Monday, February 28, 2011

Plight of the Navigator (apologies to Andrew Linn)

I really wish I'd written this account of the various dilemmas we all face as we work our way down the the west coast of Florida. Andrew Linn, who has proved himself to be one tough dude by sailing 200 miles up the Texas coast in an 8' box of a boat called a Puddle Duck Racer, who built a 23 foot boat on the beach before the start of last years Texas event, sailed it the 200 miles up the coast and burned it on the beach at the finish, as well as completed last year's Everglades Challenge and winning the coveted "Most Piratical" award wrote this nice piece about his thoughts going into the 2011 event.

Stage 1: Launch to Placida
There are pretty much only two routes: In the ICW our out. If there is any component of a North wind, we'll run the ICW. Sure, it's a ditch, but it is a heavily populated ditch, so we might get to see something interesting.

If we go outside and it gets hairy (like last year,) we can re-enter at specific passes: Longboat, New Pass, Big Sarasota, Venice, Stump, and Gasparilla. These are varying distances apart and each has its own problems. We'll have to keep a close eye on the weather so we don't get caught outside. Read more...
 Meanwhile, I've been watching the weather and coming to grips with the reality that we could have very uncooperative winds for the first two days of the event. Right now the weather-guessers have the winds pretty light at less than 10 knots and generally from the south. This is bad, because we want to go south. We can sail into the wind, but it is at the cost of a lot of extra distance. Also, if it's light we are pretty much faced with going out into the Gulf. Tacking back and forth in the narrow confines of the Intracoastal Waterway would get us there eventually, but it would take a lot of extra time and energy. During last year's Florida 120 event, we had to travel roughly 14 miles to our first stop with about five miles of the route up a narrow channel. It took 95 tacks to get from start to finish and the boat covered 21.5 miles over the water to get 14 miles up the bay. I was absolutely wrecked at about two-thirds the distance and had to stop for almost two hours to get rehydrated and re-energized.

We've got to go 68 miles on the first day and we've only got 29 hours to do it. If we're going to make it before the deadline, then going out in the Gulf is the only way. Andrew's post talks about some of the trade-offs without getting gruesome. Paying attention to the weather is critical because you don't have a lot of options to come back inside before it gets bad.

Of course the weather forecast could change completely between now an Saturday. I'm kind of hoping for a 15 knot north wind to carry me all the way down to Placida on the inside route. But you all know the warning about being careful what you wish for, don't you?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Expedition PFD

The rules require all kinds of stuff and recommend others. Here we see me in my PFD all outfitted and ready to go for the race. It's not easy to see everything from this fuzzy little camera phone picture, but here's what I've got in or on my PFD:

  1. Handheld VHF radio for communicating with other boats, the authorities, to request bridge openings, and to call for help.
  2. Flashlight
  3. Emergency strobe light
  4. Large fixed blade knife
  5. Small folding knife
  6. Signal mirror.
  7. Spare GPS in case I get separated from or lose my main GPS on the boat. 
  8. Hypothermia kit in waterproof bag, with rescue blanket, candle lantern, matches, firestarter, handwarmer packets.
  9. Two whistles, on on the lifejacket and one around my neck at all times. 
  10. Waterproof bag for cell phone, and ID.
  11. A couple of carabiners just because they are so handy to have around. 
The point of all this stuff is if I get separated from my boat on land or sea, I can still call for help and let people know exactly where I am and help them find me with visual and audible signals. 

It seems like overkill I'm sure but as a singlehander, I feel like it's important to be as self sufficient as possible.

SPOT holder

Fabbed up a tray to hold the SPOT satellite tracker.

The SPOT need to be face up with a clear view of the sky at all times in order to work properly. I'd rather have it in my pocket, but since I can't I made this little wooden tray to hold the SPOT. The tray is screwed to the tiller and the unit is held in place with a bit of shock cord. Here it's secure and out of the way and  where it has a clear view of the sky.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Link for tracking me on Spot

Here is mapping link for tracking my progress separate from the Watertribe site.

