Plight of the Navigator - Choosing a route for the Everglades Challenge.

The Everglades Challenge is a ~300 mile paddle/sail race along the Western coast of Florida, from Tampa Bay to Key Largo. For 2011, sailing buddy Mike and I will be in a 12' SCAMP sailboat.

Mike and I in last year's Everglades Challenge and Preparation for this year's Everglades Challenge

It is my hope to do as many things differently this year. I'm not really interested in traveling 3500 miles to do what I've already done.

Stage 1: Launch to Placida
There are pretty much only two routes: In the ICW our out. If there is any component of a North wind, we'll run the ICW. Sure, it's a ditch, but it is a heavily populated ditch, so we might get to see something interesting.

If we go outside and it gets hairy (like last year,) we can re-enter at specific passes: Longboat, New Pass, Big Sarasota, Venice, Stump, and Gasparilla. These are varying distances apart and each has its own problems. We'll have to keep a close eye on the weather so we don't get caught outside.

Stage 2: Placida to Chokoloskee
Again, it's an Inside/Outside choice until we get to Point Ybel at the end of Sanibel Island. I can't see any use to going outside, no matter what the wind direction is, the inside route is a huge sound and I don't think the outer island interrupts the wind that much. We'd have more protected water and the route looks a little shorter. We did inside last year.

Once past Pt. Ybel, I don't think there is an inside route until you get to Marcos. We accidentally took the Marcos River last year, lopping off Cape Romano and entering into the 10,000 islands from the backside.

It appears everyone enters into Chokoloskee from Indian Key Pass and crosses the 1-3' deep Chokoloskee Bay. The 10,000 islands are a taste of the Everglades and are very confusing. We had no problems last year, but one boat had entered into the islands and stopped for a nap. When they woke up, the tide had changed, so when they started sailing the direction the boat was pointed, they sailed back out to sea.

Stage 3: Chokoloskee to Flamingo
Last year, we went outside. We sailed out of Chokoloskee Pass (got turned around twice) and sat baking in the bay, becalmed for 13 hours while we drifted slowly southward 9 miles. When the sun went down, the wind picked up and we weathered Cape Sable in the morning.

I'd like to do as much of the Everglades Wilderness Waterway as we can, but all reports say we can't do it as spec'd in the rules in a sailboat.

The first stage goes from Chokoloskee up the Lopez River (WW Marker 126) through a series of creeks, lakes, and small bays until we exit back out to the ocean at Broad River (WW Marker 25.) To complete the Wilderness Waterway (and satisfy the rules to earn our Gator Tooth) we are supposed to reenter the Water Way at Broad Creek, but everyone says it is impassible for a boat with a 17' mast and 20' oar width - and even very difficult for kayaks. The "Nightmare" is another dubious option, more likely to cause us trouble than to save us.

For us, the second stage would be either re-entering at Harney River and rejoining the Waterway at WW Marker 12 OR continuing down to Ponce de Leon Bay, and pick up the trail following the renumbered and colored Coast Guard signs at 69 or 65 Green.

After that, it's battling our way West, then SouthWest until Flamingo, where we'd have to make a short portage.

Stage 4: Flamingo to Key Largo
Florida Bay has me terrified. Last year was howling wind from the SouthEast - our intended direction of travel. The whole damn bay is just a few feet deep and the channels are just marked with white stakes.

There are 3 basic routes:

  • Outside (which we took last year) where you sail back the the East, then down to the Keys where you follow the ICW (72 travel miles to go the 30 or so "crow flies" miles.
  • Middle Passage: We tried this one last year, but got stuck right off the bat. Same basic idea as the outside route (run down to the protection of the Keys and join the ICW) but without the big loop outside.
  • "Straight Line" is supposed to be the quickest, but it is a difficult maze of channels and passes.

As prep for navigation for this, I used parts of 9 NOAA Booklet Charts and am carrying 1 full sized charts (Florida Bay) and I have 256 waypoints stored in my GPS (140 for the Wilderness Waterway, 56 for Florida Bay.)

My Google Earth file of all the waypoints we'll be using for this trip

I am using parts of nine charts for this trip. These charts are free and available online from NOAA Booklet Charts. I've printed the relevant pages onto waterproof paper, organized them, and put them into a binder for easy referencing. The charts I am using are: 11415, 11425, 11427, 11430, 11432, 11433, 11452, 11463, and 11464.