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Feb. 17 - Nanci and I left NC and drove the first 30 miles on ice. The sun finally came out, just as we were going over the St Mary’s River into Florida. We arrived at Suwannee River state park, (north central Florida) and after setting up the pop-up trailer, reconnoitered the river for the next day.
Feb 18 -We kayaked up The Suwannee River into a 1.8 MPH current. We did 8 miles. The air temperature was 39 when we started, but it got up to about 60 in the afternoon. The water temperature was cold, (in the high fifties), and we had to dress for winter paddling. Our new mukluks worked great. The river is about one hundred feet wide, with tea colored water, and the banks were a mixture of white sand and honeycombed sandstone. There were lots of Spanish moss draped Cypress trees, but they didn’t have their new green needles yet. Most of the river was wilderness and we passed several springs bubbling up along the banks. We didn’t see any wildlife, but we imagine that when the foliage comes out it will be a beautiful place.
Feb 19- Moved to the Ochlockonee River State Park, (big bend area of Florida)
Feb 20 - Paddled the Ochlockonee River, (an out and back trip). We did 13 miles. It is very similar to the Suwannee, except twice as wide.The air temperature was 45 and the water temperature 65. I picked up food poisoning from some unwashed grapes, and the sour stomach stayed with me for the next week. We saw a Beaver, and we also played around with a manatee. As I paddled over the manatee, I thought it was a big elongated smooth oval rock. Then I noticed it moved. It came up to my kayak to check me out. We played around with it for about twenty minutes, but each time it would go down it was hard to see because of the dark color of the water.
Feb 21 – Paddled the Wakulla River, (still in the big bend area) – Up and back –a total of 11 miles. The weather was rainy, but not enough to stop us. The Wakulla Springs are the largest springs in Florida, but we couldn’t paddle all the way to them. The last 4 miles were closed with a wire fence across. It is a wildlife refugee. The water is nice and clear, but not as clear as some of the Ocala National Forest springs such as Alexander Springs. The water temperature was 68. The am air temperature was 45 and it got up to 68 in the PM. We took several side tributaries into pristine wilderness.We met a guy who was doing a workout in a twenty-foot carbon fiber racing kayak and paddled with him for a while. He was a native and gave us a lot of history on the area, and we also talked a little about racing.
Feb 22 – There was a wind/rain storm with tornado warnings, so we drove to St Georges Island and St Joseph’s Peninsula to check them out for the future.Both of them have beautiful state parks and lots of good paddling places. We will definitely put them on our list of places to go to in the future.They are in the northwest part of the Gulf coast. Both have beautiful white beaches, clear water and calm water on the inland side.
Feb 23 - Paddled 15 miles from St. Joseph’s Peninsula state park to the end of the peninsula and back. It is a beautiful place out in the Gulf with clear water and miles and miles of white sandy beach. There is not a house in sight. We had to average 4 MPH to make it back before the park entrance closed for the evening. We saw some live Conch. Some of them were as big as a large coconut. I was surprised to see how far their foot reached out of the shell, (almost twice as far as the shell size). Each one we saw always seemed to have a couple of smaller, (4”) ones either crawling on or near it. We also saw a stingray. This state park is a prime place. We would go back here any time.
Feb. 24 – Did 13.1 miles. Started on the Ockockonee River, then to the Dead River, and then to the Sopchoppy River, where we did the most. We took a cut from the Dead River through a salt-water marsh to the Sopchoppy River to cut off a couple of miles. The GPS units were an absolute must. We would have gotten lost without them. There were lots of channels that we took which were dead ends, and it was easy to find our way back by the waypoints and our tracks. It was a beautiful wilderness place and a beautiful day. Unfortunately, I think we were there to early in the season to see much wildlife, although we saw several Ospreys.
