Finish A Challenge
By Steve Isaac (aka Chief)
You're thinking about entering your first WaterTribe
Challenge. Great! Go for it! It could be the adventure
of your lifetime or it could be the start of a series of adventures for the
rest of your life so give it your best shot.
But let's take stock. So far the WaterTribe Challenges have
been difficult to finish. Only about one third of the Challengers who
start end up at the finish line. We all know that "stuff" happens during
a race and not everyone will finish, but I believe that with proper preparation
any competent paddler/sailor can finish a WaterTribe Challenge in six to eight
days. Follow the advice in this article and I'll see you at the finish
A WaterTribe Challenge is a very dangerous event. You will be
navigating open or moving water without assistance, safety crews, or even
spectators. Your safety is completely up to you. You need to be a
competent paddler and/or sailor in order to even consider entering a WaterTribe
Challenge. But what skills are essential?
|Consider A Team
The WaterTribe Challenge is far safer and can be more fun if you do the event
with a team. Two or three boats traveling together will give you company
on those long and lonely sections. It will also add to your safety.
Try to have all team members roughly equal in skill and endurance level.
Also, make sure you all have the same goal.
Don't enter a WaterTribe Challenge unless you have mastered the
Intermediate Paddling Skills -- You need to be able to make
your boat go where you want it to go in any sea state. You need to know
how to keep your boat upright in any sea state.
Self Rescue In Rough Water -- Capsizes are common in these
races. Usually there will be nobody around to help you get back in your
boat and keep going. Any competent kayak or canoe shop should be able to
provide instruction. Make sure you can do it in storm conditions.
Some aids to consider are SeaWings (sponsons) and/or paddle floats. Make
sure your boat has good flotation and consider an electric or foot operated
Navigation -- Know how to use your charts, compass and
GPS. If you don't have a GPS, get one. Mistakes in navigation cause
wasted time and mental stress which takes its toll on your performance.
Night Paddling -- Make sure some of your practice sessions
are at night. Get used to it and make the night your friend. Make
sure your boat has both legal lighting and usable lighting.
Common Sense -- In any 8 day period chances are good that
there will be some bad weather. If the sea state is beyond your
abilities, camp and get some rest. Then get back in the race when the
weather clears. Later in this article we will plan a race that includes
allowances for down time.
What about the Eskimo Roll? Nice to have, but you don't need
it if your self rescue skills are adequate. Besides, anyone can miss a
role. Lots of sea kayakers have been killed because they got too self
confident in their rolling abilities. I'm not saying don't master the
skill. I'm saying it isn't essential.
Boat selection in this article only deals with Class 1, Sea Kayaks
For the Everglades Challenge (aka Cruising Challenge) select a sea
kayak or sea canoe. Do not select a standard canoe. A standard
canoe is not up to the challenge in my opinion. The only exception that I
can recommend are the decked, sea-going canoes made by Kruger Canoes
(Dreamcatcher, Sea Wind, and Kruger Cruiser). Bell also makes a decked
canoe that is probably up to the task. And there are several canoe
designs for custom building that include decks and sailing equipment.
For the Okefenokee Challenge you can select a sea kayak or a
canoe. A canoe has certain advantages in the river sections but is at
some disadvantage in the salt water sections at the start and finish.
Since these sections are short, the canoe can still be a good choice. If
you select a canoe, make sure it has a very good spray deck that covers the
entire boat. Keep the boat as light as possible since there are lots of
small portages and one very long portage.
Most good cruising sea kayaks or decked canoes can complete the
Challenge in good time. The first criteria is comfort. You will be
paddling the boat for 12 to 16 hours a day for 6 to 8 days. If the boat
isn't comfortable, you will be forced out very soon.
The second criteria is volume. Make sure your boat can hold
the gear you are required to carry under the cruising rules. There should
be plenty of reserve buoyancy left over. Your boat should be able to
handle big water and that means high volume. Sure, you can do the race in
a low volume sea kayak, but you will be wetter and working harder.
Third consider length. The longer boat will usually have the
higher cruising speed. Unless you are very small get a boat at least
17 feet long.
And finally, make sure your boat has a rudder. A rudder will
increase your paddling efficiency and could prevent stress injuries that can
knock you out of the race. I know of a few paddlers who got tendonitis in
the Cruising Challenge last March and had to quit. They were continually
fighting the wind to keep their boats on course. If they had a rudder,
all that power would have gone into moving the boat forward.
