Everglades Challenge 2017 – TTG

Rat-moleRatty 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?

Scott6      Images
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.

Oaracle12      Oaracle-1
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.

Waterlust_canoe      Waterlust-2      Waterlust-sailing-canoe-expedition-cruising-13
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. 

17201180_10212365520196708_7001384913046776982_n  Before         17191534_1569015193141233_5924036860833506311_n  After

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27 Responses to Everglades Challenge 2017 – TTG

  1. trinlae says:

    Before the earbud era, DC had more creative inhabitants. For example, my Italian immigrant grandfather, [who was a WW vet, grad of Georgetown School of Foreign Service (without having graduated high school), and census bureau cartographer,] once swam across the Potamac!
    When he wasn’t out of station mapping federal parklands, he was building himself a house in VA made of fieldstone!
    He was from the opera era; maybe that kind of more emotive, narrative genre of music inspired more creative activity among DC nine to fivers.

  2. Lars says:

    Get that kit, put it together and come down and have the time of your life. I spent 18 years in that area in my youth and there are a lot of options to make that trek, all of it through wonderful areas. I like your idea of using all 8 days. Let the young uns haste.

  3. trinlae,
    After 9/11 DIA brought in a lot of Reservists for extended active duty tours. We had a USNR Captain as an operating base commander. He was a laid back guy, but still salty. He lived in the BOQ on Bolling AFB. One day he rented a skiff at the outdoor center and took it across the Potomac River to Alexandria. His intent was to just have a few beers before motoring back to Bolling. He had a hell of a time finding a place to dock in Alexandria and couldn’t believe how inhospitable all the “dock masters” were. He finally found a place at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation and hit a few bars before motoring back. I don’t know of anybody else who did something like that. Like me, he never owned a smartphone.

  4. turcopolier says:

    I still have the author signed book on the building of whaleboats that I offered to you. pl

  5. Brunswick says:

    Phil Bolger’s Micro, was long dissed as a “sailboat”, by people who had zero experience sailing it.
    On paper, and in photo’s, it looks like a horrid sailor, where on the water, it was sweet, weatherly, capable of much bigger waves and weather than one would belive, and of course, beautifully managed extended cruising accomodations for two, into a tiny 16 foot shell.

  6. pl,
    I gotta get up to your neighborhood before the weather turns hot and ugly.

  7. Brunswick,
    I always admired that Micro. It’s eminently practical and unpretentious.

  8. JJackson says:

    I think part of the problem with with the air bud generation is over protective parenting. My wife was never very keen on my telling our children any tails from my own childhood that involved some of the freedoms I had and when I did tell them later they complained that they were never permitted to do anything quite as risky. I have sailed a fair bit in everything from a GP14 to a 3 masted Barque. In the later I sailed from the UK back to the UK with a trip around South America via the Magellan straits and Panama canal long before GPS so I used a sextant everyday away from land and there was no radio contact if we got into trouble. One of the trips I was not allowed to recount to the kids was in a Lanaverre 590 (light weight 20ft fiberglass trailer-sailer with steel drop keel) this has almost zero draft and two man trapeze so planes easily. It had a big cockpit and small cabin. We lived in Douala Cameroon at the time and I was about 17 and my brother is 4 years younger. I had seen on a map a possible route through the mangrove swamps from the Wouri river to a smaller river the Sanaga and then up the Sanaga (which was not really navigable and ment a lot of getting out of hte boat and wading around the sand banks in search of a channel). This then allowed passage of a creek up to lake. Again all before satellite mapping which meant the map I had looked at had an enormous white area with ‘uncharted’ written on it south of the lake. On the far end of the lake was marked ‘Pygmy village?’ and this is what I wanted to get to. I calculated about 5 days for the trip and persuaded my father who eventually persuaded my step mother. My father could not get that much time off so my brother and I took the boat down the Wouri and up the Sanaga and picked up my father from a bridge Friday night. We never found any sign of the village and the maps marking of a route to the lake was a little optimistic. We had to take down the mast as the jungle canopy crossed the stream at many points, we had to get out of the boat and sea-saw over tree trunks that had blocked the channel and when we got to the lake the channel disappeared into a papyrus swamp which had to punt through.
    There is a sequel to this anecdote. Some months later after I had returned to school in the UK my father was at a party where a research scientist recounted a tail of waking up one morning and seeing a yellow sailing dingy sailing across the lake, his colleagues were not in camp – they were radio tracking chimpanzees – and on their return refused to believe him as the boat had gone and having made the trip up that creek refused to believe it was possible for something that big to have got onto the lake. My father was able to explain that it had been real and not a hallucination as his friends had claimed.

  9. The Porkchop Express says:

    Have you built a CLC boat kit? If so, would you recommend them? I think I looked them up last year based on your post and have been looking to build a dory. Quality boats?

  10. JJackson,
    Marvelous story. Thanks for sharing it. Although modern GPS navigation devices are a boon to safety, I think the old ways of navigation are more satisfying to the soul. The idea of setting course on a best guess or just wanting to see where this goes appeals to me.

  11. Porkchop,
    I’ve never build a CLC boat. I did build a skin on frame kayak with scrounged scrapes of wood and canvas using plans from a Popular Mechanics magazine. I’ve run my hands over a few CLC boats. They are nice. I’ve never heard or read of a complaint about the CLC kits. The one thing I would recommend is to practice using epoxy and fiberglass before using it on boat kit. Nothing will chap your ass more than to do a botched fiberglassing job after weeks/months of painstaking boat assembly.

