Wednesday, March 11, 2015

2015 Everglades Challenge Race Report

This years Everglades Challenge was one for the record books. Many challengers this year had personal best times into Checkpoint 1 at Cape Haze Marina where the event was officially canceled.  My Dad (DancesWithSandyBottom) and I tied up at 3:59 pm which happens to be 10 minutes FASTER than we did in 2013 and just 12 minutes after Jake (Poptarps) and I came into CP1 in 2014 in the Mosquito Trimaran. In short, we had a blast sailing down the outside this year and decided to quit after CP1. For the long version continue below...

As I posted earlier in the week we had just completed the retrofit of our new weighted centerboard of proven design into our CS20 'Dawn Patrol' and we were really excited about its potential to improve life aboard especially at speed. Other changes to the boat this year included improving the design of our spray deflectors along the side decks and lowering the spinnaker halyard block and raising the running backstay connection to reduce mast bending under the load of the spinnaker. All of these changes were huge successes especially the centerboard which we found to be vastly easier to use in shallow water and which made grounding much less of a scramble to raise the board which used to be held down by shock cords. Now the board just gently raises and slows the boat very little as it drags the bottom until it is hoisted.

On race morning we completed final tasks before heading over for the roll call. Sails hoisted, SPOT on, gopro mounted, rollers inflated, and a walk out into the water to check the depth of the sandbar about 20 yards off the beach. I thought we might need rollers to get over it but we ended up floating right over.

We had checked the forecast and knew to expect about 15 knots out of the NE and for us that meant a deep reach across the bay to Passage key and then out into the gulf. We know our boat pretty well and knew that we could easily handle full sail for the conditions in front of us and did not put in a reef. I noticed that others were reefing for the start, a decision that is up to the captain of his or her vessel based on conditions and experience. We were at the west end of the beach flanked by an I550 and Ridgerunner and Greybeard in their CS20 Mk3. At 7 am we heard Paula giving the all clear to launch and we made fast work of getting to the water. With one long push we rolled over our 3 inflated roller and down the beach sliding the last 10 feet over wet sand and finally into the water. We collected our rollers, threw them into the cockpit, and were off on a reach gliding along in the relatively flat water just off shore.

Just before launch. CS-20 Mk3 at left.

Pushing over sandbar at the start.

I looked back as we gained distance over the pack. I think we were one of the first Class 4 boats to get going but we knew we would almost certainly be caught up by Graham's EC-22 which was chartered by Chupacabra and Flysonwater. Sure enough they were about even with us about half way across the bay. We never thought twice about the conditions or that anyone else would be struggling to get across the bay at that time. We were occasionally surfing down the swells and averaging about 7-9 knots with bursts up to 11.

Halfway across the bay. EC-22 to starboard. 

We were sailing close to Coastie and Clamcounter on their Hobie Getaway as we made our way to the inside of Passage key. They had their sail slightly eased which allowed us to just about match them for speed. We made the jibe together into the pass that lead to the gulf. The EC-22 had chosen to leave Passage key to port which gave us quite a head start down the coast as we entered the gulf hugging the beach. We jibed again onto port where we would stay all the way to Stump Pass. We could see the Class 5 leaders out ahead becoming specs on the horizon as expected.

Sailing with Coastie and Clamcounter on Hobie Getaway.

We did our best to hold off the EC-22 but it steadily gained and then passed us again and then eventually disappeared from view. They arrived in CP1 1 hour ahead of us. We knew we couldn't keep up with them in these conditions but we also knew that it was a long race (usually) and that reaching downwind won't last forever. I hoped that lighter conditions in the coming days and the natrual filters the course offered would favor us in the end. We know full well that the narrow winding route into and out of CP2 can bring challengers back head to head with one stroke of the tide. Florida bay can grab your bottom and not let go for hours or even days so it's never over until it's over but i guess we will never know.

I saw a CG chopper headed south and remember thinking I hope nothing has happened to anyone out ahead in Class 5. Later we saw what I assume was the same chopper headed back toward Tampa. On our way South we were also passed by Gadgetgirl in her tricked out Weta trimaran. She had a reef in and was sliding right by us. I got some gopro footage of her as she passed. A few hours later she was out of sight.

Gadgetgirl Sails past. 

