Everglades Challenge 2016 – TTG

”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. Borg aspirants, no? It is no wonder so much self serving and destructive idiocy is produced in Washington. As I have said for the last four 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 the running of the Everglades Challenge which begins this Saturday morning. 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. 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

To truly get a feel for this event, I recommend you set aside an hour and a half to view this video about 2013 running of the Everglades Challenge. There’s some excellent banjo and fiddle work as well. For a sense of the history of the area, here’s an interesting article about Chokoloskee in the Oxford American.

This year 98 boats will be taking up the challenge. Some will not make it to Key Largo. Some may not even make it to Fort DeSoto. It’s been said that half the challenge is getting to the start. I believe it. The winners usually make the voyage in two days or so. The allowed time limit for successfully finishing the race is eight days. I would take the full eight days. Why rush to shorten such a grand experience?

I discovered this event several years ago. It’s still on my bucket list, along with building the boat. As I approach 63, I’m not worried about running out of time. One Water Triber named Jarhead (a former Marine officer) is doing the Florida Coastal Challenge of about 1,600 miles. He set sail a week ago from the Alabama border, making his way along the Florida panhandle in his 21 foot Sea Pearl. By Wednesday evening he was approaching Fort DeSoto. This is the latest Water Tribe forum update on his progress as of 1700 hours, 2 March:

Just heard from Jarhead. He said he is not going to come into Ft. DeSoto tonight. He is going to head inside Anclote Key, drink a beer and smoke a cigar. He sounded great and said, "I love sailing again."

This old coot is 71 years old. BTW, before anyone takes offense, I look forward to being referred to as an old coot.

Yes, I still plan on doing this some day. In addition to building the boat, I have to obtain a release from SWMBO to undertake such a crazy-assed and dangerous adventure. She has stood by me through thick and thin and, quite frankly, has had her fill of my risking life and limb. She would be happy to have us live out the remainder of our lives quietly, happily and contentedly as hobbits in the shire. This sounds wonderful… but the ring still calls out for me. 


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43 Responses to Everglades Challenge 2016 – TTG

  1. Bill H says:

    Yes, “old coot” is a compliment. I had a grocery clerk contradict me the other day, assuring me that I was not old with the thought that she was being kind. I assured her that I worked hard to get here and thoroughly enjoy being old. (Slightly older than your “Jarhead.”)
    I spent quite a few years sailing a Lightening class sailboat around some of those waters, and would love to do the Challenge. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s Disease makes sailing in a millpond a bit of a challenge so I have moved on to other things. Part of life is learning to enjoy what you do while you can do it and then find out what else you can enjoy doing.

  2. YT says:

    Sir, to call you an “old coot” would be most disrespectful…
    What was your rank when you left the military?
    I’ve always addressed our host by rank.
    (This is not yours truly kissing ass but my part in honoring you Veterans.)
    So have I when posting Brig. Ali.
    (I’ve only neglected addressing him by his army rank once recently by mistake – butter fingers.)
    After all, many of you here are several decades my senior – my Ol’ Man’s age – if he were still on this earthly Terran.
    Some are destined to leave this world like Achilles & Alexander – the Fates have deemed it so, achieving Ever-lasting Immortality in the hearts of many.
    Others like you however shall simply “fade away” (in Bliss) like the “American Caesar (Douglas McArthur)…

  3. Fred says:

    ” I have to obtain a release from SWMBO…”
    It sounds like we need to coordinate a team from SST, kind of like the guys in “The Great Escape”.

  4. No team necessary, Fred. I am a willing hostage of a loving embrace. I will go only with her blessing, knowing that the blessing will still be accompanied by worry and apprehension.

  5. YT,
    I get your point. I always refer to Brigadier Ali as Brigadier Ali and to Colonel Lang as Colonel Lang on SST. Sitting across the table, it’s Pat. That’s a function of habit. BTW, I retired as a lieutenant colonel of Infantry.

  6. dsrcwt says:

    TTG, have you thought about skin on frame construction? I’ve been looking at building a small boat and have narrowed it down to this one: http://gentrycustomboats.com/Annabelle.html
    They’re very light, and apparently go together pretty quickly. We’ve been reading the “Swallows and Amazons” series by Arthur Ransome with my daughter and she is eager to be “ships boy” before graduating to “able seaman” and “mate”

  7. Medicine Man says:

    I usually call our host here “Col. Lang” because I don’t feel I know him well enough to call him Pat (or Patrick because I’m not a Catholic School Nun) and insistently calling him “Mr. Lang” would seem a bit disrespectful given that he’s actually earned a title.

  8. Joe100 says:

    TTG –
    Could you ask “Jarhead” what TBS class he was in?