Feb. 26 – Did 15 miles on the Lower Myakka River. We paddled to the lower lake, around the right side of the lake to the outlet and then down that portion of the river for two and a half miles where there was a water hyacinth blockage. We pushed the yaks over the vegetation and at one point where it was just mud with no water we had to get out and pull them through. The blockage was about two hundred feet long. We paddled for another half mile, but came to another blockage. That plus the biggest alligator we have ever seen, (14 or 15 feet), who was kind of guarding the place, convinced us that it was time to turn around. The Lower River is a wild and scenic river and you have to get a permit before you paddle it. They only allow thirty people in non-motorized boats per day, and we never saw another person. This place has the most alligators that we have ever seen in one place. We estimated that we saw over two hundred. One small island about ten feet wide and forty feet long had fifteen on the shore. A lot were ten and twelve footers, and there were a bunch of smaller ones. We noticed that the real small ones hung around together and kept their distance from the big ones. We got eyeball to eyeball with many of them and several times had to clean the mud off our yak when we got to close and they made a humongous splash trying to get away. We saw Ibis, Wood Stork, Black and Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Big Blue and Little Blue Herons, Black and Turkey Vultures, and got very close to a Red Shouldered Hawk. We saw tons of shore bird and a lot of turtles. This place lives up to its Wild and Scenic Designation. This was our best day so far.
Feb. 27 - Mountain biked 16 miles at Myakka River State Park. It was backcountry, beautiful Everglades dry type prairie for as far as you could see. We saw a wild pig and a nine-foot alligator in a small water filled ditch beside the trail.
Feb. 28: We walked the forest canopy walkway and trail. There are only a couple of forest canopy walkways in the U.S. It was real neat. You climb a 25-foot tower to the walkway, which is an 85-foot suspension walkway at the tree canopy level. At the far end there was a 75-foot high tower, which allows you to see for miles over the wetlands and prairies. It is amazing to see all the different ferns and air plants that are growing in the canopy. The canopy walkway is primarily used for studying the canopy and was funded by organizations from all over the U.S
March 1 – Kayaked 15 miles on the Turner River canoe trail. This is one of the most unique places we have ever paddled. The put in is at the Tamiami Trail, and the first three or four miles the river ranges from 4 feet wide to thirty feet, and goes through a half dozen mangrove tunnels where you can’t even see the sky. We were constantly loosing the GPS signal. The tunnels are between 4 and 6 feet wide, and between 4 and 6 feet high, and in many places they were only the width of the kayak. They are continuous “S” curves, and many times even though I was only a kayaks length in front of Nanci, I was out of her sight. There were quite a few places where you would take a hard stroke with the paddle, and then immediately pull it parallel with the kayak and steer with the rudder. There were other places where it was impossible to paddle, and you just pulled yourself along using the Mangrove roots. Some of the tunnels were a half a mile long. The tunnels open out into small lakes, some only 100 feet wide and 100 feet long, and others a half a mile long, and a half a mile wide. Without the map, which you get at the National Park headquarters in Everglades City, we would get lost for sure, and GPS waypoints were a must for finding our way back. Between some of the tunnels there were short stretches of open river with saw grass on one side and mangroves on the other side. It was beautiful pristine wilderness. At the start, we saw an 8-foot gator on one bank and headed toward her for a picture. She wasn’t about to move and when my kayak bumped her she lunged at it with open jaws, bounced off the front and swam under. Having paddled around gators for years and year, I was surprised that she acted this way. Almost all of them this size will take off long before you can get that close. We realized when we saw a 6 “ baby on the shore behind where she was that she was just doing her job, guarding the “kids”. Then we felt bad about disturbing her.
We saw our first Swallowtail Kite, and were able to paddle right up to a wood stork. In one of the open lakes, something real big rolled right in front of us and we weren’t sure whether it was a porpoise or a manatee. We saw some beautiful air plants, some of which had brilliant red flowers. We also saw some beautiful yellow water lilies. On our way back in a small shallow bay we saw about a dozen four foot gators, and this is the closest I have ever come to catching one. I had one by the tail, but the combination of him splashing so much, and the fact that holding the paddle with the other hand didn’t allow me the second hand to use, I finally had to let go. If I could have used two hands, I would have been able to hold on, but I didn’t want to drop the paddle, and he was pulling the yak sideways so I had to let go. I had so much water in the yak from his splashing that I had to bail it out. Just before taking out we found a gator nest on the side with about fifteen six-inch babies. I tried a couple of times to get one, but they were in the reeds, and each time I almost had one, it would start it’s little crying squeak for momma, and I figured she must be hanging out close by, so I opted to pass on that venture. A great day and a real good place to paddle.
