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By Jackie Monies - Eufaula, Oklahoma - USA

The Challenge: Finished or DNF?
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Lined up at the beach at Fort Desoto, the boats look so promising. The challengers look anxious but ready and hopeful. Half of them probably won’t make it to the end in Key Largo but right now they are all finishers of the Everglades Challenge in their own minds.


Lined up at the beach at Fort Desoto, the boats look so promising.

(click images to enlarge)

Look at the Challenge results from any year for WaterTribe and you will see those words after a name... DNF- Did not Finish. Usually 40 to 50 per cent of those who enter never make it to the finish. Chief, aka Steve Isaccs of Water Tribe, has said that looking at the boats on the beach before the start, he can usually predict which ones will finish and which drop along the way, even before they launch.

I believe that statement. Why?

It is not the boats necessarily that Chief is talking about, although sometimes it is--- it is those in them. A great boat is as likely to be a DNF as a lesser boat. So, what makes a finisher? It is the body within the boat and the mind within the body. And perhaps the soul within the mind and body and boat.

It is mostly in the mind, in the resolve, the desire to finish that this determination is set. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about finishing a boat, finishing a race or raid, or just finishing life. Chief talks about filters in the Everglades Challenge, not just to make the sailing a little harder, but as a way of limiting who can compete, who can finish. The filters contribute to that DNF list. This is where so many give up. They reach a checkpoint and decide “I have gone far enough.” And they stop.

Think about filters and finishing for a minute here. Where the going gets hard and harder. Mike made the comment to me this week, “Anyone can sail around the coast of Florida, it is the checkpoints that make the Everglades Challenge a challenge.”

Last night I asked Mike about this subject. How did he keep going? He said, “You just get back in the boat and push off.” That seems to be the problem, so many can’t or won’t get back in the boat. Mike admitted it would have been easy to stop and quit at any checkpoint. But he didn’t, he got back in the boat.

Right now Mike Monies, my husband, is out in the Boat Palace building two Welsford Scamps from scratch. Not from kits but drafting, cutting patterns, cutting each piece by hand. He has exactly 90 days from today to have two finished boats on their way to Florida to the Everglades Challenge. Because plans were not yet complete or available, we started with prototype plans, which slows down the process slightly as well.
Mike Monies, my husband, is out in the Boat Palace building two Welsford Scamps from scratch.

Can he make it? Chuck Leinweber of Duckworks, one of his sponsors thinks he can. John Welsford the designer of Scamp thinks he can. Small Craft Advisor Magazine, his other sponsor must think or at least hope so! So do I.

Why do we think that? Because Mike is a finisher. He will not accept a DNF. The boats will get done and to Florida, because he just keeps going, like that Energizer bunny. He just gets back in the boat.

How does Mike build so fast? A question I am often asked to explain. He has no secret and no magic tricks, he isn’t even a fast builder. His work is well finished and professional in its neatness and sturdiness, always built without taking short cuts. His finishing and painting are almost perfection, with great attention to detail and small things, things that other people may never even notice.

His secret is simple and open: he just keeps going. He will work on that boat every single day, ten hours per day minimum, whether he starts at 10 a.m. or 8 a.m. Consistency and “stick to it “ attitude. He knows how long the boats should take, how many hours. Just work the hours and the boat will be finished.

This sounds so simple, yet I know builders who have started boats and then stopped the build permanently. They give up, never go back, sell or throw the hull away, give it away. I also know those who stay with building for years and years, stop and start, never finishing the hull.

While Mike was employed and traveling all the time, he still finished a 23 foot sharpie in six months, his big schooner in five years of part time work, still traveling constantly in his job.
Mike finished his big schooner in five years of part time work, still traveling constantly in his job.

When I asked Mike about this, his answer was to be consistent, even if you can only manage a few hours per week, do it every week or so many days per week or whatever you can manage. But do it! Make a date with your boat building project, put it on your calendar, schedule it in. A boat requiring six hundred hours of build time like some could be built in 5 hours per night for two nights and one weekend day of 8 hours.