The Watertribe mapping link is here and on a tab at the top of this page.

Part of the rules of the event require me to carry a satellite mapping device called SPOT. This device contains a GPS and a small transmitter communicating my position with satellites in outer frickin' space.

That we can carry a device about the size of a Blackberry that can do this still boggles my mind because this kind of technology was inconceiveable to me just 10 years ago.

The website above and the watertribe tracking page will report my position every ten minutes and show it on a Google map like a trail of bread crumbs.

SPOT also has a couple of buttons I can press to communicate with friends and family. There is an "OK" button that sends a text message to my shore contact person with my current position. Basically, it's a more active method than tracking alone that allows me to reassure the folks back home that I'm truly OK and thinking of them. There is a HELP button that signals there is something wrong, and my friends and family should wait for me to contact them by other means for an update and maybe instructions. And finally, there is an SOS button which sends a message to the authorities e.g. the Coast Guard or Florida Marine Patrol that I require immediate assistance or rescue. Pressing the SOS button removes me from the race.

I have to admit I'm still not clear on the difference between when to push HELP or SOS. I know that SOS sends out rescuers and HELP doesn't. But I'm having a hard time figuring what situation where I would hit HELP instead of SOS. There's a meeting before the race where this is supposed to be explained. I'm afraid pressing help in some circumstances would increase the folks back home's anxiety level more than is warranted when they recieve that message. Right now I'm going on record that if you get a Help message from me, it means that my plans have changed and I'll let you know asap what that means.

On one hand, I'm glad to have the technology to let people know where I am and how I'm doing. On the other, it feels like yet another electronic leash. When I leave the house without my phone I'm appalled at how vulnerable it makes me feel. I'm appalled because I didn't have that tether most of my life so I think why do I need it now?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The other end of the downhaul.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Jib Downhaul

Installed a jib downhaul today. No need to go forward to get the jib off.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Friday, February 18, 2011

And all I've got is my grotty 30 year old DS...

One of the class 4 competitors this year is Yellowthing (aka Meade Gougeon). Meade is sailing two-up this year with his brother Jan. I don't know how old these guys are, but they are past the retirement age if you catch my meaning.

Here's a cool time lapse video of his new i550 going together this year. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing this boat on the beach at Ft. Desoto. However, I expect I won't see them again until the finish. These guys are my pick to win Class 4 this year. I want to be just like them when I grow up.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Here are the start/finish stats for the last 10 years. The first two years had dismal finishing percentages. Since then it's been 60-80% of starters have finished. Click the graph for a larger, more readable version.

A little more about the EC2011

So how big is this event anyway?

Now that the registration deadline has passed, it looks like we'll have 67 boats on the beach for the entire 300 mile Everglades Challenge. There will be another 11 boats on the beach for the Ultra Marathon, a shorter event run simultaneously with the EC. The UM finishes at CP 1 in Placida 68 miles from the start at Ft. Desoto.

The view on the beach at the start promises to be pretty impressive this year. I was at the start last year and was pretty impressed by the diverse array of different people and equipment that do this. Follow this link to some pictures from the start of 2010 event.

While I haven't done the statistics, it's not unusual for one third to one half of all competitors to drop out along the way. The reasons for DNF vary, but the usual culprits are equipment failure and fatigue. From the accounts on the Watertribe message board, fatigue and/or lack of the will to just keep going is what knocks most people out. At the skipper's meeting before the race, the organizers told everyone that they guaranteed there would be a point in the race where they would find themselves tired, hurting, hungry, cold, and overcome with the urge to bag it and go home. They advised that was the point where one should stop, have some food, get warm, and get some sleep. Only after you did those things should one visit the decision to press on or drop out.

My mindset is to power through any adversity and finish. The goal isn't winning, the goal is making it to Key Largo. I figure as hard as it is to get to the start line, I'm damn sure not going to cross the finish.