Monday:

I do not have plan sheets for this section, but I do have a general video for what I am doing now.  The video is excellent but lacks some details that end up on plan sheets.  So to a minor degree, I am shooting in the dark, mostly because as a pretty novice builder I have a difficult time extrapolating into what is an unknown for me.  Thus are the joys of building hull #1 I think.

Vaka Bow is lean and mean

I add some holes and ties to the bow prow specifically down low at the most accentuated curve where it goes to the keel.  There are some small gaps and out of line elements at the garboard and bottom strake.  I think the total problem there is created by a 3” sliver of bottom strake tip that was broken off when the part was loaded into my truck.

I clamp on the stern plate(s) why are there three?

I check for gaps and tight ties and find a gap at mid-ship and a broken tie which I replace.  I take a deep breath, mix up some goop and tack weld the entire hull inside and out.  At a loss for something to do that does not involve touching the hull I take the rudder and the lee-board to the sanding room and give them ago with 80 grit.  I turn the AC up to 85 and the exhaust fan on at the other end of the assembly bay where the hull is sitting.  I learned from the last build the relationship between this epoxy, temperature, and humidity inside the bay and outside.  I have set the room for the fastest drying.  The AC keeps the room relatively dry and the exhaust fan draws air over the hull and out, lowering the odor and maximizing drying.

It is evening.  The tack welds are dry, but not cured.  I cut loose and pull out the ties and the boat does not fall apart.

 

Tuesday

I do a walk around and discover I missed some bow welds.  I put a couple of ties back in and spot weld the small area that was not locked together.

But look at these bulkheads.  A PERFECT FIT!  These are not tacked or glued in place but merely dry fitted.  Good job on sending the right plus and minus signals to the cutting machine.

Bulkhead with very small gap

 Alans video suggests it is now time to hot glue in the bulkheads then get on with the filleting, and glassing in the fiber cloth.  But is it ever that easy?  The video also suggests perhaps filleting a section of the outside of the chine and round the chine on the inside of the hull in the cockpit area.  In a separate email, I learn the cloth goes over the chine by 1.5”.  The chine in the rest of the hull, therefore, needs to be rounded also to more easily ensure the cloth does not bubble in these areas.  To compound things the first bulkhead needs to be out to properly fillet and cloth the first 12” of the bow.  Sometimes critical thinking is not my forte.

Also, Lynn and I have discussed how it would be easier and cleaner to fillet and glass the entire hull without the bulkheads in place.  Though that brings up the need to take down the bulkheads to properly fit after glass and fillets.  Alan has agreed we can do it either way.  I have made an executive decision on all of this and will proceed with this body of work in the following order:

  • Smooth out a little the cosmetics of the finger joint areas using epoxy and west system 410.
  • Epoxy part 36A to fwd bulkhead part 36
  • Fillet the entire outside of chine. Except at cradles
  • Round over the interior chine at lower topside strake full length.
  • Hot glue in stern plates
  • Hot glue in all bulkheads except bow part 36.
  • Fillet, including chine and glass the bow to 1.5” above the chine. Leave wetted out cloth tabbed for the forward bulkhead.
  • Install bulkhead and hot glue aft side in place then fit. Use a premade tool to run fillets on the front side of bulkhead then smooth on wetted tabs to the bulkhead.
  • Proceed with fillets and glass to remaining bays.

Tuesday afternoon and I have a fillet on the outside chine, epoxied transom pieces together also 36A to 36, the fwd bulkhead, used epoxy with West System 410 on the interior and exterior finger joints to smooth out.  The integrity of the joints is good but there was still some annoying unevenness.

Wednesday

I finish my list from Tuesday including fillets to the stem and installing the forward bulkhead. There is a curve in the bow where the front aka tube sits that calls for a slightly oval not a round hole.  The aft has no curve hull at that location so the aka will fit.

Stuff happens when working on the boat.  It gets bumped, kicked, leaned on, and takes other abuses.  Glad it was spot welded inside and out. 

