Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Everglades Challenge- what did I learn?

The Everglades Challenge, so what did I learn?

After spending some time reflecting on my experience in the Everglades Challenge, a 300 mile expedition style small boat race down the west coast of Florida, and watching the racers in the Ultimate Florida Challenge and observing how they overcome various trials along the way has had me thinking of what I can do to make the it to the finish line in 2011.

(Learn more about these races here:

The Expedition Windsurfer®

The board performed reasonably well in the all the conditions we faced on Saturday. When the seas and winds picked up I never felt that the board was unstable or would capsize. Even as I was approaching Venice Inlet after breaking my mast base or u-joint the waves were nice and big and I had to luff my sail, I still felt comfortable sliding down the waves.

What I am not so happy about is the speed of the loaded board, both when sailing and when paddling. I am certain that the major reason for the lack of speed has to do with the fact that I put over 115 pounds of gear, water and food on the board. I will discuss this issue further on in this post.

The broken u-joint could have been prevented if I had replaced it before the race. I knew it was old, but it was not showing any signs of wear. I think that the size of the waves we had on Saturday and the added freeboard of the Expedition Windsurfer® combined with the age of the u-joint caused it to fail when I dropped the sail in the water. Replacing the u-joint before the race and being cognizant of the strain on the joint when the sail is in the water can eliminate this from occurring again.

How competitive can the Expedition Windsurfer® be in an adventure race such as the EC? That depends in large part on the weather, as always. The Expedition Windsurfer® was in class 4, competing against small sailboats and catamarans. The sailors of these boats are able to keep going for longer periods of time without stopping for breaks to drink and eat, or even use the head. On the windsurfer I needed to take a break every couple of hours to eat or drink. But even when doing that I was able to stay close to or ahead of other sailors in my class as we sailed down the coast. Another advantage to a typical sail boat is that the sailor can rest while still sailing. Not being of the same mettle as the legends of the WaterTribe like Wizard, ManitouCruiser, Pelican, Sandybottom, SharkChow and of course the Chief, all of whom can go days without food, water or sleep, when I take a break to be human those in small sail boats will continue towards the finish line. But I still think that all things considered the Expedition Windsurfer® can put in a good time and finish the race.

Equipment, Gear and Supplies

This is one area that I need more time and experience to work through. 115+ pounds of gear, food and water is way too much to load on the board, and I could tell when I got in the large seas that I should have packed lighter.

The obvious and easy things to change would be my tent, my clothing and my food. I also kept adding miscellaneous items as I was getting my gear together, most of which I would never have needed. There is a big difference in what you take with you when you go camping for fun and when you are camping in an adventure race. Typically when I camp for fun or leisure I can carry more than I need because I will unload the board at my campsite and then with an empty board I can go explore. In a race, weight is critical. With more time on the water and more time spent camping with the Expedition Windsurfer I can work out these details.

Food is still a big question mark for me. How much will I need and how will my body react to it. In this year’s Challenge I only ate protein bars which caused me to have a constipated stomach for the better part of three days, totally unlike my regular self. Again this where time and experience will play a roll. I noticed that one of the racers in the Ultimate Florida Challenge is using a product from Natural High Foods. I will have to try those.

Eat, Sleep, Decide and the proper Mindset

This is the most important area that I need to improve on. Everyone knows that important decisions in life should never be made hastily. We should sleep on them, think them over and explore all our options and consequences. In the crazy world we live in, deciding whether to drop out of the Everglades Challenge may not be the most important decision I ever make. But at the same time developing and maintaining the character of heart to see things through to the end is always going to lead to good things. Like a metaphor of life, the Everglades Challenge provides us with opportunities to put into practice skills that can help us face the real challenges that come our way in our busy lives.

