By David Villano
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At last he hove to and called it quits. The chase boat crew loaded him and his surf ski aboard and, with some consoling words exchanged, slammed toward Miami. Fine wrapped himself in a beach towel and vomited modestly over the transom.
The next day Gipson learned he is still the only kayaker ever to paddle all the way from Bimini. Fine's latest effort caused him to recall the night of his own voyage. "It's been eight years and no one's done it, so maybe no one will," Gipson mused. "I did it because I wanted to do it. I didn't do it to prove something. I was more or less in awe of the whole situation. After I got into the mode of the paddling and knew what lay ahead, I settled down. I had a waterproof Walkman. After about twenty miles I could see the mainland. By dawn I could see the radio towers. We never did have any problems, really. I can't even say I was exhausted."
As for Fine's latest try at surfing to Miami, Gipson says he doubts it would work even with the best of luck. "The theory is right, but the conditions to allow it may not ever be there," he says. "If you really want to set a record, there's no way you can do it in the daytime. There's some things you just can't go against."
Randy Fine had dreamed of establishing an international kayak race from Bimini to Miami. A similarly grueling competition already exists in Hawaii, where for each of the past fifteen years as many as 70 kayakers have gathered to surf ski the treacherous 35-mile channel between the islands of Oahu and Molokai. Winning times routinely measure under four hours.
Fine says he is now convinced the Bahamas-South Florida passage is unsuitable for such a race. "The seas are too unpredictable," he says, smiling wistfully. "I'm glad I found that out instead of going ahead and bringing people over here and getting a couple killed and having others marooned up and down the coast."
It remains, both Fine and Gipson say, to find other ways to promote a pastime that is gradually catching on in South Florida. Surf skis were developed in Australia more than a decade ago, then found a following in California and Hawaii during the 1980s. Within the last two years, salt water kayaking has become wildly popular in Puerto Rico. But something in Miami's psyche - a penchant for noisier means of marine conveyance, perhaps - makes the city slow to receive the sport.
Whether or not it survives future attacks, Bruce Gipson's record for a human-powered Gulf Stream crossing needs to be kept in perspective, as does the fearsomeness of the Bimini-South Florida passage. Twenty-four years ago another Dade County resident, Hugo Vihlen, sailed solo across the Atlantic Ocean in his boat April Fool. The boat, which today occupies a corner of Vihlen's garage, measures just under six feet, the smallest craft known to have earned the adjective transatlantic. Vihlen still sails every year in the British Virgin Islands. But he has never set sail to Bimini, and displays only a mild interest in Randy Fine's most recent paddling exploit. "That's a muscle deal," says Vihlen. "I don't know nothing about muscle deals.