Riverslayer!!!!! (aka Rod Price.) Prior to the UFC I had talked to him on the phone a couple of times but we had never met in person. We had tried to meet up for a training paddle on the St. Mary’s River but things didn’t work out and I ended up doing it myself. I knew that he was a very accomplished competitive paddler who had not only completed the Yukon 1000, but also won it. For whatever reason, we did not run into each other at the start of the UFC or at the captain’s meeting. His boat wasn’t a Kruger but it looked very similar to a Kruger Sea Wind so I figured we would have about the same speed. Heck, I don’t like crossing Boca Grande pass anyway so having company for the crossing would be great. “Nice to meet you in person. Sure we can paddle the pass together.” I figured that after the pass we would go our separate ways which meant I really didn’t need to worry about whether we would be compatible as paddling partners.
As I mentioned in other posts, I don’t like Boca Grande Pass. I don’t fear it. I just don’t like it. The currents are strong, the waves can build fast, you are exposed to a big fetch of water, and did I mention the men in gray suits? (Sharks) I know that sharks are always present in salt water and that we are not their top food choice. That is all nice to know but I have also witnessed first hand a big dark shadow emerge from the water’s depth of Boca Grande and cut a large tarpon in half in one swift attack. The men in gray suits do live in these waters and they are big and nasty. I know that sharks are just as plentiful and just as big in Tampa Bay, but the thought of sharks doesn’t really cross my mind when paddling and swimming in Tampa Bay. Having Rod to talk to while crossing the pass was a welcome break from thinking about jaws emerging from the depths and thinking my boat was a fiberglass twinkie, with me as the soft inside. In addition to having Rod to talk to, the other nice thing about this crossing was that the winds were building and they were from the north-east. Yes!!!! I will be able to put my sail up.
Cabbage Key was the first shallow area after the pass where we could pull over and rig up the sails. Rod only had a PAS sail while I on the other hand had a PAS sail and my big sail. I figure this was where we would separate since I had so much more sail area. I decided to leave two reefs in the sail figuring that the wind would continue to build. Rod indicated that we would see if he could keep up with me with just his PAS sail and paddling. The sail down Pine Island Sound was outstanding but I also noticed that the winds were shifting. Instead of being out of the north east they were coming out of the east. Not a problem. That is until I got to the end of Pine Island Sound where the fun for the day ended. I had to head east and directly into the wind. Oh gee, back to hard paddling, head on waves, and slow forward movement.
After an hour of battling the winds I started to look for a wind break off of Sanibel Island. Sure enough there was a deep cut that followed the shoreline that would offer some shelter from the wind. The question would be could I get over the wide shallow bank in front of the cut. I decided to go for it. Anyone that has paddled a boat in shallow water knows that it is like paddling in jello and it kills your speed. Well I was in jello land and man was it thick jello. As long as I was not running aground and getting closer to a wind break I felt it was worth it. It was about this time that I got some insight in to just how strong of a paddler Rod was. He had not only kept me in striking distance coming down Pine Island Sound, but he was powering his was way through the wind heading for the same point of land I was. He wasn’t paddling to the cut as I was, but was paddling a direct course right into the wind. I made it to the cut and paddled around to the point of land where low and behold I found Rod. He had already landed and was getting a lunch snack. This was the first of many situations where I got to see what a top ranked competitive paddler was capable of doing. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a way I can tie a rope to his stern when he isn’t looking.
After a short lunch break we started heading south again through San Carlos Bay. The winds had died some and I could have let out both of my reefs but I decided to leave them in to see if our speeds would be the same. Rod was able to draft off me so hey why not travel together for a while and see how it goes. The trip down the coast was really pretty nice. The winds had died down but there was enough wind to sail and the seas were fairly calm. Little did I know that this day was going to be my longest day sailing for the entire UFC. After this day, sailing was going to be just a twinkle in my eye. It was dark and well into the night by the time we got near Gordon’s pass and we were both feeling tired from the day. My plan for the UFC was to paddle 15 hours a day and get 6 hours of sleep each night. For the Everglades Challenge I normally plan on paddling until I see the green flying monkeys. Then I pull over and get some rest. Not my plan for the UFC. It is just too long of a race to go into sleep deprivation every day. So why not go through Gordon’s pass and find a place to camp for the night. Heyyyyyyy, wait a minute, wasn’t Gordon’s pass the pass that GitUrDun and I went through where we had all sorts of excitement? Lots of rocks, a massive tricky current, a big shoal with breaking waves, and……………