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Horace Wimp: Trying to find my boat in the EC2023!

Posted by Greg on April 24, 2023

Note, this post was penned by Everglades Challenge 2023 participant Andrew Findlay (tribe name “Horace Wimp”).
This lively story was shared at every checkpoint along the course with much relish and amazement to all who heard it. With Andrew’s permission I’m sharing it here so others enjoy.

The 10:00am late start made for a leisurely wake up and morning of preparation. The winds had died significantly from the afternoon prior and Tampa Bay was looking quite reasonable for small craft, with a moderate southwesterly breeze. Like most others leaving the beach we initially headed SSE, across the shipping channel, and continued on towards the southern side of Tampa Bay. I then tacked a couple of times heading almost due west and lining up with the channel between the northern end of Anna Maria and Passage Key. As I approached it was clear there were still significant swells from the SW, most probably in part due to the strong winds 24 hours earlier. I steered clear of the shallows, which were clearly visible from the many breakers, and kept heading west until I was about 1.2 miles out from Anna Maria, and beyond the breakers. I tacked a couple of times, trying to head southeasterly, while staying in the deeper water beyond the breakers. All was going well, making about 6 knots, and my X-cat rolling a little with the southwesterly waves. I was feeling relaxed to be out of Tampa Bay and heading down the coast, all was good.

Out of nowhere, I suddenly heard the loud crackling noise behind me as the crest of a 4-5 (~6?) foot vertical wall of water started to break. It was literally 1 -2 seconds later the wave broke on top of me, and picked up the starboard hull rather violently. I was immediately ‘washed off the boat’, breaking the tiller extension as I went. As I popped up to the surface, I was convinced the whole boat was capsized, but to my surprise I saw the mainsail still vertical. I did a short sprint towards the boat; but it was hopeless as the sails were still set and the boat sailed on – probably faster than before without my weight on board! I believe the wave looked something like this:

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“Dash it”, and a few other choice phrases came to mind, as I was floating in the water and thinking what to do next. Based on some wise words in the briefing, I decided I should activate my PLB. Being washed back and forth like a sock in an automatic washing machine is probably not the ideal place to learn how to use a PLB, but I pulled the plastic cap off, which immediately leads to the coiled antenna popping out and hitting the owner in the face. I then recalled a conversation some years ago where I was told breaking the plastic cap does not actually activate the thing, so I fumbled around reading instructions before finding and pressing the “on” button. Great!

After waiting for approximately 30 seconds bobbing in the waves, I decided the coast guard were not coming anytime soon and it would be much better to swim for the beach. I have previously done quite a bit of open water swimming, so the roughly 1 mile was not too worrying; although I was concerned with the size of the waves and currents. I picked out a tall marker point on the beach, well away from the point where all the breakers were, and started slowly making my way towards it. For fans of Monty Python, it was like the scene from the Holy Grail where you run (or swim) for some time, but each time you look nothing seems to have moved!!

After about 30 minutes of swimming and floating along, I suddenly heard the noise of a power boat. I turned around, and as the waves picked me up I could see some kind of work boat, with 2 guys on board. I started to wave at them, and they soon spotted me and turned in my direction. As they approached the captain was clearly concerned about remaining stern on to the waves, and came up near to me. I swam to the boat, but they had no ladder or easy way to recover me. So I hung on to the side for a while until there was a gap in the waves, wondering why there was such a disgusting smell in the air, until the 2 of them grabbed my life jacket and pulled me into a heap on their deck. Based on my GPS watch, I was in the water about 36 minutes.

I sat up among baskets of rotting hog meat, cut into chunks with the thick, black pig fur still attached. It turned out they were going to bait and set stone crab traps; but decided the sea conditions were too bad to proceed. They were super nice and gave me a bottle of water, and I briefly explained what happened. They asked me where my car was, and I explained I didn’t have one, but if they could just drop me on Anna Maria and I would figure it out from there. So they took me back around the north end of the island, and to the jetty at the NE corner, where they dropped me off.

Meanwhile back on land, unknown to me the coast guard (in Miami) had received my PLB signal and dialed my wife who is my emergency contact. Since it was a Miami number, she of course ignored the call as spam. …30 seconds later her phone rang again, and this time she decided it must be important for them to retry, and picked up. Petty Officer …… introduced himself, explained they had picked up a distress signal in the vicinity of Anna Maria, and asked her if I go to that area often?? Despite Chief’s advice not to mention Watertribe, she quickly cracked and explained I was in a small boat expedition type of race.

