duke game.

Saturday afternoon update

KB appears to have stopped for a natural break just short of Siesta Key, and SB is perhaps a half nm behind. KneadingWater is another half back, but it appears he stopped for a bite to eat is Sarasota.

KB and KW spent much of the morning together, as they often do. This is already stacking up to be another tag team of the dynamic threesome, and Seiche may make it four. In an endurance kayaking event a group of paddlers may have slightly different rhythms (natural breaks, for example) that result in small gaps, but they're usually in sight of each other during the day and camp together most evenings. It's very much an individual thing, yet there's plenty of camaraderie to go along.

At the front of the race, Bumpy and Machoman and SewSew (21' trimaran) have both passed through Checkpoint 1. DwSB and SOS are outside near YellowThing, but there are a bunch of boats around.

Stop the presses: KB just called (@14:44) and her Spot abandoned ship just south of Sarasota. We won't be able to follow her on the Challenge Mapper any long, but she'll probably be close to SB and KW. I'll expect more calls as well to update her position.

They're off!

KiwiBird launched right on time this morning at 7:00 am and by 7:30 was on the pointy end of the Class 1 flotilla just behind SaltyFrog. At this point, however, everyone recognizes that it's a very long race, and each paddler is just looking for a sustainable rhythm. Overall, Bumpy is setting his usual rapid pace in his 20' beach cat. He appears headed outside, whereas the kayaks will seek the shelter of the Intracoastal behind the barrier islands.

Tampa Bay is one of the longer open-water crossings and can be fairly rough. Of more concern, however, is the heavy ship traffic. The racers must cross the ship channel for Tampa Bay within a couple of miles of the Mullet Key beach.

The winds are a bit more adversarial than they were predicted to be yesterday, although down Placida way it's still blowing over the beam of south-bound boaters. If this pattern continues, it will be a fairly long day down to CP1. I don't expect KB to be there before late evening--2200 or later.

SandyBottom appeared to be tardy in getting her Spot working but by 7:30 was quite near KB. It takes longer to get the larger, heavier sailboats in the water, and out of courtesy, the sailors let the kayakers start first. Thus DwSB and SOS are a bit behind at the moment, but that won't last.

When I spoke to KB last night, they were about to head to Jo Jo's La Pizzeria for a pasta fest, another tradition for the Triangle crew. Last real food for a number of days, with a possible respite at Marco Island. I'm told KneadingWater can be quite persuasive.

Friday, March 4, 2011

E.C. Traditions

Apologies for the delay in posting updates on the Florida-bound KiwiBird. Technical difficulties.

KB arrived at Fort Desoto Park about 6:30 pm yesterday in the company of SandyBottom, DanceswithSandyBottom and SOS, with the Core Sound 20 Dawn Patrol that DwSB and SOS will sail in tow. The photograph above is in the El Cheapo truck stop parking lot at the exit ramp from I-95 for Midway, Georgia.

Why there? Fried chicken. At a small stand in the back of the convenience store two ladies serve up some the tastiest cluck you’ll find, along with a selection of fine southern country sides. Last year they hit the spot going both directions, and I expect they will again. For this crowd, the Everglades Challenge is all about traditions. The first is the Wednesday night dinner at SB and DwSB’s, the second is a tardy departure Thursday morning, and fried chicken at El Cheapo comes third. There will be more.

At 7:00 last night, a party commenced at SavannahDan and Paddlemaker’s campsite, so make that tradition four. This year, as last, the E.C. commences on the new moon, and the challenge, if you’ll pardon the expression, at the party is to avoid tripping over raccoons in the dark. Last year we all repaired to the recreation center because it was so cold; this year the mozzies might have forced the same retreat.

First light Friday finds the crew heading for tradition five: eggs benedict at the Village Inn. I’m not entirely sure what DwSB (far left) and SOS (far right) are eating, but KB and SB are clearly upholding the tradition.

With tanks full once again, it’s down the street to the supermarket to pick up the last bits of food to pack for the trip. It’s an even mix between picking up treats (sardines anyone?) and KB talking SB into buying more granola bars.

Back at Fort Desoto, it’s time to get the boats on the beach and pack them. Boats go just above the high tide (WaterTribe rules and common sense), and 15-20 kilos of gear and water get toted down in Ikea bags and then stowed away. Food generally waits until the morning, as the raccoons are ingenious and persistent.

Left to right, these three fellows are Hammerstroke, Sundance and Paddlepeddler. The four of us can tell (and have told) some stories about a sleepless night on an island during last fall’s North Carolina Challenge.

This year sees a record number of entries for the E.C. (71) and the Ultramarathon (13). Since many of those entries have two aboard, the total number of entrants exceeds 100. It’s a busy beach and even more crowded beach shelter for the Captains’ meeting at 1500.

Finally, be sure to check Steve Earley’s blog regularly. He’s the shore contact for SB and DwSB and SOS, and he has a way with words.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

All packed, I think

Andrew and I went to REI last night, to spend my outstanding dividend and a gift card on a few kilos of energy bars for the 2011 WaterTribe Everglades Challenge. We love REI. And it's always better to go on a week night with a nearly-four-year-old, as there's fewer people around when he rides the bikes.

The new Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx arrived mid-morning yesterday, courtesy of an overnight UPS service, and thanks to fellow paddlers KneadingWater and Seiche I now have a set of routes, waypoints and tracks to steer me by. I've even read the user's manual...

For the first time I weighed a few things. I've 6.87 kgs (15.5 lbs) of food, which includes bottles of Ensure for an evening swig, a few freeze-dried dinners, dried mangoes, a few Hammer gels, and lots of bars. I find if I don't eat at least every hour, I tend to fall over.

The rest of the gear weighs in at just over 11 kgs (c 24 lbs), which includes Macpac tent (1.8kgs), Exped sleeping mat (1 kg), sleeping bag (1.4kg), toiletries (1.16kgs, including three WagBags!), gas stove and related (1.36kgs), wet weather jacket (846gms), first-aid bag (286gms), sacrosanct dry gear (1.1 kgs), repair kit (730gms), under deck bag with head lamps, mozzzie head net, bug spray, etc (902 gms), and a tow belt (532 gms). This doesn't count what I'll be wearing, such as the PFD.

I'm not bringing a kayak cart. Race rules have been tightened up this year. Usually, there's been a cart of some sort at Flamingo's CP3, and that's helped us get from one side of Whitewater Bay to Florida Bay--a distance of about 200m. But now we're on our own to make the portage. Instead, I'll unload all my gear into two big Ikea bags, carry those over, and then carry the boat over. The boat weighs 24kg and fits snugly over one shoulder. I'm usually staggering a bit by then, but this should be doable, particularly after one of Flamingo's micro-waved hamburgers and an ice-cream!

So, we leave tomorrow morning for Tampa Bay, Florida, and the race starts at 0700 on Saturday, March 5.

Floatsome will be updating this blog, the Forum's always a good place to keep an eye out for what's happening, and you can watch our SPOT progress on WaterTribe's Challenge Mapper. I'm Kiwibird ;)

Photo: KneadingWater, SandyBottom, KiwiBird and Seiche, at CP2, Chokoloskee, EC 2010.