Everglades Challenge 2014 – TTG

Wind in the willows
"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Ratty is definitely on to something. To be on the water in any kind of craft can be therapeutic. IMHO the sound of the surf can only be equalled by the sound of the wind in the pines. Both together… heaven. You can’t buy that kind of therapy with a million dollars. One of the saddest things I often saw on the streets of D.C. was the herds of young, ambitious suits with ear buds in their ears, eyes and thumbs glued to their smartphones, totally oblivious to their surroundings. It is no wonder so much self serving and destructive idiocy is produced in Washington. As I have said for the last two last years, I think we deserve a break… or at least a little vicarious diversion from the madness that surrounds us.

Once again, I invite the SST Committee of Correspondence to follow this year's running of the Everglades Challenge which begins this Saturday morning. I discovered this event several years ago. It’s still on my bucket list, along with building the boat. The event is organized by a colorful group of adventurers who call themselves the Water Tribe. The Everglades Challenge is an unsupported, expedition style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats. It starts at Fort DeSoto in Saint Petersburg, Florida and ends at Key Largo. The distance is roughly 300 nautical miles depending on one's course selection. There is a time limit of eight days. Updates on the progress and tribulations of the participants will be posted on the Water Tribe forums. The boats are tracked by SPOT satellite. Their progress can be seen on this tracking map.   

This year 140 boats will be taking up the challenge, including 26 mono hulled sailboats, the class that most interests me.  Most will probably not make it to Key Largo. Some won’t make it to Fort DeSoto. It’s been said that half the challenge is getting to the start. I believe it.


I will be following the progress of OffTheCharts and his son, Waverider, in their John Welsford designed SCAMP named Fat Bottom Girl. This is the first attempt for this father-son team and the second attempt for the SCAMP design. The first attempt in the EC2011 ended with SCAMP #4 stranded on the mud flats of Florida Bay only 35 miles from the finish. Such is life. It still beats working in D.C.

The SCAMP is a twelve foot sailing dinghy with a 100 square foot balanced lugsail. It’s become quite popular since its debut in EC2011. Over 250 sets of plans have been bought by builders and dreamers, spawning an active, worldwide community. A 69 year old retired gentleman, named Fred, living on the island of Panay in the Philippines built a SCAMP last year. He’s a boater, but not a sailor. He shared his trepidations about his lack of sailing skill and the fear of being swept out to the Sulu Sea with the SCAMP community. An experienced sailor penned a response that I found both practical in the near term and profound in the far term… as in a valuable life lesson.

"The old timers did it the same way us new timers do it, only we have more information. The art of seamanship is largely about situational awareness. First you want to learn how to sail your boat to get where you want to go in any wind direction. It looks like the wind will blow you toward shore so pick good days, tack out, half a mile is plenty. And sail on all points, like practicing a musical instrument… do it a lot until you are confident that you can do anything without having to think about it." 

"While still close to home, learn the currents. When you are anchored, throw a block of wood into the water. Which way does it go? So now you are building information about what forces are acting on your boat and what you can expect your boat to do. The art of seamanship involves balancing the natural forces acting on you with what you can and cannot or don't want to do relative to those forces. You will begin to develop a sense of boundaries in different conditions. A key skill is to develop a habit of constant awareness of changing conditions. The boundaries will change as conditions change."

"You don't often think about this much detail in a power boat because you can make it do whatever you want. Don't let a motor give you false confidence. With a motor you will be tempted to push those boundaries. A motor is quite capable of taking you where you shouldn't be and leaving you there. Realize that a motor can fail and send you on a trip to Palawan, too. With a failed motor you are helpless, with sail you can still direct your boat."

"The thing I would want to be aware of is the current: if it flows westerly you still have 40 or so miles of opportunity to make a land fall before you pass Anini-y. Does the current sweep out counter-clockwise? If the current is easterly it will sweep you into the bottleneck at Iloilo, is that a good thing? The best source of information about local conditions is local fisherman. They go to sea in conditions that recreational boaters stay home in so they know the sea in all her moods. Remember that their experience is probably with power boats, so adjust accordingly. And like fisherman everywhere they are apt to yarn and exaggerate a bit. But they DO know the currents and what to expect in different conditions." 

"Finally all of us who sail on the edge of a long trip to nowhere worry about what you are worrying about. That fear is always lurking in the back of your mind, embrace it…it will keep you alive and aware of your situation." (Small Craft Advisor)

That’s great guidance for anyone wanting to mess about in boats powered by sail, oar, paddle or yuloh. It speaks of a highly refined sense of self awareness and an equally refined awareness of the shifting environment that surrounds us. It’s an approach to life applicable to any endeavor, whether it be exploring the Chesapeake Bay by small boat, writing a book, raising a family or even just sitting in the gazebo watching the cardinals. Too bad more of our political leaders aren’t small boat sailors or bird watchers. 



