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June, 2011
Table of Contents

Rescue At Sea
By Kathy Kenley

Rescue At Sea - Shore Contact's Perspect
By Kathy Kenley

"WITHOUT A PADDLE: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida By Sea Kayak" by Warren Richey

The story of Sharkchow's 2006 participation in the Ultimate Florida Challenge. Coming to a bookstore near you. June 8, 2010.

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-63076-8
320 pages, $24.99
Due in bookstores and on Amazon.com June 8, 2010.

UFC 2006 New Release

$25.95 with FREE Shipping!

Jenning has a second version of the EPIC Ultimate Florida Challenge. This is a two DVD set. The first DVD is the same as the first release. But the second DVD contains two very interesting interviews.

First, SharkChow has a long interview giving many details and insights into his impressive win of the first WaterTribe Ultimate Florida Challenge in 2006. His hint about using the tides on the St. Marys river is worth the price all by itself if you are thinking of doing the UFC yourself. Note: this is really a voice recording - no video.

Next there is a shorter video interview of ThereAndBackAgain (aka TABA). TABA isn't a complainer so he had never mentioned many of the real issues he faces in these challenges. This interview opened my eyes and prompted some minimal changes to make things just a bit more fair.

Special Note: The proceeds all go direct to Jenning. Making this DVD took untold amounts of money and time. This would make a nice preview for the UF2010 event.

Click here to visit Chesapeake Light Craft

Rescue At Sea

Account of DolphinGals's Participation
in the Everglades Challenge 2011
and Her Rescue At Sea

By Kathy Kenley (DolphinGal)

While many Watertribers had SPOT issues on the Challenge, mine thankfully performed perfectly. Piddling with SPOT over many trips, I learned its quirks, at least for my device. First, it doesn’t like the tracking function turned on until it’s had 15-20 minutes to settle in and acquire a signal; it needs to know where it is before telling it to keep track. It also doesn’t like to be moving when the tracking feature is initiated; it prefers to sit where it was initially turned on, or within a few yards, until both lights blink in unison a few times before moving. It doesn’t always malfunctions if I try to shortcut, but the probability skyrockets.

Even knowing better, I was on the water and moving before I initiated tracking - probably the excitement of the moment causing a brain burp. A third of the way across the bay, I noticed the lights were not blinking in unison. Crapo! It was too sloppy to putz with it, especially close to the shipping channel. Closer to Anna Maria, I stopped a few times to turn it off, on, and initiate tracking. The attempts were too rushed and didn’t work, so I waited until well inside Anna Maria before coming to a complete stand-still and resetting everything, even though it meant losing another 20 minutes or so and getting farther behind. That’s why the challenge mapper doesn’t show a steady track until that point.

Ok, tracker tracking and off to slug into the winds - and try to catch somebody to share the adventure. Strong winds on-the-nose and I don’t have a good relationship. As a lightweight paddler, they really affect progress, and if I need to stop, it’s an instant loss of a couple hundred yards. I may consider a sea anchor sometime. I had worked out a system for the MR340 for ingesting nourishment with a 4-hour Perpetuum mix slurry bottle; an old 20-oz Gatorade bottle that fits in my vest pocket and has a hole drilled in the cap fitted with a hose cut to mouth height. Another hose, also mouth level, extends from my water-only hydration bag and is velcroed to the vest. When possible, I grabbed solid food from the small 2-L drybag on deck. When both hands had to stay on the paddle, I got nourishment from the slurry bottle. Worked perfectly.

Started catching a few people and even passing some by around 11. It was great if even just to smile and say “Hi” to a fellow Triber as we charged the wind in comradery. At 4am Sunday, after a very long day, I finally hit the ramp at Placida, some six to seven hours after planned and about the time I had hoped to be around Matlacha Bridge. Oh well, drop back 10 and punt. While I believe a base plan is good, it’s merely a guide, It’s far more important to be able to adjust to whatever crosses your path. Shit happens.

After 3 hours sleep curled up in a heavy-duty survival blanket on the grass ramp, I was ready to face day two and headed out with a number of others toward Charlotte Harbor. The forecasted north winds didn’t arrive - it was another in-the-face day. Stopped at Matlacha Park just past the bridge (one of my normal launches) with the BluByeU team, showed them around, got water, hit the head, and continued on. I encounter manatees a lot in the Pass, but two still surprised the bejesus out of me on the way to the Caloosahatchee. Fortunately not close enough to create anything more than a little ruffle. That night I tucked into a beach near the toll booths at the Sanibel Bridge and got a good night’s sleep before facing the next leg - a long trek to the Marco River.

