Monthly Archives: January 2014

Before the Storm

By Vladimir Brezina

From yesterday’s paddle along the Palisades…

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And today the storm is upon us!

Everglades Shakedown, Day 1: Headwinds and Night Navigation

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

<— Previous in Everglades Shakedown

Through the mangrove rivers and bays

Start: Chokoloskee.
Finish: Darwin’s Place.
Distance: About 21 nautical miles.
Paddling time: Roughly 8 hours; average pace 2.6 knots.
Stop time: Roughly 2 hours (30 minutes lunch plus a 90-minute stop at Everglades City to obtain permits).

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Travel Theme: Silver

By Vladimir Brezina

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

The silver sea…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Family.

And, for some reason, this picture just says “Family” to me… ;-)

Family

A good candidate for a caption contest. Anyone care to try?

Everglades Shakedown: Challenges and Lessons Learned

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

<— Previous in Everglades Shakedown

Christmas dinner, 2013

Christmas dinner, 2013

The goal of our Everglades Shakedown Expedition of December 2013 was to gain an understanding of the Everglades environment for the upcoming WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, and we’re happy to say it succeeded. Our biggest lesson learned was that we’d largely been worried about the wrong things. Snakes and crocs? No worries, mate! But midges and skeeters can be more than a nuisance—they can derail your trip by keeping you penned in your tent, unable to cook or pee.

Similarly, I’d been deeply concerned about paddling in the Everglades at night. It’s pitch-black (actually, not quite: the lights of Miami loom on the horizon) and the thousands of mangrove islands look all the same. Sure, we do plenty of nighttime paddling in New York—but that is our backyard, and even if you are a visiting paddler, the city is well-illuminated and chock full of landmarks, from the Statue of Liberty to the various bridges, so it’s fairly easy to keep your bearings. Turns out that with a compass and charts, a good flashlight, and ideally a mapping GPS, nighttime paddling in the Everglades is very much doable, as well. (And in some respects, it’s more pleasant than daytime paddling.) That relieved my worry about being limited to paddling only during the daylight hours in the Everglades Challenge itself.

And some things that seemed trivial from our perch in New York were not trivial at all. Headwinds across the shallow water that abounds in the Everglades generated chop and slowed us down considerably—our average pace for the trip was 2.3 knots, and that’s with fast boats and good technique. (Our standard average, in calm waters with no wind or current, is around 3.4 knots.)

Here are some of the highlights of what we learned:

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Shakedown Kayak Expedition Through the Florida Everglades: Overview

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Florida paddling!

Our route

Our route

Last month, we headed down for some kayaking in Florida over the Christmas holidays. Nothing unusual about that—this time of year, plenty of people head south for the sunshine and warm water.

In our case, though, the goal was what the Scouts call a “shakedown expedition”: A trip you take before the expedition itself, to get a feel for the environment and its challenges, and decide which equipment is truly necessary. (The usual mistake is to pack too much, which is where the “shakedown” part comes in…)

As many readers know, we’re planning to compete in the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge in March. It’s a 300(ish) mile race for kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats from Tampa Bay to Key Largo. The details of the route are left up to the participants; the only route-related requirement is checking in at three specified checkpoints on the way. (Other requirements include carrying some mandatory gear, and managing your boat and gear without external assistance.) To complete the challenge, you have to finish in 8 days or less, though the awards ceremony is on the afternoon of the seventh day, and if you anticipate placing, you’ll want to finish much earlier!

We don’t take it lightly—a trip like this requires careful planning as well as physical endurance. We’re no strangers to long-distance paddling, but until last year we hadn’t spent much time in the Florida waterways. So we went on our first “shakedown” expedition in April…

…and in six days of paddling, made it just a third of the way, a bit past the first checkpoint.  (We’re still writing up that trip, but we described the first three days of it here and here.)

Obviously, more practice was called for!

Now, there were mitigating circumstances—I was in an extra-slow boat (a 12’10” Feathercraft K-Light, my Baby Vulcan). Plus, early in the trip we decided to take it easy and just get a feel for the Florida land- and seascape. So we weren’t too upset by our slow going in the first shakedown expedition.

But one thing we noticed was that we spent an inordinate amount of time making and breaking camp—partly because we were still overpacking, but also because we weren’t as tightly organized as we needed to be.

Through tortuous creeks

Through tortuous creeks…

Through shallow waters

… and shallow waters

So the goal for this trip was twofold: Optimize our organizational skills, and gain a feel for the Everglades, which present what could be called unique navigational and environmental challenges. (That’s a rather bland way of putting things, as you’ll see…)

For this trip, I planned to rent a long, fast boat from the ever-fabulous Sweetwater Kayaks in St. Pete, which as far as I’m concerned is the premier watersports outfitter in all of Florida.  (Thanks again to Russell and friends!) Vlad would take his trusty Red Herring. And we’d launch from Chokoloskee, the second checkpoint, and paddle to Key Largo. That would still make for a much slower pace than in the actual challenge, covering only about 40 percent of the distance over 6 days of paddling. But it would be enough, we hoped, to test-drive our newfound organizational skills and learn how to handle the Everglades.

The short version? It was—and then some! To make the story a bit more readable, we’ve broken it down into several sections. Click on the links below to read about what we learned, both overall and on each day of the trip:

OverallOverall: Challenges and Lessons Learned

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Day 1

Day 1: Headwinds and Night Navigation

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Day 2

Day 2: Barking Vultures, Beaches, and Bugs

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Day 3

Day 3: Wind, Waves, and Chickees

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Day 4

Day 4: Portage, Paddling in the Pitch Dark, and Fending Off Furious Crows

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Day 5

Day 5: Navigating the Shallows

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Day 6

Day 6: Headwinds and Homelessness

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A few preliminary photos from the entire trip are here.

Next in Everglades Shakedown —>

Weekly Photo Challenge: Window

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Window: “Windows … are portals into the world’s stories. Glimpses into other people’s lives.”

From our window in the big city, we see ten thousand other windows light up as dusk falls—ten thousand stories all around us. It’s touching to realize, as a general proposition, that they are there.

But ten thousand are too many. There’s no special reason to look into one lighted window or another. And nobody worries about being the one among ten thousand that somebody might be watching. This is the big city. Hardly anybody even bothers to lower their blinds…

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Travel Theme: Illuminated

By Vladimir Brezina

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

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Sunrise at Waquoit  State Park, Cape Cod, May 2013 (story and more photos here).

Icy Day in the Park

By Vladimir Brezina

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A few photos I managed to capture on Saturday in Manhattan’s Central Park before my fingers started freezing—

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

Weekly Photo Challenge & Travel Theme: Beginning Full of Possibilities

By Vladimir Brezina

The first Photo Challenge of the new year is, very appropriately, Beginning, while Ailsa’s travel-themed challenge is Possibility. Great minds think alike, it seems :-)

At the beginning of each day we launch to new possibilities—

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From our recent trip through the Florida Everglades.