We wind down major changes to the boat and trailer as we initiate the 14-day countdown. The last few little things to be done, besides nervous checking and re-checking, are mounting the new shadow box for the navigation pad on the aft of the mizzen mast immediately in front of the helmsman. It is raining/snowing today so not going to show where the mounting takes place but here are pictures of the Nav Box with a power cable that will be run to the solar distribution panel in the house.

 

I have also re-built the two shattered masthead floats into one functional unit. While doing so I was “daydreaming about night things in the middle of the afternoon….” Mainly our run about 15 miles offshore within sight of ten shrimpboats lite up like Christmas trees. “I got to think I could see them really, really well with all their work lights blazing and I bet they couldn’t see me at all with my low lying running lights. So I decided maybe I can fix that a little. My masthead float, also a great apparent wind direction indicator, a symbol of Groot is now also a radar reflector. Yea!

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One of the biggest problems I have while sailing in my drysuit is the inability to get it undone to pee before it ends up in my bootie. So after several lurches, stops and the purchase of a $90.00 (choke), zipper, it looks like the situation will be well in hand with Lynns’ help. Stop, just stop, thinking those things.

The zipper will go just here once we make the cuts, placement, glue it and later sew.

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Testing, training, and preparation have been the forefront of life at the Tennessee WaterTribe Adventure Challenge Consortium River: Core Sound Build Sector at the Captains Quarters on GoatHead Ranch.  

Ok, ok it’s simply the barn behind the house where the magic and the work both hard and easy, takes place when I feel inspired and the spirit moves me.  Its been moving me a lot this month as the drums beat louder and more insistent in my head.

Last year the newly constructed boat with fresh paint was pretty and bright like a newly minted coin to be treasured and loved.  This year the boat is rough–more like a commercial fishing boat without the smell of decaying fish.  This year it is a tool.  Groot has been drilled, screwed, punched, cut, adapted and rigged for more efficient use of–well, just about everything from a Code Zero headsail to an anchoring system tended to from the cockpit to the installation of a shielded mounted Samsung pad with Navtronics Charting System for a more visual navigation system.  I Am Groot is no longer just another pretty boat, but an aggressive, “mean motorscooter and a bad go-getter”.

Took the boat to the lake previous Saturday to test the Code Zero and the boat with no ballast water in air of 1 to 3 mph.
We went Sunday for the same testing, no ballast, in 8 to 12 mph.
I felt kinda disappointed when I received the sail.  I thought it was likely too heavy and too small for what I was hoping to accomplish.  My thoughts were as wrong as a fart in church.
On the light air Saturday we increased our speed from 0-.5 mph to 1 to 2 mph.  Basically we went from not feeling any air on our faces to feeling air. 
This Sunday in 8 to 12, no ballast water, we increased our speed with the Code Zero by 2 to 4 mph, though it was gusty so it was hard to measure.  We started reefing at eight mph, but before we did we found we could point considerably higher with the Code Zero.  Not sure how much since we did not have a steady compass.
We know the Code Zero will point higher, move us faster probably up to winds of 12 mph with ballast water, maybe higher.   
Oddly enough the Zero, unlike the main and mizzen, works sheeted closer then we anticipated.  So the rules:  mainsail do not pinch, keep it open but keep the Zero in tight.
These pics with the Zero furled are the only ones we have at the moment.

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Our oars last year were pathetic but with some extension and a bit of weight judiciously place they work quite well for this year.

When it’s cold, like today, there are many other preps to tend to that take thought and time to sort out.  One of them is rations.  Here my eats for this year.

The life jacket( PFD), one of the most important elements to get right is also completed.  Because I am not on the Hobie and we have an actual cockpit in the Core Sound the gear is carried differently.  The basic rule is “Two is One and One is none.  So basically there are at least two of most everything.  For me, that means two headlights, flashlights, emergency beacons in the SPOT and the personal locator beacon,(PLB), knives, radio, energy bars and small Arial rockets and singles of VHF radio, (though Kyle has one also), bug head net, gloves, bug repellent, zipper lubricant, sunblock, chapstick, whistle, and a water-activated LED strobe attached to the back.
 

As we put things together we will record them here.

 

 
The Florida 120 is an unusual event for me and my newly finished Core Sound 17 mk 3/Bones, one that I look forward to completing.

