Editor’s Note: The author of this article is a former Hobie 16 sailor who now rides a Hobie Pursuit kayak.
“Waterworld” was my first thought when I saw some of the boats that arrived in Key Largo this week after a 300-mile marathon that calls itself the 2011 Everglades Challenge.
A reported 71 kayaks, canoes, rowing shells and small sailboats launched from the beach at Fort Desoto on March 5, and only 30 had arrived at the finish line in Key Largo one week later. (The time limit to finish is 8 days, so more were still out there.)
This race is no walk in the park, and the last 30 miles across Florida Bay from Flamingo to Key Largo may be the toughest leg, if you even get that far.
Extremely shallow conditions — at times inches, or less — compounded by unpredictable wind and weather, can throw you far off course or stop you dead in your tracks. The rules of the race require you to face these dangers alone. It’s a matter of survival.
Warren “Sharkchow” Richey faced headwinds of 15 to 25 miles per hour as he made the crossing on Wednesday in his 17.5-foot Current Designs Solstice GT sea kayak, ahead of his peers in the Expedition Kayaks and Canoes category (Class 1), although he finished 8th overall.
Sharkchow left Flamingo at 5 a.m. and arrived in Key Largo 14 hours later, at 7:10 p.m. He said the seas kicked up by those headwinds rocked him wildly during his crossing, driving the bow of his kayak high and slamming him back into the surf.
You may remember Sharkchow from an earlier article I wrote about beach camping in the Ten Thousand Islands and another article about how he packs his kayak for overnight kayak expeditions. (See the links to those stories below.)
Not a race for the weak of heart, body or soul
Participants are on their own from the start. There are four checkpoints, but those checkpoints are not always convenient for overnight camping, so these marathoners sleep when and where they can, on beaches, islands, in their boats (not easy if you’re in a kayak). They paddle all day and often into the night, a risky adventure in any waters, let alone the waters of the southwest Florida coast and Florida Bay.
Crews are not allowed any outside support, and they must carry all the gear they’ll need from start to finish. They are allowed to replenish food and water supplies at checkpoints only.
All boats are propelled by “natural power” and launch from the high-water mark at Fort Desoto without outside assistance. In other words, you have to be able to drag your boat down the beach to the water. Besides kayaks, canoes and rowing shells (many of which have small sails as auxiliary power), there are monohulls, catamarans and trimaran sailboats.
The boats I saw are amazing, ranging from home-made trimarans and monohulls to the latest high-tech boats, including the Hobie Island Adventure, a sailing kayak with stabilizer pontoons.
The most amazing boat I saw (and there are many I didn’t see) was the hand-crafted Tridarka Raider, a wooden trimaran designed and built by the guru of these races, Steve Isaacs, known simply as “Chief.” The Raider is a 20 foot, 7-inch trimaran with an overall beam of 12 feet 6 inches, modified by its current owner, Hal Link (also known as “Iszatarock”) to accommodate a 26-foot mast and a 215-square-foot Hobie 16 sail.
Iszatarock finished the challenge 5th overall in three days, seven hours and 14 minutes. (Sharkchow’s 8th place overall finish was completed in four days, 12 hours and 20 minutes.)
Everglades Challenge 2011 – 1st Place Finishers (Unofficial)
Class 1, Single (Expedition Kayaks & Canoes) – SharkChow (Warren Richey, Current Design Solstice) Class 1, Double – BluByU & BluByU2 (Thomas Bastis and Karl Royer, New SEDA design triple, enclosed deck, expedition kayak)
Class 2, Single (Racing kayaks, canoes and rowing shells) – no finisher Class 2, Double – IronBob & TheJuice (Robert Finlay and Druce Finlay, New SEDA design triple Triumph)
Class 3, Single (Sailing kayaks and canoes) – Whitecaps (Toby Nipper, Kruger Seawind) Class 3, Double – no finisher
Class 5, Single (Small catamaran and trimaran sailboats) – SewSew (Randy Smyth, Home-built, self-design trimaran 21) Class 5, Double – Bumpy & Machoman (Jamie Livingston and Kenny Pierce, Tornado 20 beach cat)
The Everglades Challenge is a qualifying event for another amazing race, the Ultimate Florida Challenge, a 1200-mile circumnavigation of Florida to be held in 2012.
Sharkchow participated in the 2006 Ultimate Challenge and wrote a book that was published last year. Buy Sharkchow’s book from Amazon (Hardcover, $10): Without a Paddle: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida by Sea Kayak
For more about this race and other WaterTribe events, check out this link: WaterTribe.com
Related Florida Rambler articles:
The Start: Fort Desoto Park, St. Petersburg
Checkpoint 1: Grande Tours, 12575 Placida Road, Placida, FL 343946
Checkpoint 2: Outdoor Resorts, Chokoloskee, FL
Checkpoint 3: Everglades National Park, Flamingo, FL
The Finish: Bay Cove Motel, 99446 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037