Sat - June 3, 2006
Fortunately, my adventure on the Florida Bay during the 2006 Ultimate Florida Challenge didn't make to headlines. Nevertheless, I paddled 54 miles on the Bay from Flamingo and never reached Key Largo. I ended up Jimmy Channel some 11 miles from Key Largo where I took a ride from Coast Guard to the Islamorada Station.
Two years earlier, during the 2004 Everglades Challenge, I crossed the Florida Bay in the same boat, Kruger's Sea Wind, without any special problems and paddled only about 35 miles.
GPS Tracks from 2006 Ultimate Florida Challenge and 2004 Everglades Challenge
So, what happened on the Florida Bay in March 2006?
My 2006 UFC paddling was a case of progressing sleep deprivation. In January and February I worked as a visiting scientist in France. At the same time I was trying to do my work in Colorado. The 8 hour time difference was just great for that assuming that you reduce your sleeping hours to 4 or so. When I returned back to Colorado I had only two weeks to finish preparation and pack for the race. I was still trying to complete some projects at work. So, I learned to sleep even less.
I didn't manage to pack everything in time and leave for Florida according to planned schedule. We ended up to drive from Colorado to Tampa nonstop in 33 hours to show up at the race check in in the afternoon before the start.
I entered the race next morning with a huge sleep deficit. I was late at the start and actually left the Fort Desoto beach with s 1:20h delay. I was aware that I should paddle slowly and take a lot of rest. So, for the first night I stopped about 7 pm at Snake Island near Venice.
However, things didn't work well. I just couldn't sleep any longer than a couple of hours. I continued to paddle without catching much needed sleep. After Chokoloskee the weather got worse and I had to fight with a strong headwind wind and chop. My progress was getting slower and required more effort. I missed the Flamingo checkpoint deadline for several hours.
I left Flamingo at sunset on the 6th day of the race (Friday) to take advantage of calmer conditions. The first couple of hours went pretty well, but later at night the wind started to pick up again.
The GPS track is helpful in reconstructing my misadventure on the Florida Bay, although I don't remember everything. My navigation and my decision making was getting affected by deepening sleep deprivation. I started to fall asleep without control without stopping to paddle.
I see two patterns of paddling asleep in the GPS tracks. The first pattern, a small zigzagging around the correct course, was happening when I was falling asleep when heading against the wind. As soon as the boat went off course and wave pattern changed and I was waking up and returning back to the course. That was typical for a nighttime.
I took several naps in my boat but was unable to recover from the sleep deprivation.
On Sunday noon I was still near Jimmy channel, 11 miles away from Key Largo. I called Connie. I didn't ask for help, but I reported my GPS coordinates and situation and promised to call again in one hour to report any progress or lack of it. She contacted Chief. Chief called Coast Guard.
30 or 40 minutes later I met their boat in Jimmy Channel. It was a small power boat with a crew of three. They pretended that our meeting was casual but made clear that they had not intention to leave me there. They agreed to load my boat on the deck of their vessel, so I really didn't object to accept the ride to their Islamorada Station. For me it was a crazy ride at full speed through 2-3' chop. Unfortunately, my camera stopped working, so I didn't take any pictures from this rescue mission. The coast guard folks were not aware of the WaterTribe race!
I believe that my physical training before the UFC, though not perfect, was adequate to complete the 1200 mile race in a cruising mode. After a week of resting and a lot of sleeping I didn't have any problems to paddle and finish the UFC stage 4 from Fort Clinch to Cedar Key including the 40 mile portage.
Of course, there is a question whether the better physical conditioning would allow me to deal more successfully with a sleep deprivation. For sure, it would reduce my exposure to adverse weather by simply paddling faster.
I see the origin of my misadventure in a lack of balance in my life between work, family (I can hear you, Connie!) and race preparation. I was trying to do too many things and failed at different fronts. So, if you are thinking about a serious expedition or adventure like the UFC, remember it is not only about the paddling time during the race. It is more about how you are able to organize your life around it. Some drastic choices may be necessary.