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 five years, I think we deserve a break… or at least a little vicarious diversion from the madness that surrounds us.
Funny how this rings true year after year, no matter what changes occur in Washington. 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. There is also a new tracking map provided through Race Owl. Between the two, the event should be well covered.
To truly get a feel for this event, I recommend you set aside an hour and a half to view this video about the 2013 running of the Everglades Challenge. There’s some excellent banjo and fiddle work as well.
This year close to a hundred 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?
In line with this more leisurely approach, I see a stalwart pair going by the names of Foghorn and Plumbcrazy are sailing a lug rigged Jim Michalak IMB sail beachboat. This design does not look like it belongs in a long distance expedition style competition. It has an eight foot cabin sitting on a thirteen and a half foot multi-chined pram hull with a leeboard. I have no idea how she is rowed or sculled when inevitably faced with unfavorable winds. There’s no other way to put it. She’s ugly, but she got spunk. I wish her well.
There is another Michalak design in the fray. She is the veteran Oaracle, a twenty foot multi-chined, lug rigged yawl with a six foot cabin made to handle rough water. Although not a classic nautical beauty, she does have a certain Michalak charm. The design itself is called the Frolic2. This particular boat and skipper, Lugnut, has completed several Everglades Challenges and won the class 4 race back in 2012. Both Lugnut and Oaracle are not practitioners of the leisurely approach.
Yes, I still plan on doing this some day. Until the day I push off the Fort DeSoto beach, I content myself with some local paddling and sailing in my Pungo 120 kayak. We have some wonderful venues in Stafford, Virginia. Lake Mooney is our new 500 acre reservoir that does not allow the use of gas engines. You see only kayaks and canoes now. On a rare windy day, my homemade sail rig moves my Pungo along quite nicely. We also have the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve on the Potomac River. This area has been left pristine since the Civil War. The wildlife viewable here is magnificent. And the canoe/kayak launch ramp to the Crow’s Nest Water Trail is just flat cool. We also have Abel Reservoir for a short afternoon paddle and commune with nature and the Mallows Bay area just a brisk two and a half mile paddle across the Potomac on the flood tide.
I must admit I am quite fickle in my love for boat designs. I have flirted with John Welsford’s Walkabout and Iain Oughtred’s MacGregor canoe. I now have a crush on the new Waterlust Sailing Canoe designed by Chesapeake Light Craft. This is a 17 foot yawl rig canoe with significantly more volume than the MacGregor. The rig is my beloved balanced lug. There is room to sleep within the hull. Secondary propulsion is the Hobie Mirage Drive. The prospect of using my aging, but still capable, leg muscles rather than my aging arm and shoulder muscles is enticing. I can still carry a Greenland paddle for the time when that new-fangled contraption inevitably gives out. A sailing canoe does not need a trailer and will take little space in my garage. Construction with the CLC kit will be a much simpler challenge. Those are significant selling points.
I’ll end this the same way I ended it last year. Some things will not change. In addition to building the boat and getting to Fort DeSoto, 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.
Plumbcrazy and Foghorn dropped out of the race this morning. I'm still surprised they came this far without demasting, capsizing or just flat being being swallowed by dragons out there. Here's a couple of photos showing their boat. I see ports in the hull that would serve as oar holes when opened. I salute those magnificent bastards for getting this far and for even attempting the race in that thing.