Challenge 2021.

First sailing post of the year.

Sail and oar, sail and paddle.

The Everglades Challenge 2021.

Blog time : it’s January 2021 and this is my first sailing post of the new year.  In a few weeks time a whole load of small craft paddlers and sailors will launch off one Florida beach in Tampa bay and either sail or paddle and row and sail some 300 miles towards the finish line in Key Largo ; this is of course the Everglades Challenge run by the Watertribe.   I have followed the Everglades Challenge (EC) now for several years and am still hugely inspired by the challenge itself , the boats and skippers that take part in and that i take serious note of the ethos and ideas contained within the Watertribe events : for one thing they acknowledge that under Florida state law it is to be regarded as a dangerous event and instead of descending into mealy-mouthed UK style ‘elf-n-safety’ they respond by demanding competence, endurance and excellence…….excellent !

On a second note i have a personal interest because it’s one of the 3 things that i still have in the bucket list that i want to do before i become too decrepit as a sailor and finally sign on as mate aboard the Flying Dutchman !.      On a similar note i consider the Everglades Challenge (EC) as a kind of test bed for capable small craft which is why i look closely at any boats that have completed the challenge in good order because one of those might just be perfect for the 2 other small craft voyages that i have in my to do list : i’m going to talk about those a bit more in a follow-up post to this one in which i’m going to take a look at a specific line/idea in small boat design where examples have taken part.

Before i begin i just want to offer a big thanks to sailor Justin Errebus who answered my query on a social media sailing site and who sent me a long post with his observations and thoughts about the challenge….i will be drawing on his experience heavily for this post.     My second acknowledgement is to everyone who has either sailed, paddled or rowed in the EC or similar event and who has taken the time to record the event on video.

Modified ‘Walkabout’ on the beach and ready to go .(John Welsford design) photographer not known.


So….what is the EC exactly ?

In simple terms i would first describe the EC as an endurance race cum rally for small craft over 300 miles and by 2 potential routes ; one offshore/coastal and one inshore through the Everglades waterway and what is essentially a swamp whose native wildlife includes Alligators !.  It isn’t exactly a yacht race although competitors do clearly race for honours and the sheer chutzpah of doing it fast and beating the opposition…..but it’s also undertaken by other small craft, for example sea kayaks, canoes, experimental craft and at least once by a paddle board.   There is a simple set of basic constraints though that all of the small craft have to work within and simplified a lot that is : 1. That the boat or craft has to be launched off a beach from above the high water mark, 2. Sailed , rowed or paddled (no engines…which should be obvious*) and 3. The small craft to be sailed or paddled solo or with just one crew.    There are a whole load of other requirements which should almost be self-explanatory in terms of equipment and competence but where the key component is independence and self-reliance on the water.   It is also one of several similar events put on by the same organization (the Watertribe) and other events are both shorter and much longer with the most extreme being the Florida Ultimate at 1200 miles and it’s sister event the Florida Ultimate Coastal at 1230 miles……just a small point being that the former requires a 40 mile portage (road carry).

Does my bum look big in this ?….Fat Bottom Girl (John Welsford ‘Scamp’) on the beach and trying to get away.


The course.

For the record…..if you’re a challenger then you will already know that you will have had to register by the time this post goes out, that you’ll have to be looking salty, squared away and shipshape on Friday March 5th for the final class and equipment inspection on the beach at Desoto park in Tampa bay and that the start is at 0700 he next morning…..but if you’re taking part then you’ll already know all of that.

The course start is actually on the beach above the high water mark so the first requirement is that the crew only and without outside assistance have to launch the boat across what looks like soft sand and then a few shallow sandbars just to get into deep water and start their sailing or paddling. That’s one of the interesting features of the race because getting even a fully loaded sailing canoe or sea kayak from beach to water isn’t the easiest thing to do and going up to the kind of boat that i would want to race….even a racing dinghy/small monuhull, represents a lot of weight to ‘unstick’ from the beach.

As i mentioned before there are then 2 principal choices , the coastal/offshore route and an inshore route partially through the intracoastal waterway and then through part of the Everglades park itself and that route does involve a short portage (carry) from fresh to salt water.  There are 2 mandatory check in points which seem to involve running shallow water passes or bars and then the finish comes after 300 miles or thereabouts at Key Largo.  If you’re wondering then the race winners will do that in 2-4 days.

Going coastal….lumpy water and a ‘Sea Pearl’ (i think)


The Watertribe. 

I should say a little bit about the Watertribe itself so here goes…..actually no : the best thing here would be to just say that the events are run by the Watertribe and here is what the Chief says about it himself  :  “The purpose of WaterTribe is to encourage the development of boats, equipment, skills, and human athletic performance for safe and efficient coastal cruising using minimal impact human and wind powered watercraft based on kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats.”~ Chief, February 2000″

And….what the Watertribe site has to say about the Everglades Challenge : ”   All WaterTribe events are dangerous events as defined by Florida law and common sense. You are responsible for your own safety. You must read and understand the warning before you register for this event.

The Everglades Challenge is an unsupported, expedition style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small boats. The distance is roughly 300 nautical miles depending on your course selection. There is a time limit of 8 days or less. Your safety and well being are completely up to you.

Unsupported means that there are no safety boats or support crews to help you during the race. You are not allowed to have a support crew follow you or meet you during the race. It is OK to have family or friends meet you at the official checkpoints, but they cannot provide anything other than emotional support. See the official WaterTribe rules for more details.