  9. dsrcwt,
    When I was young, a friend of mine and I built a pair of skin on frame kayaks from plans in Popular Mechanics. We scrounged the wood and canvas and waterproofed them with house paint. We had a ball with them. That Annabelle design looks sweet and she’s a lot of boat that can be carried on a car roof. Good luck with that one.
    I became aware of the “Swallows and Amazons” series while looking at a CLC design in the works. Someone noticed it looked like a boat from the series. I found there was a movie based on the series.
    The CLC Nanoship camp-cruising design
    Swallows and Amazons trailer

  10. turcopolier says:

    Lt.colonels and colonels are all addressed as “colonel.” it is in the 3rd person that the distinction is made between them. pl

  11. Joe100,
    I don’t know him, but here’s a part of a bio from the Water Tribe site. I assume he’s a 30 year man so TBS around 1963 when he was 20 years old sounds about right?
    “Bill Fite (aka Jarhead) is 73 years old and lives in Tampa, FL. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1993 with a background in infantry and special operations, and is one of only a few US Marines to have the distinction of completing the British Royal Marines’ Commando Course and commanding a British Royal Marine rifle company.”

  12. Bill Herschel says:

    Watched the beginning and skipped ahead (will watch in its entirety later). Mangrove swamps? I guess the burmese pythons don’t mistake the boats for alligators.
    I was impressed with Standup Guy. I was going to write that a Frenchman would do it on a windsurfer.
    Which reminds me of a somewhat irrelevant quote from Olivier de Kersauson, when he was asked if he would sail around Cape Horn again single-handed, “If you stick your finger in the Devil’s asshole and he doesn’t turn around, you don’t do it again.”

  13. Brunswick says:

    Perhaps, with her own boat, SWMBO might enjoy sailing.

  14. Bill,
    I think there’s a windsurfer in the line up this year. There’s also a new design built for expeditions like this that can be used as a sit on kayak, windsurfer or stand up paddle board. Should be interesting.
    I chose to go to winter Ranger School just to miss the snakes and gators. Luckily there were no pythons back then. I do remember the cypress knees in the Florida swamps. We called them dammit stumps, because we were always bashing our legs on them.
    I love that quote. It gave me a good laugh. It’s also about an accurate assessment of getting away with surviving some crazy-assed adventure. I was doing Zen rock climbing before it was called that. We just couldn’t afford ropes and pitons. Hell, we couldn’t afford chalk dust.

  15. Brunswick,
    She just barely swims and is prone to motion sickness. She was always afraid that I would want us to live on a boat when I retired. She was thrilled when we bought a house on dry land. Although she grew up near Saratoga, NY, she didn’t see the sea until we drove to San Francisco on our way to Hawaii.

  16. DickT says:

    For anyone (especially those of us over 65) interested in this kind of boating I highly recommend a subscription to Messing About in Boats.

  17. Fred says:

    That’s the best kind of relationship to have. It would be fun to try and figure out just what kind of team we could get together though. I think there would be lots of competition for the head scrounger role.

  18. Walrus says:

    I’m very attached to my classic 1936 Vertue class yacht which can take me anywhere in the world if i have a mind to go. I’ve built a sport boat with my son (i550) and when I finish my current project (a Two seat aircraft) I plan on building a Barnegat Sneakbox.

  19. dsrcwt says:

    I like that Nanoship, and I think I saw Scamp by John Welsford on this thread last year, a boat so ugly it is adorable. I’d like to do a stitch and glue boat like Nanoship or Scamp or Navigator but know that my daughter will be too old to hang with her old man by the time I finish a boat like that. Too many projects, not enough time.

  20. Damn, Walrus! The only thing in that fleet I could ever hope owning/building is the Sneakbox. Happy adventures.

  21. YT says:

    Ah, sir, we are in accord.

  22. Walrus,
    Is this Lake Eyre Yacht Club anywhere near you? One of the photos shows what looks like an i550.

  23. Brunswick says:

    My SWMBO has motion sickness problems as well,
    But the funny thing is, the size of the boat matters, dinghy’s, canoes, etc are fine,
    even in choppy water if she’s in charge,
    Boats you can stand up on, especially if they are rolling, no good, unless,
    One night sleeping onboard, seemed to “fix” the problem.
    We would start out sailing trips by sleeping at the dock, with me getting up at the outgoing tide, putting the kettle on, casting off the lines and heading out,
    She would wake to seabirds calling, fresh coffee and the boat underway to some place we hadn’t been before.

  24. Doug Colwell says:

    “Willing hostage of a loving embrace”. My kind of poet. I salute you.