Woke at 5:30am to a pretty calm morning with a light north breeze. “Yeehaa”, I thought, “I’ll be able to get in some sailing. This will be a much easier day.” .... or so I thought. Sail up and paddling merrily along with a big smile on my face, somewhere a little after 8:30am I noticed two things. The first was that while the wind was NW, there was a building SW swell. This would not bode well in another hour or so as the winds for the day built. The second was that my boat was feeling a touch “weird” - a tad unruly and sloggy. Barely discernable, but there. With a decent following sea, little boats tend to wallow a bit depending on where in the circular wave cycle it is. That’s normal. But this felt a touch out of normal ... and I was three-and-a-half miles offshore. Now I’m thinking perhaps I faced the day with too much enthusiasm and began to alter my course to get me closer to shore by somewhere south of Wiggins Pass.

Then it happened. With a large swell coming from behind, I was in a slight lean and brace on the starboard side. Not an issue as I had done a few sliding braces, as I call them, a few times that morning already. However, while leaning right, a patch of whirly wind came circling around and hit the sail from the front! It billowed the sail back towards me .... and on the same side as my lean. Instantly I was on the wrong side of the waterline. With the sail deployed, it was wet exit time. At least the water was warm.

First order of business was gather the sail and secure it to the deck, then look around to see if anything had come loose. Seeing nothing afloat (I had just about everything tethered), I worked my way to the bow and lifted it to dump any water, even though not much had a chance to enter. The boat was listing oddly to one side. As I started to make my way back to the cockpit, it turtled. WTF?!? Tried it again and same thing. A stream of expletives left my lips. Ok, tackle it a different way. This time I got my rescue stirrup and shoved it in my vest pocket to have it immediately available. Next I tucked the paddle, secured by a leash to the boat, under my arm and dumped the boat again. Holding on to the paddle, but not touching the boat, I swam back to the cockpit. The boat was still listing and as soon as I touched the edge, even lightly, fwap! It turtled again. Attempting a cowboy re-entry didn’t work either. The boat was almost forcibly turtled each time. Next was a recon around the boat. Perhaps I was snagged on a pot line. Nope.

Ok, it’s early morning. At least it’s not dark or near dusk - a plus. With those thoughts I heard a boat, looked over my shoulder, and saw that it’s path would be fairly close. My boat is red, my vest is da-glo zonk orange (WhiteCaps refers to me as a moving traffic cone). They’ve got to see me. I grabbed my paddle and started waving, sure they would see it. Nope. They zipped right by only about a hundred yards away hell-bent on some unknown secret fishing hole. Yo! Are you blind? What a freakin predicament!

Next step was the paddlefloat. I inflated and attached it. When I flipped the boat over, the turtle tendency was too strong. Try as I might, I simply could not hold the boat upright with one hand while trying to get the paddle under the deck lines with the other no matter what. Something was terribly amiss and I simply could not figure it out.

Dozens of thoughts went through my head. Normal self-rescues hadn’t worked and I couldn’t think of any adjustments that could facilitate further rescue attempts with the boat insisting on turtling so strongly. No other Watertriber in sight. With 4’ swells, they’d have to be danged close anyway. I had been in the water about 15 minutes and while not chilled yet, I knew hypothermia would creep in soon and that my body temp had probably already dropped close to a degree. What on Earth could be the problem?!?

Any more efforts at self-rescue, if they didn’t work, would expend more precious energy (body heat) and put me into the not-good stage of hypothermia faster. When it sets in, it can go downhill fast. No way I wanted to hit SPOT’s 911 button. Chief said you’re out if you hit 911. I needed to complete the Challenge to qualify for the UF next year. At the time, the NCC, which I had completed last year and will do again this year, was not a qualifier for the UF. One needed to complete a longer challenge.

Don’t hit 911.
I grabbed a powerbar from my daybag and downed over half of it and drank about a cup of water. Peed in my fuzzy rubber pants, which warmed things up for a bit. In my SCUBA days I called it WSWF, Wet Suit Warming Fluid.

Don’t hit 911. You’ll be out of the Challenge!
Hmmm, maybe rig the two pool noodles (used to get the boat on/off a shell-ridden beaches) to the paddle along with the paddlefloat and maybe that’ll work. How long will that take? Longshot - and if it fails, it’s longer until help arrives. And I’ll have sapped more precious energy - hypothermia may arrive quicker than help.
Don’t hit the freakin 911 button! You’ll be out of the Challenge.
How about swimming the boat to shore? Whatareyou nut!? You’re three miles out! With fins, yeah, a possibility. If it was only a half-mile to shore, sure, no problem.
Don’t hit 911! Kip needs you (younger brother has RA and MS).
Don’t hit 911. You’ll be out of the Challenge.