I was especially glad for the epoxy spot welding when the front cradle fell off the 12″ blocks it was on allowing the bow to crash to the floor as the stern of the boat came out of the aft cradle and pointed up at the ceiling while the middle cradled tittered on its blocks at a 45-degree angle.  The next twenty minutes, (felt like three hours), was a cluster f—getting the boat positioned properly back into the cradles, distanced and mounted back on the blocks. Once more stable I peered into and crawled around under looking for damage.  One short bulkhead was 1/8” to ¼” out of position along one strake.   I put a knee to the strake and it popped back into position.  Spot weld it all I say.  Unfortunately, I did not have the presents of mind to take a picture and I have no desire to stage one at this point.

 

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and This Morning.

Going bay by bay our days consist of Cutting fiberglass cloth and dry fitting. Mixing epoxy, and spreading in fillets. Waiting for fillets to set.  Positioning cloth, mixing epoxy,  epoxying cloth into place. Roll a filler coat on cloth.   Over, and over and over in all seven bays of the hull.

Fillets

 

Stern Section is a bit sloppy.

 

Alan has written and sent several plan pages.  This is a good thing.  Now, as soon as I recover from epoxy and alcohol poisoning from swimming in both, I can move on to assembly of the upper hull, cockpits, hatches and bowsprit.

 

Tri Second Week, The Main Event
Ending 7/26/20

The beginning of this week finds me nearly acclimated to the various mental and physical conditions that show up with the beginning of building a boat. The adrenalin rush is subsiding to a point that allows me to be more functional, more front sight focus, and less frenetic.

The outriggers, (amas) we worked on so diligently last week now lie like discarded trash in another part of the barn. They are temporary complete until we can mount them to the main hull, (vaka), via the metal tubes (akas) that connect the vaka and the amas. The akas must be mounted to the vaka to determine the precise location to attach them to the amas.

here are the finished amas and discarded amas

One-piece at a time I lay out the various main hull parts for joining at precut fingers that will form strakes. First the hull bottom, then the garboards, lower topsides, chines, and the hull upper topside strakes. They each have three sections so there is a bit of joining and epoxy work plus drying time.

The entire hull parts are the first picture.

I always seem to have a bit of a challenge with the gluing of finger joints. Oh, they go together easy enough and stay tight and for the most part even to one another. My problem is excess epoxy on the bottom side of the joints. I join them on plastic sheeting, wipe the excess goop off the top, fold sheeting over the top, and place weights at the fingers as needed. When dry I have this thickish layer of epoxy on the bottom side of the joint that needs to be removed without getting into the wood. Yeah, I probably should have stopped and researched it, instead, I tried various approaches and found none of them worked. So, there will be future sanding, of the joints, but at least there will be little need for filling.

As I finish the joint joining and the epoxy curing, I put them into the cradles that are notched to accept each panel on the bottom and both sides.

Picture of cradlele

After I place each strake in the correct cradle position they are tied in place with 4” zip ties (stitch through holes that allow the strakes to be temporarily tied together) and leave them loose. As an aside, one should take care not to stitch a strake upside down and on the wrong side as I did. Not only is it embarrassing, it wastes ties that need to then be cut off, the strake moved and re-stitched.  Picture of bow the wrong way!

Once all strakes and the chime are loosely stitched I go back, adjust each strake to the one below it. I let them sit overnight in a kind of “get to know your position in life” idea.

 

Now I go back and pull each stitch tight and all the open spots between strakes close perfectly with wood touching wood and no sunlight shining through anywhere.  The sliver of light in picture was closed by re-tighting tie.  This bulkhead is not properly positioned either, but was later.

Below shows the area of bow that needs to be loved into shape and another sliver of light that was closed by tightening tie.

 

That my friends is a satisfying experience.

I put dry fit all the bulkheads and again allow it to sit overnight to begin to understand its proper shape.

As I carefully inspect each seam and joint, the precise seating of the hull on the cradles and the nicely fitted bulkheads even without glue I feel relief. The pressure of placing some bulkheads has opened a couple of slivers of sunlight that will likely be remedied as we start to place an inch of goop between each tie to harden up the correct form of the boat so we can take out the ties.

