Preparations for the 2007 Watertribe Challenge
By David Wicks - Louisville, Kentucky - USA

The challenge: To build a tandem kayak and
Greenland paddles and race in the 2007
Watertribe Everglades Challenge.

The Challenge is a 320 mile adventure travel race from Tampa to Key Largo, Florida for small human powered boats. Paddlers go through three extreme environments; open water Gulf of Mexico paddling and sailing, Everglades inland waters and swamp paddling, and Florida Bay marsh and shallow bay paddling. The racers have to be self contained and have up to 8 days to complete the race. There are four racing Classes; Class 1 - Expedition Kayaks and Canoes; Class 2 - Racing Kayaks and Canoes with downwind sails; Class 3 - Sailing Kayaks and Canoes; Class 4 - Small Sailboats. Last year, 2005, the fastest tandem expedition kayak with downwind sails was paddled by SaltyFrog and RiverSlayer aka Marty Sullivan and Rod Price in 3 Days, 6 Hours, 30 Min

Over the past several years, my friend, Dan Lockwood and I have completed the Everglades Challenge. In 2004 and 2006 we used his Sea Pearl, a 21 foot cat ketch that launches from the beach (a requirement of this race) and rows easily. This upcoming year we wished to paddle a boat that we built with our hands in keeping with the concept of self sufficiency.

click to enlarge

Dan and I last year sailing across Florida Bay, near the end of the race.

(click images to enlarge)

The race goes for a week of round the clock sailing and padding, so we needed a boat that was comfortable, stable, yet fast. David has built two Pygmy boats in the past, a Golden Eye Hi and a Coho and Dan Lockwood built a Golden Eye standard. We liked their designs and all three of our boats are light, fast, track well and handle ocean waves beautifully. David paddles regularly on the Ohio River and its tributaries. Dan takes his Golden Eye paddling in the surf and tidal estuaries around his home on Tybee Island. We have paddled Klepper Arieius II double kayaks for the past 30 years taking long adventures in the Americas. We have significant experience in a tandem boat.

For the 2007 watertribe race, we decided on the Pygmy Osprey Triple. The Osprey triple is 20 feet long, 30 inches wide and weighs 61 pounds fully decked out. Both the Osprey double and the triple use the exact same hull and deck; to make the triple Pygmy pushes the bow cockpit forward and the stern to the rear, enough to fit a third full size cockpit in the center. We think that the Triple will have several advantages over the Double Osprey. First, the ability to store equipment in the center section and second when the bow and stern paddlers paddle at the same time, they do not have to be in synch – with paddling long distances over 16 hour stretches, this is important. But mainly at home, the triple is a great way to get the family to be able to take advantage of the boat. A big disadvantage is the bow paddling compartment is a little tight and the bow and stern storage areas are smaller. We think that the Pygmy Osprey triple will serve as a good expedition boat as well as an ideal family boat. It is light, fast, stable and tracks well in addition the boat is beautiful.

During the spring of 2006, we sought and received sponsorship for our participation in the Watertribe Race from Pygmy Kayaks who provided us with an Osprey Triple. The kit arrived on May 28 and five weeks later Dan and I paddled it in an ACA accredited race on July 7, 2006 in Cincinnati at the Ohio River Paddlefest.

click to enlarge

I began by unpacking and sorting the wood and stowing all of the materials and tools. I would encourage others to not neglect the preparation time.

In the weeks leading up to my boat building frenzy, I did invest some time on preparing my boat building bench. My two other pygmies, Golden Eye – 16 foot, and Coho – 17-6, were just the right size for my workroom. For the Osprey Triple, one needs an absolutely flat and stable work area, 21 feet long and 24 inches wide. By making it 24 inches wide the work bench could be made from a 4’ by 8’ ¾” sheet of plywood. The Osprey Triple is 30 inches wide in the center, which means there is not a lot of space.

