Race South Florida

Human Powered Common Adventures for Uncommon Competitors

250-Mile Coast to Coast Expedition Challenge


William Highsmith, a/k/a Swimboy
Start:  Sunday, Nov. 4th, 2:34 p.m., Ft. Myers, Sanibel Island Causeway
Finish: Saturday, Nov. 10th, 7:45 p.m.
Total Time:  6 Days, 5 Hours, 11 Minutes

Congratulations Bill on your excellent performance and perseverance.


Post-Race by William Highsmith

Now that the Coast to Coast Expedition Challenge is finished, thanks so much to Esther and the folks at The Paddle House.   She asked me to post something so here goes.

First, yes, I did it in a folding Feathercraft.  On Sunday of the Warriors challenge, I was in the rarified air of international paddlers, famous writer/kayakers, elite paddler in elite performance kayaks and it humbled me and my cow of a Feathercraft, great sea boat but slow. The number one comment was, "you did the challenge in that boat?" 

I came to love the night sailing and paddling.  Open sky, open water, night vision, and knowing I was slow, my mantra, go when the going is good.

From Everglades City I arrived in Ponce de Leon Bay late at night and when I took out my GPS to find my exact location, it didn't work. (Having tested it earlier and having new batteries) so I followed the shadow of a shoreline, until I see the flashing light for the entrance to Little Shark River.  Tired and weary I have the great fortune of having the tides against me.  I was so grateful to have my anchor lashed to the front deck and the sailing rig that makes the kayak a trimaran.  I figured out how to put my sleep pad on top of the kayak without falling overboard. Not a great sleep but sleep never the less.  An added note, Great Blue Herons sound like rock concert in the quite of the early, early morning.  And the old wisdom, "things look better with the dawn", is so true.

My mast bent in the narrow Buttonwood Canal going to Flamingo, while getting out of way of a power boat and hitting an overhanging tree.  Love my Leatherman knife, sawed the bent part away with the saw part and just shorten the mast.

Leaving Flamingo was the beginning of my longest and hardest day.  The day started out great paddling/sailing my way through the narrow passages in the broad expanses of the Florida Gulf. The afternoon held small craft warnings and breaking seas.  Arrive at one of the few places to get through to Key Largo, the Boggles and I break out the GPS again and still it doesn't work.  I was bummed to have to spend time finding the opening in the bouncing breaking seas. I get into Barnes Sound looking for a good night’s sleep and a long push the next day to the finish line. I learned not to think too far ahead. Head wind, building breaking seas, dark when my rubber malfunctions and no longer head upwind, in fact go in circles. Feel like the German battleship Bismarck, broken rubber going in circles, a sitting duck for the English navy. I feel like a sitting duck.  Lash myself to my boat and crawl out onto the stern, legs straddling the deck, waves covering 3/4 of the boat with each wave. Managed to fix the problem and now can sail upwind to Short Key.  It’s past midnight and with hope in my heart, I try to turn on my GPS, nothing. I'm close but not exactly sure where I am which starts an hour looking and looking and looking with my flashlight looking for any opening that means the camp site. Only after finishing was I told I pasted the site twice. Past one I decide to get in the lee of the island and drop anchor. Shiver off and on during the short night.  

Waiting to see how I feel with the warmth of the coming dawn. I start off the next morning with the sun shining and as I leave the protection of the island and am hit by head wind, small craft warning and white water over the bow.  After a long 10 miles, I know I need to get to shore to stop and relax but not so easy in this world of mangrove islands. After going under the bridge into Card Sound and cigar boats thundering passed me in another kind of race, I see a speck of white building or buildings and grind my way over to them.

There is nothing on the chart to say what I’m heading towards. Little did I know I was going to land at the Angler's Club, on Key Largo, a member’s only club, a suit and tie to dinner kind of club. Yet the harbor master and staff were so helpful and kind, even though this was the biggest day of the year for them, opening day ceremonies. I was thinking of pulling out of the race when I called my wife at the harbor masters office phone, (of course my cell phone didn't work.)  A hot shower, wash clothes, what a relief. I’m given help (hiding my kayak from view of the opening ceremony) and I hang out in the laundry so as not to be seen. The harbormaster told me of an island about 4 miles away where I could set up my tent. I was sleeping in the laundry room at 6:30, waiting for the ceremony to be over; when staff tell me it’s fine if I want to sleep on the couch in the harbor masters office. Even though I was ready to sail off into the night to find the campsite, this was too good to pass up.  Food, warm blankets, asleep by 7:30 and up at 2:30. On the water by 3:00 a.m., and I'm back in the race.  And yes, you guessed it, headwinds, small craft warnings, and breaking seas.

On the last leg of the race, more than once, my kayak went through a big enough wave to be completely underwater before popping back up like a duck. Of course the very last part of the journey, going under the Rickenbacker Bridger on Key Biscayne, the seas are like a washing machine, the most confused yet with boats large and small bashing along, adding to the confusion.  Make sure both my lights are lighting up my little boat from head to foot. Yes, the ocean Gods are making sure I work for every last inch of my trip to the finish line, which happens a little past 7:00 p.m.  And I am finished, I made it. 

Thanks to all the people who were at the finish to welcome me.