Pisser. Kip needs me. Hell, I need me. Lots more to do in life. But the next challenge won’t be until 2014. I’ll be 67. Could do it tandem if I found a partner, sure, but at that age I’m not sure I could do it solo and I really want to do it solo first. There’s got to be something else I can try in a timely manner. Think.
Don’t hit 911.
Quick, review what you’ve tried already. Is there anything you didn’t do that you could have done? Anything to add/subtract to make another self-rescue more plausible?
Don’t hit 911!
Pisser!!! Kip. Life. Maybe better to live and paddle another day.

Those thoughts took place in probably a span of 10 seconds. OMG, SPOT is secured to the deck underwater because the boat’s turtled! Criminy - it may have already stopped sending out signals. I grabbed a biner, clipped one end to my knife tether (tethered to my PFD) and clipped the other to the SPOT before unsecuring it from the deck bungee. Awkward in the boat’s turtled position, but it worked. No way I wanted it floating away!

Don’t hit 911. There must be something else. Think. Pisser.

Any other remotely plausible scenarios I though of would take time to execute - too much time - and I was starting to feel a little chill. I’ve never not been able to get back into my boat, whether planned or the relatively few unplanned exits. Pooh!

Well, I won’t give up the adventure. I’ll continue it renegade even though it won’t count. I mean, after all, I DID set this whole week aside to paddle from DeSoto to Key Largo. What the heck else would I do with the week? And I have two nights reserved at Bay Cove and fully intend to paddle to it, not drive.

With that last thought, I cussed an extended streak as I did the unmentionable and hit the 911 button (Read the Shore Contact's Perspective). It blinked red, but in a non-uniform rate. Did it malfunction? Was a help signal actually sent? I had food (caloric heat) and water immediately available and planned to down another powerbar before doing anything else by way of physical exertion. With SPOT still blinking at an odd rate, I depressed the button again, this time holding it down a full maybe 5 seconds. It then started blinking red at a steady rate. That made me feel better and I downed a powerbar and drank some water.

OK, now what? I can’t simply float here, so I proceeded to attempt to rig the pool noodles to the paddle. How to attach? I could cut the sheets from my sail. Keep that in mind as an option if help doesn’t arrive within a short time. Hmmm, got it - use my rescue stirrup line. Got the stirrup out of my vest and proceeded to start wrapping. Because the noodles floated above the shaft with any pressure, it didn’t seem to add much floatation ... and I still had to figure out how to insert the paddle into the deck lines when the danged boat wanted to stay upside-down. I needed another hand. Duct tape may have worked better, but that was in the aft hatch. And the swells were building .... and I was still highly PO’d that I had hit the 911. Was it the right decision? Should I have waited longer and tried more attempts? Perhaps, but in the end I’m satisfied that it was the right decision for the time and circumstances.

Just then I heard the drone of an engine. As I floated up on the top of the next wave, still attempting to attach the noodled paddle to the boat, I saw a black and red boat with lights blinking bearing straight down on me. Whatever happened to the white with red stripe CG boats? Maybe it was a SeaTow boat going somewhere. Danged, I hope they see me in time to not run me over. With that, the boat slowed and I saw it was indeed the CG. I disassembled the pool noodles and tucked them under the aft deck bungies, shoved the paddle into the boat, and looked around for anything else that might need tidying up. I was chilled, but not yet shivering.

If you ever need to be rescued by the Coast Guard, do not request that they help you right your boat so you can figure out what’s wrong so you can continue on your way. It won’t happen. It’s not how their world works. Two eye-candy officers lifted me onto their boat. After noting the equipment on the boat, they commented on the safety equipment in place, both on me and on the boat. Two points for me. On the boat, with the freshening wind hitting my wet body, I then started to shiver. The officer at the helm was talking to someone on shore, saying something on the order of “She’s fine but chilled.”
“But what about my boat?”, I inquired.
“We’ll come back for it.”
“Why not get it now - all in one shot?”
“Procedure, ma’am. We’ve got to take you back first. There will be an EMS unit waiting.”
“An EMS unit?!? But I’m fine. Really. I’ve got a mylar emergency blanket in the back of my vest - and a candle. I can warm myself up with those.”

No response, just weird looks and another round of “it’s procedure”. I really just wanted a little assist and to be back on my way. Time was a-wasting. They covered me in what looked and felt like my dad’s old wool army blanket. Toasty, and I started warming up almost immediately.

“How long have you been in the water?”
“About a half-hour”
“Did you swallow any water?”
“Only one mouthful and about a tablespoon.”
“Where did you start out from?”
“Punta Rassa.” Well, that was true. I had slept on the south side of Sanibel Bridge in Punta Rassa.
“Where were you headed?”
“Marco River.” Again, that was true. I simply omitted saying Gullivan or White Horse Key was my intended destination for the day with Key Largo the ultimate destination.
“Anybody else out here with you?”
“No.” D’uh, I thought. If there was, I probably wouldn’t have hit 911!

