The Life of Boats

By John C. Harris
May 2013 

The 2013 WaterTribe OkoumeFest Ultra Marathon

I watched the 2013 OkoumeFest Ultra Marathon from the shaded cockpit of a small powerboat, well-rested and in great comfort.  The 28 competitors were paddling and rowing a 65-mile course, and the display of athleticism set me wondering just how far down the course I'd have gotten before suffering a myocardial infarction.  As I pondered how to write up a summary of the event, colleague Matt Cordrey helpfully suggested Cicero's Lorem Ipsum as a working text.  ("But I must explain to you how this mistaken idea of denouncing of pleasure and praising pain was born...")

WaterTribe is an outfit based in Florida dedicated to "expedition-style adventure racing in small boats."  WaterTribe was founded by Steve Isaac, whose avuncular good humor and level-headed leadership reminds me of a retired drill sargeant or high school football coach.  The idea behind WaterTribe is to break out of the box of racing small boats around buoys or on short, closed courses.  The signature WaterTribe event is the Everglades Challenge, a roughly 300-mile course between St. Petersburg and Key Largo.  The entries tend to be a motley bunch. Some boats are sleek racers helmed by Very Serious Athletes who traverse the tricky course and its many "filters"---low bridges and expanses of 6-inch deep water, designed to frustrate large and complex boats---at the rate of 100 miles per day or more. Other boats are of a more experimental nature, with designer-builders simply interested in testing their creations against the rigors of the course.

Competitors take on "tribal" names, which range from the droll ("Barks at Waves") to the menacing ("Feral Cat").  I entered the very first Everglades Challenge, in 2001, with the tribal name "Mbuli" (Swahili for 'madness' or 'folly') in a 20-foot proa of the same name.  I was filtered out within ten miles of the start, a victim of 30-knot winds and an encounter with shoals that damaged the rudders.  It isn't unusual for half the fleet to drop out of the Everglades Challenge in any given year.

That was my first and last personal encounter with WaterTribe racing so far, but CLC has stayed close to the action, sponsoring teams that have won many classes over the years.  We were delighted to help piece together a WaterTribe event in our home waters, which would start at our annual customer rendezvous, OkoumeFest.  The course circumnavigated Kent Island, Eastern Neck Island, and Wye Island, taking in a lot of beautiful Chesapeake Bay countryside.  You can see the course, here. The relatively short race made it a good first-year experiment with the format, and the hope is to lengthen the race next year.

These are photos I took in and around Eastern Bay, roughly the middle of the course. View the complete results here.

Ardie Olson, paddling a carbon/Kevlar Ocean X, commanded the entire course.  He opened up a huge lead from the start and never gave up a single boat length.  He finished the course in 11 hours and 56 minutes---an average of almost 5-1/2 mph.  What was most impressive was watching his smooth, perfect forward stroke.  From my padded chair in the chase boat, it looked effortless.  

Margo Pellegrino, in a Kamano Pueo OC1, was the talk of the race.  She started 20 minutes late, but was the second boat to finish, and second overall.  A tremendous athlete!

Here's Margo on the Wye River, with typical Wye Island shoreline scenery.

Chesapeake Triple

Rod Price and Dave Knothe, paddling a stock Chesapeake Light Craft Triple, finished 3rd overall and first in Class I.  They were really motoring, and like a number of paddlers used single blades rather than kayak paddles.  

Rod and Dave's determination and sense of humor were evident even from the chase boat.  They were having so much fun that they missed the checkpoint, for which they were docked an hour. Note the running lights, mandatory for WaterTribe competitors.

Jim More finished fourth in an NDK Explorer, getting lots of speed from a comparatively short waterline.

Mike Malone was the second Class I single to finish in a beautifully-built Coho, showing great form with occasional assist from a downwind sail.  

Paul Kral motor-sailed his Hobie Adventure Island to sixth overall.

Also pedaling the entire course was Donald Polakovics, in a Paul Gartside-designed, strip-planked boat he built himself.  Featuring a sleeping compartment forward and shaded cockpit aft, I confess this was my favorite boat on the whole course. He finished first in Class 4.

David Moore, in a modified CLC Pax 18, landed in eighth place overall and 4th in Class I. 

David on the Wye River.  Behind him on the shore is the mansion built by Chef Boyardee's son.  It's for sale, if you're shopping around for 22,000-square-foot homes.

This photo pretty much sums up the conditions on Sunday afternoon.  It was great for the paddlers, but misery for the sailors.  This is Daniel MacElrevey paddling a QCC 600 in glassy water on Eastern Bay.


Neil Calore, WaterTribe veteran, was the second to finish in Class 4.  He was rowing a CLC Northeaster Dory, which already has hundreds of miles of adventures under its keel in Neil's capable hands.

Neil had to row nearly the entire race.  He covered the 65 miles in 18 hours, 19 minutes.

Bill and Jake Lammaree in one of two stock Hobie 16's in the race.  They prayed for wind the whole time, but were not rewarded.  I urged them to stop at the dock bar at Kent Narrows (seen here), but let the record show they pressed on.

Another Hobie 16, crewed by Jason and Justin Burghauser, demonstrating what to do with a Hobie in an oily calm.


Those Layden boys must be watched very carefully.  Rowing a 13-foot skiff of his own design, Steve Layden (brother of Matt) finished 13th overall, making amazing time on a short waterline.

Doug Cameron in a Kruger Sea Wind.

Kristopher Carlson in a P&H Capella RM 160.  

Matthew Hazard and Matt Kelly paddled and sailed "The Rise," a very interesting homebuilt trimaran, to 3rd place in Class 5. Here they're seen paddling under the Kent Narrows Bridge in pursuit of Andrew Kallgren in a Kruger Sea Wind canoe.

Bill McIntyre borrowed our display model Chesapeake 17 with the CLC SailRig for the race.

Bill would have liked more wind.

Alan Stewart and Taylor Hinson, in a Core Sound 17, also would have liked a bit more wind.  We caught them here on the Chester River, with Eastern Neck Island in the background.

Jeff Prideaux, in an 18-foot Triak.

Thad Rice, in a Folbot Greenland II.

Rico Pagliei, in a CLC Shearwater 17.

Another photo of Rico's nicely finished Shearwater, near the entrance to the Wye River.  

Philip and Aiden McLean, father and son, fielded this lovely Norseboat 17.5, and had a jolly good time camping near Wye Island along the way. "Swallows and Amazons Forever."


Of the three bridges the racers had to negotiate, the bridge at Kent Narrows was actually the highest by far.  The bridge at Eastern Neck Island was only six feet up, so the sailors had to stow their rigs.

WaterTribe veteran Vlad Eremeev (tribal name: Crazy Russian) sailed his cat ketch down from Staten Island to serve as the checkpoint captain on Wye Island.  Here he is in the snug anchorage, a few boatlengths from the official checkpoint.  Tough work, but someone had to do it.

Chesapeake Light Craft put up a perpetual trophy for the first home-built boat to finish the OkoumeFest Ultra Marathon.  It went to Rod Price and Dave Knothe in a Chesapeake Triple.  Who will steal it from them next year?  

Neil Calore (tribal name: "Leatherlungs") shows off his blisters after the race.  

Sed ut perspiciatis, unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium...