Category Archives: Kayaking

Easter Sunday Paddle

By Vladimir Brezina

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The weather is finally getting warmer, and the days longer. Time for one of our favorite paddles!

In yesterday’s variant of the trip, we paddled up the East River, through Hell Gate, and past Throgs Neck out into Long Island Sound, just in time for lunch at Sugar and Spice on City Island. Then back down the East River to Hell Gate, up the Harlem River, and finally down the Hudson River home.

Here are a few photos…

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Everglades Challenge, Segment 4: Indian Key to Highland Beach

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Across Chokoloskee Bay

Start: Indian Key, Ten Thousand Islands, Wednesday, March 5, 2 AM.
Finish: Highland Beach, Thursday, March 6, 3:30 AM.
Distance: 40 nautical miles (46 land miles).
Paddling time: 19 hours.
Stopped time (Chokoloskee, Everglades City…): 6.5 hours.
Average paddling speed: 2.1 knots.

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The Last Seal of Winter

By Vladimir Brezina

We saw plenty of wildlife—dolphins, turtles, sharks, birds—last month in Florida. But no seals.

So yesterday we paddled down to Swinburne Island, where seals have never yet failed us, during the winter months. But spring is now, finally, upon us, with temperatures warming dramatically—time for the seals to return north, to their summer homes in Maine and Canada. We may have left it too late…

We paddled around Swinburne a couple of times, sat and scanned the water, waited expectantly… Nothing.

Then, just as we were about to leave, a lone seal head popped up.

The last seal of winter…

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Everglades Challenge, Segment 3: Magic Key to Indian Key

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Nap on the beach

Start: Magic Key, Estero Bay, Monday, March 3, about 4 PM.
Finish: Indian Key, Ten Thousand Islands, Tuesday, March 4, about 10 PM.
Distance: 52 nautical miles (60 land miles).
Paddling time: 24 hours.
Rest time: 6 hours.
Average paddling speed: 2.2 knots.

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Everglades Challenge, Segment 2: Cape Haze to Magic Key

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Along the Intracoastal Waterway

Start: Checkpoint 1, Cape Haze Marina, Englewood, Sunday, March 2, about noon.
Finish: Magic Key, Estero Bay, Monday, March 3, about 9 AM.
Distance: 45 nautical miles (52 land miles).
Paddling time: 19.5 hours.
Rest time: 1.5 hours.
Average paddling speed: 2.3 knots.

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Everglades Challenge, Segment 1: Fort De Soto to Cape Haze

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Sparkling in the sun

Start: Fort De Soto Park, Mullet Key, Saturday, March 1, 7:00 AM.
Finish: Checkpoint 1, Cape Haze Marina, Englewood, Sunday, March 2, 2:10 AM.
Distance: 55 nautical miles (63 land miles).
Paddling time: 18 hours, 10 minutes.
Rest time: 1 hour.
Average paddling speed: 3.0 knots.

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Travel Theme: Misty

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Misty.

I recall a misty paddle through New York Harbor back in April 2010…

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This was actually a paddle from Manhattan around Staten Island, past the Graveyard of Ships

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and many still-living ships

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back to Manhattan, still misty in the evening…

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More photos are here.

Everglades Challenge, the Days Before: Preparation and Gear Check

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Our preparation for the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge actually started more than a year before the event itself—in January 2013, when we decided that this time for sure, we were going to participate in EC 2014.

But it kicked up considerably following our Everglades Shakedown trip in December 2013. After that trip, we put together a detailed timeline covering everything from gym training to logistics to food and gear purchases—and more or less stuck to it. As we’ll detail later in “Reflections: What Worked, What Didn’t,” I started a serious lifting and high intensity workout routine in January, and tapered down in the weeks approaching the EC. And we found that dropping alcohol and coffee in the weeks before the EC—along with getting plenty of sleep—made a difference in our stamina and responses to hypothermia.

Meanwhile, we made lists and checked them off… purchased equipment… made hotel and plane reservations… got our SPOTs and PLBs, registered, and tested them… And of course, did training paddles when we could, though the Polar Vortex kept us from doing more than two moderately long trips in NYC.

But Murphy’s Law has a way of stepping in, and due to some work challenges I was concerned that at the last minute, I might need to cancel, despite all the planning. It wasn’t until the Friday, a week before the event, that we were sure we could make it.

