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.


Anonymous said...

Trey, thanks for that analysis. You did a great job describing the mindset & thought process of a cold tired racer late at night.

It's a new boat and a new concept, there are going to be teething problems and as you work through them the board and your confidence in it will only improve. Keep at it and don't go easy on boat or yourself.

Better luck next time, meanwhile enjoy the sailing!


SandyBottom said...

Sounds to me like you got all the needed lessons learned this year, and out of the way. This will make next year much better, and even more fun. You'll still continue to learn and change things, but next year, it's all yours.

Michael said...

The expedition windsurfer sounds like a great idea, but I think you might need a longer wider hull to avoid being bogged down by your payload or maybe go for more of a displacement type hull which carries weight better. When expedition kayaks are fully laden they rarely cruise faster than 3mph, hardly racing speed.

Also you might consider adding a kite to your quiver of propulsive options. When the wind is favorable it would make paddling easier/faster, and you could even take a break and eat or rest a little while still making some mileage. Another option would be to have a couple of small low aspect sails for the same purpose.