A Most Unusual Night

Randy Smyth recounts his first attempt at the Everglades Challenge. Supplement to "Smyth, From One Adventure to the Next," from our July/August 2008 issue

At the end of the first leg I was on a sandbar lowering my mast and collapsing my beam to fit under and through a railway bridge to get to the checkpoint up a bayou. A big powerboat wake crashed over the boat when I was half way finished collapsing the beam, which caused a crucial stabilizing bar to break.

I managed to paddle to the checkpoint in first place-second place was the eventual winning Tornado sailed by Jamie Livingston and Steve Lomire. After finding a replacement aluminum bar at the local ACE Hardware Store I got back into the race (after losing about four hours). Before midnight, while blasting out the Gasparilla Inlet I cut the corner and got broadsided by a breaking wave that caused a loud crack sounding like breaking carbon. After dropping my sails I couldn't find any damage with my flashlight so I resumed sailing into the night

Just when I was about to try out the autopilot and get a catnap, at about 1 a.m., while 9 miles offshore, I got pulled over by homeland security, complete with blue flashing lights, a bullhorn and a searchlight.

"Why don't you have registration numbers," he asked me.

I don't have a motor.

"We're going to board you . . . well maybe we won't [the officer clearly couldn't figure out how my 10-inch main hull could support another person].

"Why don't you have red and green lights? he asked.

"I'm too short," I responded.

"Why didn't you show your white light?"

"I figured you could see me with your searchlight."

"Well you're right that a white light is legal for your length of vessel, but not if you exceed 7 knots and we had you on radar at way over 7 knots. We're going to terminate your voyage, but we can't figure out how to tow your vessel. So just don't ever do this again."

And off they sped into the night.

About an hour later my entire leeward ama broke free and was dragged behind held on by a small line. So, if I got off my perch on my 8-foot outrigger I would capsize. If I tacked, the mast would fall down.

Luckily, the wind angle allowed me to reach shore at 4 a.m. in Naples, Fla., a lights-out bedroom community. It was silent. Then I noticed some movement in the shadows down the beach. Four spring breakers with a clear head start in the party department approached. They were astonished to see my craft, generously shared their pizza and beer and most important their hot shower.