by Captain Westy
It’s always fun to see your friends, who travel to do the paddle races, and catch up. Pleasantries are exchanged and you find out how everyone’s summer has been, but on this morning in Coco Beach, the talk was focused on one thing: the cold front! The first front of the year settled on Central Florida last week and produced cooler temperatures (mid 60s to low 70s) and a bit of wind.
All racers attend a safety meeting in the morning. The promoters thank sponsors, give instructions, and go over the course. I am not hearing any of this because I am FREEZING! It’s about 63 degrees, the sun’s not up and I’m standing in nothing but my board shorts! When I left Key West it was in the 90s and extremely humid. I wish the promoters would stop thanking everyone and let us start.
On the water the racers line up. There’s a problem, though. The wind is blowing everyone past the start line. I find myself circling around to stay up wind of the buoy. Once a line is formed, a very jagged, loose interpretation of a line, the gun goes off!
We paddle past sailboats and piers toward the Intercoastal Waterway heading eleven miles south. Once on the Intercoastal, I feel the full weight of the wind at my back. It’s awesome! The wind is producing a one to two foot swell and I’m able to “surf” downwind. With the paddle in hand I can connect some of the swells and glide for ten to 15 seconds at a time. This helps save a bunch of paddle strokes, which equals energy.
I am happy and can’t think of any place I’d rather be! There is, however, a small voice in the back of my head that is telling me that there will be a price to pay for all this fun. It takes 2 hours and 10 minutes to reach the turn buoy.
And then, it happens. I come to a complete stop. I am facing directly into the wind. It made my trip down a blast, but now it becomes a battle. The wind is blowing steady at 16 knots and gusting up to 21. Standing up has turned my body into a sail catching wind. Paddle strokes become a chore because if you’re not careful, the wind catches your paddle blade and quickly sends it slamming into your shins. I put my head down and settle in for a challenging eleven mile paddle upwind.
Other racers decide to hug the coastline, hoping they will get a break from the headwind. I follow, but quickly decide it’s not worth adding the extra mileage of zigging and zagging, and ducking under the piers. It is now a mental game. At roughly mile 15, my legs are aching from absorbing the swells. My ankles locked up long ago, but now I can’t really feel the board under my feet because I can’t feel my feet. Not good. If any one has ever jumped out of bed with one of their feet asleep, you get my drift. The problem is that it’s both feet and the ground is constantly moving. I drop to my knees and sit my weight on them letting some blood back into my feet. I keep paddling, though. Can’t stop paddling or you just get pushed backwards.
Once I reach the 5 mile mark, I realize that this will get done. I will finish. Just a nice easy paddle into a full head wind to finish my day, so I thought. During the last mile and a half, I paddled harder than I had all day. At the finish line, I collapse onto my board thankful that it’s over. All 22 miles finished. 5 hours 11 minutes 33 seconds!
Captain Westy is a catamaran captain for Fury who has been living the dream in Key West since 2004.