 My crew Rogue Wave and I launch from Mahogany Mills in Pensacola.  We float/sail?/motor a couple of hours to “The Sandbar.”  Upon our approach, I realize I had spent a couple of days here in 2004 after the hurricane that did so much damage to the area.  I remember this spot vividly, cause at that time the storm had deposited a sailboat near the top of the sand dune. 

Our approach to the beach muddles my brain with indecisiveness when I see most boats are med moored.  Our bow anchor is not easy to reach or set from the boat and our stern anchor risks fouling the engine or rudder.  Should I go in bow first or spin the bow out.  As I vacillate between which direction to take the bow I find the boat sliding up on the beach, stern afloat and Groot wagging impatiently wondering what in the hell the captain was thinking.  I murmured an impolite word that starts with F and I said it to myself several times Oh,____!  

It is pretty sad when ones’ own boat is embarrassed by the captain.

OK then.  We have arrived no matter how indignantly.  We lower the sails.  But wait!  I have never lowered the sails without putting them away for trailer transport.  What the heck do I do with them?

Aw, _____.  After an excessive exercise in futility, the sails are wadded up and secured, after a fashion, looking all wrinkled and nasty.  It is good there was no wind blowing, I would still be there wadding sails.
In order to hide some of my angst, I slip a folding chair into the water and sit facing out so no one will know who the dummy captain is.  Unfortunately, the chair only sinks into the sand a bit and does not allow me to hide my head underwater.

People come by to say hi and introduce themselves.  There is no hiding, it is what it is.  Much to my amazement, no one is hiding chortles of laughter but are genuinely interested in the boat and crew.  I am thankful.

Later in the evening, I figure out Garth Brooks is right:
I’ve got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases the blues away
Down on the oasis. OK, it is really a sandbar, but you get the idea.

So I am kinda sitting and listening to the sea stories get bigger and bolder as the sun gets lower.  Suddenly, backlit by the setting sun appears a bulbous glass flask filled with an exceedingly clear amber liquid. The flask is passed.  First a cautious sniff, then a testing sip, (lip-smacking optional.)  Then the huge gulp over lips over gums look out stomach….Whoa!  This is the nectar of the gods in the form of fifteen-year-old whiskey.  Truth be told, I snuck around ahead of the passing to get another snort.  Mmm, that is some smooth stuff.

But, alas, the whiskey is a distraction for the main event.  Pat pulls out what looks like a five-gallon carboy of canned meat.  To be precise, it is Myocastor coypus meat.  To be polite it is nutria.  To be truthful nutria is a fourteen-pound herbivorous semiaquatic rodent. In reality, ITS RAT MEAT!
Alrighty then, let’s get on with it.  We drank his liquor we gotta eat his rat meat.  It gets passed around.  Everyone pulls ugly faces before sampling.  As the huge jug approaches, I feel like a judge on Americas Worst Cooks.  Pat hands me a small fork full of this, this stuff.  I take it and want to swallow fast but he is watching closely to see I do not cheat in any matter.  The meat has good texture and light in flavor and holy cow patty, it tastes like rich canned tuna.  I want more, but amazingly the five-gallon container has shrunk to a pint jar.  Pity, just enough for one pass around.

I did not know the evenings were going to be a sharing adventure and my crew and I brought nothing to share.  That will change next time.

This article is meant to be about sailing, but there was not a lot of challenging sailing so it is not about sailing, but more about learning what the 120 is about and exposing deficits in my experiences.  The 120 challenged me and exposed my inexperience in the following areas:
·        Launching off a busy ramp
·        Anchoring off a beach with grace and efficiency
·        Securing the Cat-Ketch sail system when at anchor
·        Boat camping management
·        Bushwacker endurance/Survival
OK, launching is an acquired art form, I get that.  Anchoring off the beach requires some yet to be learned or understood boat skills and also refitting the anchoring systems. Understandably not developing boat camping skills is cause I don’t really care for camping of any sort.  But I can learn, really, I can.
Bushwackers? I see no problem there.  I like chocolate, Bushwackers have chocolate what could be so bad.  I have experienced the best every bar in the Bahamas can muster, well mostly.  PainKillers in Annapolis were a challenge, but manageable.  But a chocolate Bushwacker with a float, I am sure to do easy peasy.

Rogue Wave takes me to the “Sand Pit” at Juana’s for music and a beverage.  I reluctantly accept his purchase of a Bushwacker–float free.  Mmm good.  We go to the upper bar where the music volume is about right and there are nubile young women playing volleyball below.  Sweet.
Now lets pause right there for a moment to develop a firm understanding.  I have been practicing all my life to be a dirty-old-man.  Upon reaching 76, now I are one—and perfect practice has made me the perfect dirty old man.  Translation.  I just look, never touch.

Watching the volleyball game I order another Bushwacker, this time with a 151 float.  Soon all the women in the bar turn drop dead gorgeous and I must celebrate them all with yet another Bushwacker with a float.
Now fast forward, out of necessity, to morning.  (please do not ask).  I find myself sitting in my folding chair once again in the water up to my chest drinking a double Starbucks Instant Coffee with a rum shot given to me by my son.  Hair of the dog he sez.  I look around and see no dog—I shrug.  Nor do I see any of the dozen boats that were there when I went to the bar yesterday evening for dinner—I shrug again. 

The group previously decide to return to Pensacola Pass for Friday night.  On our way, after a very, very late start after the Starbucks with the hair in it, my son points out that we had already been to the sandbar and that while it is technically a bar there were no Bushwackers there Wednesday and he suggests there was no reason to suspect that had changed.

Hence, we abandon our new friends of the Florida 120 for new friends at the Tiki bar near the launch ramp, the one with logo of a female fish with big red lips.  This bar does not have Bushwakers either, but does have, wait for it, Shipwrecks or is it Shipwreckers.  Taste like a Bushwacker to me.  My final thought on Pensacola.  I am sure glad they have Uber.

My feelings on the Florida 120 crew.  Thank you Pat for everything!  You all are great people!  Thank you for sharing your wisdom, comradery and thank you for sharing those wonderful Bushwackers.

Capt Bones & Rogue Wave
 
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I Am Groot

WaterTribes

2019 Everglades Challenge

Figure 1. The Starting line to port.

Figure 2 The starting line to Starboard

I recently spent hours researching why humans push themselves into adventure challenges:  like the Race to Alaska, (R2Ak), the Everglades Challenge, Iditarod, the trek of the Appalachian Trail, climbing mountains and any number of other grueling events. I failed to find a logical reason for them.  Then one evening the first fifteen seconds of a Ford commercial provided, not so much a reason nor insight, but a concise explanation. Here it is.

“We humans are strange creatures.                                                                       Other species avoid pain and struggle.                                                                           We actually seek it out.                                                                                                 

Other species do difficult things because they have to.                                              

We do difficult things because we like to.                                                                     We think it’s fun!” 

The Everglades Challenge is an edgy three hundred miles expedition from Tampa, down the coast, through the Everglades, and across Florida Bay to Key Largo. As my brothers and sisters of WaterTribe understand,  this trek is designed as a trial for us “stranger creatures” to conquer.

My stupidity in not eating, drinking or sleeping properly in the 2017 Everglades Challenge left me in the Homestead Hospital for a couple of days.  Pushing hard in the 2017 Blackbeard Challenge exposed a need for a heart pacemaker and immediately prior to the 2018 Everglades Challenge my gall bladder requested to be excised.  Miss Lynn was not happy with any of these issues and laid down a few suggestions tacking them to my forehead with a velvet hammer.

As part of my personal challenge for the 2019 event, I accept Miss Lynn’s caveat of not taking my “log” solo to Key Largo.  Log is her definition of a Hobie AI, but certainly not mine. I find this cute little vessel to be mean, lean, fast, exceptionally strong and quite comfortable, albeit a bit wet.  (Hobie where is my spiff for the ad?).  Further, she who must be obeyed stipulates I can have any small boat as long as it has a dry cabin and option for a two-man crew.  As she is explaining the terms of my future participation in Adventure Challenges, I am thinking:  “Who am I to turn down the opportunity to have a Core Sound?” 

It is late March2018. With little time to waste, I reach out through various sources to find a pre-built Core Sound as B&B Yachts sell only kits and plans. Much to my dismay, there are none available for sale. Dang.  Really?

