The following are screen shots of my SPOT tracking page, showing my route from start to finish. I don’t have my first day’s worth of tracks though, as SPOT only stores them for 7 days. I’ll have to see what I can pull off of the WaterTribe site…
This is my track from Picnic Island, where I spent Sunday night, on through the San Carlos Pass bridge. Sailing through the bridge was dicey, as I had to point pretty high through some choppy seas and current. The track doesn’t show it, but I actually started at the west end of the bridge and sailed east until I had the right combination of wind and waves to head up and get under the bridge. I think I went under about 4 spaces to the west of the actual channel. And I apologize to the fisherman on shore who’s line I snagged with my rudder – fortunately, I was able to release the blade before any damage was done to his line or my boat!
This was a great sail – 10 knots or so of wind made for a speedy, relaxing shot down Fort Myers Beach towards Naples, the dark of night, and the great unknown (to me) of Marco Island, Cape Romano, and beyond (queue the Twilight Zone theme…)!
I passed Marco Island as it got totally dark out – after being up and sailing over 12 hours, the darkness, shadows, and shore lights got a bit disorienting at times – good thing I had my Nexus 7 tablet loaded with navigation apps and a good compass on board. The winds got really light as I got to the tip of Cape Romano, where I scared the heck outta myself when I turned on the spotlight to look for the abandoned concrete domes of a vacation home, only to hit them immediately about 50 yards away, looking haunted, forlorn, and kinda scary! The wind totally died after I rounded the Cape, and I drifted into a channel between the two shoals. After a few minutes, I got a tiny breeze, and sailed to within a quarter mile of Panther and White Horse Keys, where I planned to camp, but I lost the wind again, so I just fell asleep on deck, wearing my safety harness, with the mainsheet draped over my forearm so that any puff of wind would wake me.
Here’s where I slept… probably from about 0300 to 0730. I’d be more accurate, but for me, this event was both a Challenge and a VACATION!
As the tiny breeze filled in, I close reached off of the Ten Thousand Islands area, eventually hardening up onto a light air beat to windward, setting myself up for Indian Key Pass. With the greatest of good luck, I hit the pass dead on with my first tack, thus proving that, every once in a while, I can indeed properly calculate leeway and current! I caught the Pass opening just as the tide turned, and was essentially washed up and through it, where I was able to set a fast reach in the freshening breeze towards Checkpoint 2. It was a great 30 minute sail, marred only by having to check on some guy on a windsurfer who was using his airhorn to signal a distant friend. I thought he was in trouble, but it turns out he was just misusing a signaling device… frustrating for me, but far better than a boater in trouble!
After a 24 hour layover due to electronics trouble, I headed out the same way I entered the bay, and turned SSW towards Cape Sable. This was another night sail under light winds, but things were definitely about to change…
As written up in a post on this blog, this was a great sail, and after my layover, it really got me back into the game. I was able to use a lot of close-quarters sailing skills as I tacked out of the channel, and it was just a blast.
After another great night sail, morning brought a gently freshening breeze. That breeze kept on freshening, eventually bearing out of the south at well over 20 knots. In close to Cape Sable, it was even stronger. I tried tacking out well into Florida Bay to make headway, but the wind and choppy seas made it very difficult to get anywhere.
I took a quick detour into the bay as the wind freshened, so I could have a decent lunch and secure from light air sailing mode (i.e. crap everywhere on deck). I underestimated the winds and didn’t reef, which may or may not have been a good idea. Unreefed, I had too much sail up, so progress to windward was really tough, and I ended up ducking in for cover at the mouth on the Little Shark River. Had I been double reefed, I might have been able to get around Cape Sable, but I also would have been in one of the worst places to be in all of Florida Bay during a storm. And this storm was serious – waterspouts, heavy rain, and seriously gusty winds, along with bizzaro waves the color of mud (I’m guessing this brown is where the name of the Cape came from) would have been a major issue sailing solo.
Here you can see my overnight storm refuge, followed by a downwind run (the wind had changed 180 degrees overnight) to Cape Sable under a single reefed main and no jib. All went well, albeit a bit bouncy, with some large waves to surf on, and others that just tossed me about, until I reached the southern point of Cape Sable. I had to gybe in order to head east, and when I did, the reef point tore out of my sail. Fortunately, the boom decided not to crush my head, and I sailed to a sandy spot, tied off the boat, rested for a half hour, and then double reefed the main before sailing on to Checkpoint 3 in Flamingo. This track covers a 24 hour period, roughly from 1500 Wednesday to 1500 Thursday.