In preparing the work room, I set up a a dedicated set of book shelves for the material and tools, a separate table (an old ping pong table), an epoxy station, sanding area and a storage area for boat parts were set up. The work space did not have a dust collection system, so sanding was done in outdoors on two saw horses.

click to enlarge

Pay special attention to laying out the wood, it is crucial to have the sections of the wood butt up perfectly and be absolutely true.

Part of the preparation is reading the Pygmy manual from beginning to end, twice. This will provide the builder with a good idea of the flow of boat building. The first piece of advice to new boat builders, is to thoroughly understand the steps that you are about to undertake. If you don’t understand something, stop re-read, and re-read, and then call the Pygmy staff, which is ever patient and helpful. I found The West Coast Paddler web site helpful. The site details the boat building process in narrative and photographs.

Laying the keel in a straight line is crucial. While building my first two pygmy kayaks, I had difficulty with the overall alignment of the boat. This time around, I bought a laser line level, a portable battery power device that allowed me to send a red laser line down the keel to make sure it was absolutely straight.

click to enlarge

I bought a laser line level (a portable battery powered device) that allowed me to send a red laser line down the keel.

I did this during every step, until the epoxy was hardened. Having the Keel and the deck aligned properly saves all sorts of work down the road and ensures a boat that tracks properly.

My 11-year old child, Dakota, was a faithful assistant. After my third boat, I do have some advice on building the boats with kids. There are certain steps that are better to involve them with than others. Four of her favorites were stitching the panels together with the six inch wire, sanding the boat (just watch closely if you allow them to use the orbital sander), painting on fill coats of epoxy and clamping on the cockpit rims.

click to enlarge

Dakota threading wires between the second and third panels of the hull.

Dakota mixing the epoxy.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Dakota putting on a fill coat once the fiberglass was laid down.

Dakota sanding

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Dakota clamping

Dakota drilling

click to enlarge

The Osprey Triple took 72 hours of construction time over five weeks. It was structurally finished but one has to wait 4 to 5 weeks for the epoxy to fully cure, before applying the spar varnish. This allowed an opportunity for two official boat launch parties. Our first party was at The Paddlefest in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 7 and 8, 2006, our region’s largest canoe and kayak festival. There were over 2,000 boats paddling in the race and paddle events. We set up a booth at the educational programs, wooden boat show and kayak festival the day before the race. During the festival, our goal was to finish mounting the seats, foot braces and deck rigging as an interactive display. Many pygmy boat owners stopped by and talked about their boats, as did thousands of others who were just interested. We finished the boat late Friday night, got our race numbers and went to sleep in a noisy energized campground.

click to enlarge

As we finished the boat, thousands of young children and adults came by to talk to with us.

The Osprey Triple in front of voyageur canoes at the Ohio River Paddlefest.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Young Children visiting Paddlefest and the building of the Osprey Triple.

Over 5,000 kids and adults from the Ohio River Valley visited the booth during the day of final construction.

click to enlarge

Saturday morning, we launched of the boat on her maiden voyage by entering it into a nine-mile canoe and kayak race sanctioned by the United States Canoe Association. We entered as a tandem Kayak; we came in first in our division with a time of one hour, nineteen minutes and fifty five seconds. We had the second best time overall, not bad for a 54 and a 62 year old paddler.

click to enlarge

Dan Lockwood and David Wicks standing by their Osprey Triple after winning their division and coming in second overall in the Ohio River Paddle Fest 2006

To finish off the dedication and to further get a feel of the boat, we paddled home from Cincinnati to Louisville. We ended up in Louisville 2 ¼ days later, a distance of 123 miles in a bit less that 30 hours of paddling time, an average of 4.1 miles an hour. (We could have kept better track of this time, and we took some long breaks in the towns along the way) The Osprey Triple preformed admirably, but these were very mild conditions, nothing like we encountered in our previous WaterTribe races. It was comfortable, fast and lightweight, just as we thought.

click to enlarge

Our first night downriver was in a small tributary of the Ohio River with a derelict party boat

We stopped on our trip for breakfast and lunch at small towns along the Ohio.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Barges were ever present. The Ohio is one of the busiest rivers for commercial traffic in the world.