This is what the boat looks like. As I review the stitching and bulkheads dry fitted, I am gob-smack at how well the boat hull has come together to this point.

 

 

Something else. This boat is huge, as in HUGE as it sits on the cradles.

This is an adventure—and tomorrow it continues as week three.   

And So It Begins.
Trimaran Boat Build

Day #0

Day zero is the twenty-four hours of drive time from Michie, TN to Bayboro, NC and back. During the days before my departure, Alan sends me a series of photos showing his progress…or maybe to drive me crazy with photo teases.

Alan and I have been texting back and forth during the last hours of the trip coordinating my arrival time so it was no surprise when I reach B&B right on time. As I approach the shop, Alan, with a dry wit smirk, asks, as if I am a stranger “May I help you.”

Funny Alan, very funny.

Alan shows me the Trimaran composed of a pile of kindling and some taped together parts for show and tell. I think it is for their curiosity as well as a demo for me. Here are a few of those pictures.

The above picture shows the winged decks or sleeping platform and the leeboard.

The photo above replicates the akas, the metal tubes that hold the outriggers, fully extended at 11’.

The photo above demonstrates the akas fully retracted for trailering at 6’+

There was some discussion about how to transport the boat parts, trailer, or rooftop? Once we look at the possibilities it is decided to simply load it inside of my Ford Expedition. We do and it is amazing how little room the boat pieces take up. It fits easily into the truck.

Day #1
6 hrs

I unload the parts separating the Amas from the vaka as Miss Lynn checks off each part on the master list. Wow! Not one missing wood part. Great!
This small innocuous pile of wood on the workbench below will be the vaka or the main hull of the trimaran. 

Using the 4’x8’x18” Core Sound 17 mk3 shipping container I have saved, we build a 16’ x 18” tabletop and lay it on four sawhorses.  On this table, I place the three pieces of one of the 12’ amas and put weigh on them overnight to help ‘ develop memory. We will lay plastic under the joint with enough to fold over the top of the joint and glue them together in the morning.  Below is the drawing for the 14 ama pieces.

   
We continue to set up the bay with the epoxy station, the command desk, locate our weights for the joints, and pin-up our three sheets of preliminary instructions for assembling the amas. We clean-up the entire area and ensure the benches are clear and all tools in their place.

 

Day #2
2 hrs (another 3 simply staring, practicing in my head how to build a boat and reading The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction by the gone, but not forgotten, WaterTribe brother Meade Gougeon)

At the last minute before leaving the house, I remember to change into my “epoxy clothes”. I am a wild man with epoxy so I don a headscarf, long sleeve shirt, long pants, and shoe covers and of course thin rubber gloves. Lastly an apron.
I mix parts A and B (epoxy and hardener which have pre-metered pumps. I settle into a familiar routine of stirring and counting and after counting add thickener stirring briefly and adding until I have a proper non-drip consistency, then I stir for another count.  I put on gloves go to the four joints, say a brief semi-secular grace of “oh mother, please do not let me F this up so soon.”

I slather on the goop while the locking fingers are apart from the firmly slide them together and enjoy the squishy design of epoxy as it shoots up when the fingers close into place. I slide a broad epoxy applicator gently over the joint to test for vertical finger misalignment and to scrape off the excess goop. The joints are well fitted and no air bubbles. I view this first success, no matter how small or simple, with un-natural contentment. A simple task, a simple pleasure and I didn’t screw up my first bit. Plenty of time for that later.

Oh don’t worry, I won’t go into that much detail for each operation, but the first one is special for me. A new boat, a new challenge, and another opportunity to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

I finish covering the joint with plastic and set dive weights on one set of joints and two large coffee cans filled with metal screws on the other joints. I turn off the AC in the epoxy room to get a faster set on the ama joints and after cutting a couple of acres of grass, (honey-do list) I am back in the evening to move the glued-up pieces and repeat with the second hull. I probably can stack and glued them all at once, but…

Day #3
6 hrs

I take the weights off the second ama and look at the four joints on the two amas. All the joints are fully in place and completely joined with no gaps or holes needing epoxy. Two of the joints have way too much epoxy over the finger joints. It will require a lot of careful sanding to take down the extra epoxy to just above the wood. The remainder will be feathered out when the exterior coats of epoxy go on. The finger joints are flat and even except for one joint which had a slight rise at the finger end on one side. This too will be addressed in the finishing coats much later.

I start the process of stitching the panels loosely together on one ama. It takes about 100 4” zip ties per ama, in three rows consisting of the keel, and one row each on either side of the hull at the chine. It takes a while to stitch, especially with fat fingers. Further, much time is spent ensuring the panels are properly positioned to each other. Much longer than needed, but a certain amount of insecurity keeps me checking over and over.

Aha. I see daylight at the bow near the first bulkhead. I put in a couple more ties in front of the bulkhead and behind and gently pull the zips and the sliver of daylight disappears and the hull and keel remain perfectly shaped. Damn, It’s all good—for now.

I spot glue in the three bulkheads after testing to ensure there is room for the inwales and spot glue in the transom plate. Next, go in the inwales for strength at the gunnel and as a platform for the decking.

Day #4

5 hrs

Inwales need cutting and I am using cypress for these. I cut 5/8”x5/8” strips of cypress and then angle cut the ends as I am going to need to lengthen them by scrafing.

WOW! Do you know how long it takes to set-up to, cut, join, sand, and then coat four twelve-foot long 5/8” strips of cypress for inwales in a very hot saw room—even hotter then B&B Yachts workshop? The answer is all friggin’ morning.

I dry fit the cypress strips and find they are slightly tall in the bulkhead slot, (slightly bigger than 5/8” specified).  I snip a small smidge out of the bulkhead in five minutes. Easy choice that. With the dry-fitted cypress inwales now fitted in place, I elected to leave them overnight to ‘settle’.

Day #5
4 hrs
This morning, satisfied with the ‘settling’, I pull out the port inwale wood, mix up some epoxy to a bit less than peanut butter consistency, and brush it on to the wood. I manage to wrangle the floppy wood strip into place without covering everything else with goop. It fit in easily and I clamp it every 8 to 12 inches. Repeat with starboard inwale which seemed to need a few more clamps then the port.

The second ama panels are stitched into place and tighten with minimal adjustment needed. The inwales fitted but not epoxied.

No, this bow is not curved, the camera is off-angle.

Day #6
6 hrs or Forever
I tack the keel, and chine joints from stern to stem between the stitching as prescribed. As I get to the bow my heart does a little flip-flop as the expression “oh shit” bounces around inside my head. I cannot get my hand inside the hull between the forward bulkhead and the stem to tack the heel or stem joint. I am further hindered on the sides by the inwales.

I escape to my stool, sit with an elbow on knee, hand on chin, and become a poor replica of Rodan’s sculpture “The Thinker.” I go back to the bow which is now taunting me. Sigh.

I mix some epoxy and, contrive a sheet metal tool and attempt to wet the dark narrow slit from stem to the first bulkhead. I go back and attempt to add a fillet followed by pre-wet fiberglass tape. The tape seems to go in relatively correctly so perhaps all is well, though I think a bit of exterior fortification on the bow will give me another degree of comfort.

Fortunately, the second hull gains from my experience with the first and the fact that the inwales are not glued into place yet and I have a little better access. I have some thin strips of 1” carbon fiber battens that feel like may be of benefit on the ama bows under the fiberglass clothe. Note to self: Ask Alan. In retrospect, it seems like the only way to do this properly is to do something at the time of stitching.

All in all, if not fun, an interesting day.

Day #7
3 hrs
I remove all zip ties. Nothing falls apart or off so I guess the tack welding is a success. I lightly wet out the stern interior seams to the 3rd bulkhead on both amas, Then measure and cut the 2” glass tape need for that compartment. I now mix up fillet goop and apply it. I want to use a squeeze bottle, but that is too much of a hassle as is a zip lock bag that manages to open as I squeeze it. I revert to spooning with a mixing stick. Fillets are interesting. The joint to be filleted seem to tell me how big its fillet should be. Am I a fillet whisperer? Probably not.

Note to self: All fillets should be long lines not fiddly corners at obtuse angles.

I turn off the AC in my workspace and go to lunch.

An hour or so later the temp is up to 90 degrees, I turn on the AC and find my fillets ripe for taping. I lay on the precut tape and brush on fresh epoxy.
At supper, I repeat the above on the rest of the keel joint on one ama with success.

It is not as ugly as it looks in photo.

 

It isn’t easy being me. I try very hard not to be me at times. Perhaps that why I attempt certain challenges. Is tackling difficult expedition boating challenge’s me, or is it who I want to be? I do not feel I am particularly superstitious, yet, when it comes to boating, let’s say I take peculiar precautions. I adhere to things with some truth to them for sure. “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night, sailors delight.” Further, I do not take bananas on the boat for reasons only the ancient Spanish mariners know. When I am in what feels like the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with the wind piping up, cause some damn fool nearby piped up the wind, I search the gray skies for the sharp edge wings of an Albatross for superstitious balance. You know, kinda like feng shui for small boat sailors.

I try hard at not believing in ominous warnings, that take on the feeling of dire predictions, which can, well, sink my very small ship. But superstitious behavior is in the mind of the beholder and if it’s true is it superstitious? I think not, young grasshopper.

You be the judge.

Our 2020 effort started about 24 hours after our EC 2019 finish, but let’s begin this discussion upon our departure from the homeport in Michie, TN on Wednesday before our Saturday scheduled start date.

It is a long single-day drive to our motel near St. Petersburg, Florida. This year we break it down into two shorter days to conserve energy for the pre-start events. It is a hard drive through heavy rainfall the first day to Dothan, Alabama. I am tired and happy to arrive at our hotel. We haul gear to our room and I return to the boat and trailer to perform a routine inspection as I do for every stop. The boat looks good and glistens in the rain. I pat it on its flanks as if it were an Arabian stallion. I walk the trailer, proud of the new waterproof LED lights and the hardening of the bunks and reposition bits and parts that make trailer stronger. I feel the passenger side wheel hub. It is cool and clean. I casually check the other hub and the wheel is tilted on the axle. The hub grease cover missing and grease slung over the wheel. Upon closer inspection, the outer bearing is missing and the wheel on the verge of falling off. The outer grease fitting is missing and the outer ring bearing is not there.

Really? This is Wednesday evening. The boat has to be on the beach Friday morning and I am in a strange town, in an unfamiliar city at 1700 hrs. with a wheel falling off my trailer?

The hotel staff is of little help. I call an auto repair I can see down the road. They suggest I call a marine shop. The marine shop says no problem, we can fix it next week. They suggest a person called Bob, not a company, who might be able to help. He would have this guy call me.

Yeah. Right. I am getting the brush-off. I hang-up and start scouring the internet on my phone seeking some insight into what I might do when the phone rings. Huh. Bob is calling, the guy who might help. He tells me to have my trailer at his shop at 0800 in the morning. I explain the wheel will fall off in about thirty feet of motion. He says call this towing company. I tell him I will need to call AAA, he repeats, ask them to call Eagle Towing. MMmmm. I am just going to let AAA handle it.

I call AAA and tell them what Bob said. They call me back and say that company is closed. AAA calls Phillips Towing who calls me and says he is on the way. but wait, don’t come now, come in the morning. He can store my boat and trailer overnight he says, I say, just come in the morning. Thanks and goodnight see you in the morning.

Sigh.

I need dinner and a drink. There is a Top Chef winning chef in Dothan who has a restaurant I want to visit that has a bar. We call an Uber so the boat and trailer can stay secured to the truck until morning and I can safely indulge.

We sit at the bar, the staff is fun and the barkeep wants me to try a special. It’s a Bourbon Margarita. Gee, that sounds hideous.
Huh.
It’s wonderful! Keep them coming!

We order dinner and an attractive blonde sits next to me. Guess that the other guy is her husband. Come to find out she is a Director of Nurses at a local hospital and Zeb Owens works for trailer sales as in tractor-trailers. I explain my plight since he is in a slightly related trailer business. He replies, he can’t help but knows many people in the trailer business that can. I explain I have a name of a guy, Bob, with a no-name company in a field outside of town. He says, oh yeah, that’s my friend Bob Downey. He will take great care of you. We have a wonderful evening with our new acquaintances. They are nice people.

OK, smallish town, but not that small, not sure we are going to make the race start, but have no other options but to go with what we got.

Next morning. Eagle Towing shows up at 0800 loads boat and trailer on the wrecker. Wait. No! It’s supposed to be Phillips Towing, but this…is. Aw shit, just take the darn thing to Bobs. Thirty minutes later the Phillips Towing company, calls and says they are at the motel and cannot find the boat. Oh jeez. Thanks, AAA. I explain AAA has called two companies. He is a bit pissed. I tell him to take it up with AAA.

Now my boat is being unloaded in one of several old garages in what could be a Dothan, Alabama beanfield with a faded sign out front that says something like Computer Resales. Bob is very nice. He convinces me immediately he knows what he is doing and then proves it.

Bob explains his company, Wagon Works has been in the same spot for thirty years, doesn’t have or need a shop sign, does not advertise and is constantly busy with a variety of trailer work. None of it has to do with computer resales. One of the things he shared is his work on several Pro Bass fishermen trailers. They come in every two to three months for preventive inspection of wheel bearings.

While Bob is talking, two of his guys have both trailer wheels off and assessing the damage. Bob looks, consults and says, I want to do both wheels with new bearings to make sure. It is 0930 now. Come back at 1130 and you will be good to go.

Wow! He did, I did and he even shares with me a short cut out of town and a great place for lunch on the way.

I LOVE DOTHAN. Thank you, Bob, and thank you, Zeb.

Oh, yes. It rains and the wind blows hard as we make our way to Florida.

Part of my training this year, besides the rowing machine, is preparing and setting finishing goals. I am discontent with our Everglades Challenge finish 2019 when we did not arrive until late Thursday evening—six days underway. Yes, happy to finish, but embarrassed at being so late. This year I have a mantra laid out on paper I recite with every meal.

Saturday Checkpoint One-Englewood.
Sunday Checkpoint two-Chokoloskee.
Monday Checkpoint three-Flamingo.
Tuesday Finish Key Largo.

As it turns out drilling this into my head was a mistake, but first, let’s get to the starting line.

Our effort to set the boat on the beach goes extremely well with lots of help from colleagues. This is always a busy exciting time.

Busy in setting up the boat and exciting meeting old and making new friends and walking the beach looking at a hundred different shaped and sized vessels sitting above the high tide/starting line. I would be remiss if I didn’t confide that before the 1500 hr captains meeting that we have fresh, chilled oysters and beer at Billy’s Bar down the road. Pre-race oysters have become a superstitious indulgence for long life or simply staying alive during this event.

Saturday AM the start is a muddle. There is a three hours delay due to weather and we are given the choice of starting off the beach or moving across the bay to find a start. We elect to start with other sailboats off the beach even though there are high choppy seas in the Gulf and the formidable current in the shipping channel we must cross to get there.

We struggle with our boat rollers at the start.

There is a little dip and hill in the sand and the boat gets stuck there, but finally, we get the damn thing in the water. Kyle piles in, raises the sails while I hold the boat in place and he finishes adjustments. Inexplicably he and the boat start sailing off dragging me behind as I try to move my five layers of clothes and wet suit through the water to get a foot on the aft ladder. Kyle jerks my upper body hard and high enough that I finally get a foot on the ladder and heave the rest of me into the boat where I take the tiller and Kyle moves forward.

The first few minutes are rather a perilous period in heavy weather as it takes us a bit to get “settled” meaning get our shit together, get our collective heads in the game and become one with the boat. We trim the boat properly and try to settle into the boat. We are just about settled, but not quite when we decide to gybe and take up a more advantageous course.

Aside: Many sloop-rigged boats are hard and dangerous to gybe, however a Core Sound like ours with its cat-ketch sail system is much easier and less dangerous, so we have no particular fears in doing a controlled gybe in high winds in this marvelous little vessel, a move we have performed in high winds on the Tennessee River routinely.

