It's Always Good When You're Holding the Wood
SambaSailor and Sailsalot in Their Race For 1st Place at the 2013 Everglades Challenge
Cruising in to Key Largo from Fort DeSoto in a speedy 2 days, 7 hours and 34 minutes, Philip Garland and Dan Neri (known in the WaterTribe as SambaSailor and Sailsalot) netted a 2nd place finish in the WaterTribe's 2013 Everglades Challenge class 4 double male category after having played cat and mouse along the way with Paul and Alan Stewart (known as DancesWithSandyBottom and SOS) who nabbed the first place spot. Completing the 300-mile race in just 2 days and 2 minutes, Paul and Alan set the record for the class 4 double male category.
Both teams raced in Core Sounds with Phil and Dan's being a Core Sound 17. A gracious gift from Phil to his wife for her 60th birthday, at 17' it's referred to by Phil as "a sister ship in shape and everything" to the 1st place finisher's 20' vessel, Dawn Patrol, being a similar design with a cat-ketch rig, which is two masts with single sails on them, a jib and a spinnaker that is set with a bowsprit. However, this Core Sound 17 is a little bit "turbo'd up," as Phil calls it, having more sail area than the standard boat.
Giving a bit of an overview of their race, Dan tells me, "At the beginning it was really light air on the beach, so everybody kind of took off from us. We got on the boat and there was no wind and we were sort of like, what do we do now? Meanwhile everybody else was paddling or rowing away, so we got a little behind. Then we got out into the Gulf and the big wind came through that was going to last for most of the next 2 days. We had a spinnaker up in the boat. The wind built and built and built while we had the spinnaker up and finally we had the spinnaker up in more wind than we should have and the boat was just flying along. That, to me, was kind of a really happy moment at the very beginning of the race. I was like, this is going to be really fun, 'cause I had no idea the boat would go so fast."
Calling it an eye-opening experience," Dan professes that the winning team did a better job of figuring out a route that allowed them to sleep a little bit here and there, stating that he and Phil were just trying to make sure they did everything right with the boat and never really focused on sleeping.
"There is a lot of strategy in the race that we hadn't really anticipated, which is primarily surrounding the entering for the checkpoint and then getting back out from the checkpoint. Phil did a lot of homework and actually went and looked at one spot from a boat but otherwise we hadn't been to those places, so all of our planning was from Google Earth."
"Sometimes we would go into a checkpoint thinking we did it just about right and then they would come out somewhere completely different with a nice gain and then you'd realize, oh, there was another way! Then Alan showed us," adding jokingly, "I don't know why he didn't show us before the race how to do it."
"Those guys deserve to claim the record with the fact that they've done it (the Everglades Challenge) before and know a lot of the tricks," Phil states.
Of the many decisions they had to make, one was whether to stay inside and have a flat water night sailing through Pine Island Sound, going a little slower, or go outside back into the big waves and big wind and go maximum speed. "So we decided, ok, we're racing so we're going outside," Dan recounts. "So we went outside and we passed them (Dawn Patrol) and gained a lot on them. Meanwhile they were inside eating and sleeping, taking turns, so they came out behind us but with a big gain in sleep and food. That's smart. Good for them. They were fully mentally prepared to go through Florida Bay in the dark 'cause they kinda knew their way, they'd done it enough times that they had their route on their GPS."
On the 2nd day, the two teams spent hours next to each other going back and forth. Because Phil and Dan's 17' Core Sound is a little lighter than the 20' Dawn Patrol, when the winds would get in the upper ranges Phil and Dan's boat would start planing. Dawn Patrol didn't. But with Phil and Dan's boat being longer, when the wind would slow down a bit they weren't planing and then Dawn Patrol would creep up and pass them. They played cat and mouse like that all afternoon. "It was really fun," Phil says. "They were taking video of us and we were taking video of them."
Being tired and hungry, they decided that going across the Florida Bay at night for the first time was a bad idea, so they opted to stop at Flamingo (checkpoint 3). Arriving there around midnight, they found Paul and Alan just leaving.