-A side note: Talk about a small world! As we were putting in there were a couple of guides with a trailer load of kayaks who were waiting for a group of paddlers. We decided to get in the water as quick as we could, since we don’t like being around a large group. They tend to scare off the wild life. We took off and at the end of the day when we returned there was no sign of them so we figured that they had a short trip and left. A couple of weeks later, we were making arrangements to meet nephew, Mike and his wife, Katie, who live in Fort Lauderdale, to go paddling with them in their new kayaks, and I asked if they had tried them out yet. He said that they had gone with a guided group to the Turner River on March first. Sure enough when we met them to paddle, they proceeded to show us a picture of their new kayaks lying on the ground at the put-in, and there was our shiny red pick-up truck with the NC license plate right behind them. Unfortunately they didn’t go too far, so never got to experience the best part of the river.
March 2: Paddled 12 miles on the East River canoe trail in the Everglades/Big Cypress National Preserve. We started at the Tamiami Trail and paddled to Chockoloskee Bay and back. It was very similar to the Turner River with mangrove tunnels, narrow channels, small ponds and larger lakes. We most definitely needed the map, which we picked up at the National Park headquarters in Everglades City, and we used the GPS so we wouldn’t get lost on the return trip. As a matter of fact, we used thirty waypoints. I wouldn’t advise any one taking this trip without a map. It was absolutely beautiful and pristine. We saw tons of fish in the shallows, a couple of gators and a swallowtail kite. It was a great day, except for one small incident, which caused me a lot of anguish and discomfort for the rest of our trip. We had stopped for lunch on top of a tangle of mangrove roots, (there were no beaches anywhere), and I was stepping backwards through them and fell backwards on one which was covered with barnacles. Both of my buttocks got scraped by the barnacles, but at the time I didn’t pay too much attention to it except for the fact that there was a little stinging. A few days later as the stinging worsened, I realized that both of my buttocks were infected. This is not a good thing when your plans for the next couple of weeks are sitting in a soggy kayak seat. Oh well I guess you can’t expect to have as much fun as we were having without a little discomfort I wouldn’t advise any one taking this trip without a map.
March 3: We paddled 16 miles on the Half Way Creek Canoe Trail in the Everglades/Big Cypress National preserve. We started from the Tamiami Trail and paddled to Chockoloskee Bay and back. It was another fantastic paddle through mangrove tunnels and small lakes. One of the tunnels was a mile and a third long. There were a lot of places that were only 5 feet wide or less. Once again we would have never found our way back without the GPS units, even though we lost reception many time under the dense canopy. We saw some gators, one of them was in excess of eight feet, and was lounging up on shore. I decided not to head toward it since when I started to get close it wasn’t about to budge. The water was clear, and one time I paddled right over (about a foot above) an eight footer, and Nanci got to do the same on the way back. We saw tons of fish and paddled right under a red-shouldered hawk, which was perched on a branch above us. We also saw a red-bellied woodpecker. Coming back we saw a beautiful small, (about 12” long) snake swimming across the river. It was very docile and let us paddle right up to it. I let it swim onto my paddle and was just ready to pick it up when I noticed the tell tale yellow tipped tail which meant it was a baby copperhead. It didn’t make sense to me since copperheads like dry places. It was so docile that I was still tempted to let it crawl on my hand, and if I were closer to civilization probably would have let it, but didn’t want to take a chance being that far from a hospital. We took some close up pictures of it, and we got back stopped at the National Park visitor center to see if they could explain what it was doing out there. The ranger was a biologist, and after looking at the digital pictures agreed that it was a copperhead, but she decided to get out a book on snakes. We solved the mystery when we finally came to a picture of a baby copperhead, which was next to a picture of a baby cottonmouth. They are identical right down to the beautiful brown on brown coloration and the yellow tipped tail. She was glad we had the experience since we both had our new knowledge of the day. We saw lots of beautiful red flowering air plants and had another great paddle.
