The 2017 Florida Skiff Challenge was a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida’s Clean Water Initiatives. Hell’s Bay Boatworks, Yellowfin, and Panga Marine collectively entered the Challenge with one goal in mind: to raise money and have fun while doing it. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a real challenge without a little bit of friendly competition! The rules required each manufacturer’s skiff to be under 18 feet long, have a 22 gallon or smaller fuel tank, and a 70 horsepower or less outboard engine. Panga Marine and Yellowfin elected to save weight by choosing the tiller option, while Hell’s Bay chose to use a standard center console in their Biscayne model. Each boat had a chase team that followed them around the state of Florida and met them at several strategically chosen stops along the way with fuel, food, drinks, and dry clothes. The locations were selected to make each pit stop between legs of the race as quick and efficient as possible. The trek began at the Northwestern tip of Florida in the city of Gulfbreeze, with the end goal of navigating the skiff all the way around the State of Florida up to historic Cabin Bluff in Southern Georgia. The journey of over 1350 miles was to be completed within 56 consecutive hours.
On Thursday, April 6th, the teams gathered at the Gulfbreeze Boat Ramp to kick off the Challenge. Because of a cold front that passed through during the night, the wind was gusting up to 35 miles per hour and the temperature had dipped down into the low 50’s. The conditions were far from ideal, but that is part of what makes the Challenge what it is. The teams prepared their vessels and set off on the journey to Georgia around 7:00 that morning.
Each team designated their own route and made their way to the first stop in Panama City. The following stops on the first day were in the Apalachicola region and Steinhatchee/Cedar Key. The gentlemen continued on through the darkness of the night and made a stop in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the team from Panga Marine had to drop out around 3:00am on Friday morning in Southern Tampa Bay due to some issues with their hull. Teams Hell’s Bay and Yellowfin continued on to Venice and had both made their pit stop in Marco Island by 8:00am. Both teams elected to make their next stop at Gilbert’s Resort in Key Largo. Although Yellowfin went into the pit with a 20 minute lead, their slow fuel stop allowed Hell’s Bay the opportunity to catch up. From there, the stops that remained were West Palm Beach, Melbourne, New Smyrna Beach and Crescent City Beach/St. Augustine. The final leg to Georgia was all that remained for the teams.
The team from Hell’s Bay Boatworks reached Cabin Bluff first around 3:00 on Saturday morning. Yellowfin came in shortly behind them around 4:00am. Your calculations are correct- both teams finished the race with more than 12 hours of the allotted time to spare! Laughs and stories were shared, loved ones were hugged, and pictures were taken, but the most exciting thing for both teams was that they were officially back on land! Each manufacturer’s team reminisced on the pros and the cons of their journey, things that worked well and things that they would have done differently. After their whirlwind trek around the state of Florida, Cabin Bluff was the perfect place to end their journey, with their accommodations, food and hospitality exceeding expectations. The teams are looking forward to next year’s Skiff Challenge ending in the same location!
Thanks to all of the followers and people who jumped on board to cheer for, watch, and donate to Team Hell’s Bay, we were proud to raise $9,300 for CCA Florida’s Clean Water Initiatives. We were honored to be a part of such a successful event and we are definitely looking forward to participating again next year!