This year’s EC was quite a sleighride for me up until my rudder troubles off Fort Myers Beach. But much was learned, and a great time was had, and I’ll attempt to share it with you here.
Picnic Island is a wonderful spot. Picturesque and peaceful, with sandy beaches and a wooded interior combining to make it a great place to rest and relax. However, less 50 yards north of Picnic is one of the busiest ICW channels I’ve ever had the displeasure to be near. Almost devoid of traffic when I arrived, it soon began to look like a maritime version of an I-95 nightmare, with 80′ monstrosities operated by people apparently unqualified to own bathtub toys, competing to see who could run their McYachts at their most inefficient speed, thus creating the largest wakes possible. One even had speakers mounted FACING OUTWARDS, so that we could share their particularly vapid and vanilla taste in loud country music. And loud it was… having recently attended a Ted Nugent concert, I think I’m somewhat qualified to judge volume, and this was approaching pain.
Time to go, so I loaded up, dressed in fleeces, drysuit, and those darn waterproof socks that I had forgotten on day one. I pushed off, and headed south around the island, avoiding the channel traffic for the moment, and headed for the San Carlos Bridge.
The wind and tide had changed enough that I was able to make the bridge without tacking, but my approach angle was oblique enough that I knew I wouldn’t be able to go under the bridge in the channel, with its long bolsters. This was a good thing, for if I had tried, I’d likely be maritime kindling right now, as the boaters going under the bridge made the ones near Picnic Island seem positively intelligent and courteous. I cleared the bridge to the west, crossed the channel, and immediately found myself hemmed in between the shallows and even bigger McYachts, some of which blew by me with less than 30′ of distance, even though they had hundreds of yards to use. I am convinced that some of them harbor a not-so-secret desire to swamp and/or sink small craft.
The wind was actually fairly light for the sea state, and Discovery’s motion was a bit jerky and abrupt, with waves and wakes alike slamming our starboard side, occasionally breaking over the gunwale. I briefly thought about taking the ICW route, but the weather, wind, and waves looked to be about as good as I could get for the shot to Marco Island and Cape Romano, so I settled in for a close reach on a compass course of 150, knowing my course would round out a bit closer to south as I progressed. And the wind was rounding as well, so it looked like I’d stay on a close reach, with a single reefed main, full jib, and lumpy seas for the next six hours or so.
Of course, as soon as you settle in, something unsettling happens… and for me, it was a feeling like an icepick stabbing me in the lower back. What it was, however, was about a half cup of Gulf of Mexico entering my drysuit, at the base of my spine. I wear a two piece drysuit, and I’ve always been both aware and careful about properly sealing the two of them together, and I’ve never had an issue. Until now. With the bouncing and tossing about the wakes and waves caused, one of two things had happened. Either the boat fender I use as a backrest had unrolled the suit gasket, or I had torn my suit. Reaching around, it felt like it had just unrolled a bit, and had in fact re-rolled, so I decided that if I warmed up, I’d press on. As a precaution, I called the race manager and informed her of the issue, as I would shortly be sailing off of unpopulated shoreline. I just wanted her to know that if my course suddenly turned east, and I went ashore, it was likely due to a damaged drysuit, and that I would likely be out of the Challenge if I did it. PaddleDancer acknowleged, and wished me luck. With the call complete, and my suit sealed, I settled again, and waited to see if the water would warm up in my suit, or if I was in for another bout of cold. It didn’t help any that the water was sitting right on top of the area where I’d had back surgery years before.
As mentioned earlier, settling in has its disadvantages. In this case, less than a minute after I got comfortable, I noticed what I thought was a change in wave patterns. Discovery was responding oddly to her helm.
I took a quick look around, saw no change to either local or overall wave patterns, and then looked astern. What I saw chilled me more than the water in my suit… Discovery’s rudder mount was loose. And the moment I saw it, some fiberglass bit in the transom let out a subtly nasty cracking sound. I knew instantly that my Challenge attempt was over, and the only challenge left was to get ashore before the rudder came off, for if I lost the rudder in those confused seas, a capsize was almost inevitable.
Looking towards shore, I could see Lover’s Key inlet to the southeast, but the wave motion would have put too much of a strain on the rudder to try for it. Just north of there are a bunch of condominiums, but they didn’t look too inviting. However, just to my north were a bunch of hotels and private residences. I figured my best bet was to aim for a hotel next to a private residence, so that my options for storing Discovery and my gear until I could recover them would be greater. About one second after I chose my landing spot, a dolphin breached less than 10′ from me, aiming for exactly the spot I had picked. Hoping that he was a sign, as opposed to an innocent creature disturbed by my passage, I went for it. My next step was to call the CP2 manager, and inform him of my choice to abandon the Challenge. I called him instead of the race manager because last year I was the CP2 manager, and I always worried about boats that hadn’t arrived. After taking care of that, and calling my wife (who encouraged me to keep on going, just like last time when we were seriously leaking!), I aimed for a group of large guys, hoping for help getting out of the surf, and in I went. As I got closer, Sue called to ask me where I was, to which I replied “50 feet from crashing the boat!”, hung up, and wormed my way through the surf, hearing my potential targets saying to each other something about “that sailboat seems awfully close”. And that I was… in fact, when I washed up the beach, I was a bit closer to the hotel than two of guys on the shore! A two second inspection confirmed my suspicions… the core had collapsed between the fiberglass skins of the transom, and there was no simple fix. Although barely visible, and easily repairable at the shop, my attempt was definitely over.
They did indeed help me get the boat past the high water line, whereupon we tipped it over, dumped the water out that I had collected in the surf, and proceeded to have a great, stiff shot of Irish Cream, as told in https://claritysailingadventures.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/a-beachin-end-to-my-2013-everglades-challenge-attempt/
After calming down a bit, and saying goodbye to my new found friends, I walked up to the hotel to inquire about a room. Of course, there were none, so I went to the bar, had a couple of beers and a huge fish sandwich, called my boss, as our company is headquartered in Fort Myers, and went back to the boat to sleep until morning.
Fitful sleep did come, interrupted by the wind and the spring breakers walking about, but around 3 the sound of the surf alarmed me enough that I got up and carried my gear about 100 yards to the cabana chair row, and then rolled Discovery up there using the big black fenders I carried on board for that purpose (well, that and for pillows).
Around 7:00 my boss picked up me and my gear, and brought me to the office, where I cleaned up (being told there was a shower only AFTER I baby wiped myself to cleanliness in the restroom), loaded my gear onto our delivery truck, and caught a ride back to Tampa.
But it wasn’t over yet. The Challenge ends when I have all my gear and boat secured, and Discovery was still on the sand in Fort Myers, so I had Phil, my Tampa yard guy, drop me off at Fort Desoto, where my car and trailer were, and I headed straight back to Fort Myers, wondering all the while how I was going to get Discovery on her trailer when I got there. About the time I got to Bradenton, I got the bright idea to post an assistance request on the WaterTribe forum page, and within an hour, I had all the help I needed lined up. I picked up KayakKowboy on the way, and hustled to the beach, where we found Discovery had blown over, but intact, with even the fenders and gear bits I had left behind still there. We righted her, dropped the mast, and carried it to the hotel, where we met the rest of the guys. With 6 guys, we were able to actually pick up and carry Discovery right through the hotel tiki bar and onto her trailer, simply and easily. The only thing we DIDN’T do was take any pictures, as we were all to busy with the job at hand. That, and I was too tired to remember to take them. My sincere and special thanks go to KayakCowboy, SeaFrog, and SeaFrogs’ 3 friends, Gil Gilkison, Roy Merz, and Fran Carley. These 5 gentlemen answered by call for assistance in getting the boat off the beach. Thanks guys… seriously.
And so ends my second attempt at the Everglades Challenge, but it won’t be my last. The knowledge gained in my first two entries is immeasurable, and I fully intend to put it to good use next year. So stay tuned!
EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES TO BE REVIEWED SOON:
Esbit 1 liter thermal jar
MSR PocketRocket stove
Feeding Children Everywhere meals
Raw Revolution Spirulina bars
Stonewalls, May Wah, and Ned’s Chipotle vegetarian jerky.
Nexus 7 tablet
Surf To Summit soft case for tablet
Coleman and Ozark vinyl drybags
Stohlquist/NRS combo 2 piece drysuit