“what type of boat does he have”

“it’s an X-cat”

“can you please spell that”

“X like X, and cat, like a house cat”

“And what’s his name?”

“Horace Wimp – you know like the ELO song”

“No Ma’am. …Can you spell that?”

“That’s not his real name. …His real name’s Andrew”

“OK. …we have a rescue boat in Saint Pete. Shall we send it?”

“Yes – you better. …and if he is OK, please can you hit him for me” (…yes – she really said that!)

“OK” …

Being a diligent shore contact she had her list of contacts numbers, and then called Paddle Dancer. She quickly checked the tracking, and said no, no – it looks like he is going along pretty well at 6-7 knots down the coast near Anna Maria – of course not knowing that my tracker was safely progressing with the boat, and without me!

Fortunately I always keep my cell phone in a waterproof case in the front pocket of my life jacket. I called my wife from the jetty, who to my surprise was aware of what was going on and asked where the hell I was?? I explained I lost my boat and swam towards the shore. My wife said let me call Lucas back at the Coast guard, and let him know – first name terms by this point! So she called, and told them I had swam to shore. …the coast guard’s reply was “he did what?”, and then they explained they wanted to talk to me directly to ensure I was really OK. (Probably they could not trust my wife sitting at home with the life insurance policy 😊 )

While I was on the phone with the coast guard my wife received another call: “Hello this is the Manatee County Sheriff’s department” …oh crap – what now? …”we have found your husband’s boat, which washed up on Manatee Beach”. By this point she was really disappointed, hoping that the boat was lost for good and I would give up on this ridiculous endeavor!

At the same time I was on the phone with Lucas in Miami, and another guy in the St Pete coastguard – who were both extremely nice. Near the end of the call, the St Pete guy mentioned the Manatee County Sheriff’s department had called reporting my boat’s whereabouts. Things were starting to look up! Thanks to google maps I figured out that was about 5 miles from my current location; and I told my wife not to bother driving ~2 hours to come and find me. Instead I could call an Uber, and get back to the boat faster and check it all out.

After 2 attempts with the Uber app, it was timing out and said no cars available in your area. So I started to walk, and once I got to a more major road, I saw a bus stop. Soon enough a trolley came down the road and stopped. I asked the driver if he went to Manatee Beach? “Yes” he replied. …well I don’t have any money but could you please take me there? “The trolleys are free, but today we are charging double” …What? …Took me a few seconds to compute, but I then climbed on and stood near the front since I was all wet. As we drove down the road, I suddenly realized the bus was full of tourists, with shorts / bikinis / plastic buckets & toys heading to the beach. I on the other hand was wearing a dry-suit, and carrying my PFD, with PLB (activated), strobe light, knife, whistle, etc – which was probably quite alarming to the young kids!

At the beach I could immediately see the mainsail of my boat, in the middle of an area of beach umbrellas, and many families enjoying picnics and beach games around it. As I approached, a beach lifeguard came up to me at the boat, and explained they had seen it heading towards the beach earlier. Through binoculars – they realized there was no one onboard, and were quite alarmed! They must have dragged it up the beach pretty quickly, as there was no damage (which I would probably expect if the boat had sat in the breaking surf for any period with the conditions of that day.) Anyhow the lifeguards had found my float plan on the boat, and therefore knew my name and plans. They explained they had been watching to ensure my stuff was all safe, and wished me luck with the rest of my journey. …like everyone on that day – super nice and helpful people.

With the onshore breeze and breaking waves, it took a little lining up to get ready to depart. A couple of beach-goers saw me, and decided to help by launching me into the breaking waves, which actually was a big help. However at that moment I was pretty unsure if I would only aim to reach CP1, or try to keep going beyond that.

Here are 2 images from 2 trackers: InReach on the boat; and my Garmin watch:

The next 5 days brought a number of other challenges: red tide & dead fish, sand bars, questionable campsites, as well as an inquisitive shark right before a storm at Rabbit Key, but were much more enjoyable than the “exciting” and frustrating first Saturday afternoon. On one long downwind leg I did figure out a reasonable way to make and attach a tether to the boat, which I do think would have avoided most of my issues had I thought of it earlier. The main lesson I learned is for a more pleasant EC experience and to avoid confusion, try to stay together with your tracker from start to finish!


(Aka Andrew Findlay)

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