This minimal amount of time for three days is only 18 hours total. But in a mere 33 weeks you would have a finished boat, Eight months! Have I lost anyone here with my math?

Consistency of labor in a time constraint you can handle and still maintain employment and a family life.

Last year when Mike built Laguna Dos for the Everglades Challenge, he was forced to practice not only the consistency but the determination to solve problems, the stick to it part of a finisher. It froze, it snowed, it iced, nothing would dry, the epoxy wouldn’t pop, no amount of heaters would warm the Boat Palace.

But Mike persevered, he didn’t give up, he didn’t quit. He is not a DNF, but a finisher.

I have often read Chief of the WaterTribe say that getting to the beach is the hardest part. I know he is right about that one. Many times last year I did not think Mike or the Laguna would make it to the beach. Nothing went his way. And that too is a filter, to solve the problems, to get the boat built, to outfit the boat and yourself properly, to pass the inspections. For some this is too overwhelming to do and that filters them out. Only the truly determined will be at the beach.

Mike pushed on and pressed on, despite all the obstacles the weather threw at him. He finished the boat, taking her to Florida at the last possible minute. They were still attaching things on the beach at Fort Desoto, including her name decals. It had been too cold in Florida to even do that!

Too cold in Florida, too windy, too stormy to practice with Andrew Linn, his partner, just flown down from Oregon. Colder in Florida than in Oregon. They bundled up like Artic explorers while they finished loading the Laguna and getting gear together for inspection. But they got to inspection, got the OK for equipment, got the boat to the beach. One step closer to being a finisher! At the beach. The hardest step.

Mike and Andrew pushed off in the Laguna Dos, never having sailed together before. An act of faith on each man’s part, Andrew in Mike and the boat, Mike in Andrew and his strengths, Andrew in Mike and his sailing skills, Mike in Andrew and his ability to learn FAST. Andrew is a fast learner, Mike has him hands down on sailing experience and years but Andrew knows when to listen.
Mike and Andrew pushed off in the Laguna Dos, never having sailed together before.

They needed this joint respect very quickly. The first leg from Fort Desoto to Checkpoint 1 turned into a major wind event, with high rough seas that quickly formed. Mike accessed the situation rapidly,. Turning into the Venice canal possibly saved them from capsize, as the Sea Pearl 21, a WaterTribe veteran went over rapidly, followed by a newer contender in a Wayfarer 16. Both the Wayfarer crew and the Sea Pearl’s captain were rescued, leaving their boats to drift hull down before being salvaged.

And here is the first truly acceptable reason to DNF, one that veterans and new challengers must face- the boat/kayak/canoe is lost. Lost beyond righting, lost beyond repair, lost beyond going on. This happens.

If you cannot self-rescue, get the boat up again, bail out the water and go on, then this is when you say “I have gone far enough.” Sometimes this happens on day 1, sometimes further down the course.

When we were studying accounts of prior Everglades Challenges, trying to learn what to expect, trying to avoid being a DNF, I read everything I could about equipment failure but especially equipment failure on Class 4 monohulls. Why did people drop out? Why did they not finish? And we tried to compensate.

Sails torn on railroad pilings going into a checkpoint? Take three sails in polytarp and borrow a second new Dacron set in case of total loss or failure of polytarp. Boat dismasted and mast broke off? Take two masts and a third mast step to offer an infinite number of reefing possibilities, design all masts to be shortened and still sail with reefed sails. Over powered by too much sail, have enough and then some of reef points to shorten sail to almost a handkerchief.

Know what was vulnerable to damage on the Laguna, then take along what it took to jury rig a repair.

Boat capsized and not rightable? Put a line of floatation, inflatable rollers on port side, to give one side asymmetrical flotation higher to prevent turtling.

The list goes on and on. We studied what went wrong in past years and tried to anticipate the boat, the equipment lists. What might make Mike and Andrew DNF in the boat itself? There were backups to everything. Andrew was notorious for dropping electronics, to the point where a friend suggested we duct tape the radio and GPS to Andrew’s hands. So, we had backups, equipment by twos, radios, GPS, cell phones, SPOTS. One went down, there was another, with batteries and chargers on the boat to keep things charged and working.