Sigh.  Now I have to buy a kit and build one, but which, the CS 17 Mk 3 or the CS20 Mk 3.  My philosophy is to buy the smallest boat for the job and equip it the best.  I choose the Core Sound 17 Mk 3.

Figure 3. Miss Lynn taking the first sail on Core Sound 17Mk 3

May 1st, 2018 I open the 4’x8’x18” box and start the build. With no experience and approximately 1500 man-hours of blood, sweat and tears later, I have a boat to campaign in the EC. Wow! I built a boat. 

Figure 4 Will it Float?

Will it float after launching it off the start beach?

Figure 5 staged on the start beach.
Figure 6 Can we get it to the water?

Bumpkin aka Capt Kyle my co-captain and I have a well planned and mentally rehearsed boat launch system off the starting beach from above the high tide line using blow-up exercise yoga rollers.  Two seconds into our launch the boat bounces off the rollers to port.  With what seems like a hundred thousand people watching our escapade, the errant boat lays like an embarrassed beached whale in the sand.  We laboriously put the boat back on the rollers and with one pushing and the other pulling with an excessive amount of adrenaline, the boat shoots down the beach out of control as it splashes into the water and heads for the Tampa Bay Ship Channel.  Fortunately, we catch the stern of the boat with a nonchalant grace that masks the mental turmoil of a boat escaping its master.  Jeez.  Do I feel stupid!

Figure 7 Ready to rock n’ roll
Figure 8. Oops!
Figure 9. We love it when a plan comes together.
Figure 10. And we are off in the light air like a herd of turtles.

We climb aboard, trim the sails, deflate and stow the rollers and settle in to regain our composure and take up a proper heading for the point off Anna Maria Island. 

While we had trained in the flukey winds of Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River we had not sailed the boat in salt water and relatively steady winds.  This, I think, encourages us to pinch too much into the very light air and permits our colleagues in similar boats to leave us in the mist. It takes us a while to figure out the most effective sail trim, but soon enough we were speeding along at 0.5 mph with infrequent spurts of 1.5 mph.  It seems to take days to reach Anna Maria across Tampa Bay and another week for it to drop out of sight as we float ever so slowly along the Gulf Coast toward the turn at Stump Pass.  What should have been a fourteen-hour run to Checkpoint #1 in average winds, turns into a grueling twenty-four hours to Englewood Beach and another five-hour rowing adventure to reach the checkpoint at Cape Haze Marina.  Aaaarrrggh.

The pain endured in this first leg melts away as we pull into the Marina and see our women on the dock hollering, waving and making us feel like national heroes.

After a thirty minute rest with our wives, we head back out into the ICW facing several miles of rowing hard into a breeze and the maelstrom chop of Sunday afternoon power boaters in a narrow channel.  We realize attempting to go south is not only a non-starter but not happening.  “Darn”, we said, as if darn began with an “F”.  We look at each other and without another word throw the tiller over and sail back to Stump Pass channel, then we ‘suck it up” and Kyle rows out to the Gulf–again.  This was the single best decision we will make all week and we know it.

After a while, we tack away from shore and aim for the Boca Grande channel outer marker three miles offshore, Bumpkin comments on the bright light of the new lighthouse on the island.  I look at the light for several minutes somewhat confused, then point out the light in the sky is not a lighthouse, but a Planet perhaps Saturn or Venus or maybeThanos—I know for sure when the light follows us all the way to the end of the channel.

It is night when we reach the outer marker but we are not alone.  There is no moon but there are a gazillion stars and at least ten shrimp boats in a line fishing a similar depth. It is mesmerizing.  I do not wish to break the spell by turning south and am tempted to continue west until we reach a Spanish speaking shrimper. “Hola, que tal Pablo.” We reluctantly turn south and hold a course for hours that allows us to clear the southern point of Sanibel Island the next morning at dawn– on one tack.  It is a delicious overnight run, that single tack. Why does it feel so good? It makes no more sense than Bumpkin and Bones being off-shore in a cockleshell in the first place. 