Expedition style means that you must carry the same type of equipment and supplies that you would carry on a major expedition lasting 4 weeks or more. Camping equipment, food, water, safety, communication, etc. is required. See the Rules and Warning link at the top of this page for the official required equipment list for more details.”

The Boats.

As i said earlier i do have a personal interest in the race and especially the boats that take part because the event itself and it’s requirements act almost exactly as the same filter as i am using to determine what my next boat will be ; in that way this post is immediately part of the ‘Sail and Awe’ thread that iv’e been running for a while.  Also, just like the EC i’m not specifically committed (at this stage) to one kind of boat only although i am leaning heavily towards a sail and oar, open boat monohull rather than say a small multihull, canoe or sea kayak.  In my own outdoors life iv’e been a canoeist and sea kayaker and enjoyed both but at 62 i do have some small limiting problems with both craft : a knee replacement that doesn’t allow me to kneel for long periods and a back that becomes excruciatingly painful in the classic sea paddlers position.

If i only take my filter as being monohulls that have taken part in the EC and in good order then that’s still a wide variety of boats, from Dory’s through former racing dinghy’s , cruising dayboats either open or with small cuddy cabins and then some interesting looking micro-cruisers : just about any one of those would be a viable boat for my next project.  In previous posts iv’e already done a quick cover of 2 boats that make my own hot list : those being the CLC Dory at 17′ and the modified John Welsford designed ‘walkabout’ that i keep coming back to time and time again.   My own previous work for this project also took me down the route of modifying an older UK class of racing dinghy, the 14′ Merlin Rocket and modifying an old and less competitive one into a solo racer/cruiser dinghy with a lug rig.

At this point i think that this post is now one of three, in this post i just wanted to introduce the ideas behind the event to a wider audience that might not have come across it before ; especially those sailors and maybe paddlers too in the UK and Europe.  In the second post, which i’m already working on i am going to pick up on a boat design avenue that piqued my interest years back when i still had my ‘big’ (26 foot) cruising boat but was already thinking about something a lot smaller.  For the third post i’m working up an idea for similar events in either UK or European waters and i really think that it’s time we had an active branch or ‘chapter’ of the Watertribe over on this side of the big grey pond.

Scamp. Lonnie Black photo : Micro-cruiser…from post 2 in this series.


For this post i’d like to leave the last word to fellow sailor Justin Errebus who kindly took the time to answer my questions about the EC on one of the few social media sites that i really enjoy contributing to myself……here goes :

Hi Steven, I am expecting the Canada/US border to be still closed for the 2021 race so I am taking the season off. Just guessing, but I think this will be a smaller than usual turn out. However I did run 2020 and aim for 2022 (hopefully).

I have previously raced in class 1 (expedition kayak/canoe) and class 5 (multi hull). I am aiming for Class 3 for 2022 (sailing canoe). There is way too much to cover in a FB post, but here are some ideas.
Boat. You need to spend some time and money on a boat. Needs to be beach launchable, in sailing classes needs 2 reefs, needs to be self * rescuable or self righting, needs to be sea worthy enough to take a beating for ~300 miles, ideally be fast enough to cover ~50 miles a day in conditions from honking headwinds to calm. Building this combination isn’t always easy.

Navigation. It’s a complicated route. Most of the route can be done in the gulf of Mexico, or protected inland waters, but because of the nature of the route, ideally the boat should be able to handle a bit of both. At a minimum, boat must be able to handle some Gulf Of Mexico as well as inland waters. 3 checkpoints. Cape Haze is a marina, so you need to be able to get your boat into a Marina without engine. Everglades city is a long trek up from the ocean via mangrove channels with strong tides and sometimes little wind. Flamingo can be approached from a nasty unprotected stretch of the GOM or via a protected inland route. The protected route requires you to portage your boat over land. The home stretch is across a very large and very shallow bay, a labyrinth of islands and shoals in often knee deep water. I spend literally dozens of hours working out my route based on my vessels particulars as part of my prep.
Weight. Most of the boats you take on this adventure are going to be sensitive to weight.

In 2020, after calculating my boats %80 load and subtracting my own weight I had 80 pounds to work with to cover a weeks worth of food, drinking water, camping gear and safety equipment. A gallon of water weighs ~8 pounds. 7 days of water (7 day race) weighs 56 pounds. You see the issue. I have my own home food dehydrator. I am a big fan of dal bhat. Rice and lentils; 24 hour power. You can’t bring steak and canned food may be too heavy to consider.

Physical/skills preperation. You need to be comfortable with both day and night sailing. The Everglades are dark at night. Must be able to reef, self rescue and row/paddle your boat in a variety of conditions. For strength training I keep a 35 pound kettle bell and try to do ~100 swings and ~30 snatches per day for the ~ 5 months or so prior.

Transportation. For those of us who live far away, transportation to and from is a big challenge. I am about a 1600 mile drive each way through winter. Its ugly. That’s why I prefer car toppable designs to trailering. Trailering through the Pennsylvania mountains in a February snow storm is no joke.
I am sure there is more. Just a few points that came to mind. Oh, and the preperation should be FUN. It’s a great puzzle to try and put together. If you can assemble most of the pieces before reaching the beach, you have a fair chance of finishing IMO.

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