Second Test – Ponce Inlet

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Since the last test across Lake Monroe, I knew I needed to widen the stance of my raft and add another means of propulsion besides the oars. While I was sitting on my couch, inspiration struck as I noticed a photo of my city’s namesake, Fred’k DeBary Paddleboat hanging on the wall in my living room. Why couldn’t I use a bicycle with a paddlewheel? Cheap, simple, available!

So I set to work on putting paddles on a bike wheel. I found an old beach cruiser and a smaller wheel to which I attached some junk aluminum paddles. I rigged it to sit between 6 barrels instead of the original 4 and decided it was time for another test.

To get a feel for the ocean, my goal was to spend a night offshore on this rig and left out of Ponce Inlet, FL on the only day I had available which just so happened to be the an awful weather scenario.

I put the raft in at a public dock about 1 mile from the inlet on the intercoastal to much fanfare. At first spin, the simple single wheel generated a great deal more force than I anticipated and I felt very confident of success albeit strong headwinds.

As I turned the corner and faced the brunt of the wind head on, my optimism turned to reckless determination and I realized this would not be the relaxing piece of cake I had hoped for. I hadn’t even made it to the inlet and had already used an enourmous amount of energy. As the dolphins repeatedly surfaced near my boat, I made the decision to pull over to shore, make a few adjustments to the raft design, and fully recommit to making this test a success. The fact remains: The more difficult the test, the more effective the training.

Around sunset, the winds had not let up so I decided to unscrew the high-riding seat, and lay low on the raft while pedaling. This did the trick and I was able to cut through the waves as I made my way out to the inlet.

Right at the mouth, where the out-going tide met the incoming swells, my raft suddenly jumped skyward. I quickly sat up from my laying position and faced an 8’ wall of water. I got scared. Immediately, I gained a new respect for the ocean and was forced to quickly decide if I was going to charge forward or make a turn for the jetty. I held on, gave a ‘Forrest Gump-Captain Dan’ style yell, and rode through the waves into the wide open waters where fortunately, the forecasted 3-5’ swells were awaiting.

I should have taken some pictures but it was really dark and I didn’t want to drop my phone in the water. For the trip, I will bring an adventure camera. For the next 10 hours, I made my way along 12 miles of shoreline enjoying the peaceful rocking of the raft before attemting to make my way to shore.

For some reason, the push to make it to land was vastly more difficult than the journey through the ocean. By the time I made it to the breakers, I was completely exhausted and got knocked off the raft. One of the 5 beach patrol officers who was standing with the big crowd of people curiously watching me come in helped me push it the last 10 yards and carry it onto shore.

All in all the trip was a success. I was really happy I did it and the experience was invaluable.

I’ll post another update shortly.

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Posted: May 4, 2016

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Category: All Blog Posts, Crossing the Florida Straits

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