Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Outdoors

TECO Energy exec prepares for 1,200-mile canoe/kayak race around Florida

APOLLO BEACH — Manatees appear to be so darn cute.

Bill Whale shared that widely held belief while out training for the upcoming Ultimate Florida Challenge, a roughly 1,200 mile canoe/kayak race around the state.

Until the unexpected occurred.

Peacefully paddling along one dark night, Whale ran smack dab into one of the lovable creatures.

"Scared the absolute living daylights out of me," he said.

Manatees, as well as potentially uncooperative weather, fatigue and lack of shelter, could hamper Whale when he tries to complete this grueling race in March.

"It's quite a challenge, to say the least," Whale said. "I can't say there is anything quite like it."

The Ultimate Florida Challenge is a kayak/canoe race that starts and ends at Fort De Soto Park.

In between, racers will travel south along the Gulf of Mexico, through the Everglades, north up the east coast of Florida and onto the St. Mary's River. From there, competitors must carry or tow their vessels 40 miles to the Suwannee River, which leads to the gulf and ultimately, Fort De Soto Park.

"There are many tough races and challenges in the world and they all have their own unique aspects," race organizer Steve Isaac said. "But none are tougher."

Isaac started WaterTribe, a tight-knit group of adventure-seeking paddlers, in 2000. Since then he has helped to organize a number of smaller contests, such as the 68-mile Ultra Marathon and the 300-mile Everglades Challenge. Isaac's inspiration derived from adventure races like the Eco Challenge, a multiday test of endurance. The 2012 UFC will be the third installment. The first took place in 2006.

"I was inspired by expedition kayakers like Nigel Foster along with adventure kayakers," Isaac said.

Racers have 30 days to complete the course, which features five checkpoints along the way. In between, participants will have to divvy up their time and resources to last between those checkpoints. They will rely on the Global Positioning System, survival instincts, endurance and their wits to reach the finish. The course record is 19 days, six hours and 48 minutes but Whale said it is impossible to predict how he'll finish.

"You really can't tell because the conditions are unknown," he said. "The weather can just kill you."

Whale, a retired captain in the Naval Reserve who is currently an executive at TECO Energy, has been training for this unusual event and detailing his efforts in a blog. Whale, 56, does everything from weight lifting to cardiovascular training to paddling to prepare for the UFC 2012.

"If the weather cooperates, I can paddle 60 miles in a day," he said. "If it doesn't, it might be five."

Whale, an Apollo Beach resident, is also hoping to raise awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Each one of his blog posts are titled with name of a soldier who was killed in the line of duty and a link for readers to donate to the foundation.

"It's a way for me to pay tribute and bring attention to this great foundation," Whale said. "Freedom comes with a price that these young men paid."

Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Captainís Corner: Warming waters, better visibility are good signs

Scuba and freediving spearfishermen and women have enjoyed great underwater visibility over the past week. Some boaters going offshore can make out the bottom structure from the gunnel of the boat. Best depths for visibility have been in 30 to 40 fee...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/19/18

Captainís Corner: Flats coming to life in north Pinellas County

The flats are really coming to life in north Pinellas County. Our main focus this time of year is spotted sea trout, though redfish are cooperating and schooling a bit. Snook are also responding to the warm weather, occasionally eating on the falling...
Published: 02/18/18

Captainís Corner: Bait a challenge, but effort will pay off

Bait has made its way into the bay and is on nearly every marker. The problem: Bait is moving and showing up at different times daily. The time spent to get bait will pay off. Fish have been blasting pilchards. Snook and large trout have been communi...
Published: 02/16/18
Updated: 02/17/18

Captainís Corner: Springtime fishing patterns moving in

The first half of February has been hit or miss for inshore fishing. The consistent cold fronts and warmups seem to have the fish confused. The week ahead should be pretty good. The best bite has been midmorning into the afternoon. With temperatures ...
Published: 02/14/18
Updated: 02/15/18

Captainís Corner: Get an early start when chasing redfish

Redfish schools have started to invade the flats around Pinellas Point. On low tide in the morning, I look for a school on an outer sandbar. These fish are staged on the edge waiting for the tide to come in. Once the water level rises, the fish will ...
Published: 02/13/18

Captainís Corner: Baitfish in the shallows improves fly fishing

Seeing large groups of pelicans diving and catching baitfish in warmer, shallow water is a sure sign spring conditions are approaching. The appearance of quality baitfish will spark a feeding frenzy that should steadily improve flats fishing for fly ...
Published: 02/14/18
Updated: 02/16/18

Captainís Corner: Action picking up as temperature rises

The wind finally stopped blowing so hard that we couldnít go offshore. Water temperatures were still in the low 50s offshore at the beginning of the week, and this affected fish behavior. Because the water was calm, we ventured out to the 80- to 90-f...
Published: 02/11/18
Updated: 02/12/18

Captainís Corner: Topwater plugs a great option as warming trend continues

Warm weather for the past week has led to an increase in feeding activity for inshore fish species. Speckled trout have been venturing out of deep holes and channels and back into shallow water to feed. This has presented a great opportunity to fish ...
Published: 02/10/18
Updated: 02/11/18

Captainís Corner: Sardines make a great bait

Bait has made its way into the bay and the fish have been eating sardines with violent strikes. Look deep for bait, most of it has been in 20-plus feet of water. A little knowledge of how to read a bottom machine will help you secure the prized sardi...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/10/18

Captainís Corner: Fishing conditions have started to improve

The waters are still a bit cooler than the kind a bunch of fish like to aggressively chew in. Fishing conditions, however, have slowly but surely begun to improve. On a recon mission Tuesday, I visited both Sunshine Skyway bridge fishing piers and th...
Published: 02/08/18