We got the boat home and put it back in the workshop for the final prep work - sanding the boat thoroughly, and putting on three layers of marine spar varnish.

A month later while hosting a national conference for Paddle Safe, Paddle Smart, a new American Canoe Association education program funded by the U.S. Coast Guard, Pam Dillon, ACA executive director, Tom Evaul President of that American Association for Physical Fitness, Recreation and Dance (APAR), Gail Kulp, Education Director for the for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) along with Gordon Black and Becky Molina, two ACA instructor trainers and nationally ranked paddlers participated in the formal dedication of the boat. I am calling our boat “The DW” named after my daughter Dakota Wicks.

click to enlarge

Pam Dillon, executive director of the ACA, Tom Evaul, APAR President and Gail Krup Education Director of NASBLA dedicating the Osprey Triple

Three Pygmy Kayaks, The Golden Hi High, the Co-Ho and the Osprey Triple.

click to enlarge

We regularly go out and paddle and play in the boat. We often take short trips on the Ohio River and practiced wet exits and tested the stability of the boat.

click to enlarge

As you can tell from the photos at left, the Osprey Triple is a stable boat, you can stand on the cockpit rim or the floor board. With an effort you can also flip the boat. We are looking forward to seeing if the boat is as stable when running before the wind in six foot seas and 30 mile an hour winds. If the boat can’t do this it will certainly effect how we do in the WaterTribe race.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

Class one of the WaterTribe race allows for downwind sails. They limit the size of the sail to one square meter per paddle. Pacific Action Sails agreed to sponsor us as well and sent two, one square meter sails for the boat. The sails are downwind sails only to be used when the wind is 120 degrees from the stern. The bow sail fit well on the bow but we had to make adaptations to fit the second sail over the center cockpit.

In October of 2006 Dan Lockwood and I met at T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida’s Pan Handle for three days of sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. We solved the problem of mounting the center sail by mounting a “Johnny Bar” and then strapping the Pacific Action Sail to it. On our first sail we went eastward 25 miles to St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge with 10 knot westerly winds with a two foot rolling swells, wave height. The Osprey Triple averaged 5.5 miles per hour over the 25 course. On the paddle back we had a 10 knot head wind which made the paddle a long one. We arrived at the park around 4:30 am, with an average speed of 2.7 mph.

We have decided against bulkheads and hatch covers to save weight, the bow and stern sections were small and we wanted to experiment with sleeping in the boat. The second day we swamped the boat and practiced self recovery. We determined that we needed to added additional floatation. Then we paddled and sailed due south 10 miles into the gulf and had a beautiful night paddle in return. Our third day, we packed up the boat and paddled to the primitive camping of the state park. Dan slept in the boat, while I set up a one person tent. We capped off the adventure with a 10 mile sail with 15 knot westerly winds. Under both sails and paddling we averaged 6.0 mph and had a top speed of 7.2.

The second big preparation trip was a Christmas vacation to the Everglades for my family. We drove to Everglades City with three pygmy’s; The Osprey Triple, The Golden Eye Hi and a Coho. Our first five nights we stayed in a nice hotel called the Captains Table. It was right on the water and about a mile from the Everglades National Park visitor Center.

I got up every morning by 4 and had wonderful pre dawn paddles. I was back in time to have breakfast with the family. Then we went for a longer day paddle. We explored Turners Creek, Chokoloskee Pass, Rabbit Key Pass and Sunday Bay. On the final day at Everglades City my son, Graeme, and I paddled and sailed the Osprey Triple out Indian Key Pass and then Northwest to Marco Island. We had 10 to 15 knot southeast winds with two foot chop, which made the 30-mile paddle go by very quickly.