The first lesson that I learned or need to learn is that, I need to have the mindset that “I can fix it when it breaks”. When my u-joint broke off of Venice Inlet the first thing I thought was; how can I get a new one? I never thought about fixing it in some temporary fashion to keep me moving. If I had had that mindset as I landed on Snake Island, rather than thinking I was done, I would have considered what can be done. I could have easily made the repair with what I had, and been on my way down the ICW in a matter of minutes. (See my previous post)

The other lesson I have learned is the importance of knowing my limits. I should have gotten off the water around 9pm and made a hot meal, some coffee and slept before I made my decision to quit. As it was I kept pushing myself to get to the first checkpoint. By 11:00pm I was totally spent and still had at least 10 miles to go. Ten miles does not seem like very far to go considering that I had just sailed and paddled close to fifty miles and as I look back I wonder why did I drop out. I was tired, cold, hungry and lonely and in a lot of pain. Sitting on the board and paddling with a kayak paddle for hours on end kills my neck. The pain feels like someone driving a knife into my neck. So rather than make camp I decided to paddle to Englewood Bridge and call my wife to come pick me up. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

The decision to drop out and call my wife was made in a split second, and after I made it all I could think about was getting off the water and getting a hot shower and a warm comfy bed. Just before I made that decision I had started to paddle towards a place that I could have camped at. My intention was to eat, sleep and then decide whether to pull out or continue on, but my willpower vanished in a matter of seconds as images of my warm bed at home filled my mind. I failed to accomplish an important goal due to the short term pleasures of a hot shower and a warm bed. I am fascinated by how my brain works and how I make such decisions. How will I prevent this type of decision making in the future? Will I make other decisions in life based on short term pleasures or on long term satisfaction? Will I have the “grit” to keep going, working through the various problems life tosses at me or will I cave in and take a less difficult rout?

In the end the Everglades Challenge has taught me that I will never stop learning about myself. And although I did not even make it to the first checkpoint, I have memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.

So what’s next for the Expedition Windsurfer®?
April is a great month for camping and exploring ….humm.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How to fix a broken U-joint on the fly

Had I been thinking clearly, I would have used a small line like this one and made a temporary repair. It may not have lasted for the whole race, but it would have gotten me to the next checkpoint. This is why it is recommended to set up camp and get some rest before deciding to drop out.
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

A great experience- just wish it could have lasted

Home safe and sound, the equipment is put away and the board is all washed down and clean.  Here is a brief discription of my first (hope my wife dose not read this post) attempt at the Everglades Challenge on a the Expedition Windsurfer.
Pre race activities on the beach at Ft Desoto, Florida March 6, 2010
A number of strange and interesting vessels are always to be found on the beach before the race.  Here is Matt Layden's latest creation, Elusion.  Matt has developed a unique design for his mico-curisers.  To provide more interior room he has eliminated the dagger board and now uses the chine strips you see on the bottom of the boat.  I am not sure how they work, but they do.  Matt will be using this boat to sail around the state of Florida in the Ultimate Florida Challenge, 1300 mile race around Florida.
The "Yellow Thing"  another very interesting boat that was doing quite well even in the high winds we got on Saturday.

The start of the 2010 Evergaldes Challenge

Here I go.  As usual I am late, one of the last to leave the beach. 

The day started out with winds out of the North East around 6-8kts.  Here is Matt and his boat off Bradenton Beach Florida.  As the day progressed the sea breeze picked up and winds started to blow.  The NOAA weather bouys reported winds at 20kts gusting to 23kts.  What amazed me was the way the waves increased so fast. 
By the time we had gotten down to Sarasota the winds were in the 15-18kt range.  This picture does not do a good job of depicting the wind conditions at the time. I was having fun surfing down the face of the ever increasing waves when I saw the Yellow Thing go over.  I sailed over to see if he needed any help, but he had things in control and was soon back on board and headed down the coast.  I helped pick up a few of the things that fell overboard and tossed them to him before sailing on.

