Not too long ago, hundreds of boating enthusiasts readied their minds, bodies, and craft for one of the most anticipated challenges in all of theFlorida Keys. We’re talking, of course, about the Everglades Challenge. It took place this year on March 1 and was as popular as ever. Each year, this challenge attracts boaters from all across the United States, not only the Florida area, and every one of them embarks on a journey of over 300 miles. This trip takes participants all the way from Tampa Bay to Key Largo, hitting checkpoints along the way. Let’s take a look at the Everglades Challenge in a bit more detail, and ask the question: wouldyouhave what it takes to try out this challenge next year?
The basics of the Everglades Challenge
The first thing to note about the Everglades Challenge is that it’s not in any real sense an ‘official’ race, meaning there is no governing body or sponsor of any kind. Having said that, it’s a hugely popular event, attracting some of the world’s most well-known sailing talent – like Jeff Linton, the Lightning World Champion. It’s easy to see why there is always so much hype over the event, but what does it really involve? Well, in a nutshell the Everglades Challenge is a 300 nautical mile race between Tampa Bay and Key Largo. Contestants can take any route that they choose, and have a time limit of 8 days to complete the distance. This is an ‘expedition style’ challenge, meaning participants are asked to carry the same equipment that they would for a 4-week expedition. Theorganizers are cautious to warn of the risks of the Everglades Challenge, and recommend it for only the most seasoned of sailors.
A risky venture
It’s stated very clearly that “You are responsible for your own safety”, which means that if you do decide that you can handle the Everglades Challenge, it’s a good idea to be completely up to date on first aid training as well as in the use of all equipment on board the vessel. The Everglades Challenge is designed for sea kayaks, canoes and small boats. It’s also highly recommended that you havecomprehensive boat insurance, for reasons that should be obvious. Depending on the route you choose, the waters could be incredibly treacherous – so there is a risk of damage to the vessel. Ensure that you collectall the available advice on boat insurancebefore considering a challenge like this one. We don’t need to remind you of the amount of investment, not just financial, that could be lost if a boat were to be lost during a race like this – so make sure that you know what you’re doing, and thatyou have quality insurance cover, before you even consider the Everglades Challenge.
Are you a cruiser or a racer?
Even though all this talk of potential damage can be worrying, the organizers of the race are also very open to participants who just want to cruise and not race. In this way, you can enjoy the Everglades Challenge not as a competitive event, but as a group venture with other like-minded boat enthusiasts. There are a great many routes to choose from, many of which are notorious, but could be made much easier at a cruising speed. Examples include Broad Creek and River, Hells Bay Canoe Trail, Whitewater Bay and – of course –The Nightmare. That last one is not as bad as it sounds… honest. The challenge also includes a number of sub-challenges you can complete to earn Alligator Tooth awards. The challenges can be found at the site of each checkpoint, and there are three in total.
So there you have it: the ins and outs of the Everglades Challenge. With the 2014 event all done and dusted, you will be able to sign up for 2015 later this year. If you choose to do so, make sure you follow all of the advice we’ve listed above – and read up as much as possible on the event. Perhaps even speak to a previous competitor (or cruiser) to get a real sense of what it’ll be like. The only question then that remains will be… do you have what it takes?
By Eve Pearce