We were about 25nm from Stump Pass where we would enter to reach CP1 when my phone rang. I left my phone on in the cabin because we carry a house battery on board with a 100watt solar panel on the cabin roof and can easily charge our phones during the race. The battery also powers a tiller pilot which we use in light air and while rowing in dead open water. The caller was Steve our shore contact who did a great job and posted about us on his blog 'Log of Spartina' keeping tabs on us during the event. He left us a message relayed from Kayakman7 that the CG had made numerous rescues in Tampa bay and was putting a mandatory weather hold on the event and that we were instructed to seek safe harbor immediately. After discussing the meaning of the message and calling Steve back to confirm we made the decision to seek safe harbor at CP1 by way of Stump Pass. We altered course to close our distance from the beach to less than a mile and took stock of the situation as we read up on the happenings in Tampa bay via facebook posts and the watertribe forum.

The wind had started to lighten to about 10 knots as we ticked off the final miles to Stump Pass. By this time we had read the CG bulletin indicating that they were "terminating" the event due to the rescues and the deteriorating conditions and at about that same time the sun came out and the wind lightened even more. We tacked into Stump Pass on a slight incoming tide. At that point we considered the option of simply sailing right on by CP1 and continuing our vacation to Key Largo but thought it would be a good idea to call the CP1 manager first. Izatarock thought that we should come in to the CP anyway since it wasn't clear at that point if the event may be allowed to continue and also they had pizza. We tied up at 3:59 pm and proceeded to the Pizza.

Tied up at CP1. Where is the pizza. 

At 5pm those challengers that were at CP1, some of whom had been waiting for hours, were ready to make a decision regardless of what came down the pipe and together all challengers attempted to agree on how to proceed. In the end, most wanted to continue but many had no interest in sailing all the way into CP2 or CP3 except maybe to refill water. We basically decided to all do whatever we wanted regarding the actual EC route and knowing that if the event was officially restarted we may all be officially disqualified.  Shortly thereafter most departed CP1 including us and the EC-22. We knew at that point that SandyBottom had stopped for many hours on the ICW and that she had decided to possibly continue at a more relaxed pace and not plan to make Key Largo by kayak. It was clear that many challengers were wrestling with the idea of continuing anyway or calling it quits to save vacation time and money on hotels booked at the finish.

Chupacabra and Flysonwater on the EC-22 indicated to us that they would likely stop to camp at Sanibel on the south end of Pine Island Sound. They planned to probably skip CP2. We made our way south and sailed under the Placida harbor swing bridge together with them with a few pulls of the oars. The sun was setting as we picked up speed into the open water of Charlotte Harbor and the EC-22 began to leave us behind. In the darkness we avoided day markers now almost invisible as we splashed our way across the large fetch of the mouth of Boca Grande inlet. We were getting wet, it was getting colder, we were depressed and still in shock at the events of the day. This was not fun and so we decided to camp for the night in Pelican bay. We settled into a sweet anchorage and read up on all the latest posts. By morning we decided it would be more fun to just sail back to Tampa where we could take the boat out and then go retrieve SandyBottom. We sailed out Boca Grande and started north where we took stock and realized that it would be well after dark before we would arrive at the Fort DeSoto Boat ramp so we just sailed right back into Stump Pass and back to CP1. We caught another incoming tide and tied up at the marina right at noon on Sunday just in time for the makeshift awards ceremony for the Ultra Marathon which i guess technically wasn't "terminated". There we had hot dogs, beans, and potato salad. You may note at this point that we have managed to eat almost none of the food that we actually brought with us in the boat for the event.

By this time SandyBottom was being picked up by Kiwibird and together they would meet us at CP1. We spent the remainder of Sunday talking with watertribers at CP1 about what had happened and trying to salvage the time we had with each other. Many were planning to just head home at that point and we would do the same. We were on the road Monday morning headed back to NC.

I have tried to keep up with all of the posts on WT, facebook and SA but for the most part will sit out of any online discussion until more facts are published and the Chief has had the opportunity to speak to the CG on our (watertribes) behalf. I know that this years stumble will only strengthen and improve the everglades challenge an the watertribe organization as a whole. I look forward to future discussions on how we can all better plan for and mitigate the effects of weather on our small boat events as well as improve the process by which challenger preparedness and the security of their chosen craft is evaluated. I do not fault the CG for their abundance of caution although I believe that this event could have safely resumed. I thank them for aid rendered to any triber and try never to forget that I may well really need them next time.


Will Summers said...

Sorry to hear about this man. This event has been getting more and more coverage over the years. I was surprised to see it pop up on SA a couple of times last year. Hope no one got it too much trouble.

Team Cat Fever said...

Nice summary. I always enjoy following you and your family. Sorry it worked out like it did, but the WT will be stronger for it in the long run. Still would like to try it someday, and am presently in the market for a Tornado, so who knows.
Congrats on always keeping it fun.

Trisail said...

Nice blog ... Was kicking myself for not bringing the GoPro year!


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