Are you fit enough to paddle 12 to 16 hours a day for 6 to 8
This is the bugaboo that keeps a lot of people out of these
Challenges. The surprising answer is that you probably are able to do it
or could be able to do it in a very short time. It all depends on your
goals for the race. If your goal is to win the race, then you better be
very, very fit, and this article is not directed at you. But if your goal
is to finish the race before the time limit, then you could be ready in as
little as a couple of months. Read on.
Slow down your paddling. You have plenty of time to go at a
comfortable cruising speed as long as you can hold that speed all day
long. Let's consider the Key Largo or Everglades Challenge.
Total distance is 260 to 288 miles depending on your coarse
There is an 8 day time limit
Let's allow 2 days for down time due to weather
Then 288 / 6 = 48 miles per day
Assuming 12 hours of paddling per day we have to make 4 knots
Assuming 16 hours of paddling per day we have to make 3 knots
|Cruising Speed vs Effort
Find a back issue of Sea Kayaker Magazine that has a boat test for your
boat. Check out the table showing Speed vs. Resistance. Now graph
the table and you will see that your boat has an optimum cruising speed.
Resistance increases more or less linearly until a certain point and then
curves up at a sharper rate. This is called the "knee of the
curve." Keep your speed just below the "knee" for optimum results.
Remember that the speeds in the table are through the water, not SOG.
Let's split the difference and use 3.5 knots as our target cruising
speed. Most of us can maintain 3.5 knots fairly easily. Remember
that this is Speed Over Ground (SOG). Sometimes you will be going slower
and sometimes faster depending on currents. But your average speed over
16 hours is what counts. Keep the boat moving as Verlen says.
OK fine. So how do you get in shape.
Get your doctor's approval
Buy a heart rate monitor
Read my articles on hydration and fuel
Keep your heart rate in zone 2 (see my article) or use 180
minus your age
Walk/run for 1 hour 3 days a week - watch heart rate
Ride a bike for 1 hour 2 days a week - watch heart rate
Do a calisthenics tape 3 to 5 times per week. Don't use an
aerobics tape. Get one that concentrates on core strength like sit ups,
push ups, and stretching.
Paddle as much as possible, try for a long paddle once per
week. Let your speed be determined by your heart rate. Don't
exceed your optimum cruising speed.
Rest one day per week. If you don't rest, you can't progress.
That's it???? Yes, it is a simple plan and it works.
The walk/run and bike provides cross training and basic cardiovascular
fitness. If you keep your heart rate in the zones recommended, you will
also burn lots of fat and may lose weight if you don't pig out. No
The calisthenics provide flexibility and core strength. Core
strength is necessary for dragging your boat up the beach, self rescue, and for
short bursts of paddling such as a tide race. Flexibility will help you
stay in the boat longer.
But it's not enough paddling you say. Hog wash. If you
can paddle more go ahead. But I don't get out as much as I would like to
for practice, and I can paddle 16 hours and cover over 60 miles day after
day. You can too.
|Training vs. Recreation
The typical kayaker day trip is almost worthless as a training session.
Think about it. You paddle for bit. Then you get out and wander on
the beach. Then you paddle for a bit. Then take a lunch
break. It's better than nothing, but it's not training.
The training sessions require that you keep swinging your paddle for the entire
time. Go ahead and take a 1 minute break every 20 minutes or so. Do
some in-boat stretches, chew on a piece of jerky, take a drink, update your
"situational awareness," and then start paddling again. Do that for at
least 4 hours and preferably 8 hours and you will gain some real endurance.
What's a long paddle? Minimum time is 4 hours. 8 hours
is real good for training. 12 hours is great, but you don't need to do
that every week. You don't need to train at 16 hours. Do it once or
twice if you want to just for confidence, but it really isn't necessary.
If you are comfortable swinging your paddle for 8 hours, you can do 16 hours in
a race. Remember that your body undergoes significant adaptations
for long range endurance when your training time reaches 4 hours and
beyond. Keep your heart rate in zones 1 or 2 or use 180 minus your age.
