On a blustery morning on Saturday March 3rd, a very unusual race started out from Fort De Soto Beach on Florida’s Tampa Bay. The Everglades Challenge is an expedition-style adventure race for sea kayaks, canoes and small boats that starts in Tampa Bay and ends in Key Largo to the south, a distance of about 300 miles.
Participants need to be completely self-contained and self sufficient, as there is no help allowed from outside support teams or crews. Even at the start of the race, some competitors had trouble getting their craft from above the high tide water line into the water. Once the race started they were on their own.
It drew all kinds of vessels, from expedition-style kayaks to multi-person outrigger canoes, to sailing mono-hulls, catamarans and tri-hulls, and was comprised of eight classes, based on type. The start line was a smorgasbord of small craft of every conceivable type, from high-end composite craft to homemade wooden boats.
Conditions this year both at the start and in the early part of the race were tough, as a front pushed through the area, creating high seas and strong winds. Many racers had difficulty from the onset launching through the waves and the wind at the beach start and battling higher than normal seas at the mouth of Tampa Bay.
There were multiple checkpoints along the way and participants were required to stop at each of them at Placida, Chokoloskee, and Flamingo. The finish line was the beach at Bay Cove Motel in Key Largo. Racers just needed to listen for all the whooping and hollering as they drew near to find their way to the finish line.
A total of 17 racers made it to the finish line in Key Largo. The fastest time, at two days, seven hours and 42 minutes, was accomplished by Jamie Livingston and Kenney Pierce, a.k.a. Bumpy and Macho Man, in their Class 5 20’ Tornado Catamaran. The longest time by a finisher was seven days, 11 hours and 30 minutes, accomplished by Neil Calore, a.k.a. Leather Lungs, in his 17’ CLC Northeaster Dory. First place based on a combination of difficulty and elapsed time, was awarded to Benjamin and Emily Algera, a.k.a. Macatawa and Northernlight, in their 18.5’ XCR sailing canoe.
Details of this race and other events organized by Water Tribe can be found at watertribe.org.
Glenn Hayes is a freelance photographer and writer based out of Tampa Bay. A second-generation photographer and journalist, he specializes in marine and travel photography and writing. He can be reached at hayesstudios.com.