  12. JJackson says:

    My father currently has a 60ft aluminum cutter with GPS, auto pilot etc. but I don’t trust any of it. While it is useful, as long as it works, I can not fix any of it if it breaks so we still carry a sextant, lead line, Walker log etc. just in case. He is 85 now and can not sail it unless I take him out so the boat sit unused in Cartagena (Spain) unused most of the time which is a terrible shame as it was designed and equipped for a round the world voyage.

  13. The Porkchop Express says:

    Thanks for the advice. Never put a boat together and was looking for a new project. Appreciated !

  14. You’re welcome. CLC has an active builders forum and there are plenty of people who have documented their builds on blogs. Spend more time than you think is necessary studying that stuff before starting the build. Good luck.

  15. LeaNder says:

    Great story, JJ. Fascinating.

  16. All,
    The start of the EC 2017 has a 24 hour weather hold due to a small craft advisory issued by the National Weather Service. This is a prudent measure taken due to the problems that occurred during the crossing of Tampa Bay last year. There were several calls for rescue and the Coast Guard called off the race. This year, the Chief decided to reduce the possibility of a repeat performance. The waves and winds of Tampa Bay seem to be a major hurdle for the tribers every year.

  17. lindaj says:

    What a relief this was from the Russia Russia Russia stuff.

  18. turcopolier says:

    We welcome material like this but this is essentially a serious military/political blog. pl

  19. Lars says:

    The seas should be OK, but they are having some serious winds to deal with. It is blowing hard in Florida this morning too. It seems a few have made some very good progress.

  20. They’re off! The “fleet” officially took off from check point 1 at Cape Haze Marina. The weather and seas seemed toi be idyllic at 7:00 AM this morning.

  21. lindaj,
    I’m glad you enjoy this diversion. I enjoy presenting them. I am also grateful that Colonel Lang allows me to share these diversions with all of you. But, as Colonel Lang says, this is essentially a serious military/political blog dealing with serious and momentous subjects. I’m also grateful for that.

  22. trinlae says:

    Thanks for sharing the fantastic pics and details.
    There are still guys teaching hand made shipbuilding around Baltimore..(.Frederick Douglass’s old shipping haunts)…my young nephew (great grandson of potomac swimmer) just 18 years old did one-its old school apprenticeship style…not too many so called smart phones involved!
    I shared your pics & links!

  23. trinlae says:

    Maybe he was f/t before NR lol!
    Retired Annapolis perhaps?

  24. dilbert dogbert says:

    Let me count the water craft:
    Seven Kayaks
    Three Standup Paddle Boards
    Two Rowboats
    Three Sailboats
    One Boston Whaler
    Been messing with boats since 1967.
    My dream adventure is to drive the Whaler from The Salish Sea to Alaska on the Inside Passage.

  25. Lars says:

    From the reports from participants, they have been fighting high winds and low water, which is common with strong east winds. Some of them may have high headwinds tomorrow, as the winds change to SE. It could also get quite choppy past Marco Island. I hope they all will be safe. This seems to turn out to be quite the challenge.

  26. dilbert dogbert,
    That must be one of the bigger Whalers.

  27. The winners of the race are already at Key Largo. One set sail to putter around in Florida Bay for a few days in his West Wright Potter rather than lounging around waiting for the Saturday awards ceremony. Here’s the story of Foghorn and Plumbcrazy in their IMB. That damned thing is growing on me. It’s kinda like a Winnebago version of the puddle duck.
    “Thanks Scott Gosnell (foghorn) for the invite to sail with you. I have to say that boat is one of the more comfortable I have ever sailed in and the ability to drop an anchor and rest inside at a moments notice is a big advantage. Here is our story: When the weather hold was announced we decided to load Ellie May back on her trailer and head across Tampa Bay the easy way…by bridge. While comfortable, she isn’t a speed demon so we needed to get sailing. We made a stop to visit Dave Lucas’s Tiki Bar and Boat Building Barn in Bradenton where we visited with a great guy and saw a variety of boats in the building process and finished. Afterwards, we made a stop at the Cortez Maritime Museum before heading to Indian Mounds park on Lemon Bay where we met some other watertribers launching. We sailed down to the nearest bridge and found a nice anchorage to wait the start of the race on Sunday. I now wish we had gone ahead down to CP1 to wait the start there.”
    “Next morning we organized and planned…something our late decision to enter and life getting in the way didn’t let us do beforehand. Not the best year to work it out as you go along! We sailed to CP1, rowed in and out of the marina, encountered swirling gusty winds in the narrow canal and only made 1 mph by motorsailing with gusts threatening to swamp the open oarports. before we threw in the towel for the day and crept into a niche in the mangroves to let the winds calm a bit. There Scott cut his foot badly on something in the mud. About 3am we thought about leaving but found ourselves aground. We finally dragged the boat out at 7am and headed into Placida Harbor. Here is where we decided to gamble and braved Boca Pass to go outside into the gulf to try and make up some time. The weather forecast showed the winds dying throughout the day so we hoped we would have a smooth straight shot from Sanibel to Marco. Worked great until we left the lee of Sanibel and found ourselves in breaking waves that towered on either side of the boat. That hull shape will pound your fillings out in choppy conditions! We tried to make the jump at 8pm, 2am, and 7am and got turned back each time with water breaking over the boat and coming through the sealed oarports. We even tried to sail around the tip of Sanibel only to find ourselves on a leeward shore. WIth our sail beginning to tatter and time winding down, we ended up turning back to Blind Pass where we decided to call it and maybe come back better prepared and more conservative in choices in the future.”

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