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Everglades Challenge: Gear We Love

By Johna Till Johnson

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Gear in action

You can’t make a trip like the Everglades Challenge without relying heavily on your gear. And the quality of that gear varies. Some poorly-designed products break reliably. We haven’t yet found a “waterproof” headlamp that actually lives up to its name, for instance. And we’ve been through almost half a dozen in the past year. (So we make sure to carry plenty of backups.)

There are also those products that perform as they’re supposed to, day in day out. (Everything Kokatat makes comes to mind.) You rely on these products to do their jobs, and never think further about them.

But there are also are a handful of products that either perform infinitely better than you expect, or fill a need you didn’t realize you had.

For these products, you whisper a silent “thank you” to the manufacturers every time you use them.  I’m an engineer, so  I never lose sight of the fact that when there’s a product I love, it was conceived, designed, and tested by other engineers. And for the products below, I am devoutly grateful to the humans who created them.

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Everglades Challenge, Overview

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Sunset over the Gulf

Start: Tampa Bay.
Finish: Key Largo.
Distance: 262 nautical miles (301 land miles).
Total time: 7 days, 14½ hours.

Our route

Our route

“Kayaking in Florida? That sounds like a lovely relaxing vacation!”

That was the common reaction when we told folks we were planning to participate in the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, a 300-mile adventure race from Tampa Bay to Key Largo. When you think about paddling in Florida, you probably imagine sunny skies, gentle breezes, and turquoise waves lapping softly against white sandy beaches.

And true, some parts were like that.

Then there were the other parts:

—Paddling down the Gulf of Mexico in pitch-darkness, with a fantastically realistic hallucination of an old English forest on your right. Every so often you glance into the grey, ghostly “trees” and see lights twinkling among them. Then you look down… and your headlamp illuminates a pair of sharks silently crisscrossing under your boat. You realize with a jolt of fear that they are no hallucination!

—Getting both boats stuck at low tide in the tangled mangrove roots in the deceptively-named “Broad Creek”. (If this was the broad creek, we don’t want to know what the narrow one is like!) You spend a few minutes wondering if you’ll have to wait hours until the tide rises. Then with a final maneuver you’re able to break free…

—Being hammered by a massive thunderstorm as you paddle toward a chickee to perform boat repairs…

—Surfing 3-foot breaking waves in Oyster Bay in the 20-knot tailwinds after a storm while navigating by starlight and GPS and struggling to stay awake after a total of only 16 hours of sleep over the past four days…

—Tumbling into the sand, pillowing your head on your PFD and pulling your hat over your face to grab an hour or two of sleep on the beach as you wait for the current to change…

Lovely? For sure. Relaxing? Not so much. Exhausting, exhilarating, challenging… yes, all those.

In this writeup, we divide the 8 days it took us to get from from Tampa Bay to Key Largo into 6 segments, because we usually paddled late into the night, or overnight, before we finally stopped to get a few hours’ sleep. Each “day” stretched to 30 hours, 36 hours, or longer…

The trip roughly divides into “before front” (Segments 1-4) and “after front” (Segments 5 and 6). Before a strong weather front blew in, wind and sea conditions were (largely) not an issue. We took the most direct route and paddled as quickly and consistently as possible. Our primary challenges were sleep deprivation, dealing with the extremes of heat and cold, and night navigation—tough enough, but something we quickly learned to handle.

Once the front began to affect us, wind and sea conditions dictated our route. To avoid, or at least minimize the impact of, the conditions, we took a longer round-about route and so slowed down considerably in our progress toward the finish. Cumulative sleep deprivation was also now taking a major toll. “After front” was definitely the most challenging, but also the most gratifying.

Here are the links to each segment of the race, as well as a few other relevant topics. We’ll activate the links as we complete each post.

GearGear We Love

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The Days BeforeThe Days Before: Preparation and Gear Check

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Segment 1Segment 1: Fort De Soto to Cape Haze

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Segment 2Segment 2: Cape Haze to Magic Key

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Segment 3: Magic Key to Indian KeySegment 3

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Segment 4Segment 4: Indian Key  to Highland Beach

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Segment 5: Highland Beach to Flamingo

Segment 6: Flamingo to Key Largo

Navigation

Reflections: What Worked, What Didn’t

A few photos from the entire race were here.

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