The astonishing Watertribe Challenge

Watertribe start Matt Layden’s Sandflea Watetribe

Watertribe images from Chuck Leinweber and Bill Turnbull

This is the time each year when I follow the progress of competitors in the Watertribe Challenge – a series of sailing, paddling and rowing race events in the waters around Florida.

I’ve been particularly interested in it in the last couple of years because there have been one or two people involved whom I’ve known personally. And like many other small boat enthusiasts, I’ve also become interested in the activities of one particular Watertribe Challenge racer called Matt Layden.

I’ve never had the good fortune to meet him, but over many years Matt has designed and built himself a series of tiny but very successful one- and two-person cruisers including the legendary Paradox (click on this link to find out more on this boat), but in the last few years he has turned his attention to the longer events in the Watertribe Challenge series, and last year entered and completed the Ultimate Challenge – a circumnavigation of almost the whole of the state of Florida in a flat-bottomed 12ft ballasted open canoe powered by sail and a yuloh. This particular event includes a gruelling 40-mile portage between two rivers in the north of that state.

This year, he’s surprised many of us by creating an 8ft pram dinghy (shown above) with which to compete. As I say, he’s proved himself an astonishing athlete as well as a prodigiously effective boat designer, so it will be very interesting indeed to see his progress.

Also this year my friend Chuck Leinweber (the man behind has entered the much shorter Everglades challenge with his friend Skip Johnson. They’re sailing a proa designed and built by Skip, which makes the whole thing very interesting indeed. Take a look at the design.

Anyway, I shall be following the progress of all the entrants at the Watertribe Challenge website, but you can be sure I’ll be paying particular attention to both Matt (his ‘tribal name’ in the Challenge reports is ‘Wizard’, by the way) and to that of Chuck and Skip (‘Razorback’).

In addition to the Watertribe reports, Chuck’s wife Sandra is publishing a daily weblog based on Chuck’s telephone reports at the Duckworks site.

Finally, Bill Turnbull is publishing photos of the event, including some preliminary trials of boats and the start at his flickr pages.

My God I wish I could be with them!

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