  25. Walrus says:

    The Lake Eyre yacht club is about 600 miles from here. It operates when a hurricane dumps enough water about a five hundred miles North to fill the lake. The boat in the foreground looks a little like an i550 but without a keel.
    My son saw the youtube video shown below and said “Dad, lets build one!” a friend has a big warehouse and we rented a corner, got the plans on a memory stick and bought a stack of weatherproof (not marine, same adhesive but not as good quality veneers) ply.
    Fifty five gallons of West System epoxy later, we had our boat. The rig was carbon and the spinnaker the biggest we could fit. It went like a little rocket and reminded me of the dighies I used to race Forty years ago.
    This Easter think I am sailing (?) a 72 foot luxury stink boat from Sydney to Brisbane with its new owner.

  26. mbrenner says:

    Here’s a tip for those who have no fondness for alligators, Burmese pythons or world-class mosquitoes. Head up the north coast of California – above San Francisco. Too rugged for most, a tough drive, no golf courses (one exception), and lots of summer fog. Just the sea, the redwoods, the wind and the wild meadows. A few places to launch a boat, or canoe up the Medocino River. Even a few dead spots where cell phone reception fades. Best (sunniest, warmest) time of year: Sept, Oct or May. Numerous rentals for varying periods in a variety of secluded, scattered private houses of all shapes and sizes that are part of Sea Ranch – a 10 mile long stretch along the coast.
    Public access assured – it’s the law – unlike Florida. Billionaires require visas.

  27. Brunswick says:

    Stitch and glue go together fast.
    At one time a cornerstone competition at WoodenBoat festivals was the “dirty boat” race, where teams of 2 had 8 hours to build the boat from scratch,
    then race it down a course the next day.
    A few years ago, suffering from severe back injuries, I survived cable tv by building a lapstrake sided drift boat in the basement, in a month of puttering.
    The hardest part of the whole project was getting it out of the basement.

  28. William RAISER says:

    Thanks for the link to the video. Neat. I hope you give it a go.

  29. Jag Pop says:

    Have raced my canoe but owning a Grumman fiberglass means you are not in it for the win.
    Must be getting old — no, I have to face it, I *am* getting old. My first reflex to “300 nautical miles” was, “where is the pleasure in that?” (I am barely older than TTG)
    Top on my list is seeking out blueberry bushes that hang over the water. Observing wildlife is music for the soul and…and…just being there refreshes (I’ll excuse my poetic limpness because it is 5:30 am in the morning)
    …darn it!…why does the brain store stuff like that? …darn it!…
    I just at this moment recalled the time that I spotted a gorgeous, youthful mink while on a narrow river. It seemed as curious about me as I was of him. It moved about a fall of rocks back and forth as if to find a better observation point to see me. Loved it!
    …then I got a life lesson…
    Another canoe was approaching from the other direction, and when we passed I shared. I gave the pair in the other canoe the opportunity to get a view of the awesome creature too. I pointed the mink out.
    One in the other canoe was vocal and excited too…!
    He said he was going to come back with a gun and have it stuffed for his mantel.
    Lesson learned…keep your mouth shut around “people”

  30. Bill Herschel says:

    The kuleana site is really interesting. They don’t tell you how much it weighs which might be an issue, and they do tell you how much it costs which is an issue. But for the Everglades Challenge it looks about right. I was thinking that a two man crew might be a good thing, but it kind of diminishes the “Challenge” part.
    I don’t have a boat, but I’m thinking of either a Sunfish or a Starboard, a really wide one. It’s just for Peconic Bay at the end of Long Island, but there is a ton of wind which is all you need. We just moved there. The only thing I have ever done that was dangerous (aside from driving too fast when I was younger) is go swimming in the surf. I don’t surf and I am a torpedo body surfer, i.e. I go perpendicular to the wave not parallel. I’ve done it for a long, long time and am now becoming far more cautious (a friend of mine told me that they take one or two people out of the surf every year with cervical fractures, quadriplegic). There’s stuff I would have gone out in in a second earlier, but now I give it a pass. But I love it. Waves are a blessing.

  31. Bill Herschel says:

    The only problem is the water temperature. I once went down to the beach in Carmel (as a tourist, I was pretty impressed that the cheapest car around was a monster Mercedes) and took my shoes and socks off to check out the water. I had to chip the ice off my feet to get them back on.
    And you forgot to mention that the wetsuit you have to wear makes you look like the natural prey of the great white sharks.
    But that’s only for people who are crazy about the ocean. Yes, the rest of it is a paradise from what I understand.

  32. Bill Herschel says:

    Have you read The Dance of the Dwarves by Geoffrey Household? It will give you new appreciation of the mink family. A terrific adventure yarn.