At the CG dock, the EMS people scooped me into their truck before I could say boo. They relayed my temp (down 2 degrees - mild hypothermia), stripped off my wet clothes against my protests, put on a cotton hospital garb, and overlaid with a light cotton blanket. I was almost starting to feel too warm by the time we reached the hospital.

At the hospital I got the same questions about length of time in the water and did I swallow water. They nuked some socks and put them on plus a slightly thicker blanket, which I pulled down off my chest as I was warm enough. No matter to them, though. Temp taken again plus blood glycogen level tested, which was in the normal range. More people in and out - more temp and glycogen levels taken - same questions. Finally a doctor came in and, after looking at my chart and asking the same “how long and how much” questions, I asked what the blood glycogen level thing was about. She said glycogen levels go awry when a person is hypothermic but that my levels had been fine all along. Okay, then why bother to keep taking it over and over?! A little later a technician came in and said I would be released after I had a chest x-ray.

“What do I need a chest x-ray for?”
“To make sure your lungs are clear and if there’s any water in them.”
“But I’ve told plenty of people I only swallowed a little more than a mouthful!”
“We can’t believe what people tell us if they’ve been in the water more than 20 minutes. We have to presume they’re hypothermic and don’t know what they’re saying. It’s procedure.”
“D’uh! Why bother asking if you’re not going to believe them anyway?!?” That brought a chuckle to a few attendants standing around. If I heard “it’s procedure” one more time I was going to scream.
“OK, let’s get her done and out of here.” one laughed.

Amidst all the above hospital rig-a-ma-roll, other things went on. One of the attendants early on, and someone who was in and out constantly, was Christina. She asked if she could get me a cup of coffee, which I greatly accepted. While sipping, she asked about the events leading to my landing in the hospital. Christina procured a laptop so I could log into my email and get Deena’s phone number from my email contact info log. Then she got me a phone (I think it was hers since it was a cell phone) to make a call so I could let Deena (shore contact person) know I was fine, albeit getting ansy. My phone was in a drybag inside the boat, wherever that was.

Turned out that Christina, too, was a kayaker. Hmmmm - wheels turned. With no Coast Guard around, I felt secure in relating more and more about what I was really doing out there and what the adventure was about. “You were doing what? You were where?” She became excited and interested in the adventure. Her boyfriend, Nick Stillman, was also a kayaker and an avid fisherman who often went kayak-fishing. OK, truth be told, I kinda sorta hinted in a not-so-subtle way that maybe, just maybe, if somehow (hint, hint) I could manage to get myself to a launchable area (hint, hint), I could continue the journey. Turned out to be a good thing because I was offered a ride, although her boyfriend didn’t get out of work until 4pm. Ok, maybe I can be back on the water by 6/6:30 tonight. If it’s later or too rough, I’ll camp on the closest beach until morning.

That, of course, was assuming the CG really did go back out and retrieve my boat ... and that I still had all my equipment .... and, most importantly, that there was no structural damage. That last item preyed on my mind. Did something structural happen to the boat that made it want to stay turtled? What the heck was going on? Would I really be able to get back on the water? No sense worrying about it until I saw the boat and checked it out - heck, or even if I would ever see it again. For all I knew, the boat was drifting it’s way to Cape Sable. I felt helpless not knowing. Where’s that danged technician who’s supposed to take me for that silly x-ray?

In between all that was yet another intertwined layer - the bestest (sic) one. I called Deena and before I got out where I was and that I was ok, she said she knew everything and had been in touch with the SPOT people and the CG all along. I mentioned disheartedly that I was out of the race, but that I was going to finish it renegade assuming boat and equipment were good.
“You don’t have to do it renegade. You’re still in.”
“No I’m not. I’m out. Will just renegade it.”
“Listen to me. You’re not out. After I knew you were ok and where you were, I called the race manager (Pelican) to let him know. He said to tell you he’s not going to DNF you ... that it’s up to you to decide.”

Those had to be absolutely the sweetest words I could have heard. I asked her to repeat it, just in case I hadn’t heard correctly, then let out a “WhoooHooo” energetic enough to about lift me off the bed. Christina knew something neat had happened and I’d fill her in a little later. Deena said she was in her car about 10 minutes away. Telling her I was fine and had it mapped out to get back on the water didn’t stop her. She still wanted to physically see me to make sure I was really ok. Why doesn’t anyone believe you when you say you’re fine? I simply wanted to be back in my boat and on the water - alone. But I also realized that if something happened to Deena while on a sailing race with Ned, I would do the same thing - ignore the “I’m ok” and see for myself that they were ok.

