My boat an EC 22 was designed for and named after the Everglades Challenge Race. The Everglades Challenge is a small boat race that starts at Fort Desoto Park near Tampa Florida and ends 300 miles later at Key Largo.
We met our cousin Karen at Fort Desoto Park. We caught up on old times while surveying the varied, and interesting line up of boats pulled above the high tide mark for the start of the race.
The campground is located on St Christopher Key in Tampa Bay and the race starts on the adjoining Mullet Key. In the photo below I am looking at a tricked out CS 17 with wishbone sprit booms, a nice dodger and lots of carbon fiber.
Looking down the beach at the variety of water craft over fifty small sailboats and 30 or so kayaks.
Some boats built just for speed some built for beauty or some combination of the two.
The variety of boats is amazing. Sally and Karen are looking over a new CS 17mk3.
Kayaks, sailboats, and SUPs are all going to try to make 300 miles along the southwestern coast of Florida in seven days or less.
We have followed the race online for several years and we know several of the participants from the annual B&B Mess-about. Below Sally greets Watertriber Sandy Bottom as she completes last minute preparations to her Kruger Sea Wind.
A hug for good luck.
The sun was just rising through the spans of the Tampa Bay bridge, the atmosphere was filled with a nervous excitement as the 7am start time approached and alas passed as there was to be a two hour delay in the start. Below is a link to a video of the start.
Start of the Everglades Challenge Race Fort Desoto, Florida
After we saw the racers off, we said farewell to Karen and headed south for Flamingo. This is the view from the visitors center looking out into Florida Bay.
We met two of the Watertribe race officials who were manning Check Point 3, waiting for the first racers to come in.
Why did we take longer than usual to get the boat rigged and loaded with food, water, and gear for our seven day excursion into Florida Bay. We sat and watched the Manatees playing in the harbor. Flamingo was still recovering from Hurricane Irma. Only one bathroom was open, and the water was off for several hours. I had been warned that the local vultures liked to peck at the rubber gaskets and wiper blades of vehicles left in the marina parking lot. The vultures were especially fond of new cars. I fastened the tent fly over the front of our new car. Finally about 1pm we were off, heading west for Cape Sable. We passed the two lead boats in the race heading east to the Flamingo check point as we headed out. The wind was out of the NE at 10-15 knots so we made good progress, but the wind backed first to the North and then the Northwest. Cape Sable is made up of East Cape, Middle Cape, and Northwest Cape. Our course now lay almost dead into the wind, a pounding chop, and a chilly breeze did not make for comfortable sailing, but we pushed on hoping to find a little shelter up close to Middle Cape. Sally is pleased that we managed to find an anchorage before the sun set.
In the morning we moved Skorpa in close to shore and got out for a beautiful walk. We were now about 12 miles from our southern most anchorage on our trip out of Chokoloskee three years ago.
Miles and miles of pristine beach.
Nest day we were off heading south. We did not have a destination just a direction, but as the day got later we decided to anchor off Sandy Key.
Sandy Key is posted with signs asking visitors to stay away. Hundreds of birds use it as a rookery. White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans, Herons, Egrets, numerous smaller birds. There seemed to be no room left on the branches. The quiet Florida night was interrupted frequently with squawking and shrieking. We decided to leave them their space and enjoyed watching through binoculars so I don't have any photos that do Sandy Key justice.
In the morning we set off to explore Man of War Channel to get a feel for what it would be like exploring the shallows of Florida Bay. We got through the channel no problems. On the other side we explored Johnson Key and the photo below is the Johnson Key Chickee.
We anchored close to Man of War Key for lunch. If you look closely you should be able to make out the Brown Pelicans roosting in the Mangrove branches. During our lunch stop we heard a favorable weather forecast for the next few days.
We decided we would try to make the run to Key Largo about 30 miles away.
As we approached Long Key one of the Watertribe racers caught up with us. His name was Bjorn. He asked how far to Key Largo. I told him 20 miles or so. He was tired and cold but wanted to press on. He was hoping we would accompany him. He was disappointed when I told him we were going to stop for the night at Lignumvitae Key.
Lignum vitae is a much sought after tropical hardwood, hard and durable. The Key named after the wood is a beautiful nature preserve tucked up beside the developed Keys that lay along Route 1. I wished we had taken some time to explore it, but we headed off for Key Largo.
Video Sailing East to Key Largo
Video Sailing through Cowpens Cut
We arrived at Key Largo, the finish of the Everglades Challenge on Wednesday afternoon. Several Watertribe racers had already finished, but most were still out on the course. They would arrive singly and in small groups over the next few days. We spent the days ashore visiting with friends and making new ones and enjoying the amenities of Key Largo like hot showers and Mrs Mac's Kitchen.
View of the finish line at Key Largo.
J.F. Bedard is taking out Matt Layden's Illusion for a test sail.
A Bolger Sneakeasy powered by Photovoltaic panels hums across the finish line.
Enjoying a night out a Mrs. Mac's!
The wind blew hard out of the North for a couple of days. When on Saturday the wind veered to the southeast we decided it was time for us to attempt a crossing of Florida Bay to Flamingo. Florida Bay looks like a lot of open water dotted with low Mangrove covered islands, but much of that water is only a foot or two deep. To complicate matters the water level rises and falls in a twice daily lunar cycle in some parts of the bay but not in others. The wind can also affect the water level by three feet or so. Traversing the bay can go from a pleasure cruise to a nightmare. The bay can go from mostly water to mostly mud for a day or two or several days. Below is a link to some videos of our crossing.
When we left Key Largo we had a 15knot wind from the South southeast. We were on a reach with pretty smooth water. Our boat speed was about 8 knots.
Video Moving along nicely.
Here are a couple of videos of us negotiating some of the shallower areas. The channels have colorful names like Twisty Mile and Crocodile Dragover. We had it pretty easy as the water level was about "normal".
Video Twisty Mile
Video Dump Key Pass
It was truly satisfying to slip back into the little harbor at Flamingo. No motor, no noise, just the sails bringing us in through the tight entrance. We didn't even use the oars.
On the way out of Flamingo we stopped at a couple of the waysides to view some of the remaining Mahogany Trees.
And to say farewell to Pay-Hay Okee, Grassy Waters!