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A rugged race earns respect of contestants

Before time began, Ohav-Lai, the God of the Seas, was challenged for supremacy by a man-eating shark. For days, the battle raged in the darkest depths of the Pacific Ocean until Ohav-Lai emerged victorious with a shark's tooth around his neck. As a result, the shark's tooth has long been held in high esteem by Pacific Islanders. It is said to keep divers, swimmers, paddlers, sailors and surfers safe from danger, especially those within the sea.

Members of the WaterTribe love and respect the ocean. So it is fitting that WaterTribe Challenge organizer Steve Isaac chose a shark's tooth as an award for the 11 men who finished the 250-plus-mile paddle/sail from St. Petersburg to Key Largo this week.

George "VanMan" Van Sickle of Columbus, Ohio, was one of the 33 sailors and paddlers gathered on the Fort De Soto Beach on March 5 as 25-knot winds and 5-foot seas raked Tampa Bay. Despite a small-craft warning, Van Sickle set out in his Expedition 14.5 sailing dinghy.

Van Sickle broke a mast and repaired it shortly after the start, capsized three times and dismasted once on his way to Cayo Costa, sailed to Chokoloskee, then rowed when the wind died, arriving in Key Largo at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, five days after he started. Van Sickle finished first overall and was granted "Elder" status in the tribe.

Dexter Colvin of Naples, a double amputee, was the first kayaker to finish the race at 10:06 p.m. on Saturday, placing third overall.

Isaac said the event will be held againnext March. "We have learned a few things, so we may change it a little," he said. "But it will still be the same basic race."

Isaac said WaterTribe plans similar races around the country. For more information, log on to http//

_ Complete list of finishers, 13C