With only wet clothes in a bag that had followed me from the CG boat, I was offered paper hospital scrubs. Strange, but they’re actually ok and don’t really feel like ‘paper’. Grabbed some real food from a nearby eatery and watched the time to make sure I wouldn’t miss Nick and Christina at the front hospital door. Hooked up with them and at the CG station, there indeed was my boat. OMG! As I looked everything over, the only things that appeared missing were a piece of foam I used as a kayak seat that doubled as a foot cushion and a sponge - amazing.

The forward and aft hatch covers were slightly undone, but the officer there said the guys who retrieved the boat were out on the water. I didn’t know whether they had opened the hatches, if they came loose in the water (pretty impossible since the hatches fit tight), or what. Picked up a sponge at a beach toy store. Nick wanted to know where I wanted to go and gave me suggestions. I discounted the launch in north Naples across from Wiggins because that was more south than where I went over. I knew Big Hickory Pass was a PIA, so I chose New Pass and off we went.

Meantime, a number of friends in the area who I had given my SPOT and Watertribe URLs to were scrambling about looking for me - en masse - with all manner of fiberglass cloth and resin (most thought my boat had been physically damaged), bungee cord, line of all lengths and diameters, containers of nuts, bolts and washers, and miscellaneous kayak equipment. I probably could have rebuilt the QE II. One by one they found me at New Pass and were amazed, but delighted, that the boat was not damaged, it didn’t need any repairs, I hadn’t lost any equipment (save for the foam pad and sponge), and I really was fine. One by one I chatted with them for a bit while checking the boat over and over and packing. Then as politely as I could, sent them on their way so I could get back to the business of getting back on the water - grrrr. I think I would have had to get clearance from the race manager to accept any repair items anyway since they weren’t “complete strangers,” but rather kayak buddies who had come with repair supplies.

First thing I did was try to figure out the turtle issue. With the boat loaded, I flipped her over and back up. She floated fine and didn’t list. Did it a few more times and it was still good. Opened the hatches and they were dry, save for a tablespoon or two that dripped from gear that was still a little wet. Dunked it again, rocked it around. The hatches were still dry and the the boat sat on the water fine. The only possibility I could think of was that maybe I hadn’t secured the aft hatch well enough that morning and in the following seas enough water had entered to a) make the boat feel “weird”, and b) cause the turtling phenomena. I could have putzed around with that theory, but that would have resulted in equipment in the aft hatch getting soaked and having to pump it out. I’ll putz with it this summer along with possible load shift if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to get going and felt secure in the boat. Besides, I would only be going down the coast and close to land. If anything felt amiss, it would be a short jaunt to land.

The absolute useful visit was from KonTiki, a former Watertriber who had been following the Challenge and came looking for me to see if I needed any assist. His advice on how to get out of New Pass and of the two long sets of breakers (ie, don’t head south after the first set - keep going out because there’s a second set), were invaluable. I completed prep for launching, changed into my almost-sun-dried paddling gear, and launched.

Danged it felt good to be back on the water! It was close to dusk. Although I could have camped on a nearby beach, I felt the need to get underway - to make some distance, no matter how little. On the way out, I wiggled in the boat, did a few braces and sweeps. It felt good. Wiggins Pass was only about 6.5 miles south and I could camp there for the night. I had talked to Pelican a short while ago and he told me SandDollar and DrKayak were making their way to Wiggins along the inside route. Perfect - time on the Gulf by myself then hopefully meet up with other Watertribers for the night. Danged but the day had taken a lot out of me. I needed a good long quiet sleep to revamp body and brain. It was a yeeehaaa ride through the surf breakers into Wiggins. I met up with SandDollar and DrKayak, camped, and got a decent night’s sleep.

In the Marco River, I again met up with them again after dark close to Tripod Key. They said RubberDucky was nearby, but I never saw him. We camped on Gullivan that night. At Chokoloskee (yeah, checkpoint 2) SandyBottom had her gear spread out drying. Sadly she told me she was dropping out due to severe rashes and OMG was she right. I cringed looking at them. Then she mentioned the open sores on her tushie, the clincher making it impossible to go on. Deena surprised me by showing up. When I asked what she was doing there, she said that since the incident, she was concerned and wanted to make sure I was still ok. Well, it saved me a phone call - ha.

A few others were at the landing, including Honusail, who also had decided to drop out. He graciously donated a couple of big, juicy oranges and a couple of Carrot Cake Clif bars. Thank you - they were yummy! SandyBottom tried to gently persuade me to not continue. “There really isn’t enough time to go through the Wilderness Waterway and make it to Key Largo in time. You’d have to go outside.” I told her my intentions had been, and still were, to go outside anyway. It was late afternoon on Wednesday and, as I recalled, the absolute deadline was 7am on Sunday. That was more than three days away and I was more than halfway there. No problemo. I was concerned about running out of food. Since the store was open, I grabbed a turkey sandwich, chips, and a drink. After I came back from a visit to the head, she told me SandDollar and DrKayak came in and had decided to call it quits there.

