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Winds wreak havoc, but contestants persevere

[Times photos: Douglas R. Clifford]
Contestant George Stover of St. Petersburg launches into rough water on Thursday after a lunch break at Naples Pier.

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2001

More than half of the original 30 teams in the Water Tribe Cruising Challenge have dropped out because of brutal weather conditions.

The 200-plus-mile race from Fort De Soto to Key Largo began on Monday morning and was supposed to conclude Sunday night. But high winds, rough seas and chilly temperatures have plagued contestants from the start, and those remaining were expected to finish no earlier than Monday.

Battered boats, bloodied hands and hypothermia caused more than 15 teams to drop out, and several contestants had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. No life-threatening injuries were reported.

Still going strong were Jon Willis and his teammate, Times Outdoors Editor Terry Tomalin. Willis, Tomalin and several other kayakers -- including Toby Brown, George Stovall and Lawson Mitchell, all of St. Petersburg -- set up camp on Coon Key, about 10 miles southeast of Marco Island, on Thursday evening. The group planned to continue toward Key Largo this morning.

Lawson Mitchell, 39, rubs sunscreen onto his cheeks before leaving Cayo Costa on Wednesday morning.
The weather finally improved on Thursday, helping to lift competitors' spirits. "Now that the bad weather has passed, we're ready to move," said Tomalin, who is chronicling the event for the Times. Part 3 of his series is schedule to appear in Sunday's sports section.

Recent coverage

Part Two: Strong wind, waves make for 'fun' paddling (March 7, 2001)

Part One: Row, row, row your boat (March 4, 2001)

Related link

Water Tribe Web site

Jon Willis, 41, Times Outdoors Editor Terry Tomalin, 40, Dexter Colvin, 41, and George Stovall, 56, paddle toward shore at Naples Pier Thursday for a much-needed lunch break on dry land.

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