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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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!
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
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
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
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?
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
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,
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
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
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.