“If you are not an expert paddler and/or sailor, do not enter this race. Even if you are a well-prepared expert you may DIE – yes, you may DIE. … ENTER AND PARTICIPATE AT YOUR OWN RISK – And have Fun!” — Watertribe disclaimer
OVER 100 BOATS TO COMPETE IN WATERTRIBE EVERGLADES CHALLENGE AND ULTRA MARATHON
A 300-mile adventure race for small boats paddling and sailing from Tampa Bay to Key Largo in 8 days or less.
On Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 7a.m. over 100 small boats with over 125 experienced and intrepid mariners from around the country will launch from Fort De Soto County Park on Mullet Key just south of St. Petersburg, Florida to compete in one of two adventure races: The Everglades Challenge (EC2013) and the Ultra Marathon (UM2013).
The EC2013 is a 300-mile trek along Florida’s Gulf Coast ending in Key Largo and must be completed in eight days or less. The Ultra Marathon is about 62 miles and finishing at Cape Haze Marina in Englewood. These races are open to boats propelled by human and/or wind power only. No tows, no rides. Modern GPS tracking units allow race officials and anyone with internet access to follow each race participant in real time as they make their way along their chosen route.
“I designed the Everglades Challenge to be the toughest week long adventure/endurance race for small boats anywhere in the world,” said Steve Isaac, founder and “Chief” of the WaterTribe, which sponsors the Everglades Challenge.
The basic race rules are simple: First one to the finish wins. Additional rules are designed for safety as well as define who should consider entering these races. For example, all competitors must be able to drag their boats, without assistance, off the launch beach and into the Gulf of Mexico near the entrance to Tampa Bay at the start of the race. This rule is designed to filter out large boats without a lot of rules defining the size of a small boat.
It’s an expedition! ….. No, it’s a race! Actually it’s an interesting blend of both.
Long on my bucket list has been to participate in the Watertribe Everglades Challenge (EC). This long, 300 mile race, where sleep-deprivation is the norm, is infamous, and is both revered and feared among endurance racers.
While literally in my back yard, this year will be the first time that I will participate in an EC.
My normal mileage for an expedition is about 40 miles per day. The record-pace for the EC is more than twice that, up to 100 miles per day – truly insane. The course is not without its dangers. On the Watertribe forum, competitors have discussed fears of sharks, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, poisonous trees (that the Calusa applied to arrows to kill Ponce-DeLeon), razor-sharp oyster beds, water-stealing raccoons (that will eagerly gnaw through plastic bottles), sleep deprivation induced hallucinations and madness (with one competitor going in circles for hours before requiring rescue), and even Burmese pythons, that have escaped into the Everglades to wreak havoc.
In other words, it sounds like a good adventure!
My strategy is simple. Pack ultralight, plan a good route, keep the boat moving, and stop as little as possible. The execution will not be so simple. My goal, if conditions, luck, and my body allow, is to paddle 20 hours daily and sleep four.
My kayak is under 40 pounds, and my camping gear load (tent, pad, sleeping bag, stove, fuel, food, dry-clothes, tools, repair kit, hypothermia kit, cuben-fiber dry bags) is currently around 30 pounds (this doesn’t include water and kayak gear such as paddles, etc). If there is interest, I’ll publish a full gear list with weights after the event.
Part of my preparations involved route planning to handle different weather contingencies. Unlike the expeditions I have been on, I spent hours on Google Earth, examining every suitable island adjacent to the route to land on, to have potential stopping points about every 10 miles apart. Click Here to view my prepared GPS routes.
I’ll be piloting the “Compass Rose”, an Epic 18x. The boat is named in memory of my Mother, Rose, who passed away a few short weeks ago.
I encourage you to follow my progress, and that of other racers, on the Watertribe Tracking Map. With this map you can view the position of the racers in real-time. My EC name for the event is “KayakVagabond”. The race begins Saturday March 2 at 7AM EST.
The current forecast is for a strong breeze, with the possibility of a tailwind. Whatever the weather, it promises to be a wild, if not exhausting, ride.