Three Weta sailors take on an epic 300 nautical mile Everglades Challenge, USA

March 09th, 2018

The Everglades Challenge is an unsupported race down the West coast of Florida, USA from Tampa Bay to Key Largo which attracts a wide range of experienced sailing and paddling people and craft – from the home-built to production boats. This year the 95 participants included Olympian and US-sailing "Hall of Fame" member Randy Smythe in his self-designed trimaran Synergy, attempting the even longer Ultimate Florida challenge around the coast and across the top of the State.

The three Wetas entered included:

Scott Finley (aka CaptJackOtter) – Very experienced lake sailor. His third attempt in the Weta after equipment damage forced him out in previous years.

Dan Davies (DanO) – Experienced Weta owner and racer but new to the Everglades Challenge

Mark Ellison (Triman) - First attempt in the Weta but he is the current Everglades Challenge record holder in the Hobie TI class 

After a weather delay due to a US Coast Guard "Small Craft Advisory" because of strong winds, the event started at 9pm on Saturday 3rd March with competitors required to get their boats into the water from the high water mark on the beach. Most had already reefed for the start including the Wetas. Day one started with an easy reach out of Tampa Bay and down the coast through Stump Pass to the first checkpoint located in a marina in the Intracoastal Waterway. Dan Davies used his racing experience and modified larger rig to good effect and establish a small lead over Mark Ellison who could use his prior course experience for navigation. 

Dan arrived at Check Point 1 (CP1) at 5.49pm and left after a short rest at 6.00 pm but then came the challenge of negotiating the bridges and shallows of the Intercostal Waterway and so at 9pm he pulled into a sheltered cove to get some rest. Mark arrived at CP1 shortly after Dan and elected to spend the night there and left at 6.20 the next morning to overtake Dan who was still preparing to set sail. The two swapped places a number of times down the course and Dan made a few rookie navigational errors which allowed Mark to catch up despite breaking his carbon bowsprit which meant he had no gennaker. Battling fatigue, they picked their way through the shoals and narrows of Florida Bay and ended up staying overnight just 1.5 Miles apart with only 15 Miles left to the finish. However, Ellison was first to break camp at 4.15am and finished the event a mere 30 minutes ahead of Davies who was using his additional sail area to catch up. 

Meanwhile, after hugging the coast most of the way, Scott Finlay was having some navigational problems of his own – although managing to sail the Weta very effectively despite being one of the older participants in the event . At the time of writing he's resting up after leaving checkpoint two - with only the shoals, shallows, narrows and false channels of Florida Bay between him and the finish. 

About the Weta Trimaran:

The New Zealand designed Weta is unique for small boats in that it provides fun, fast, easy performance sailing for beginners, experts and families alike in all conditions. Combining the sail area of a skiff with the stability of a trimaran means it’s fast but very forgiving of mistakes and hard to capsize. Over 1200 Wetas have been sold worldwide, since it was launched with a splash in 2009, and it has been approved for the World Masters Games and Paralympics. A process of evolutionary development has led to the recent introduction of a lighter-weight performance foam-core hull and contemporary square-top mainsail, as well as custom hull colours. 

About the Everglades Challenge:

Founded in 2001, the Everglades Challenge is an unsupported expedition-style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small boats. The distance is roughly 300 nautical miles depending on the course taken. There is a time limit of 8 days (and nights) or less. Competitors are responsible for their own safety and well-being and are required to be experts with their chosen craft. No planned external assistance is allowed.

By Paul White 

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