Not that I have a stubborn side or anything, but there was no way short of a hurricane that I was going to stop - at least not without trying. Not trying is a no-no. If I do find it too bad outside, then I’d consider two choices; head back to Chokoloskee and try to really race through the Wilderness Waterway and hope to make it to Key Largo by Sunday morning, or DNF. But I had to at least try. I finished the sandwich, re-arranged a few things on the boat and launched. At the tip of Chokoloskee, I ran into CliffJumps, who I know also from FCPA races. After joking that he was going the wrong way, he told me he had spent the night on Turkey Key and was bagging it. “It’s crazy rough out there. I’d turn around if I were you.” Four hours ago I came in through Indian Key Pass. It wasn’t that bad out there. Had the wind come up more on the Gulf but not in Chokoloskee? “Thanks. I’ll just poke my nose out and see what it’s like. Maybe I’ll see you back here.” With that, I continued on. The Gulf wasn’t any rougher than when I last left it, so I battled on. Had hoped to make Turkey Key, but since I was still a bit behind in physical and mental rest, I decided on Pavilion instead.

Shortly after launching in the morning, I ran into a paddler who had “lost” his group - and his way. He was supposed to meet them at Rabbit Key, but was terribly disoriented, even with a GPS. Well, what the heck. I took him about a mile or so north to where Rabbit Key could be seen, pointed it out, made sure he knew the island I was pointing to, then turned around to continue the journey.

I knew a front was supposed to come through during the day, just not when or how fast. I heard one faraway boom behind me, and then nothing. About 15 minutes later I heard another boom. Looking back over my shoulder again, this time I saw it - black, really really BLACK - with an ominous rolled white cloud leading the way. Okay, time to make for land - FAST. Luckily I was only about a mile off Plover Keys, made an abrupt left (east) turn, and paddled like Hades. Deena said when she saw my 90-degree turn on the mapper, she knew I had seen the front. Didn’t quite make it to the beach before it hit. Got pelted with stinging cold rain and had the paddle almost ripped out of my hands. The long shallows offshore made for hellaciously choppy conditions. I undid my skirt about a hundred feet out, planning a quick exit in a foot or two of water so the boat wouldn’t bash into the beach. Dumpers came from behind and I went out of the boat a little before planned - the “ruptured duck exit”. Slamming water had ripped my hydration bag from the deck. It was somewhere out there.

Hit the beach and got the boat up above the high tide line. I was chilled by the cold rain. Sent an OK signal figuring Deena would see it and know I survived the front. Got out my tent and set it up. Grabbed the survival blanket, bottle of Gatorade, daybag and stove and got in the tent. After donning the blanket, which I had made into a poncho as per Chief’s suggestion, I lit the stove in the small vestibule area and was de-chilled within five minutes. The wind was still howling and the rain pelting so I decided to catch a snooze waiting for the front to pass .... and hoping it would within a few hours so I could continue down the coast. Got about three hours sleep and woke to better conditions. “Better” being a relative term - at least it wasn’t pelting rain or blowing 40 mph. Packed up, donned a polartec vest for more warmth, and headed out.

Somewhere around Broad Creek I realized that with the lost hydration bag, I’d be hurting before I made Flamingo. Should I go back to Chokoloskee? I could be almost to Flamingo in the same amount of time. A powerboat came up from behind heading towards Harney and almost ran me over. I shouted and waved a few times. Finally somebody on the boat saw me and they turned around. I told them that when the front hit I had lost my hydration and asked if they had any water to spare. I don’t know if asking for something from a complete stranger is against the rules, but at the time I didn’t even think about it. Fortunately they had a cooler full of water bottles and gave me two. They asked if I was part of the Watertribe race and I replied, “Yes”. They asked my tribe name and said they’d contact someone when they got back to let them know I was ok. I don’t know if they ever did, but it was a nice gesture.

Turning the bend into Ponce de Leon Bay, I was feeling good and quite rested. Could have kept going to Flamingo without a problem. However, the winds hadn’t died out further, the water was a very sloppy mud-brown roil, I was now getting hit on the aft quarter ... in the dark ... in a Bay known for its sloppiness ... with a bit over two-and-a-half miles of open water before getting any protection from islands. I shone my bright dive light into the darkness. The slop was not just near shore - it went all the way out.

Graveyard campground was less than half-mile away. Decision time again. Perhaps now, “knowing” I was going to make it to Key Largo, I chose to take it easy. There were campers at Graveyard. I explained to a gal on the beach that I was on my way to Flamingo but uneasy about crossing the bay with the conditions and would they mind if I crashed there. It was an Outward Bound group that had been there two weeks. Not only was it no problem laying over there, but they had just finished making a late dinner and asked if I’d like some pasta with marinara sauce. Would I? They didn’t have to offer twice. I set up by the landing, well away from them, and had a heaping mound of pasta marina served on a frisbee. I didn’t even have to get my cookware dirty!