  33. That area by Carmel and Monterrey is beautiful. I wasn’t aware of the cold water. Another beautiful area is the Maine coast but I remember how cold that water was around Bar Harbor. Closer to home I have the Crows Nest Nature Preserve and the new Lake Mooney. The former is an area on the Potomac preserved from the developers by the Herculean efforts of State and local officials and conservationists. The latter is a new 500 acre reservoir that will be open to public use this spring. No gasoline engines allowed. Both areas are about ten miles from my house. My younger son and I will be kayaking both.

  34. Bill,
    I’m going to build a small sail rig for my kayak this year. Something cheap and not too complicated that I can strap on the front of my Pungo 120. You may want to think about something like that for Peconic Bay. Something like this:
    I understand the caution after hearing about those nerve damage injuries. I’ve been scared to death of nerve damage since my helo repelling accident in 1980. I still continued to stick my finger in the devil’s asshole several times since them, but I’m becoming more reluctant to do so as time goes by.

  35. Bruce D says:

    Wonderful post there, TTG. May you sail the Everglades of your dreams.

  36. Jag Pop says:

    No, but intrigued. I read reviews here:
    and opinions are all over the map. That could be a good thing.
    But, did you drop a spoiler? That wouldn’t be a good thing.

  37. Fred says:

    “those who have no fondness for alligators…”
    The bigger the gator the fewer the tourists.

  38. Bill Herschel says:

    The YouTube is priceless. And the rig looks really simple and well-engineered.
    I really like speed. I like to be heeled over as far as possible, and inevitably turning over sometimes. Obviously, a catamaran is the ideal thing to be fast in, but they don’t really point that well, and getting them back upright is work. A sunfish or a sailfish is terrific because they’re easy to right and you can thrill seek as much as you want. Windsurfers are a little more work to right, but that’s the challenge, to not have to right them. But I’m clearly not talking about 20 knot stuff, just moving quickly and feeling like you’re moving quickly. The tremendous advantage of a windsurfer is that you can stand up. You have to get up to about 70 feet before you can stand in a sailboat again, and then it’s not really a sailboat.
    There are a ton of inlets with birds and deer and concealed snapping turtles (actually snapping turtles are nocturnal) where we are and plenty of kayaks. But I like to sail. SWMBO likes sailing too, which probably means that it won’t be a sunfish. A small class boat. I don’t want to hassle with a jib. We’ll see.
    Thanks again for the link to the Japanese fellow. Excellent.
    You mention your son. The member of the family who poses the most danger to the Devil is my youngest daughter who is demure and studious on land and is going to give me a heart attack in the water. They’ve swum since they were 8 months so I can’t swim after them and just have to shout and pray.

  39. dilbert dogbert says:

    For those of you not up to 300 ocean miles, I recommend the US San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands. There are many marine parks on both sides of the border. Boating up there is like sailing on a lake with tides. I have lots of memories of boating up there in my San Francisco Pelican. Last year the wife and I and another couple did a biking exploration of the US San Juans. We kayaked off San Juan Island to view the J Pod Orcas and had an exciting close encounter with a female and her offspring. At 80 years old my sailing days are numbered. That said, I and the wife as crew won our class two years running at the Folsom Lake Regatta – The Camellia Cup.
    Full disclosure: Owner of a 17 ft Boston Whaler, S.F. Pelican, a 17ft Herishoff pulling boat, a lapstrake planked pramm from Chapelle and a John Gardner plywood pramm. Also have a Sunfish, 7 kayaks and 3 standup paddleboards.
    Thanks for the link to the Water Tribes adventure.

  40. Fred says:

    That’s a good idea that gentleman has. The Kuleana’s look good too. I saw a few varieties of those fishing kayaks last trip to Florida. I may invest in one. (Couldn’t do that canoe building project as I sold the house recently. Downsizing feels pretty good and is saving me a good chunk of cash too.) Have you done any fishing off one of these rigs?

  41. Fred,
    I know kayak fishing is big everywhere. I haven’t done it yet, but I can’t think of a better way of getting into the weeds and tangles. I’ve seen pictures of kayak fishing for halibut, marlin and tarpon. What a way to even out the odds between fisherman and fish. Now that you mention it, a kayak would be a great platform for going after the invasive snakeheads that are in my area.

  42. Thanks for this post. I didn’t even know that the US San Juan islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands even existed. I must add this to my list of must-kayak spots. Thanks for sharing.

  43. James D says:

    Thanks for the post. I didn’t even know the Everglades Challenge even existed. I’ll definitely be checking it out! Get out on the water as often as possible!!

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