Don't over train. It is far better to be 10% under trained
than 1% over trained. Over training takes the fun out of it and prevents
progress in your overall fitness. Make sure that the day following your
long paddle is a rest day. If you don't rest, you can't progress.
The heart rate limits will seem too low. You will probably
find that you have to really slow down to keep your heart rate at the levels
recommended. Do it. Slow down. In a short time of training your
speed will increase with your heart in the right training zone.
|Cruising Rules vs. Unlimited Rules
Note that these recommendations are for Challengers racing under the "Cruising
Rules." If you are racing under the "Unlimited Rules," the required items
listed below are only suggested. The Unlimited Rules do not have required
Take the minimum needed. Keep the weight down as much as
possible. Excess weight is one of the major contributing factors to
Required Shelter -- Get the lightest tent or camping hammock
you can find. I recommend any
Hennessy Hammock. If you don't like hammocks, get a tent or tarp.
Required Sleeping Bag -- Get a high quality synthetic
bag. Don't bring a down sleeping bag. A
Golite "fur" is a viable option too, and it works better in a
hammock. The bag needs to be rated for about 40 degrees. Anything
"warmer" than that is too much weight. A sleeping pad is a good idea even
if you are using a hammock just in case you have to make it into a tent.
Get the smallest and lightest pad you can find.
Required Stove -- Get the lightest stove you can find that
is very easy to operate. Carry only enough fuel for one race. I use
an MSR SuperFly with one full canister and no spares.
Required Pot -- One pot is enough. I use a coffee pot
as my only pot. Any other cooking utensils adds unnecessary weight.
Required Fire Kit -- This is your last line of defense
against hypothermia. You must be able to build a fire with one match
while shivering uncontrollably.
Required Repair Kit -- Avoid unnecessary tools and
parts. Think about what could go wrong and what is required to fix
it. Your rudder might be the most difficult to fix. What about your
boat? Carry a small roll of duct tape too. Don't over do it.
This repair kit can get real heavy if you aren't careful.
Required Safety Equipment -- PFD, Signaling, EPIRB, VHF,
Lighting, Spare Paddle, Paddle Float and/or SeaWing, etc. Not much to be
said here. All electronics has to be submersion proof. Water
resistant is not enough. Got enough batteries?
Dry Clothes -- Keep one set of clothes dry under all
conditions. Primarily you will be sleeping in these clothes. Never,
never, never paddle in your last set of dry clothes. One set of long
johns is essential. I recommend Marino wool or synthetic. Don't
bother with cotton. These dry clothes are your first line of defense
Paddling Clothes -- It's up to you. It is essential to
have a light weight paddling jacket. Boat shoes are good for walking on
rocks or oyster bars. Be prepared for 50 degree water if you take a
swim. A dry suit is too hot most of the time. A wet suit is too
uncomfortable. I use a Golite breathable rain jacket as a paddling
jacket. I use a light synthetic shirt for sun protection. A light
weight Polartec vest or sweater can be used if it gets cold. My PFD also
adds warmth. I usually paddle in running shorts but if it's really cold I
wear my RailRider long pants. It's nice to have two sets of paddling
cloths so one can be drying on deck while I'm wearing the other one. If
you're in a sea kayak, plan on being wet. Can you get back in your boat
fast enough to avoid the effects of 50 degree water?
Food -- Beginners usually take too much food.
Remember, you are not going to be cooking pancakes and eggs for
breakfast. Most can't even manage instant oatmeal. It takes too
much time, weight, and effort to do much cooking. I make a pot of coffee
in the morning and fill a thermos that lasts into the night. I eat two
MultiGrain Breakfast Bars or HarvestBars. For paddling fuel I use
Gatorade or Accelerade and jerky. I always carry a few snacks like
cookies, chocolate, nuts, pudding cups, sports bars, corn chips, but don't
overdo it. I use one serving of EnduroxR4 at night. I carry one
freeze dried meal for every two days. Forget health food. Carry
food that goes down easy. Use my Fuel the Fire article to
calculate your needs but remember that you should stay in zone 1 or 2 all day
long. Carry a few PowerGels for emergencies but again you only need to
pack perhaps one per day.
Water and Sports Drinks -- Water is available at each
checkpoint so only carry enough to get to the next CP. Mostly I drink
Gatorade. I buy it in 20 ounce bottles so no mixing is required.