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42 Responses to Everglades Challenge 2014 – TTG

  1. Alba Etie says:

    This is a timely post . Our Dad past peaceably -pain free , in home hospice Conroe ,Texas , Feb 25 . Our Dad , Bookie , was a great outdoors enthusiast ,hunting & fishing. We did learn to read the tidal currents , winds , and general environment to enjoy both of these sports. Later we expanded to canoeing & bird watching . We were learning about whooping cranes & brown pelicans being endangered long before it became ‘a thing ‘ . Hunters and fisherman , and it seems sailors have innate situational awareness that Small Craft Advisors spoke in response to the query from Panay.In fact before we had satellite weather reports , or GPS – Bookie would know , and taught us – when it was safe to launch that fourteen foot Falcon runabout in the Galveston surf for that dead reckoning run from the North Jetties to the first oil platforms some twenty miles out in the Gulf of Mexico . We caught a lot of kingfish ,cobia , & snappers at that rig . Yesterday I was sitting on the back stoop watching the cardinals & red wings blackbirds , grateful for having had Bookie as our Dad .

  2. jonst says:

    As an aside, TTG,it has been speculated (and you could prove it by me) that one of the reasons for the unprecedented popularity of Breaking Bad was its location and zeitgeist…far from the DC mentality or either of the coasts.
    It had a uniquely different feel about it. Away from a given cultural influence.
    Speaking of ‘getting away’ and the would-be lost souls of DC…

  3. nick b says:

    The Everglades Challenge is new to me. I have followed friends and colleagues before on the Newport Bermuda race, but this sounds far more interesting. Do some people really kayak 300mi in eight days? That’s very impressive.
    I would echo many of the things that Alba Etie said about fisherman, hunters and sailors. Part of the experience (the best part, I think) is finding your place within your surroundings by understanding its rhythms. Whether that be reading the water, or knowing that the fish bite will cease because bald eagles have come to share your space. I spend a good bit of time fishing, and I have my favorite spots. It’s in these places where, after passing many hours you begin to feel a sense of your own connection to it, and for the short time all things suddenly make sense. It is at these times I feel closest to God.
    I have fished the everglades and the gulf coast of Fl before. It’s an amazing place. As a younger man, one night on a small key in the southern gulf coast of Fl, I was amazed to look in the night sky and actually see with my naked eye M42, the Orion nebula, in Orion’s sword. It was like magic to me, as light pollution wipes out any chance of that where I lived. I can only imagine eight days at days at sea, in a small craft travelling near where water, land and sky meet could be a mystical experience. I hope for those folks blessed enough to have the time to do this, that at least part of their voyage is spent in the state of connection with where they are. Though sometimes at sea, it’s just about staying alive. I hope there more of the former and none of the latter.
    I will watch! And as the snow falls, be jealous.

  4. Fred says:

    Very timely post. I was enjoying some Anthromporhic time at the Dali museum it St. Pete yesterday. It looks like the racers should have some good weather for the start. At least I hope so since I’ll be fishing the bay Friday. Some very good advice on sailing from Fred (no relation – though I did serve on the Scamp) in the Philippines.

  5. nick b says:

    Going for grouper on Friday?

  6. Charles I says:

    Thanks, I’ve followed it with some interest and bemusement since you first cited it here. I live right on the water – 10 feet away – and have been a lifelong canoeist and one-time sailor. I still go fishing every day about 7 months a year, but the older I get the more content I am just to sit there and watch it all go by. Thanks for lengthening the view.

  7. Fred says:

    Nick b, snapper and jacks as we’re inshore in Sarasota. If nothing else it’s a day on the water.

  8. nick b says:

    Still good eating! Wishing you smooth seas and tight lines.

  9. dilbert dogbert says:

    Duckworks calendar is a good place to look for small boat activities: http://www.my.calendars.net/duckworks/d01/11/2014?display=Y&style=C&positioning=S
    The Col. and others can get a lot of boatbuilding information from Duckworks and the Duckworks Forum. Duckworks is a great place to buy reasonably priced equipment for building boats.
    I have been building and sailing small boats since 1967. I have been racing and cruising around San Francisco Bay Area and in the San Juan Islands. Racing is a good way to get to know your boat in a safe environment.

  10. LeeG says:

    PL, Matt Layden’s designs are perfect for this challenge. Sea worthy and small enough to manhandle around.

  11. The Twisted Genius says:

    The Duckworks magazine is a daily read for me, great stories, great tips and great bargains on nautical stuff.

  12. The Twisted Genius says:

    Yes, Matt Layden’s Enigma and Paradox are brilliant designs. I see he sailed Paradox from Connecticut down the Intracostal Waterway to the Bahamas. That’s pretty amazing for a 14 foot sailboat. He did the Everglades Challenge easily.

