Sign up for the WaterTribe OkoumeFest Challenge and OkoumeFest UltraMarathon!  Deadline for entries approaching fast.  The races start May 18th at Matapeake State Park, on Kent Island. Click here for info on the 64-mile OkoumeFest UltraMarathon, and click here for more on the 210-mile OkoumeFest Challenge.

Watertribers are a unique group of people, willing to test themselves, their skills and stamina, against wind, storm, tide and time. And their number is growing. Fast.

Everglades Challenge 2014 Starting Line

This year’s Everglades Challenge, a 300-mile expedition-style race from Fort DeSoto on Tampa Bay to Key Largo, drew its largest group of starters ever – up by about 40% over 2013 -- on March 7. Among the veterans was the team of Rod Price and Tom Whale ("Riverslayer" and "Whale," in Watertribe parlance), lined up with Rod's trusty Chesapeake Triple, with which he has notched multiple victories in the event.

Rod's excellent blog details his adventure nicely; the team of Riverslayer and Whale managed to hold on to the top spot in Class 1, Double Male with an impressive finish time of 3 days, 17 hours, 59 minutes.

There also were a number of new contenders, including Floridian Tom Head ("Deke"), entered in Class 4 (Monohull Sailboats and Small Craft) Singlehanded.

Tom first heard of the Everglades Challenge last September. As soon as he found out what it was all about, his mind was made up and he never looked back. “It was right up my alley,” he said. “I like adventurous challenges, so when I read about it, I knew I was going to do it.” He never thought he would be claiming first place in his division, though. “I had no intention of going for the win,” he said. “It just worked out that way.”Tom Head readying for the start

Once he had determined to participate in the 2014 Everglades Challenge, Tom needed a suitable boat. Having previously built two Kaholo SUP boards from CLC plans, he was familiar with the basics of stitch-and-glue construction, so eventually the decision came down to ordering himself a Northeaster Dory kit. Starting construction in January, he had just two months to complete the boat and do some sea trials before the start.

Rowing out as the sun rose over Tampa Bay on a fine morning, Tom planned to take the outside route in the Gulf of Mexico rather than seek a more sheltered path inside along the coast. "The forecast was great," he said, "northwest breeze at 5 to 10. By early afternoon, the sea breeze had kicked in and it started to blow 15 to 20. I had only sailed a little boat a few times, and I found myself surfing down waves. I looked down at the GPS and saw 10 knots at one point. I had way too much sail up, but I didn't want to let go of the tiller to reduce sail." He decided to head for Venice Inlet and seek calmer water on the inside passage. The inlet is flanked by rock jetties, however, and he had to gybe on the way in. "The rudder popped off," he said, "but I had attached it by a piece of line, so I didn't lose it." With four- to five-foot seas abeam, dragging the rudder and the doused sail, he said, "It was pure chaos. But the boat took care of me. I was real happy with my choice of boat."

Once squared away again, Tom's adventure went much more smoothly. Until he had a day without favorable breeze. Making little headway under sail, he rowed into a headwind for six hours in three-foot waves. "It almost finished me," he said. But the challenge didn't stop there. With just two miles left to go to the finish, the sharp, nasty weather front that had been following him caught up, bringing howling winds and blinding rain. "I saw the roll clouds and knew I wasn't going to make it before it hit," he said. "I was three-quarters of a mile from shore when it hit. It was blowing 40 to 50. I dropped the sail, got the oars out, and went downwind with the waves." In near-zero visibility, he picked out a pair of channel markers and headed for them, finding a small marina where he could wait out the storm.

Once the weather let up, he set out again and it wasn't long before the finish was in sight. He was first in the Single-Handed division of Class 4 with a time of 5 days, 12 hours, 38 minutes.

Will he do it again? Absolutely! Next time, though, he says he'd probably prefer to team up with another competitor and enter the double-handed division.

Congratulations to all Watertribers who took part in this year's Florida events. Special congratulations are due to all who finished. We look forward to seeing some of you in May for the OkoumeFest Challenge.