Here’s a detail of my trek offshore, and my turnaround and subsequent hiding-out in The Little Shark River. This was one bumpy ride!
Right around the #39 tracking marker is where I gybed and tore out the reef point. A quick refresh and inspection on shore, and then it was off to Flamingo!
I got to Flamingo in the early afternoon (I think – time was sort of fluid by the 4th day of the Challenge…) where the power was out, which left no way to call anyone OR buy anything with a credit card. I did purchase some nice healthy potato chips and a Red Bull, while deciding whether or not to press on. Lugnut, the CP Captain, went over my charts with me, as he’d made it through the channels before, and, with a little hesitation, I decided to go for it, and I left. Joe Kemp Channel was my initiation to the Florida Bay channels, which are indeed narrow, twisty, and a bit unforgiving if you stray, as the surrounding water is usually less than a foot deep, even miles from shore.
This shows my track from just out of Flamingo to the finish. Sailed under a double reefed main (I would have single reefed except I had torn out that reef point rounding Cape Sable) and no jib, it was a fast ride, with very interesting and varied conditions. It was mostly a downwind sail, and even with the healthy breeze, the shallows had almost no waves. For a first crossing of Florida Bay, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions.
I was making really nice time through the flat Florida Bay waters as I approached Dump Keys Channel. The tracker does not show the full track I had to take, but I had to follow the channel you see in the image exactly. The channel is about 24 feet wide or so, and right at the entrance, I caught up to a half-dozen WaterTribe kayakers, none of which apparently heard or saw me behind them! This was my make-or-break point, where I had to decide if I was going to camp soon, or sail through the night. I chose to continue straight through to the end, which meant I’d be up for over 24 hours, but, hey, this is a Challenge, right?
Twisty is a tricky channel indeed… I entered properly, but just before tracking marker 11 on the screenprint, I accidentally gybed, and the mainsheet caught the tiller. I ended up about 50 yards out of the channel, in almost total darkness, and couldn’t find a single marker in the gloom, even with two flashlights going. I got my bearings, and navigated the line shown between 11 and 12, only to go aground at the edge of the channel. I managed to push off of the thick mud with my paddle, only to run over one of the short, flexible, unlit markers at the edge of the waterway. It was a bit hairy for a moment, as I had visions of 2012, when one of the boats entered got stuck in the mud for, I believe, 4 days! Although I had provisions for a week, I’m glad I was only stuck for 10 minutes.
Jimmie Channel was the last one I had to navigate. By this time it was pitch dark, with no effective moonlight, and it was a tricky shot, especially as navigation beacons, radio towers, and miscellaneous lights appearing on the horizon were difficult to identify. After making it through, I aimed for Tavernier, a town on the southern bit of Key Largo, and the relative safety of the Intracoastal Waterway.
This last bit was both fun, frustrating, and cold. Somehow, I had programmed everything correctly in my nav apps, except for one tiny detail, Baker’s Cut! I was comfortably sailing along the coast, thinking I had an hour or so to go before a cold beer at the finish, when this little lump showed up at the edge of my electronic chart… and it was, of course, the peninsula that ends at Bakers Cut, and protects Sunset Cove, where the finish was. In sloppy seas, chilly weather, and low visibility due to the overcast sky, I tacked out to the channel and proceeded to the Cut. What you don’t see are about 8 additional tacks I had to make in order to get through, as I had to avoid shoals, markers, and stuff I’m not even sure was there. After sailing through the Cut, I passed Pelican Key, dodged a dozen improperly lit boats anchored near the hotel, and made it to the finish… where I almost twisted both my ankles holding Clarity off of the rocks until we figured out where to tie her!
To briefly summarize, I would have to say I had probably the best weather possible for an Everglades Challenge… almost no adverse winds, only one storm of note, and only a few periods of calm. I took my time, and sailed (mostly) cautiously, learned a lot, and had a blast.
Which makes me wonder what I’m in for NEXT year!