March 4: Paddled 15 miles at Collier Seminole state park. We did a loop starting at the park, going down The Black Water River, out to the 10,000 Islands, through Palm Bay, into Mud Bay and then back to the Black Water River. It was supposed to be a marked canoe route, but after we got out to the 10,000 islands there were no more markers. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had a navigation chart and Nanci’s being able to read it and plot our position using the GPS plugging in the bearings where we wanted to head, plus some guessing and some shit luck we never would have found the route back. We were almost ready to return 12 miles the way we came when we found the tiny outlet that we were looking for in Mud Bay. We saw a Swallow tail Kite.
We had an interesting morning brunch and pee break! We couldn’t find any solid beaches to get out on. Everything was so muddy that you would sink up to your knees in it, so we finally opted for a little “V” grooved shaped creek that was just as wide as our kayaks. It was as I said; “V” shaped, and total mud on the side with about two feet of water in the bottom. We went up it as far as we could which was about two hundred feet. On the way up, I spooked some kind of 18” long fish that jumped on the muddy bank to get by my kayak, but got pinned between Nanci’s yak and the bank. For about two minutes she got a total mud bath from it’s splashing before it finally freed itself. Nanci wasn’t satisfied with that mud bath. She wanted more. When we both got out of the kayaks we were afraid to move too much in the mud for fear of sinking, but as she was standing on the 45 degree angle of the mud bank, both her feet slipped and she slid right down under her kayak until her butt landed in the mud and she sat there laughing. I am glad she is not one of those high society type broads! We saw something interesting, (our biology lesson for the day). We noticed that the male fiddler crabs big claw was the exact same color as the old dead mangrove leaves that had fallen on the mud bank and from ten feet away, they all looked like leaves. It is a great camouflage against their predators.
March 6 through March 11: We did a 5-day kayak camping trip in the 10,000 Island wilderness of the Everglades. I had serious reservations about going since both my buttocks were infected from the fall on the barnacles, but we stopped in Homestead at a drug store, and nurse Nanci picked up all kinds of antibiotic ointments and bandages, and I made the decision to go.
Day 1, March 6: We got our wilderness permit, filed our float plan, and called our daughter Nancy to let her know if we didn’t call her back at the end of the trip to please call the park service. This is part of the agreement before they issue you a permit. Ee packed all our camping gear and our 5 day supply of food and water plus two extra days supply just in case! into our kayak compartments and left Flamingo heading toward our first campsite 13-1/2 miles away on East Cable Sable beach. It was open Gulf paddling and the first half of the trip was in almost calm water. We had to use the skirts on the second half since a wind came up and there was a chop coming from our side, which wanted, to splash over the sides. We saw two Roseate Spoonbills, lots of other birds, and two sharks. We camped on a beautiful deserted white sand beach, did some beach combing and then had our chow. We are not big eaters when we are on our extended trips, eating just for sustenance rather than eating for enjoyment. Our breakfast is usually instant oatmeal and coffee. Our lunch is usually peanut butter crackers, and a juice such as apple, grape or cranberry plus a few cookies. And our supper is usually the dried soups that you just add water to, plus cookies and juice. We had planned to watch the beautiful sunset over the Gulf, and look for the “green flash, but the millions of “no-see-ums “ that came out about a half an hour before sunset forced us into the safe haven of our North Face backpacking tent which is one of the few tents that has the fine mesh netting that keeps those little SOB’s out.