It is hard to have a recharger for the human body, however.
It is hard to have a recharger for the human body.

Bodies break down, mental strengths break down, it is just hard to keep going. Challengers push their bodies to the point of collapse and often beyond. This is often the reason they reach the point where they say “I have gone far enough.” This is where the toughness, the ability to push off, to keep going comes into play. Those who go alone have only themselves to call on for strength, those in teams or a paired crew can support each other.

I asked Mike if there was really a point where he thought they might not make it, where it looked totally impossible. He talked of the night they turned into the Marco River, ended up in canals behind condominiums, no wind, more or less lost, Andrew rowing, rowing while asleep apparently. Mike began to hallucinate, seeing forests of trees in the water below them. Andrew was also hallucinating, believing all the bridges were solid walls of brick and concrete, with no openings to pass through.

Rowing and making a few miles in hours and hours and hours. I watched them on satellite that night, watched their SPOT track barely moving slowly through the canals. At one point they seemed to have tied up to a dock and stopped. I could see the cars in the driveways, even trash cans out at the curb. Eerie sight, like a spy movie or television show.

The canal was narrow, there were houses and driveways, docks all around them. They were not in physical danger if they had decided to stop. But they could not stop. They had to keep going. The ease of stopping, the mind playing games, this is one of greatest dangers leading to DNF.

Mike also talked of sailing all night, in black darkness, no moon, no stars, no lights from shore. Just the sound of the boat slamming into waves, wave after wave after wave. Not even a shadowy tree line, no shorelines, nothing to steer by, no reference points. He said he began to question if he had put enough screws into the bottom when he built the Laguna Dos. Was her bottom going to fall off and they would sink in the black night? Would they run into an unseen stump or navigation hazard in the pitch blackness?

Physical injury, real physical injury can cause a drop out and it probably should. Many who enter these events are not physically fit enough to complete them. Some are. Some aren’t. No one should push themselves to the point of broken bones, hypothermia or complete exhaustion. When that point is reached, it should be recognized and the boat needs to stop. You need to be able to determine this yourself or listen to others at this point - you have gone far enough. Exhaustion causes the mind to play funny tricks, voices from the clouds, choirs that sing, visions and confusing apparitions.

Time to stop.

The last major reason for DNF in a sailing event is often the most insidious. Time.

Making it to each checkpoint sometimes looks easy when you are sitting home, viewing the distances theoretically. It is a far different thing when you are actually there, out in the water, beating into a head wind or paddling against an incoming tide. Mike told me a story the other night about he and Andrew trying to sail into a headwind on the last day and last leg of the EC. They couldn’t make any way, just being defeated for every inch. They ended up sitting on a mud flat out in Florida Bay, eating a snack and trying to decide what to do.

Pelican/Dr. Nick Hall, who has finished ten Challenges, passed them in his Hobie Adventure Island. And he got blown back past them. He passed them again and again and again. Four times he got blown back and four times he passed them.

They decided to give up the course they had set to cross Florida Bay and instead set out the long way across the outside route, tacking and beating into the wind for 15 hours and 72 miles to make a distance of 28 miles to the finish in Key Largo.

They finished last in Class 4 Monohulls, the last sailboat to reach the finish line, with 36 hours to spare.

Andrew and Mike finished last in Class 4 Monohulls, the last sailboat to reach the finish line, with 36 hours to spare.

They got their sharks teeth, the t-shirt and the paddle. But more than that, they got to finish.

One of the older and wiser WaterTribe members commented this week that if a new challenger was studying prior Challenges he should not look at those that finished a route in two days that could take eight days but look at those that finished last. Those finishing last had struggled more, worked harder and faced more difficulties in order to reach the end. Those were the ones to study, to say: what did he do, how was he strong enough, where did the mental fortitude come from?

The finisher comes from within, within the body, within the mind, within the soul. They just keep going and get back in the boat.


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