  13. The Twisted Genius says:

    So you were on the USS Scamp with the 7th Fleet. I gather you’re quite familiar with Subic Bay and Olongapo. I spent a month there on the USS Cleveland in 1978. “First wave, mount the hogs!”

  14. Charles I says:

    Condolences. R.I.P

  15. Fred says:

    Sadly the Scamp was based out of New London when I served aboard her. Never made Subic. Lots of time in the North Atlantic and the Med.

  16. turcopolier says:

    My sympathies, of course. pl

  17. The Twisted Genius says:

    Alba Etie,
    I just realized that your father passed this week. My sympathies, as well. I am grateful that you found this post comforting.

  18. Fred says:

    My condolences Alba Etie.

  19. nick b says:

    I apologize for not saying so when I first posted. Please accept my condolences too. I like this poem, it’s the only one I ever took the time to memorize. Maybe it is fitting?
    Under the wide and starry sky,
    Dig the grave and let me lie,
    Glad I did live, and gladly die,
    and I laid me down with a will.
    This be the verse you grave for me:
    Here he lies where he longed to me
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

  20. nick b says:

    If you ever find yourself on Martha’s Vineyard, you should check out Gannon and Benjamin on the Vineyard Haven harbor. I believe all they do is make and fix small wooden boats by hand. It’s a cool place to visit. I think there was a book written about them too, though the name escapes me. The ‘bunch of grapes’ book store in Vineyard Haven would have it for sure.

  21. Thomas says:

    My condolences too.

  22. AE,
    Condolences. But — without wanting to appear brutal — to die peaceably, and free of pain, is a blessing. Commonly, it is a blessing alike for the person who has reached the end of his or her life, and for those left behind. The devastation which a protracted and painful death can leave on the survivors can be immense. In that respect, modern medicine can cause havoc.
    As to your description of your father, it brings up odd British ambivalences. It is difficult to explain, but the British are never quite sure. On the one hand, there is in America the world of opportunity for ordinary people, which is I think part of what you are depicting, in your description of your father.
    On the other hand, there is the disregard of limits and of caution, which have characterised the American elites since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Alas, we also have forgotten the importance of these things. So I am not trying to be sanctimonious!

  23. The Twisted Genius says:

    nick b,
    We have a place here called the Alexandria Seaport Foundation that builds small wooden boats while apprenticing at risk youths from the D.C. area. My office, for several years, was less than a two minute walk from their Potomac River boathouse. It was a welcome break.

  24. nick b says:

    “Doing big things with small boats” how very cool!
    Any insight you can provide me to better follow this event? I have been unable to get the tracking map link to work for me (could easily be my computer is the issue). I have enjoyed reading some of the threads on the Water tribe forum, but Is there a dedicated thread that I am missing that focuses specifically on everyone’s progress? Thanks.

  25. turcopolier says:

    TTG et al
    I have owned several sailboats. the first was in the Canal Zone. It was a 25′ back yard class with a sloop rig. It was made of local mahogany, weighed a ton and was a keel boat. the ballast was Spanish cannon balls from Ft. San Lorenzo. It was a very forgiving boat. the last was a Cape Dory 10 or 14, I forget which. Fiberglass, centerboard, lots of bronze fittings, teak rails and thwarts, cat rig with red and white striped sails in Dacron. It was a lovely sail but tender to windward. I sailed it on Stillwell Lake at West Point. pl

  26. The Twisted Genius says:

    nick b,
    It seems the Challenge is a victim of its own popularity. The tracking page is probably overloaded. Chief says he’ll try to fix it tonight. For now, all we can do is check the forums. There are a lot of status updates in the various threads. Usually there are some photos and interesting stories among the threads. The weather seems perfect so far, almost too good.

  27. nick b says:

    I don’t have the stamina or the balls to take on a challenge like this. But reading the threads on Water tribe, I would’ve loved to drive someone’s car for them from Ft. Desoto to Key Largo, just to be a part. If you ever decide to make the voyage, let me know, I would gladly be your onshore support person.

  28. Fred says:

    The fishing was a bust but we did see a number of racers both offshore and in the intercoastal. Kayaks mostly and most with a sail rigged up. The weather is still good with winds running to 20 knots offshore.

  29. The Twisted Genius says:

    Nice boats. You should check out the Alexandria Seaport boathouse at the end of Duke Street if you haven’t done so already. They have an open shop every Tuesday evening. If it wasn’t so damned far away up 95 and 495, I’d be there often.
    I’m looking at Welsford’s Walkabout for a boat to build. The 16 foot hull is supposed to row like a fine pulling wherry. Important with the often windless conditions on the Potomac. I’d like to put the larger 100 square foot SCAMP lug sail on it rather than the original 78 square foot yawl rig. The designer says it’s doable. I put a scetch of it in the post. Don’t know when I’ll start, but I’ll probably begin with a few wooden blocks as a first project.