We while away Monday scooting down the coast with a fair breeze past Ft. Myers, Naples and Marco Island to our next turn close to the shallow tip of Cape Romano, as suggested by a local bait shop owner we talked to a few days earlier while scouting.  We pass close to the abandoned dome stilt buildings and the shallows worry us as we follow wake tracks laid down by center console fishing boats. We feel relief when we finally pop out into Gullivan Bay and take up a course for the second channel light of Indian Key Pass.  As we reach the channel we encounter a slowly rising tide and a dark evening as the wind trickles down to zippity nothing.  Nada. Zilch.  We break out the oars. I don my head net and put on a long sleeve poly shirt and my sailing gloves and grab the oars.  Rowing this boat is awkward.  The nine-foot oars are too short causing the rower to pull from shoulder high and shoulder width.  It is cumbersome.  As I row moisture is accumulating and evaporating out of my shirt.  The cloth feels prickly due to sweat I think.  Soon I realize it is not sweat but mosquitos feasting on me through my shirt.  It is driving me crazy.  I think it can’t really be that bad and it’s my head being weak as an excuse to stop rowing.

We reach Chokoloskee Bay.  Bumpkin takes the oars and brings us home all the way down the bay to the Checkpoint #2 mid-evening.  Here the bugs are worse, but I do not feel them biting anymore.  Instead, they seem to be all circling my head attempting to get through my head net.  They do not but there are so many my mind seems to track off into some form of anxiety attack.  Bumpkin does not understand my mental stress but agrees to depart immediately and even while we make this decision the sign in my mind seems to go from anxious to psychotic.  I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE  NOW!

(ASIDE:  As it turns out in the light of the next day I find a continuous four-inch band of solid red composed of hundreds of bites across my abdomen and another large swath across the back of both shoulders.  I will not let that happen again!)

Bumpkin is on the oars as we leave Choko. I know he is very tired. I suspect he might be annoyed with my behavior and as my crazed, buggy condition bleeds off, I am slightly embarrassed.  We turn west past the end of Choko island into an unseen channel through a field of oyster beds.  The last of the incoming tide funnels through this channel and our forward progress comes to a dead stop.  We set our anchor in the channel to wait out for the tide to change.  As we impatiently wait for the turn in the tide we hear grit.  A grate quickly follows the grit and the grate expands into a constant grind before we come to a stop on top of an oyster bed! 

We pull in the anchor line that has been shredded and there is no anchor attached.  This is not good, no, no, this is not good!  High and dry on what is soon to be a falling tide is not on our to-do list.  We go into a semi-panic mode for about ten seconds.  “Sail it off” I yell.  Kyle grabs the main halyard and the sail practically shoots from a lowered position to the masthead with a single adrenaline charge hoist.  I sheet in the main and grab the tiller and the boat is moving toward the nearest deep water—on the wrong side of the oyster bed.  Oh, “poop”, I say.  “Can we go around?  Maybe.” I think.  I am unsure.

Kyle speaks up with authority.  “We sailed off this bed, let’s sail back across the oysters and off the other side!”  “Really?” I think.  Kyle repeats his thought. It isn’t a question and not an idea one wants to ponder too long so we set the centerboard at 30% to act as an early warning signal, pick up some speed, throw the helm over and head back for the oyster bed. With our eyes on the GPS map and our ears waiting for the sound of ripping wood, amazingly we cross the treachery below us without incident and enter the proper channel to find a fair tide and slight breeze to our advantage. It took both of us to timely resolve this incident.  Guess that is why this boat needs co-captains.

Cautiously, on full alert, we blaze our way dropping GPS cookie crumbs through the heart of darkness of mangrove islands, oyster beds, sandbars, and black shape-changing monsters of our mind. At any moment I expect a spectra of Kurtz to rise from the swamp waters with a shit eating grin and, well, eat our boat.  

It is a glorious escape back to the sea in the early hours of Tuesday morning and we celebrate with a pair of huge sighs blowing off that last bit of tension sounding more whale-like than human.

…..

The wind freshens as we wing and wing our way down to Northwest Cape then broad reach on shortened sail to the Middle Cape and reef again as we approach the East Cape. We thread our way through the shoals and take up a course for the outer marker of Flamingo.  No problem. I got this.  I know where we are.   I have played and sailed this channel before.  Then I realize it was during daylight, not a moonless night. Further, most of my time here was under extreme hallucinations and even now the shoreline I see is not trees, but billowing clouds in the north that my mind wants to be Flamingo a short hundred yards away.  Kyle points out my delusion and explains Flamingo is far, far away.  I am lost in my own mind—again. 