Just about a mile from Venice inlet I sat down on my board to get drink and rest a minute.  The winds were coming out of the NNW and sailing on an almost dead down wind run, I was having a hard time staying hooked into the harness. I snapped this photo of the waves in hopes of showing the size of the swell.  Its hard to determine the size of the waves from the photos but at this point the winds were up in the 20knt range and the seas were big.  I had seen a number of boats go in at Venice Inlet to get out of the big winds and I was trying to decide if I wanted to go in also or keep going on the outside.  The conditions were what every windsurfer yearns for, 20kts and a 3-4 foot swell, but I had been sailing since 7:30am and had covered 35 nautical miles.  It was now 3:30, with 8 hours of sailing and only a few 5 minute breaks, I was ready for a break from the big winds and seas.
Rather than try to pull the sail up in the large wave, I attempted a water start.  Having a drysuit and a PFD I felt comfortable getting in the water.  I had the board postitioned for a starboard start and was out of the water and sliding down the face of a swell. Before I could hook in and move back on the board an unexpected gust grabbed the sail out of my hands and slammed it down on the water.  I, of course, ended up in the water wondering what I did to deserve that kind of treatment.  As I grabbed the board I noticed something was wrong with the mast base.  The u-joint had come apart.  The webbing holding the two pieces together was all that kept the mast in reasonably close proximity to the track it was supposed to be in.  Any doubt as to whether or not to head in through Venice Inlet was gone.  I had to head in.  Lifting the sail and holding it by the mast I was able to get in through the inlet and land on a small island named Snake Island.   I rolled up the sail, set up my paddling seat and started paddling the 25 miles to checkpoint one.  I paddled into the night until reaching the bridge to Englewood at 11pm.  Cold and tired I called my wife to come get me.  
Here you can see the wear on the bard from the broken mast base.  I know, I know I should have bought a new base before the race and carried it as a spare.  I cant even tell you why I let that detail slip by, but it is eating at me like a cancer.  I cant stop thinking about it.  Man am I bummed!
On my next post I will discuss what I learned about adventure racing on a windsurfer, the good and the bad.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Check-in day

Today was check-in day for the Everglades Challenge 300 mile expedition style small boat race down the coast of Florida.  Here are a couple of pictures from today's activities.  One of them shows my boat at check-in and one shows other boats on the beach.  Race starts tomorrow at 7AM.  Follow us at

One day left- check in day

Today is pre-race check in day. We have to have our boats and all our gear inspected to ensure we meet all the safety requirements and that our vessels are seaworthy and registered in the correct class. At 3:00 we have a skippers meeting to discuss rules and safety issues. Today provides us the opportunity to meet other racers and ask questions from those who have done the race in the past.

Check out the new lettering for the Expedition Windsurfer®!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two days to the start of the Everglades Challenge

I want to thank Steve Baker for taking some photos of my last sail before the race.  I always have a difficult time getting shots of me sailing the board, none of my family want to spend the day on a cold beach while I go out and have fun sailing.  But on Tuesday Steve was going out for some kayak fishing and took these shots of me sailing off the beach.
Only two days remain before the start of the Everglades Challenge, a 300 mile expedition style small boat race down the west coast of Florida, from the mouth of Tampa Bay to Key Largo. I am the first racer to use a windsurfer.  Am I ready? I have all the equipment, food, water and the Expedition Windsurfer® is ready to go, the question is, do I have the physical and mental toughness to finish the race? That is what this race is all about for me. The adventure, the challenge truly begins and ends with what is in my head.
Click the link "map" next to the Everglades Challenge listing and drag your curser over the pirate heads untill you locate WindWalker, which is my race name.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Great sail into the Gulf of Mexico today!

With only four days left before the Everglades Challenge, I am feeling a bit stressed out trying to get all the last minute details worked out.  Trying to get all my chores done around the house and trying to tie up all loose ends at work and finalize all my plans for the race is having me wonder if it is all worth the effort.  Sure it is!
I got my sail back from Aerotech with two new zipper panels for reefing or reducing sail area while on the water.  I thought today would be a good day to test it out, so I headed for the coast and did some sailing in the Gulf.  With winds around 15kts and occasionally hitting 20kts I was able to test the adjustable down haul and out haul and the new zipper panels.  I also loaded the board with all my gear for the race and put on the dry suit just to see how everything would work together. 
I went out into the Gulf through Bunces Pass near Ft Desoto.  The pass was a mess with waves coming in from all directions making the sail out interesting. The Expedition Windsurfer did very well in the building swell and went down wind with control giving me a nice ride back in from the Gulf. You can check out my route/track from the SPOT tracker here at the WaterTribe website.  Look for WindWalker by moving your mouse over each of the little pirate heads.
This link will be operational durring the Everglades Challenge enabling those at home to keep tabs on me as I travel down the coast.
The GPS reading for today was;
Trip Odom-13.5nm
Max Speed  11.4kts
Moving Time- 2hrs50mins
Moving Avg-4.5kts

Not too bad for a fully loaded board and a two hundred pound (all muscle) guy.