Where are those north winds? Just one day of them, messed up by dumping - arrgh, and it was back to southerlies. Oh well. Onward across Whitewater Bay and into Flamingo. Coming down Buttonwood Canal, a tour boat slowed as I passed. One of the tourists asked where I had come from. “Fort De Soto in St Pete,” I replied with a big proud grin. The captain then asked if I was part of the Watertribe and I replied, “Yes.” He bid me well and proceeded to tell the tourists what the Challenge was all about.

A few days back, Pelican said there may not be a “greeter” at the checkpoints because I’d be arriving so late. At Choko, there were a number of Tribers, which made for great chit-chat, but I started to feel a little down that there wouldn’t be anyone at Flamingo. That’s why it was such a treat to see Etch when I rounded the corner to the ramp. Wow! Neato! Ear-to-ear smile. He said people in Key Largo were watching my progress and called him when I was at the head of the canal. He also mentioned that, to my surprise, I was not the last one in. Trader and TroutHeart were behind me about to enter Whitewater Bay.

Etch then told me that he and Chief had talked it over and decided that I was, even though only at Flamingo, pre-qualified for the UF. I didn’t have to go on. It was tempting to say the least ... shower, clean clothes, dry clothes, soft bed, sleep vs paddling through the night, no more power bars, big seafood or steak dinner, but .... I looked him in the eye and said, “Thanks. I really appreciate that, but I made it this far. I can’t stop now. There’s only 35 more miles to go. I have to go for it.” Etch suggested waiting till morning instead of crossing Florida Bay in the dark. I had looked at my tide chart while paddling down the canal and knew I could catch the last of the incoming tide for a little boost if I left by 6:30’ish at the latest. That would still give me enough time to do the portage and taste the marina store’s cheeseburgers SandyBottom had raved about.

Mulling it over, I asked what time the banquet was. That shows what was important to me - ha - food. Real food and lots of it. He didn’t know but made a call and found out it would be noonish or a little after. If I waited until morning to start out, I’d miss it. That provided yet another reason to paddle across the bay at night.

It was sunny. It was warm. A gentle breeze rustled palm fronds ever so lightly in the sweet light of late afternoon. I could “taste” Key Largo. Life was good :) While I adjusted things on the boat and tidied up, Etch checked the weather. He said it was supposed to be “light and variable winds” and nothing strong out of the east for another day. After the short portage it was off to the store. The cheeseburgers were fabulous - highly recommended. It was also nice to sit down at a picnic table to eat like a human. I also bought batteries for my GPS (I had put in my last two back in Coot Bay), a couple of 1.5-litre bottles of water, and a bottle of Powerade.

I launched around 6:30pm with a full belly. The tide boost was great, even though it lasted only about an hour-and-a-half. What an absolutely gorgeous night on the water! A quarter moon gently illuminated bay. I paused when I went through Dump Keys, enjoying the quiet of the mystical setting as I slowly paddle between the two islands. Twisty Channel was challenging, but I only hit shallows twice when I got slightly outside the narrow channel.

On the trek over to Jimmy Channel, the wind started to freshen. By the time I got to the southwest end of Manatee Keys, I thought about calling Etch and telling him to get another weather forecaster. The winds had continued to build out of the northeast and it was now pretty strong. “Damnit - give me a break, willya!” I yelled into the night at no one in particular. Rounding the east end of Manatee Key I could see Key Largo. I could taste Key Largo. Only 11 more miles to go ... but they would prove to be the worst by far of the entire trip. And, I was about to cross one of the few open and deep areas of the bay. Murphy’s Law.

I slogged towards Bottle Key, altering course a tad any time a large set was about to break over my beam. I was starting to hallucinate more. Big white buoys had been cropping up in front of me then disappearing since back around Twisty Mile. Stay awake! You can’t fall asleep or you might fall over! Sing. And so it was that I began going through my large repertoire of 60’s and 70’s folk and R&B tunes - every freakin one of them from 500 miles to Sittin on the Dock of the Bay to Delta Dawn.

A little past the tip of Bottle Key I gave into the fight a bit. My speed had slowed to 2 mph and declining. Those danged disappearing buoys kept popping up and I scarily snapped awake a few times. I couldn’t take my hands off the paddle to get a drink and my lips were getting dry-parched. I was tired of singing. It had lost its zip in helping keep me reasonably alert. Instead of hitting Bay Cove by 4 or 5 am, I was now wondering if I would even make it in time for the banquet. That would really piss me off after all this!