But not for long. 

We are at the south end of the entrance channel to Flamingo with a North wind blowing pretty hard.  Can’t sail the channel and we can’t row against it.  I suggest we roll the dice and tack as far as we can up and across the channel.  We do, but only make it about halfway to Flamingo before we stop dead on a mud flat.  The centerboard is in the mud but we are floating above the bank so we toss our second anchor out and raise the centerboard.  We are about fifty yards away from the channel and see one channel marker but nothing more. We will wait for early light and hope for a lull in the wind before attempting to reach Flamingo.

It is morning the wind has not changed.  We talk with Checkpoint #3 Captain, Kayakman7, via VHF radio and explain our situation. He advises us the tide is going to fall and the wind is going to help it.  We have nothing for it but to wait for the wind to change.  Mid-day we find our boat is stuck in, not on, the mud.  We are grounded, or should I say mudded.  Kyle decides to retrieve the anchor by walking out to it.  We have heard a lot of stories about the mud in Florida Bay and I think secretly he wants to experience the mud himself.  He does.  He sinks to his knees in the muck at every step.  Each step costs him thirty seconds and the anchor is twenty feet away.  Twenty minutes later a mud-crusted Kyle returns to the boat looking like a gray, under cooked Florida Bay Beef Wellington.  Now we understand the stories.

As Kyle rests from his mudding, more and more flats rise around us become visible.  This is not good.  We could be here for days sitting on/in a mud flat.  Semi-panic again turns my brain over like it’s trying to start an old model “T” with a hand crank.  Out pops an idea.  Not a good idea as ideas go, but its something to try at least. I grab the mizzen mast and hop up on the gunnel and lean back in an attempt to break the hull out of the mud by tipping it on its side.  There is a brief sucking sound, the boat heels over and SHAZAM Stan Lee! The boat floats off the mud. Who’d “thunk” it would really work?

 The particulars are fuzzy, but somehow, with great effort, we manage to row and sail the boat over to the channel and there we attempt to sail up the channel to windward.  Nope.   We attempt rowing, nope.  We anchor in a fit of pique, or disgust, disappointment or frustration,  you name it, we felt it.  WE HAVE TO GET TO FLAMINGO! We decide to try throwing the anchor forward, kedge up and row like hell for about fifty strokes before the rower succumbs to the extreme effort. The other person then tosses the anchor forward to the end of our make-shift twenty-foot anchor line.  Rest. Repeat.  Each effort gains us perhaps seventy-five feet.  I calculate this effort will take us twenty hours if we can maintain our strength to do it. So close, yet so far. After our fifth cycle, we hear the checkpoint calling on the VHF radio.  Unbeknownst to us, the checkpoint capt has kept the event management team apprised of our situation and they decide we have been at it long enough and are close enough to declare we have reached Checkpoint #3.  Elated, yet stunned by our efforts, We sit anchored in the middle of the channel for another thirty minutes too tired to do anything but be silently thankful.  God bless philosopher kings and benevolent dictators.

By this time the wind has tilted to out of the northeast and we waste an hour attempting to make a go of the eastbound channel only to confirm this is a wasted effort with any wind that has an eastern component to it.  Our only option in view is to go around adding an additional thirty miles.  We take advantage of our ability to broad reach all the way back to the East Cape, then make a port turn and take up a new southernly course along the Everglades Park boundary line and the Gulf of Mexico.  Our turn south is exactly where I got in serious mental trouble in 2017 and where I went to the mangroves and spent several endearing hours gossiping with non-existent residents before being rescued by Nomadic and Rover who saw my SOS signal from afar. 

They saved my life.

This day as we turn the corner south and I am sure we are safely underway toward the Florida Keys and away from the scene of my earlier near destruction, I take a moment to look back toward East Cape.  It is barely visible from this distance and I realize this is about where my rescuers were when they saw my signal.  A streak of harsh emotions runs through me and I raise my arm and flip my imaginary friends the finger. “You didn’t get me then and you won’t get me now.” I shouted.

…..