  30. The Twisted Genius says:

    Fred, the conditions sound ideal. As they say, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.

  31. Alba Etie says:

    nick b
    thanks a good poem

  32. Alba Etie says:


  33. Alba Etie says:

    We celebrated a life well lived today at Dad’s funeral ; we took turn telling hunting/fishing stories . My favorite one was the time we spent the two days and a night one November weekend in a bitter howling blue norther camping on the West Matagorda Bay Shore . We made camp late the first day , the next morning me & my friend Steve Roche told Dad we were going duck hunting , we schlepped eight dozen decoys about a half a mile on a mudflat . Did not fire one cap , but the saw many ,many ducks fying way high in the “Alberta Blue Clipper ” sky . We got back midday my Dad had found the one spot from the campsite where the outgoing tide had collected all the redfish (red drum ) and speckled trout ( spotted weakfish ) in one small tidal pool run of about twenty five yards . Literally catching fish in a barrel , my Dad had limited out for all three of us – it was quite amazing . We heard about that trip for a very long time – and the camp rule , that if you catch no fish , you clean all the fish . Yes we celebrated a life well lived today in Conroe , Texas .

  34. nick b says:

    I got the map to work today on my tablet. Still a no-go for the computer. I was blown away to see that at least two teams are already south of Marco Island. If they maintain their pace they’ll be drinking beers and eating stone crabs in Key Largo by lunch Monday, if not sooner. WOW!

  35. The Twisted Genius says:

    A Water Tribe member known as SewSew just finished the 300 mile race arriving at Key Largo in just over 35 hours. He sailed a homebuilt 21 foot trimaran that had to be a form of voluntary water boarding. Well, good on him. Well done. I don’t know whether to refer to him as a sailor or an aviator. My strategy would be to finish this eight day race in about seven and a half days. I’d want to savor the experience as long as I could. Plenty of other racers out there including, my favorite, Fat Bottom Girl.

  36. Charles I says:

    Well that’s literally water and wind borne wisdom, not a strategy.

  37. The Twisted Genius says:

    Fat Bottom Girl arrived at checkpoint 2 at 2:00 PM today. Thats 175 miles behind her and about 125 ahead of her. She’s averaging less than 4 knots, but doing just fine. Ahead of her lies the Everglades. She’ll stay on the “outside route” and will no longer have the light pollution of Florida development to mar the experience. Should be lovely.
    Here are a few photos of her arrival at checkpoint 2 on Facebook. You may have to be logged in to view it. She’s a prettily little boat with a perfect paint job for Florida.

  38. nick b says:

    I don’t ‘do’ Facebook, and I had no problems viewing the pics. Great stuff. Made me want to be in board shorts and a t-shirt in the worst way. Other than the cold front expected to roll through on Thursday, the weather looks great. Star viewing should be awesome, moon is waxing, but still no too bright. I bet they could count upto fifteen stars in the Pleiades (M45), if it’s optimal, twenty. Ugh, they get to sail, I get to take amtrak to Manhattan. I knew I’d be jealous.

  39. The Twisted Genius says:

    Fat Bottom Girl sailed into checkpoint 3 at Flamingo, Florida sometime late this morning. This was after 2 days of tacking against a southerly wind. She got in just in time. A serious storm blew in out of the Gulf. It knocked out power at Flamingo and took out the cell tower. Only 35 miles or so to go. She’ll probably take the long way around the south end of Florida Bay. The shallows of the Bay have foiled a number of sailboats already.
    Even with the storms, this has been a pretty good week for Fat BottomGirl. Just the wind, the sea, the sky, the sand and the mangroves. No worries about blithering idiots trying to stumble us all into World War III.

  40. The Twisted Genius says:

    Fat Bottom Girl sailed into Key Largo to finish the Everglades Challenge in grand style at 3 o’clock this afternoon. To my surprise, she took the direct route across the dreaded shallows of Florida Bay. The winds were out of the west at 20 knots. Not only did this make for some exhilarating sailing, but it helped keep the water level higher in the Bay. Father and son sailing across the Bay, probably at hull speed, after five days “at sea” must have been exhilarating. Word is they towed some fellow challengers in a disabled Sirocco 15 sailboat (broken centerboard) across part of the bay. Helping each other is allowed in these races so the Sirocco was able to successfully finish as well. Here’s a quick video of Fat Bottom Girl coming into Key Largo. Looks like she had a couple of reefs taken in.

  41. Fred says:

    Nice video. It looks like she was flying. Very nice break from the news. Maybe BHO could take a trip down to the Southern White House. Truman liked Key West as I recall. Hey’d get some good key lime pie at least, though there are a couple of good places on Key Largo for the Scamp crew to have some well earned desert.

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