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The water was very clear by Mobile standards. We could see the eelgrass, sandy bottom, and other river plants in 6 to 8 feet of water. The banks were similar to Alabama rivers, with oak, cypress, and palmetto trees, and the various reeds and grasses. About 2 miles up the river, we approached the highway 98 bridge over the river, and I noticed a large mass moving in the water. “Manatee, manatee, manatee”, I yelled, and immediately turned my boat. I had expected that the gentle giant would swim away and hide, but the opposite was true. The manatee was nearly as interested in us as we were in him. He was about 8 or 9 feet long, and at least 2 feet across. I can’t even guess what he would have weighed. We paddled in circles and watched him eating the river grasses. He would surface every 2 or 3 minutes, and then dive again, in no hurry, not spooked by our boats. After about 15 minutes of this, we moved on up the river, spotting an osprey circling his nest, several swallowtail kites, and literally hundreds of turtles. We eventually saw at least 7 more manatees, including families of 3 and 4, and only 1 alligator, about 4 feet long. He was not scared of us, as the Alabama gators are, and did not dive under the water. We stopped at a deserted pier and had lunch.
We returned to Shell Island about 4 pm, cleaned up and drove out to St. Marks Lighthouse, on Apalachee Bay.
When we returned to St. Marks, we drove down to the center of town, which was crowded with bikers, on a Sunday afternoon ride from Tallahassee, about 20 miles north. We found a rustic restaurant/bar on the riverside named, appropriately, Riverside, and had delicious grouper and chicken sandwiches.
Bent Shaft Canoe Paddles