I let myself get pushed towards the Keys chain instead of trying to fight unsuccessfully straight across to the island south of Butternut Key, but I was angry - very angry. Speaking to the wind .... You’re (slam-dunk the paddle) NOT (paddle) going to (paddle) beat me (paddle). I AM going to make it. You’re NOT going to get me with only 5/6 more miles to go. You’re NOT going to win. Close to shore now, I looked for some protected area, some little niche, where I could duck in to take a short break and get some water and food. The wind direction was such that it was not to be. Speed had declined to a little over one mph. Instead of counting islands as I passed them, things had dwindled to counting pilings. First this one, then the next, and so on.

I wondered briefly if there was any rule against portaging into Bay Cove. Maybe I could find a house with a driveway extending close to the water and portage out. My portage wheels were small, a DIY project made from old baby carriage wheels and only meant to handle very short distances like Flamingo or onto beaches, but it could possibly go a mile or more without breaking. Maybe it would be faster to get out of the boat and walk it along the shallow edge around to Bay Cove. Ok, Kathy, you’re really starting to lose it. Snap out of it and just keep paddling.

Ever so excruciatingly slowly, the peninsula to the south of Bay Cove started getting closer. Or perhaps it was merely that dawn had arrived waking the day with pale light. Around 8am I finally reached the tip of the peninsula and tucked in close enough to be totally in the lee. Peeling my hands from the paddle, I guzzled down about half a bottle of water. In 10 inches of water it was easy to get out of the boat to pee in the water - and I didn’t care if anyone could see. I was also hungry and downed a Powerbar and some crackers, then drank more sweet water. I knew people were watching the mapper and waiting for me to round the corner and come in, but I needed the break - I needed the water - I need some food - and I needed to pee. Long white wind streaks covered the channel at the peninsula’s tip. Heading into it and down that last mile-and-a-half was not going to be a picnic. But it was only 1.5 miles - YEAH! The break was refreshing and I was ready to charge that last bit.

Approaching Bay Cove, there were sailboat anchor lines to dodge around and make sure I didn’t get hung up. About 40 feet out, I was finally in a lee. YeeeHaaaa! I made it! DFL (dead freakin last), but I made it. Three days after I’d hoped to be there, but there nonetheless. I fought the wind the whole week - and won. It’s tough to really describe how good it felt when I was near enough to make out friendly faces ... buddy WhiteCap was right up front there, and SharkChow ... and oh, there’s Chief, BluByeU, Pelican, SandyBottom, Deena, and the list goes on. Claps and cheers sounded soooo good. Somewhere in there I think I turned around to give the wind the finger - hehehe. SharkChow helped extricate me from my boat while WhiteCaps held it steady. Thanks guys! WhiteCaps, with his very warped sense of humor, said, “Welcome to Stage Point one”, a sick reminder that if this were next year on the UF, I’d only be at the end of the 1st stage, with five more stages to go. Hey, what are friend for, right? Keeps one in perspective.

I know this might sound strange, but when I was about 20’ from shore and Chief was yelling, “C’mon DolphinGal. Keep coming. Paddle the last.” it was a bittersweet moment. I knew as soon as I touched land, the Challenge would be officially over. That’s it. Done. I really would have liked to sit out there for a while, mulling over the week and it’s events - and snubbing my nose at the wind again. But then, a shower, clean dry clothes, and food won out.

I have never been so wet, so tired, or fought the wind so much for so long .... and I was so ready to go again.

What could have been done differently:

If you dump and are alone offshore, get a flare and put it in the front vest pocket or someplace immediately accessible. Fire it off if a boat is near, even if you think they’ll pass close enough to see you without it. Fishermen are too focused to notice much outside their tunnel vision. Had I fired off a flare towards them when I saw the boat shortly after I dumped, they’d have seen it, and then me. Perhaps with their help, I could have gotten my kayak in order, got back in, and been on my way again within an hour.

Equipment that really worked:

The heavy-duty survival blanket I made into a poncho per Chief’s suggestion was amazingly versatile. In addition to using it as a tarp to curl into for a short snooze, it helped warm me after being pelted by the cold front’s rain, donned as a poncho for a bit when I hit the beach so I wouldn’t chill before having the tent set up and ready to get into camp clothes, and used as a cover over one side of the tent to protect it more from cold winds. When I thought I had left my ground cloth at the last camp, I could have used it as a ground cloth. (I found the ground cloth hiding in a corner of the aft hatch). I’ll never do an overnight trip without it.

The Perpetuum slurry bottle I had made and tested on the MR340 last summer with a hose at mouth level continued to work like a charm. It was invaluable for spending hours in sloppy conditions when taking hands off the paddle would not have been easy.

Paddle On!

Copyright ©2011 Kathy Kenley (aka DolphinGal)

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