full moon

report from the fringe

full moon

Anarchist MisterMoon takes you somewhere you have not been

When the Watertribe Everglades Challenge first came to my attention eight or nine years ago, it sounded insane. Here was a 300 mile unsupported trip down the west coast of Florida from Tampa Bay to Key Largo. An to make it even more diabolical, the organizers inserted several lovely ‘filters’ such as launching unassisted from above the high tide line, putting mandatory checkpoints up tidal creeks behind low and narrow fixed bridges, and putting seemingly impossible time limits. To top it all off, the waiver contained strongly worded phrases such as “You must be an expert” and “You could DIE.”

“Nope, not for me…” I thought. “Let the nutters have it to themselves.” 

But I still followed the event every year, vicariously enjoying the exploits and adventures of those crazy enough to take it on. Mysteriously, with each passing year the idea of actually participating grew larger in my mind to the point my fear of those strongly worded phrases was almost forgotten. After the 2009 EC, I set a goal that I would give it a go. I can only explain my change of heart as some kind of mid-life crisis. I didn’t have a suitable boat at the time so I spent a couple of months scouring Craigslist throughout the southeast until I found a 1980 O’Day Daysailer II in South Carolina. I bought the boat and did a few minor mods to get it ready for the EC. I still didn’t feel ready however. 

I decided that it would probably be very instructive to visit the start of the 2010 EC at Ft. Desoto on Tampa Bay near St Petersburg, Florida. This proved to be both blessing and a curse. The good thing was that I learned a great deal from the Watertribers setting up on the beach. They are a very generous community and patiently answered all my questions about preparations and strategy and training as they were busy setting up and going through the extensive pre-race inspection checklist. The bad thing was being there was like inhaling the most addictive drug ever created for the very first time. The worst moment of all was when meeting Gary Blankenship aka Lugnut (All Watertribers use “tribal” names to identify themselves; I’m known as “MisterMoon.” ) in person for the first time as we were carrying his boat off the trailer to the water’s edge to have him tell me that he’d been very close to calling me up to ask if I’d like to do the EC with him. I would have enthusiast ically accepted had he asked. I was gutted. And at the same time, I was also utterly and completely obsessed with being there myself next year. I stayed over and watched the start on the next morning. As an observer, the start is a little anti-climactic: over the course of a half hour or so everyone just disappears over the horizon. As they left, I was thinking how their adventure was just beginning and I was driving back to Atlanta. It was at the same time a little depressing and yet motivating. I was hopelessly hooked at that point. And still am.

I made it back to Fort Desoto for the 2011 Everglades Challenge with my DSII, now named Alobar, feeling mostly ready to go. My push off the beach at the start was dreadful and it took me nearly 45 minutes to wrestle my heavy boat to the water, much to the amusement of the large crowd of onlookers who had gathered around one of the few boats left on the beach. The wind was moderate out of the south, so I elected to take the outside route out of the mouth of Tampa Bay and down the coast. The reach across the bay was fast and fun. When I turned the corner to go south, I found out I could not get my boat to point. No matter what I did, Alobar was giving me terrible lee-helm and I was going sideways from my destination to the south. Only after sailing about 5 miles offshore and then most of the way back to the coastline did I realize in the thrill and haste and exhaustion of starting that I’d not properly cleated down the centerboard and it had mostly retracted. Once that was sor ted out, I was able to make it down the coast. 

Long story short, I made it into CP1 in Placida about 40 minutes past the 12 noon deadline. There I learned that I was still in the top half of the fleet, and they were being flexible about the deadline so I wasn’t disqualified. I also learned along the way that Alobar was one seriously uncomfortable boat. Already I was thinking I needed something else. I left Placida early Monday morning after some much needed sleep to recover from 30 hours of solo sailing. Alobar and I had a nice sail across Charlotte Harbor and down Pine Island Sound inside of Captiva and Sanibel Islands. At the south tip of Sanibel, we entered the Gulf again and enjoyed a nice downwind sail into the evening. Later on that evening off of Marco Island, the weather turned nasty and I elected to run for shelter at Caxambas Pass at the southern end of Marco Island. I hit the pass about midnight and wound up nearly capsizing my boat in the strong and swirly winds next to all the giant condos that lined the shor e. In the process of recovering I lost an oar and decided that it would be too dangerous to continue without it. Also, I’d realized along the way that I could not shorten sail as much as I’d like when it got really windy. My options to reduce sail for higher winds were only to drop the jib and put one reef in the main. Even though was Alobar was technically within the rules for the event this had already proved to be inadequate in the rough stuff on Sunday off of Stump Pass and thus was not feeling very confident. The forecast was for stronger winds and I was not feeling confident about pressing on. Reluctantly, I elected to drop out at Marco.

Despite my failure, I still had unfinished business with the Everglades Challenge. I knew I had to attempt it again. I first needed to do something about my boat, so I started looking for a something that was more comfortable than my DS II that would also sail and row well. It wasn’t long before I found a nearly new Core Sound 17 available for less than the cost of the materials used to make it in Georgetown, SC. This also included a barely broken in brand new outboard and a very rusty trailer. The seller and negotiated on the phone a bit and I wound up basically buying it sight unseen. When I finally made the 6 hour drive out to the SC coast, I found a pretty well-built sailboat. It had nice sails, with multiple deep reef points and a bunch of extra gear. I dragged it home, but not without some drama as large pieces of rust kept falling off the trailer threatening to disrupt the ‘force of habit’ that was about the only thing holding it all together. Once we got the boat home, we transferred it to another trailer I already owned. 

I started to get the boat ready for the 2012 EC by sailing it as much as I could in strong winds as I could find on our inland lake. I found a few problems along the way that required attention before we could really get out sailing. I broke and repaired a boom and the mizzen mast butt. Some of the rigging needed reconfiguring and some needed replacing. I also built a sleeping flat over the front cockpits and added a forward rowing station. My preparations were hindered by my losing most of the summer to 2011 due to some health issues that required major surgery. One of the things that got me through my lengthy recovery was thinking about doing another challenge. The first day my doctors allowed it, I went sailing in my new boat, now called “Bandaloop.”

The plan for 2012 was always to attempt the EC again. But as the event got closer, I realized that I didn’t have the time from work to be able to commit nearly two weeks to do the full 300 miles to Key Largo. Instead, I opted for the shorter Ultra Marathon which runs concurrently with EC ending at CP1 in Placida, a distance of about 70 miles. It was a bit of rush to get the boat and gear together, but we got it done and were ready to go at 7am on the first Saturday in March on the beach at Fort Desoto.   Part 2 tomorrow.