2013 Everglades Challenge, Cartoppers Meade & Marian

~~~ "Would you call a person who plays with his fate a hero?"

Karen and Bufflehead "Row all day all night," Marian Buszko replied. It was five thirty Saturday morning, March 8th. He'd stepped out of his seven foot nine inch pram Rocking Baby, into the dark, cool water of Key Largo, finishing the three hundred mile Everglades Challenge in six days, twenty two hours and twelve minutes. His usually buoyant, Polish accented voice was flat.

* * *

Meade Gougeon and I, again this year, had driven his motorhome and sailing canoe WoodWind to Fort DeSoto's beach on Tampa Bay.

But WoodWind now had amas. "A game-changer," Meade said. Particularly broad off and running in strong wind, a monohull sailing canoe does not tolerate inattention, which seems inevitable in the three hundred mile Challenge.

Jan Gougeon had suggested the amas' dimensions of six feet long, five inches wide and deep, displacing close to forty pounds each. Meade designed the single attachment to let the amas pivot. "The pivot point," he wrote, "is located so the transom of the ama always depresses first, upwind and downwind --- a great safety feature."

Meade had been sailing with the amas since last September. A couple weekends before the EC, in winds of eighteen knots, he'd run ten miles on the Gulf and beat back another ten in gusts over twenty knots. He was comfortable all day. That experience, plus the weather forecast for March 2nd, the start of the EC, and his confidence in amas from forty years of high level multihull racing, led him to go outside on the Gulf.

He sailed valiantly. But the wind that Saturday afternoon blew onshore past the forecast to more than twenty five knots, and even with a bare pole, conditions began to overwhelm bailing, then control of the boat. (If you had known Jan, you can see him shaking his head and grinning, "...the wind pressure velocity squared thing!") Five miles north of the Venice Inlet, twenty two miles before Checkpoint One, he took to the shore on a 'WOO HOO!' wave. WoodWind's amas let him rocket far enough up the beach to step, amazed, onto dry sand.

By morning the wind was offshore and light, but the surf stayed up. Seventy four year old Meade was caught sideways in the shorebreak. WoodWind's starboard ama smashed into the beach, breaking it and its attachment.

* * *

Marian Buszko with Rocking baby Marian, the Gainesville physicist, had come ashore as nimbly as a ten year old, not like a fifty eight year old who'd covered thirty miles in over twenty one hours, rowing "the last six hours full-strength directly into the wind." But, within minutes his voice was as humorously engaged with confident equanimity as ever. An hour and a half before, sleeping while rowing, he'd awakened by bumping into mangroves. Years ago, he'd sailed several thousand deep water miles in big boats and has a bareboat certificate. He's new, however, to small boats and camping.

Originally, he planned to row only the first sixty mile leg with his son in an eighteen footer; then with his brother, but each had to cancel. The sixty miles seemed okay for his CLC pram. "I knew I would not be able to do all three hundred miles on the tiny Rocking Baby." But he paid for the three hundred anyway, wondering how far he could go. Marian--- "I'm very fortunate" ---applied his talents to experimenting with everything: all electronics, boat gear including rigs, oars and anchors, and clothing and camping equipment advised by his son.

Marian Buszko in Rocking baby He sailed and rowed twenty to twenty three hours between stops. Two thirds of the time he rowed while sailing, and he rowed for warmth, too. When he needed a third reef, he poked holes in his new sail. At two passes he was swept by breaking waves. Underway he averaged just under three knots.

Marian is adamant. He doesn't want to be an example, or "hero," that might encourage others to do "crazy" things. He knows most people don't have the time and means to prepare as well as he.

"I think true heroes are the 'regular' people who work hard day in and day out, eight to five, to provide for their families, not individuals who attempt crazy events like the EC."

Rocking Baby I told him about my friends following his progress throughout the Challenge. He thanked me earnestly. "It humbles me," he said.

Now it's late April. Marian has sailed and rowed Rocking Baby, three hundred fifty more miles in nine twenty-four hour days up Florida's east coast, from Key Largo to St Augustine. His wife and he brought her back to Gainesville by road. His emails told of enchantment with glorious nights and days of "immense beauty and ephemeral nature." But, "the EC at the time was the eight best days of my life."

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