Since the October trip, I made several improvements that worked out well. I made a wooded cockpit cover for the center cockpit. In essence the wooden cockpit cover turned the triple into a double. It allowed me to mount the Garmin 76 csx unit easily and it provided a secure mounting spot for the second pacific action sail. I also fiber glassed eight d-rings into the center cockpit area that are used to anchor flotation and any water proof bags. I installed a seaward rudder, but did not use it. After 35 years of paddling without rudders, I was not convinced of the need, also I felt that it might cramp my legs constantly using the rudder peddles. In retrospect, I wish I had tried it out, with both Pacific Action Sails up in a 15 knot wind, it took constant paddling or using the paddle as a rudder to keep us on course. Another big change was that I bought a Epic Mid Wing Hybrid paddle. What a difference a good light weight paddle makes.

At Marco Island, we landed at the beach and stayed at the Marriott. Not a typical kayakers haunt, but it was pleasant. Over the next couple of days, the family and I explored Cape Romano and western edges of the Thousand Islands. All in all, the Christmas 2006 family trip made me much more comfortable with the osprey triple and in knowing second check point for the Everglades Challenge in all types of weather, tides and times of day.

click to enlarge

The author at low tide at one of Thousand Islands in southern Florida.

Close up of the wooden cockpit cover. It is anchored with stainless steel bolts and wing nuts.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The Pacific Action Sail straps on to the deck. Difficult to do underway, but the sail can be stowed on the deck and then raised and lowered using the elastic stays.

The elastic stay mounts to the deck.

click to enlarge

While we were in the Everglades, my daughter Dakota Wicks decided to do her 6th grade science fair project.

click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge
Epic Wing Paddle


Greenland style
Canoe Paddle

This is just one of the graphs she created, after 5 of us paddled several times with each paddle, over a 100 meter course, Dakota analyzed the data by weight, blade size, length. She concluded that the age or physical fitness of the paddle did not matter. All five participants had consistent results for all the paddles.

  • Fastest – Wing Paddle
  • Second – White Water Paddle
  • Third – Wooden Inuit
  • Fourth – Sea Touring Kayak Paddle
  • Fifth or the slowest – Canoe

She also said that for a 100 meter sprint the length, weight nor the size of the blade of the paddle made a difference in the average or maximum speed. The design of the paddle was the only difference. The Wing paddle with its modern airplane-shaped blade caught the water and made the boat go faster. The White water paddle that was second fastest has a big blade and is very strong and heavy.

On the WaterTribe race, I plan on bringing the Epic Mid Wing, my home made Inuit or Greenland style paddle and my home made canoe paddle. Even though they are heavier, I find changing paddle types rejuvenates me and I can continue paddling on, and on and on.

Between now and race time, March 3 to 11, I plan on paddling 40 to 60 miles a week and concentrate on stretching and strength exercises. We are entering are practice race times in the Marek Uliasz’s virtual race program. It is nice to see our time on the web.

We also have to plan our route in detail and organize our gear and food lists. One big advantage this year is that we have our shuttle worked out. In previous years for the Watertribe race, I have done the shuttle. For the last race in 2006, I drove the car and trailer to Key Largo and caught Greyhound back to Fort Desoto, arriving at 3:30 am, 4 hours before the race. This year, my friend Gus Rice has agreed to accompany us and drive the shuttle. We plan on being at Fort Desoto two full days in advance, not only to ensure that we are well rested, but we pack the boat, get our food, etc. etc. There is no guessing how we will do in the race because a lot depends on the wind speed and direction, but our preparations have been as thorough as we can make them.

Many thanks to the folks at Pygmy Kayaks and Pacific Action Sails for their sponsorship.

To learn more about the WaterTribe race and the adventure racers who participate in it, visit:

To learn more about pygmy boats visit:

To learn more about pacific actions sails visit:

If you want to read more about our adventures check back with Duckworks.

More Watertribe Stuff