"When you're a sailor, or out on the ocean, you make a lot of decisions that are safety related," advises Phil. Stopping in Flamingo, not opting to continue on and cross the Florida Bay at night was a hard decision to make but, once made, both felt relieved.
Dan candidly adds, "Honestly I don't think I could have. With just two people in the real windy stuff coming into Flamingo there was no way one could sleep and then going through Florida Bay in the dark you could not have slept because you need one guy carefully navigating while the other steers the boat. I don't think I could've done it. I was just too shot mentally."
"I was mentally relieved that we weren't going to do it," admits Phil. They slept for about 3 hours, which at that point felt like a full night's sleep.
"Going through Florida Bay at the end was a really special thing," relates Dan. "Not many people get to cross that body of water and even though we could have gone through at night to try to win the race, I'm really glad we had the experience of going through in the daytime and seeing it and understanding it. If we ever do it again, we have a much better understanding of what's there than had we gone through at night. There's a lot of mud. Most of it is stuck to the bottom of our boat."
Upon asking if they forgot anything or if they wished they had brought anything different with them, Dan replied without embarrassment, "To the contrary, I think we took more stuff than we needed. Famously we brought like 14 gallons of water and we drank 2 or 3 so we carried all that weight in water and we brought food to last through Wednesday and we basically ate none of it. We have a bag with like 12 freeze-dried meals in it right now that we haven't used and we brought a bunch of spares that we probably didn't need to but we didn't really know."
"When you do a race like this you don't know what's gonna break and what you might need," adds Phil. Having broken one Harken block in the whole race, they had a spare block to put in there.
"For me," says Dan, "I'd never sailed on the boat before and Phil had sailed it just a little bit, so the whole race was kind of learning about the boat too. One thing we didn't do very well is we didn't have a means of propelling the boat without the sails, like these guys. The guys that beat us had oars, which looked silly to me at the start but then it looked really smart quickly and then many times later. So whenever we hit a light air patch, or in the Florida Bay there are places that are so narrow you can't tack, they would just stick the oars out and row through it and be done with it."
Dan admits that during the race he had a couple moments of meltdowns. The first was upon leaving checkpoint 2 where he was soaking wet from entering checkpoint 2. With the trapeze harness on the boat, every wave pretty much was going right into his gear yet the whole time he was thinking, "This is awesome! We are hammering along and I'm gonna just change when we get in there." But when they got in there they did the same quick turn around, mistakenly thinking they'd have a casual sail out where they could change and cook some food. The sail out, however, was not casual at all. Having had his most outer layer off, preparing to change into the dry inner layer, they "popped outside" and suddenly were into 20 knots again. "I got completely, completely drenched."
"That was all my dry gear so I started whining pretty vocally about it. I was blaming Phil because he wanted to do the quick turn around and I wanted to stop and change, so finally he goes, "Okay, I have an extra pair of dry clothes that I didn't tell you about." So that made it better. I got to put on some stuff. So that was the first meltdown."
As it was, Dan's second meltdown was on just coming into Flamingo, being dead tired after getting well into day two with maybe an hour of sleep each, working hard the whole time they were awake with not enough food in them and needing to regroup.
Along with meltdowns, there were highlights too. Sailing-wise, for Dan, his highlights were 2 periods of really, really fast downwind sailing for hours at a time. "As a sailor, you live for those moments and we had long, extended periods of getting the boat set up just right and just letting it haul ass. We were lucky to have that condition."
I couldn't wrap up our conversation without asking the "pithy" quote question, one I almost regretted upon hearing Dan's response, until he elaborated. "My one quote is, it's always good when you're holding the wood," explaining to this yet-to-be-sailor that the tiller is typically made of wood and the tiller extension is what you use in lighter winds. When it's the most gnarly wind and you're going downwind, which is the best condition, then you're holding onto the wood. It sounds a little weird. That's my only pithy comment."
Do they plan to come back and do it next year, maybe to give Paul and Alan a challenge? "We've been avoiding that subject," laughs Phil, while Dan adds, "You always want to wait a few days with distance races." Granted, I only waited one day to ask them but I'm wondering if now, days later, they've broached that topic and are perhaps quietly strategizing for a 2014 win. We'll check back and find out, stay tuned.