Day 2, (March 7): After breakfast we headed north toward North West Cape Sable, which was our next campsite. We passed miles and miles of wilderness white sand beach. We stopped a couple of times to take a dip and do a little beach combing. We needed our skirts, since there was a two to three foot chop. At one place we witnessed a 5-foot long Tarpon and saw lots of smaller ones. We took a short side trip into an inner lake (bay), and then into Big Sable Creek where we saw a couple of Dolphins. Nanci is getting real good with her navigation skills and can pin-point our exact location at all times by getting our coordinates on the GPS, and then plotting them on the chart. She also can tell how far it is to the next point of land by doing the same. The location that we picked at North West Cape Sable Beach for our camp site was the most perfect place you could dream of. It is a beachcomber’s paradise with whelk shells, sponges, and scallop shells for as far as you can see on the snow-white sand. This time we got to see the beautiful sunset and got into the tent just as the no-see-ums attacked. I made one big mistake in the middle of the night. I decided to take the bandage wraps that were protecting my barnacle burn butt off my buttocks and sleep in the buff, in the hopes that the open sores would heal better. I went out of the tent to take a leak, and forgot about the no-see-ums. Before I realized what happened, there were ten million of them covering me and even more biting into the open buttocks. Talk about some big time cursing!!! After I dove back into the tent we had to go on a killing spree against the ones that came in with me.
Day 3, March 8: We paddled 13.6 miles to our next campsite, which was in Oyster Bay on a chickee with the same name. Our route took us north, then East into the Shark River to Oyster Bay. The Gulf was just about as placid as could be and no skirts were necessary. We found out how Shark River got its name. For several miles before entering it we saw and played with many Bull Sharks which were between three and eight feet long. It was fun to look for the tell tale fin, and then head for it. The unsuspecting shark would be just cruising until it spotted us, and then they would either take off like a bat, or come a little closer to check us out before taking off. I decided one time to see if I could use my red paddle blade to lure one up to the boat, and succeeded by gently waving it back and forth under water. One came right up to it and I think was just going to strike at it but then when it saw the kayak it took off like a torpedo. While in the Shark River we saw a big sea turtle off and on for about a half a mile. I think it was a Loggerhead. We also saw Dolphins off and on. We were lucky to find the Chickee. The coordinates the Park Service gave us headed us about a quarter of a mile beyond it, and it was hidden in a small inlet on the backside of a small mangrove island. If Nanci had not looked back and seen it while we were paddling, we would have missed it completely.
A chickee is a small platform built on stilts above the water. It actually is two platforms each about twelve feet by twelve feet connected in the middle by a walkway platform, which has a porta-john. Each platform has a roof above it. The fact that there are two platforms permits two parties to camp there at one time. They are reserved ahead of time so theoretically you have squatter’s rights if you have it reserved. When we arrived there were already two guys who had reservations on one side and there were two guys and a girl in the other. They had a fishing boat, and had just stopped to stretch their legs and use the porta-john. When they realized that we had the squatter’s rights, they politely left. I guess if they were other paddlers we would have offered to share.
The chickee has a ladder in the middle portion to get from your boat up onto the platform. Depending on the tide, the height of the ladder can be any where from two to four feet high. They were designed in the days of canoes, (not kayaks), and it is like a three ring circus to get yourself and all your camping gear out of the yak up onto the platform. I know there is no way I could get the compartments open and the gear out of them and up onto the platform without tipping over, but Nanci comes to the rescue. She does a balancing act, and straddles the kayak while I keep my butt, (yes the one with the open sores) on the platform and my two legs down with a foot on each side of the kayak to help keep it balanced. She manages to open the hatches, pull out the gear and hand it up to my one free hand while I am hanging on to the platform for dear life with the other hand. Nanci amazed me even more when I watched how flexible she was in turning herself around in her cockpit to unload the back compartment. When the kayaks were unloaded, we managed to pull their bow up onto the platform, and then pull them all the way on for the night.
After setting up the tent and getting squared away, I dove off the backside of the Chickee and took a refreshing deep. After I swam in and stood at the edge of the mangroves Nanci decided to come in also and wash her hair. I wonder how many women have stood in four feet of water with a mud bottom and washed their hair in salt water, (yes, we use biodegradable soap!) The no-see-ums were not as bad on the chickee as the beach, but there were still a lot of them. In the morning we knew that loading the kayaks in the water would be even more difficult than unloading since stuffing the gear into the hatches would be harder than pulling it out so we devised game plan “B”. We decided to load them while they were still on the chickee, and see if we could lower them down in the water stern first, at an angle and when the stern was in the water hope that it didn’t go in so deep that the cockpit wouldn’t go under water, and then when I couldn’t hold the bow any longer give it a gentle shove, and launch it backwards like a ship coming out of dry dock only at about a 45 degree angle. We naturally had a rope attached to pull it back into the chickee for us to do the balancing act to get in. We had a big audience watching consisting of our two neighbors, and two other fishing boats with three other people who had come over to use the chickee to make their morning coffee and use the porta-john, (we found out that some of the fisherman sleep right in their boats. I told them all that I charge $100 per show, and they all agreed that it was going to be worth it. The whole thing went off perfect. I was able to hold onto the bow without it pulling me in, and when I let go, the gear weighted yak slid in with a gentle splash.