We are corkscrewing our way south in an aft quartering sea of two to four feet.  On the smaller waves, I maintain our off-set course waiting for the distinctive lull in the trough before the train of two to three larger swells.  As the first large wave begins to raise the stern I steer directly downhill and surf each wave for several seconds at speeds between seven and nine mph.  I gotta say this is one fine, well-behaved vessel.

We sneak through the odd little reef cut know as the Yacht Channel and begin clawing our way north into the wind.  The wind is building and the seas even in this part of Florida Bay are running three to four-foot plus.  It is dark with no stars.  I can’t see the steep waves until they are right on us. Even double reefed I can feel the boat getting away from me more with each tack.  Kyle has drummed into my head over the last few days not to pinch up too high.  But in this wind, these seas, this darkness, I keep pinching up slowing the boat repeatedly from five or six mph to two or three.  I am frustrated and so very tired.  Having failed to understand when I should rest, eat and drink in the past we do the right thing now.  We anchor up and wait for morning.  It is an uncomfortable night in a seventeen-foot boat in three to four-foot seas—I think.  But then I don’t really know as I was asleep wedged in a corner sitting up before the first wave train bounced my head on the bulkhead.

Morning found us beating north repeatedly across the ICW in large bays connected by narrow short cuts through reefs and mangrove island sets.  Every narrow channel is a one-off puzzle knot to unravel and our boat the marlinspike, manipulated by rowing, sailing or pushing in our attempt to bend each pass to our will.  Navigating these channels with their own special combination of wind and tide taught us more rowing and sailing techniques than the rest of our challenge exploits combined. 

Our constant beating and negotiating cuts, channels and passes have taken us into night once again and we work diligently to beat our way through the final pass that somehow seemed to continuously leapfrog in front of us with each tack.  We can see our destination and the periodic flashlight signals.  It seems to takes us forever to get the right angle for our final tack across the bay toward the finish beach and then when we do the air dies, the sails hang without a rustle and we are floating shoreward mystically propelled only by our magnetic need to be finished.

For those who have not completed this event, I need to share one of the most valued experiences I will never ever forget.  It is the shoreside reception.  The clapping, whistling, shouting and hooting and hollering of family, friends previous finishers and complete strangers in acknowledgment of our finish.  Even as I write, my eyes mist over and I can hear the wonderful ruckus of touching the finish beach. 

As the boat hisses up on the sand finish beach, we secure the sails and I crawl below to fetch a saved bottle of whiskey.  As I lurch off the boat and stumble forward I opened the bottle, go to the photo decal on the bow and poured a gulp of whiskey into the mouth of Groot. 

Then onto Lynn for a long-desired embrace as we both hide our tears and smiles.  It has been a long year and for me an exhausting three hundred miles and it was all damn well worth it.

I have demonstrated significant restraint from writing much about my co-captain because I did not want to clog up the actual adventure with sentiment.  Kyle aka Bumpkin and I have shared or experienced several similar boating adventures with the Everglades Challenge being the most intimate.  Kyle was asked to be co-captain for many reasons not the least of which is his sailing experience and fearlessness. Lynn wanted me to have a crew as she has reason to believe from my past demonstrations that I was not capable of caring properly for my own human condition.  She was absolutely thrilled to enlist Kyle to take care of me which should be read: not allow me to inadvertently kill myself. I bumped back about this to both Lynn and Kyle realizing I had to prove myself capable, but also very pleased to have a friend in the cockpit with me that I could rely on and completely trust. What I did not anticipate was his significant involvement during the building and preparation of the boat.  He would routinely take the one hundred miles round trip from his home to our barn to help work on the boat, provide the perfect tool, and to help me troubleshoot the latest building enigma.  Bumpkin was there for me at every mental block and ready to relieve each build frustration in person or on the phone and always eager to work on the boat.

I will not share with you the grace my wife Lynn radiates, the wonder of life she possesses or the immense depth and breadth of our uncommon union. Suffice it is to say, she exists, therefore I am.

I would be remiss if I did not say what a wonderful little boat Groot turned out to be.  Groot is a living thing in the water that reassures me like a friend, holds me close and protects me like family and provides unconditional loyalty like a pet dog.  Groot instructs me as to its needs and in turn, encompasses me in a rich sense of shared being.

Capt Bones,

Finisher, Everglades Challenge 2019, class 4, doubles, Core Sound 17 Mk-3/Bones