Usually an 8 pack is needed for each day, but I restock by purchasing as I go
along . I also carry a tub of Gatorade powder for backup. In
addition I carry two gallons of water. This is used for coffee, for
drinking, and to make Accelerade and EnduroxR4 as needed.
Supplements -- Vitamins, antioxidants, electrolytes,
caffeine pills, etc. They don't weigh much and take up only a little room
so use whatever you like.
If you take only the essentials, you will have plenty of room left
in your boat and a much lighter load. Your chances of finishing will be
Planning and Executing the Challenge
We have already decided that we will allow six days of paddling
which gives us a cushion of two days to allow for bad weather or repairs to
broken boats or equipment. Planning our race is a three step process:
Charts -- You do have charts for the entire course,
right? You would be surprised at how many don't.
a) Plot the shortest possible course from the start to the finish
making sure that you pass through each checkpoint. Do this in light
pencil first. Every time your course changes direction or you hit a
checkpoint or you get to some other important point draw a small circle and
give it a sequential number. Study this course for a few days until you
are sure that it is the best possible course. Now use permanent ink to
mark your charts so your primary course is easy to see and read.
b) Now go back and add bail out points and alternate routes. Be
sure to mark pass entrances from both sides of the pass. Plot complete
alternate routes. Your primary route may be blocked due to bad weather or
a contrary tide. Study these backup routes and bail out points for a few
days. When you are happy, use your permanent marker and continue with the
sequential numbers for each turn or end point.
c) Note potential campsites. Find these by looking at a Florida
Gazetteer and noting any "green" areas along your route. Don't get too
hung up on this. You will find a campsite when you need one. Be
ready to "stealth camp" when in populated areas. Have a good sob story
ready if you get rousted by police or security guards.
d) Now transfer every numbered point on your charts into your GPS.
Depending on how many characters your GPS allows you may add some sort of
descriptive name to the way point. But I like to make sure and put the
number first so that the list is ordered. It makes finding a way point
from your charts much easier. For example, 23CP1 would be used if the way
point was the 23rd in my chart and it was for checkpoint 1. One
more example, 71Camp might be used for a potential camp site.
e) Some cut their charts up into usable sections so they are easy to
manage in your cockpit. Sometimes you have to buy more than one set of
charts to do this. Others fold and refold. It's up to you. Or
buy charting software and make a series of 8.5 by 11 inch custom charts.
Tides -- See my article titled "Using the Tides." Make
sure you know the optimum time to hit any areas that may have a strong
tide. If you see that your projected course and paddling speed puts you
at the entrance to Indian Key Pass at the worst possible tide, maybe you should
decide to take a strategic sleep break for a few REM cycles (see my Dozing Off
article). Note that when you plotted potential campsites, you should
always plan one for this eventuality.
Plan Your Sleep --
|If you discover that you have a wet boat during your training
sessions, your body maintenance needs to include an application of Desitin to
your backside. If you don't do this in a regular basis, you will have a
case of diaper rash that would make your mother weep.
If you read the "Dozing Off" article you will see that our six day
race requires 4 REM cycles each night. That is roughly 6 hours of
sleep. If we allow 1 hour before sleep for recovery eating, drinking, and
body maintenance and one hour in the morning for organization, breakfast, body
maintenance, and breaking camp, we are left with 16 hours for paddling.
Perfect. We will rise with the sun to keep our natural rhythms in
sync. So about 22:00 we will begin to look for a good campsite. By
23:00 we should be setting up our hammock and drinking our EnduroxR4. Eat
a big meal and take any supplements that you use. By midnight we should be
in the hammock and beginning the most important part of finishing a WaterTribe
Challenge -- Recovery. Don't forget to bring a pee bottle inside
your hammock. Our alarm watch is set for 06:00. By 07:00 we are on
the water for a fresh day.
Don't be afraid to modify your plan as the race develops.
Planning is an important part of any endeavor but you must stay loose and adapt
as needed. The necessity for adaptation does not invalidate the
importance of planning.
You have your skill set perfected and your boat is fully rigged.
You have been working out and your core strength, flexibility, and
endurance are up to the task.
Your doctor says she envies your physical fitness.
You have a plan.
What's stopping you? Absolutely nothing. You're good to
© Steve Isaac