Day 4, March 9, (My birthday): Paddled 10.8 miles southeasterly through the center of Oyster Bay to Joe Rive and our next campsite, the Joe River chickee. Thank goodness for us learning navigation and being able to plot coordinates and plug in a route on our GPS. If we were just following a chart, without a pre-planned route, we probably would have to skirt the mangrove shoreline, which would have added twenty-five miles or more and we probably would still have gotten lost. We are now real confident in our navigation skills and each checks each other. On the way we stopped at The South Joe River Chickee for lunch and while we were there met a great couple, (Steve and Betsy) who also paddled up to have their lunch. They were from Arizona, and this was their second last day of paddling the full 99 miles of the wilderness waterway. They were paddling a canoe, and it looked so top heavy that I thought it was going to go over any minute. They said that we should have seen it at the start before they used ninety nine percent of their food and water! It turned out that they were going to be our neighbors on the next Chickee on their last night. They were nature lovers like us, so we hit it off good with them. We each left separately and said we would see each other later.
About a half a mile from reaching our next chickee, we had an awesome experience. Two dolphins came straight at us. About fifty feet from the front of my bow, one did a graceful arc completely out of the water, and before I finished yelling “wow”, it leaped straight up about eight feet into the air and did a complete flip and came down a couple of feet from my bow, and even splashing my yak. I believe this was the highlight of the trip for me. What a birthday present! When we got to the chickee, this time instead of unloading like we did at Oyster Bay, we decided to try to take the yaks up on the platform fully loaded like we unloaded them. I tried to pick the bow up the four feet by lying on my stomach, but it was just too heavy. I was just about ready to give up, when I decided to try the ladder putting the bow between each rung, one at a time. It worked, and when I got the nose up on the platform, Nanci was able to hold it until I could get back up, and we both pulled together till we got it up. When it was balanced half on the platform and the other half out over the air, I was worried that it could break in half, but it didn’t. Another plus for a plastic kayak. There were absolutely no bugs in the evening, and after supper Nanci, Steve and Betsy watched the sunset, the dolphins and some alligators, while I sat in the tent and plotted our next day’s trip coordinates. If you ever want to try something difficult, try working over a 2’ x 3’chart in a three foot high tent with the base of the tent only three feet wide. I was on a crumpled sleeping bag with a soggy baggy as my straight edge. Now that we know how to navigate, I am going to bring some kind of triangles or straightedges on future trips.
Day 5, March 10: We exchanged e-mail addresses with Steve and Betsy so that Nanci could send them some of the pictures that she took of them, and they said goodbye, since they wanted to leave as early as they could. They had reached the point where all they wanted to do was get off the water, get a hot shower, and a full course meal. We paddled 10.8 miles; southeast through White Water Bay; south through Tarpon Creek to Coot Bay and then south through the Buttonwood Canal and back to Flamingo. We made a side trip from Coot Bay through a quarter mile long tunnel to Mud Bay. This is a place where we had paddled to about ten years ago. We found a spot at the beginning of the mangrove tunnel where we were able to get out in the shallow water and have lunch. It was almost a sad feeling to get back into Buttonwood Canal, civilization, power boats, and gunnel-banging rental canoes, but the first fresh water shower, the shaving off of the five day “stubble” and the soft mattress in the “LaMarre Hilton”, (our little pop up camper) felt good. It was a great trip. The beauty, the wilderness and the getting away from all the worldly problems, more than makes up for the troublesome bugs and heat.