Unfortunately, something goes amuck and to this day we have no idea what, and I am not going to speculate what may have happened and why we failed collectively to control the gybe effectively.

Our controlled gybe consists of throwing the helm over and the crew grabbing a fist full of mainsheet line below the sprit as the sail catches the wind on the backside and starts to pick-up force and fly over more than 180 degrees to the other side of the boat.

Now in real-time, the helm is thrown over to gybe and the next thing I know there is a loud pop as the sail comes to an immediate stop at the end of the mainsheet and lays hard against the loose running backstay. We are both startled by the pop but the boat is gybed and sailing—but sailing slower. We look around and find the top five sail slides have broken and the top of the sail is attached only by the halyard and the lower sail slides that remain in the track.

IMG_20200307_113914.jpg

This is not good.

We attempt to return to the start beach which is directly into the wind. The boat will not point into the wind more than about 70 degrees with the broken sail and it is painfully slow going the mile or two back toward the island. We end up well down the beach where a ranger has seen us land. She does not bother to tell us we cannot land here, but rather works out a plan to get us back on a trailer and off the beach out of danger so we can do what we have to do. My four-wheel-drive truck puts the trailer into the water near the ranger station road. The boat floats on the trailer and as I pull it out of the water the trailer gets bogged down in a slight valley and the truck spins its wheels in the sand and gets stuck. More rangers come to our rescue each with a better idea leading to a ranger truck pulling my truck while we both run in four-wheel drive back to the start beach and the safety of the grass behind the beach.

This handful of rangers willingly went out of their way to save our effort and to make it much easier to recover and be on our way. I cannot thank these men and women enough for their help and wonderful attitude.

We get the boat back to grass and down rig it and then go in search of properly sized sail slides. Poor Kyle ends up going to three West Marines in St. Petersburg, Bradenton, and Sarasota to find the number of slugs we need going forth. Kyle then spends the evening, while at a party with local friends of ours, attaching slides to sail. The attachment is as good or better than the originals.

Sunday morning we launch from a small, little-used, county park which I will not divulge as I have used it twice now as an Everglades Challenge starting point. We sail out of Stump Pass into the Gulf after doing our SPOT check-in with Ckpt #1. We follow the coast as close as we feel safe to do while crossing Boca Grande channel and pull in closer to shore as the wind picks up. We reach the end of Sanibel and the winds and seas increase dramatically. We pinch up hard around the island hoping to seek the protection of the mainland south of Ft. Myers several miles distance. There is too much wind and nasty seas. We make no headway.

The wind is blowing 20 to 30 with four to five footers with the required occasional six-footer. We are double reefed and can make no forward progress. We find ourselves tacking back and forth in the same spot off Sanibel. We are beating ourselves up badly so we take shelter in the Gulf where we anchor up behind Sanibel licking our wounds. We pour a shot of whiskey and vow to try again later.

We plan to check the O’ dark thirty weather but do not bother as the wind increases. In the morning we haul anchor and try it again with the same results—back and forth, back and forth with no joy. Based on our calculations of predicted weather it will be Friday before we can get to Largo.

We talk.

Five broken sail slugs put us a day behind. We missed the north wind advantage that would carry us around Sanibel and into favorable coastal waters for the predicted east winds. We replay out loud the two days of rain and wind traveling to Florida. We talk of the trailer wheel falling off. We look at those things as a prediction of things to come. We mold those events until they feed into our superstitions We talk ourselves into calling the race and taking a DNF.

Our bailout option is singular. Sail back up the coast to a pass that is angled and deep enough to allow us to go a bit to windward. The choice is easy. Enter at Boca Grande and sail up toward the Boca Causeway swing bridge and find a channel we can sail up to reach a ramp or marina.

The trip north, double-reefed, on a reach, even sailing very close to the beach, the east wind coming off the land is brutal. We work hard to keep the boat on its feet. Our tools are a combination of turning up into the wind and relaxing our sails, over and over again. We take turns at the helm in an attempt to keep our concentration sharp. Even less than a mile from shore the seas are two to four feet.

