The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

Sunfish (Phantom) Races
in Watertribe Ultra Marathon 2005

by Larry Melat

The Ultra Marathon and Everglades Challenge is put on every year by It is an endurance challenge for Kayak, Canoe and small Sail Boats that starts at Fort Desoto in St. Petersburg, Florida, and ends either in Grande Tours in Placida for the UM (Ultra Marathon) or Key Largo for the EC (Everglades Challenge).

I first learned about this when my sister Shari and her husband Ed Francavilla told me of their intention of Kayaking 68 miles! I thought "your crazy!" but it did not come as a complete shock because they are always doing adventurous things like: the 24 hours of Canaan, a mountain bike race in West Virginia, Hair Scrabble and Enduro motorcycle racing, Tampa Bay Watch’s three mile swim across Tampa Bay and for vacation hiking and camping five days in the rain forest of Belize just to name a few. Did you say small sailboats? That gave me pause to think. I have this small sunfish on the side of the house that had not been used since it was given to me. So started the process of getting the boat ready for the race.

Getting Ready

The sunfish is fitted with homemade fiberglass out riggers. The outriggers go out and up about 10 inches in each direction. On the top of each rigger glassed in is a 1/2 inch pipe, this is the bushing that the oar lock rides in. The oar locks are the type that bolt tightly to the oars, the oars are then bungee corded to the out rigger so even in a capsize the oar stay put. I should add that on the stern of the boat is a bungee that holds the blade end of the oars in place when sailing. The sail rig normally lays across the deck to the side, the rig dose not get in the way when rowing because the out rigger lifts the oars high enough for clean oar rotation. If the wind is light I can sail and row with one arm, while sitting forwards. This is not nearly as efficient when compared to rowing backwards, but works well. I used this method at the end of the ultra marathon when trying to find my way in the dark down the intercoastal waterway. When rowing the rudder is down. This keeps me tracking in a straight line if I need to turn, rowing with just one oar will usually be enough to change direction, but if I need to turn sharp I can turn the rudder with my foot. A bungee is also attached to the end of the tiller handle and attaches to the center of the seat. This holds the rudder straight and then can be moved from the center to either side to help over come a current that may be pushing you to one side or the other.

Rowabrick's Boat

Center boards: I use two, the normal sailing board and a smaller board just for rowing that fills the void and sticks out the bottom a few inches. The boat is a pleasure to row and can easily be rowed at 3 knots. If you work hard 4 knots is possible, and with some help like a small breeze at your stern and following seas 5 - 5.5 knots! I started this project some time in January when the brother-in-law and sister informed me of their intention of kayaking 68 miles!

Rowabrick, CatLady and Frogy 130 at the start

Now on March 5, 2005, at 7:00 am the race started: Some 15 hours and 30 minutes later that day I finished the race. The Race went really well. I rowed about the first 14 miles that's when the wind picked up and I started to sail at 4 knots. Later in the day around 2 PM the wind really picked up and the boat started to plain at 6 and 7 knots. My GPS recorded a top speed at 9.5 knots.

Rowabrick, CatLady and Frogy 130 at the finish

I made the Venice inlet at 4:30 PM and was thinking of going farther on the outside, but decided not to as the next inlet (stump pass) was 3 hours away with sunset approaching and a out going tide was at 6:30, so to be on the safe side I went in Venice pass and my speed was reduce dramatically. After dark my GPS lost the preprogram route that I had installed, so I had to use the lighted markers to find my way down the intercoastal waterway. I rowed into Grand Tours at 10:29 PM, sore from head to toe. I was so happy to finish that early, I was projecting that it would take 24 to 30 hours to complete. The fact that the wind direction was in my favor the entire day was my saving grace. Shari and Ed paddled the entire way in their sea kayaks. They took a break after going about 56 miles slept for four hours and finished about 8 am the next day. (Note from their journey) while paddling in the intercoastal waterway, both of their Kayaks were bumped hard during the night. Ed thinks it might have been a shark checking them out.

Larry Melat
P.S. aka Rowabrick, My boat is not really a sunfish it may be a phatom ?