Sunday, March 27, 2011

Post EC2011 - Day 6

We woke Thursday morning in a with mixed feelings.  We were glad to have had a nice, comfortable nights sleep and were looking forward to seeing the kids; on the other hand, we were still disappointed by our DNF.  Our first order of business was to get back to our boat and wait for my dad to pick us up.  We had about a three mile walk from Everglades City back to Chocoloskee.

Once back at the boat, we finished emptying it out and laying some of our stuff out to dry while we waited for our ride.  The kids were thrilled to see us again and had fun playing around the boat while we finished packing stuff up.

As my dad and I were loading the boat onto the trailer, we could see a very dark, ugly looking cold front coming from the north.  We barely got things covered and strapped down when it hit.  There was a blast of cold air, the wind very quickly whipped up whitecaps on Chocoloskee Bay, and then the rain hit.  It continued to rain pretty hard most of our drive down to Key Largo.  After settling into the condo in Key Largo, we swallowed our pride and headed over to Bay Cove to visit some Watertribe finishers.  We enjoyed our time there, visiting and sharing stories.  The highlight was being there as NiteNavigator and NiteSong finished.  It was incredible watching them paddle in, I want to be able to paddle like that some day!

 We enjoyed a fantastic sunset, then headed back "home" for a great grilled steak dinner, thanks Dad!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

EC2011 - Day 5

We woke fairly early Wednesday morning after a descent nights sleep in the boat.

We skipped hot breakfast and just had pop tarts and Spiz.  Another benefit of sleeping in the boat was that we could get packed and underway a lot quicker.  Unfortunately, while packing the boat, I noticed that Emily's hydration bladder was empty, and mine was getting close.  I realized that I had forgotten to fill them at CP2, uh oh...  All together, we had about 13L of water to get us to CP3.

We started sailing under partially reefed main as the wind was fairly strong, even this early in the morning.  As we approached Pavilion Key, we started the experience the same pointing issues that had stopped us the night before.  We made it through the channel to the east of Pavilion Key.  We headed out into the Gulf, but found it difficult to make headway in the short, steep waves.

Looking at the conditions, our VMG, and the charts, we decided to give paddling a try.  We turned towards shore and beached in the Huston Coves.  I pulled down the mast, packed up the sail, and removed one of our ama / aka sets.

We pulled / paddled our way to the entrance of the Chatham River, hoping for a break from the wind.  Unfortunately, since the wind was from the east, we were paddling dead upwind and we did not get much protection from the mangroves.  The farther we went... the tougher it got... the more we started to think about quitting.  I kept looking at the charts, trying to figure the distance from where we were to CP3.  I didn't know the exact distance, but I figured it was probably about 80 miles.  We kept listening to the radio, hoping to hear that relief was coming... no such luck... in fact it sounded like we were going to have more of the same for the next couple of days.  It was getting near lunchtime and we were near The Watson Place campsite.  We were hoping to tie up, eat some lunch, and come up with a plan.  Unfortunately, the site was occupied, so we paddled up the river a bit more and pulled up next to some mangroves to eat.  As we floated, we discussed our options.  Based on how things were going, our limited water supply was really worrying me.  We didn't feel like we had enough strength to paddle all the way to CP3 in the present conditions.  After much agonizing thought, yes even some tears, we decided to turn back towards CP2 and drop from the race.  We turned up Huston Bay channel and enjoyed a tidal current and tailwind push towards Huston Bay.  In the small bay just north of Huston Bay, we crossed paths with PaddleMaker and SavannahDan.  The tried to talk us into continuing, even offering to share their campsite with us, but we were really finished.  After chatting for a while, we went our separate ways.  One thing that really surprised us was how open the wilderness waterway was; lots of big bays that were getting pretty choppy in the strong winds.  A few times, we would stop paddling and just hold our paddles up in the air and get pushed along at a pretty good clip.

As we neared CP2, we kept trying to make cell phone contact, hoping to call my dad in Key Largo to come pick us up.  However, cell coverage is extremely spotty, and we never did get a call out.  Finally, just after sunset, we landed on the beach at Chocoloskee (again at high tide, so no mud)  We were met by the checkpoint volunteer, Scully (not sure about the spelling...) who told us that we were the third boat to return that day.  He also told us the Chocoloskee hotel had no rooms left, but offered to give us a ride to Everglades City to find a room there.  We got the boat pulled up and covered up and hopped into his truck.  He dropped us off at The Captains Table Hotel, where we got a beautiful room.  We both took nice long showers, then headed to a restaurant across the street.