We sneak into Boca Grande channel by rounding close to the point of Caya Costa and near reach toward the ICW on the west inside of Boca Grande. That sounds like a simple task–it was not.

We are pushed inbound rapidly on a flood tide while the screeching winds blow hard against the incoming tide. In the mouth of the deep Boca Channel, it forms standing waves that rise and fall almost in place, each like a monster attempting to rise from the sand in Dune. The first few monsters strike fear into the heart of men. But the work of keeping the boat going in a semblance of the right direction, turns the fear into a wash of determination and attention to working each wave, just so as not to get knocked down from one side or to flood the boat with water on the other. We spend an hour, that seems like a day reaching the far side of the pass well beyond our target. Fortunately, there is sheltered water deep enough to allow us to sail north and west back to the safety of the ICW.

In searching for our shore crew we get stuck between a bridge and a hard spot. We run into a large retired railroad bridge house while attempting to get through a narrow cut. The collision is hard, sliding the crew forward at least six inches in the cockpit, this, followed by a mayhem of tangling sails and lines on an ICW red marker. This incident now properly defines the term clusterf—k for me. The final insult was accepting a tow by a passing boat to a nearby marina.

We down rig the boat for trailering. We are exhausted, but I mentally drop into a dark hole of would of, should of, could of.

We could backtrack and take the ICW and chances are we could make the big bridge at Ft. Myers then cruise down the coast and take the tide in Checkpoint 2. Perhaps later catch lighter east winds to allow us to tack to Flamingo. Maybe go around the park boundary in the Gulf then up the ICW to Key Largo.

But for wanting and planning to do the event in four days, I have learned from the Everglades Challenge yet another important life lesson: When one eye is fixed on the destination, you have only one eye to search for the way.

Because of our superstitious behavior—well, there are never enough excuses for quitting–are there. So here I sit like Capt. Brandywine Gage “Rump-sprung and calloused where no man nae’ ought to be calloused.”

Next year’s Everglades Challenge will be approached differently. I will use the anger at myself and the embarrassment of quitting, to re-structure my 2021 Challenge. I will set my plans now. I will finish—no matter the time it takes.
First I will be safe. My challenge will be loose, flexible and consist of working with the elements to my best advantage even if that means sleeping it out or going backward to go around. My goal should always be to finish safely.

Even after all this recrimination, my head niggles back to a single set of thoughts. Sailorman was roughly the same spot and time we were off Sanibel. Could that have been us–lost at sea?

I am not a great writer and certainly know nothing about poetic schemes and the following is not careful, thoughtful, or poetic. It is a desperate attempt at purging some of my emotions over the loss of a person, during the Everglades Challenge, I have never met. It is for a person who I only know as a picture of an upside-down, water ladened boat. A vessel like mine. That blue hull barely afloat in the Gulf of Mexico, to me, is Sailorman:

A Tribute to SAILORMAN.

 

Sailorman, Sailorman how have you been?
It’s good to see you on the beach looking fit and trim.

Sailorman, Sailorman are you ready for the run?
It will be three hundred miles—three suns or more before your done.

Brother Sailorman are you Challenge prepped and ready for some fun?
For it’s time to leave the endless sands of beach,
It’s time to slip the surly bonds of earth and chase the surging tides.

Its time to slog through oozing mud of Chocolusky,
Its time to seek and touch the basin rim in Flamingo,
And it is time to log a route that takes you to Key Largo.

Sailorman? We hope you hit the spot soon as your track is slightly out,
No doubt you briefly nodded off.
Dude, wake up and resume your route, yes, no doubt you nodded off.

Sailorman?

Sailorman, OH Sailorman where have you gone. Sailorman NO!
Do not let this go,
Do not let this be your ‘sweet sorrow’.

Sailorman, we all know and accept the risks, the sea is a harsh mistress,
Yet it is hard to accept dear Sailorman, that you have met her like this.

Our sailorman,
You have reached the ultimate challenge,
And discovered life is a corridor and death merely a door.

We pray thee well and hope your crossing the bar was merciful and quick,
Even as your memory will linger with us all forever and ever, Amen.