Wednesday March 11: We packed up and moved to John Pennekamp State Park on Key Largo. We made arrangements with the Quiescence Dive Center on Key Largo to do a snorkeling trip the next day to the outer reef. In the afternoon we checked out the state park and our new fins that we had just purchased. If you are a hard-core snorkeler, kayaker or canoeist, this is a place to check out, but you might be disappointed. It is similar to any crowded resort beach, and you have to do your snorkeling within a small lagoon, which keeps the “man-eating sharks” out! The canoe trails are better, but you will be paddling with the rental “gunnel- bangers”. We were advised by the park ranger to ignore the “Canoes prohibited from going beyond this point” signs and head out to Largo Sound for some good exploration places. The signs are meant for the rental canoes.
Wednesday, March 12: Did the snorkeling trip. We snorkeled at The Elbow and North North Dry Rocks Reefs. No I am not stuttering. That is the name of the second reef. Quiescence is a first class outfit. They only take six people per boat. They have three boats, and naturally, Nanci was the only female. Our boat had two SCUBA divers, us and two other sorcerers. It was a perfectly beautiful day with calm crystal clear water. We were in between eight and thirty feet deep water. Nanci saw a sea turtle and took off for a bit following it, but me with my near sightedness never saw it. We saw every type reef fish imaginable including barracudas. We saw four spotted eagles, (manta rays) which are my favorite. They are about five feet across and have a long, (about 7’) whip like black tail. Their body is gray with solid black spots. They glide gracefully through the water by gently flapping their wings. Each time I saw one I would take a breath, dive down, and see if I could touch. They would stay just out of my reach, and later we learned it was a good thing. We looked them up in the book, and they have poison barbs in their tail. Just before we got out of the water for the day, Nanci saw a small Hammerhead shark.
The same day, in the afternoon: We paddled 5 miles in the John Pennekamp marine preserve. It is a great place for canoes and kayaks, since there are lots of channels and places where powerboats are prohibited. We paddled out to Largo Sound to the inside of Radabob Key. Most of the time we were in the National Marine Sanctuary. We got out completely in the wilderness, which consists of crystal clear shallow bays, and small narrow channels through mangrove islands. No matter how deep the water was, you could almost always see the bottom and there were fish everywhere. We saw tons of Jacks, snappers, small barracuda, pipefish, all kinds of sponges and a small school of either Tarpons or Snooks. We saw a bunch of 3’ to 5’ long sharks, and got to play with a seven footer. We identified it as a Lemon shark; by it’s brown color and second dorsal fin. I bumped it with the bow of my kayak, and it splashed the heck out of me. It swam about fifty feet away and then started cruising again. We got up to it again, and this time it really got excited when I went over the top of it. Coming back we saw a Spotted Eagle and several smaller stingrays.
March 13, Thursday: We left from John Pennekamp and paddled 16 miles out and back. We paddled south out of Largo Sound to the Atlantic and then north for 7.3 miles on the outside of Radabob Key. We had a great day and saw too many sharks to count. The longest was about five feet. We saw and paddled with one spotted eagle ray. We saw a bunch of stingrays, a lot of small barracuda, jacks and lots of unidentifiable fish. At our turn around place, we paddled into a real neat creek that gave us a lot of surprises. Starting in we saw a four-foot bull shark with a remora on it’s back. About fifty feet farther we saw two, two-foot long barracudas, and then a whole bunch of jacks, snappers and sea bass. One place had a deep hole with a lot of coral, and so many fish going in and out of holes that it was like looking down into an aquarium. We also saw all kinds of sponges, upside down jellyfishes, and a variety of birds. The bottom was constantly changing from sand to sea grass to coral, and then to a mixture of it all. Several places along the way we stopped for a dip in the water.