After eating, we took a walk, then headed back to the hotel.  We were pretty beat, so after watching a little TV, we went right to sleep, looking forward to seeing the kids and my dad the next day.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

EC2011 - Day 4

Tuesday morning dawned and we slowly dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags.  We got a chance to see just how beautiful Panther Key is, I would love to come back some time and take my time sailing and camping in the area.

We got packed up and underway, heading towards Indian Key Pass.  Shortly after leaving, we passed SandyBottom in her kayak, we waved, and kept sailing.  Our timing with the tide was decent, when we arrived, the current was fairly light.  The wind was from the east, so we were able to sail up the pass, but needed to tack.  Keeping a careful eye on the depths on my GPS, I held each tack as long as I could.  The wind was moderate, and I had the sail fully unfurled.  In these conditions, the boat tacked beautifully, tacking very close to 90degrees:

Throughout this, SandyBottom continued to follow us, occasionally popping up her Flat Earth Kayak Sail.  She finally caught us in Chocoloskee Bay when I tacked, hit a mud bank, and lost all my momentum.  It is interesting to notice on the track above, that my tacks got a lot worse in the Bay.  In the more open bay, the wind was stronger, and I furled the sail a bit... when I did this, I lost pointing ability... interesting...

I hopped out of the boat, and pulled it the last few yards into the NPS boat launch.  Also there were SandyBottom and AhMaChamee.

We all chatted for a while, enjoyed some ice cream, and took advantage of real bathrooms.  We were planning to camp at one of the National Park campsites, so I went to the ranger station to get a backcountry permit.  I ended up in line with AhMaChamee, and we decided to share a permit for a site on Highland Beach.  SandyBottom warned us about getting stuck there at low tide (200 yds of mud!) and we all hopped in our boats and headed to CP2.  We arrived at CP2, Emily signed the logbook, and I refilled our water.  (Or so I thought... more to come on that in the next segment...)  A few minutes later, we left and sailed towards Rabbit Key Pass with AhMaChamee.

I followed the route through Rabbit Key Pass that I had plotted in my GPS and we were separated when AhMaChamee took a slightly different route.  We assumed we would meet up again at Highland Beach.  Unfortunately, we would not see each other again until Key Largo.  The tide was coming in through the pass, and with the wind was also against us, we struggled our way out towards the Gulf.  Shortly after tacking near Rabbit Key, the wind quickly grew in strength.  I furled the sail a bit and started to experience the same pointing issues I had in Chocoloskee Bay.  In addition, there appeared to be storm clouds approaching from the east.  The wind and waves were building, we were having difficulty making headway, and it was getting dark, so we decided to beach the boat.  We landed in the lee of a random unnamed key and got out to stretch.  I walked back to the end of island and looked out at the water.  It appeared a bit calmer, so we tried to sail again.  It turned out about the same as before, and since we were pretty tired, we decided to just head back to our beach and camp for the night.  We headed back to where we were and made some dinner.  Unsure if we could legally camp on the island, we decided to sleep in the boat.  This ended up working wonderfully.  I rearranged our stuff a bit, and we slept Emily in the bow, me in the stern, with our feet towards the middle of the boat.  With the cover closed over us, it was fairly warm, we just used our "woobies" for a bit of extra warmth.  The only thing we wished for was a closed cell foam pad for a bit of cushion and insulation from the cold water.  We quickly fell asleep, hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

EC2011 - Day 3

Before going to sleep, I had set the alarm for 5AM, fully expecting to snooze for a while.  And snooze we did, until around 6AM when the sun started to brighten the sky.  We slowly got moving, ate some breakfast and packed up our stuff.



We got under way with steady winds from the north.  As we sailed around the southern end of Chino Island, we saw CaptJackOtter anchored just off the shore.  We waved and continued on our way.

We were enjoying the north winds as we approached the Sanibel causeway.  I ended up a little to the east of the tall section of the causeway, but I assumed I had enough clearance to get under the section we were nearest to.  As we got closer, I started to doubt, but now we were comitted.  Well, now I know that the Sanibel Causeway is 16ft above the water... My mast is 16ft, but my sparfly (wind indicator) is about 16ft 6in.  Needless to say, my sparfly is now floating in Pine Island Sound somewhere... oops!  Fortunately, no other damage was done.  As soon as we passed under the bridge, the wind began to die.  We ended up drifting slowly by Point Ybel and the Pine Island Lighthouse.

Our goal for the day was to get near CP2, we were planning on Panther Key cutting through Caxambas Pass.  We sailed and paddled for a couple of hours; with the wind finally starting to build after lunch.  

It turned into our best sailing day of the entire event.  We sailed at 5 to 6 kts for most of the day, slowly approaching the shoreline.  Near Naples, we caught up with Brogan in his Hobie AI.  

He had lost his GPS and was wondering where Big Marco Pass was.  I attempted to relay some details, but I'm not sure we could hear each other.  We could also see CaptJackOtter's red gennaker farther offshore, and we soon caught sight of a pair of Pacific Action sails.  The PAS sails turned out to be Paddlemaker and SavannahDan in their Pygmy triple kayak.  Just before we caught them, they turned into Gordon Pass.  Brogan and CaptJackOtter also sailed into the pass.  The waves around the pass were pretty wild, but the XCR handled them just fine.  In fact, we stayed perfectly dry all day.  We enjoyed a beautiful sunset, and sailed and paddled the final few miles towards the lit up high rises of Marco Island, and the entrance to Caxambas Pass.  

I had the course into and through the pass programmed as a route into my GPS, so I was confident in the approach.  I knew from looking at satellite maps that there were three rocky barriers just before the entrance to the pass.  There was one flashing white light that marked the first one, but the others were unlit.  We could hear the waves breaking onto them, and barely see them as a "blacker" area in the water.  We sailed past the first one, and as we neared the end of the second one, I decided to turn between the second and third "island."  Well, that sure got my heart going!

As soon as we entered the pass, the wind got really flukey.  We paddled and sailed through the pass, and only hit one mud bank.  We got over that quickly and sailed out into Gullivan Bay.  I set a course to Panther Key and we had a pleasant sail under clear skies.  After a couple of tacks, we landed on a sandy beach on Panther Key.  We got camp set up, ate our dinner, and hit the tent.  I ended getting up after a few minutes and moved the boat; I was concerned about it floating away (I'm not used to tides...)  I got the boat secured and was quickly asleep.

EC2011 - Day 2 addendum...

In the previous post, I told the story of our nighttime sandbar / mudbank incident.  I forgot to post the corresponding picture showing our track overlayed on a Google sattelite map:


Friday, March 18, 2011

EC2011 - Day 2

After some much needed rest at Grande Tours (CP1) we loaded up the boat and paddled out towards Pine Island Sound.  As we were leaving, we passed Bosab in his Hobie TI,  Krunch/Woodcutter in SCAMP, and Scareman in his tandem kayak.  

Once out from under the "filter" bridge, we pulled up next to some mangrove, and I put the mast back up.  The wind was now building out of the northwest, which would mean for a great ride down Pine Island Sound.  We had already decided to make it a short day, since we had not had any real sleep since about 5AM on Saturday.  Our destination was Chino Island, on the southern end of Pine Island Sound.  From what I had read, Chino Island was some developer's dream, there is a channel cut into it, but nothing more.  If things were different, it may have been covered with exclusive houses, but instead, it is just sand and mangrove.  We enjoyed a great run across Gasperilla Sound heading towards Cayo Costa.

As we neared Boca Grand Pass, I happened to look back at the rudder, and noticed that the pin holding my tiller extension to the rudder box was loose, the cotter pin had fallen out somehow.  We were pretty close to shore, so we sailed towards the least developed looking area so that I could fix it.  When the water was shallow enough, I hopped out and replaced the pin and cotter pin.  My lesson learned is to replace all cotter pins with cotter rings... they should stay in better!

Once back underway, the wind continued to build; we were flying past Cayo Costa State Park, then Cabbage Key, home of the "cheeseburger in paradise."  We resisted stopping to eat (they probably wouldn't have let us in the door) and kept flying down Pine Island Sound, averaging 5 to 6 kts.

We ended up sailing within sight of a yellow Hobie AI as the sun started to set.  We found out later that this was AhMaChamee, here is a really bad picture:

The wind continued to build, and I kept furling the sail to keep from burying the amas, this is what I ended up with:

Even with this tiny bit of sail, we were averaging about 4 kts, which was a little more comfortable in the dark and waves.  During all this time, I was struggling to stay awake.  I would close my eyes, count to 10, then check the GPS and compass to confirm I was on course.  I had plotted a straight line course to Chino Island, and I knew there was some shallow areas, but they were not charted well.  Well, I found one... I was drifting off, when BANG!  My rudder popped up (thanks to the autorelease clamcleat!)  Now I was awake!  I hopped out and started dragging the boat over the mud, the water was only a few inches deep.  As I dragged, it seemed that it was getting shallower, so I looked around and saw dry ground behind me.  I wandered around a bit, found the deeper water and dragged the boat over to it.  I hopped back in, and we finished the trip to Chino Island without incident.  Once close enough, I furled the sail away, Emily lit up the shore with our Ultrafire flashlight (900lm of awesome brightness) and found a semi-sandy looking beach.  We pulled the boat up, tied it up, and started pulling out gear.  I wandered around a bit, and found a beautiful flat sandy spot in from shore a bit, which kept us out of the wind.  Emily set up the tent while I got "dinner" started.  We were both dead tired, and once we ate and got things cleaned up, we hit the tent for some much needed rest.

EC2011 - Tampa Bay Videos

Thanks for Sirtackalot for these videos shot during the Tampa Bay crossing:



Thursday, March 17, 2011

EC2011 - Day 1 (and a half...)

Now that we are back home, it is time for an Everglades Challenge trip report.  

We left Michigan on Wednesday afternoon and drove about 24 hours, arriving in St Petersburg on Thursday afternoon.  Friday morning Emily dropped Sara and I off at Ft Desoto with the boat and our stuff, then left to pick up my parents at the airport.  I got the boat set up and mostly packed, then spent the rest of the day checking out all the other boats and attending the captains meetings.

We got up early on Saturday morning and were thrilled to see that the hotel opened up the breakfast area a bit early, maybe they knew there were a bunch of Watertribers staying there!   We got to the beach and finished packing the boat with our water and food.  The wind was out of the east so we would have a nice reach across Tampa Bay.  At 7am the horn went off and we hit the water pretty quickly.  

We had no trouble pushing and pulling the XCR into the water, even when loaded with all our expedition gear.  I pushed us out past the sandbar, hopped in and off we sailed!  

The sail across Tampa Bay was fantastic!  We hit a peak of 7.5 kts but spend most of the crossing at 5 to 6 kts.  As we neared Anna Maria Island I noticed that the bungee that was holding the leeward ama to the forward aka was getting loose.  This was potentially really bad news... if it let loose, we would have no righting moment and at risk of a capsize.  I leaned out and tried to re-lash it, but to no avail.  I reefed the sail way down and we paddled the last few hundred yards to the tip of Anna Maria Island.  We beached the boat and I re-lashed the ama, adding a couple extra loops for more security.  I had no more issues like this for the rest of the trip.  Turning the corner towards the southeast, the broad reach became more of a close reach / beat.  By about lunchtime, the wind started to die away, so we paddled and sailed through the afternoon.  For most of this time, were were within sight of Jarhead in his Sea Pearl and Capt Jack Otter in his Weta trimaran.


As the sun set and the wind totally died, we decided to go "inside" at Venice and paddle the rest of the way to CP1, about 25 miles.  Fortunately, the tidal current in Venice was helpful, and we paddled through the Venice canal with a bit of tidal pull.  At the end of the canal, we made our first mistake.  We decided to keep going, and not stop to eat.  We paddled for a few more hours and finally pulled over somewhere in Lemon Bay.  We were both semi functional by this time, but stubbornly decided to keep going; we were determined to get to CP1 without stopping!  By this time, the wind started to pick up again and we were able to sail in some of the wider parts of the bay.  We continued to paddle and sail as the sun started to come up on Sunday morning.  As we neared Placida Harbor, we were fighting tide and wind in the narrow channels.  Entering Placida Harbor, we tried again to sail.  However, the channel is very narrow, and most of the rest of the harbor is very shallow with lots of mud and oyster bars.  By this time, the wind was 15 to 20 kts from the south east, pretty much exactly where we wanted to go.  We attempted to sail, but kept hitting bottom, so we finally drifted (got blown) into shore and I pulled the mast down.  We attempted to paddle, but ended up getting blown in between some boat piers.  We tried, and failed, to paddle out from between them, so I finally resorted to removing one of our amas and pulling the boat under all the piers and along the shore.  

Finally, I hopped in and we paddled under the bridge at the end of the harbor, and into CP1 at about 11:20am on Sunday, 40 minutes before the "deadline."  We chatted with some of the other racers there and with Pelican who was the race manager.  It turns out that were were far from the only team to have struggled the first day.  Many boats never made it to CP1 and quite a few dropped out when they got there.  We ate some food, filled our water, and rested for a couple hours.  

We planned a short remainder of the day, planning to sail about 25 miles down Pine Island Sound to Chino Island.  More to come next... stay tuned!