Friday, March 14: We paddled sixteen and a half miles and had a great day and a great trip. We left Key Largo on the Gulf side from Anglers Park, which is next to Florida Bay outfitters and paddled out into Blackwater Sound to the intercoastal waterway. From there we headed south into Dusenbury creek and took a neat quarter mile long mangrove tunnel short cut, (and to get out of the boat traffic) to Tarpon Basin. From there we headed southwest back into the intercoastal waterway, and then took a right off it, heading west into Little Buttonwood Sound, and away from civilization. We checked out a small inlet in the north end of the sound, and then headed straight southwest across the sound through a little cut into Florida Bay. We turned northwest and went for several miles parallel to Boggy Key where we stopped twice for a dip in the clear beautiful 80-degree water. We turned back into Blackwater Sound through a cut and then went straight across the sound back to our starting point. Once again, Nanci pin pointed our exact location a half dozen times and estimated where the cuts were using the charts, coordinated and her GPS. We saw a bunch of fish and small barracuda, and Nanci saw a four and a half foot bull shark.
March 16, Sunday: We paddled 10.1 miles, (up stream and return) on the Loxahatchee River at Jonathan Dickerson State Park. We paddled with my nephew Mike, his wife Katie, and a couple of their friends, Cathy and Roger. We went as little beyond “Trapper Nelsons” homestead before turning around. Trapping Nelson was a hermit nature lover who settled out in the wilderness years ago, but would welcome any one to his place. He built the whole place consisting of his log house, a guest log house, and animal pens. We had a good time. We saw one gator, a bunch of fish, and took a dip in a delightful pool with a white sandy bottom. The water was clear tea colored.
March 17, Monday: We paddled 13.8 miles by ourselves at the Loxahatchee River. We paddled to the upper portion beyond “Trapper Nelson’s” homestead where you get away from the tourists into the wilderness. We saw tons of fish from 6” to 18” long, including a 3 foot long sturgeon, a blue heron that posed for Nanci, and about eight alligators. We came across a 12 footer that scared the heck out of me. We came around a corner where the width was only about five feet and came face to face with him. He dove down, and we went right over the top of him holding our breath. We saw a Yellow Crowned Night Heron. It was a absolutely beautiful place. It is tidal influenced, and coming back we had to portage over several trees, which were under water before, which made things kind of interesting. On the way back we paddled the last four miles in a gully washer, with thunder and lightning. Naturally just as we came to the take out, the sun came out. It was a unique trip ending though. There was a beautiful rainbow spanning the river right over our take out.
March 19, At Wekiwa Springs State Park: We paddled 17.6 Miles. We started at Wekiwa Mariner and paddled up stream to Rock Springs Run, where we paddled eight miles up to the spring’s head. After pulling over several downed trees to get where no one else gets to, I couldn’t resist it, and had to skinny dip in a beautiful sandy bottom clear pool. All that I could think of was that this must be what the Garden of Eden was like. It was a real neat trip. The river alternates between deep dark jungle foliage to open prairie type, with never wets, pond lilies, and water hyacinth. Some place were fifty feet wide, and others just wide enough for the kayaks. Most of the way up, we were against a 2 MPH current, so we had a good workout. Some of the narrower places were clogged with water hyacinth, and we had to push or way through. We saw too many gators to count, the biggest being about twelve feet long. They were not shy and many of them were way up on the banks, and wouldn’t even try to get in the water like at most other places.
We saw four deer, tons of turtles, a variety of birds, and had a unique experience with a raccoon. There are many places where the tree canopy is so thick that the trees span the river like bridges. At one place we spotted a raccoon that was going to cross the river by using a tree as a bridge, and it dawned on me that this was the way that they got from one side to the other without becoming a gators main course. It was about six feet above our heads, so I paddled up to where it was and put my paddle up in front of it. I thought that it would turn back, but instead it got mad and bit the end of the paddle. It was determined that it was going to keep on going in the direction that it was headed, so I finally relented, and let it do its thing. On the way back we took a side trip up the Wekiwa River to The Wekiwa Springs head.
The overall trip was as good as it gets, and we now have scouted a lot of new places on the north west side of Florida that are on our list of places to go in the future. There are not too many places in the south west side of Florida where we have not paddled, but I guess you could paddle the ten thousand Islands area forever and still not cover it all. Overall we paddled TWO HUNDRED EIGHTY SIX ENJOYABLE MILES
Bent Shaft Canoe Paddles