Friday, December 9, 2011
Welcome to Everglades National Park!
Up until Thanksgiving it seemed as though there would not be time for my annual early December Everglades trip. This is an ideal time to visit the ‘Glades since but bugs are light and, except for foreign visitors, there are few people in the back country, but activities from famiy to utility board to fire department seemed to be too demanding. Then Ann mentioned that she used these times to make peanut brittle Christmas gifts and that my planned two-day trip to the Mississippi Gulf Islands National Seashore would not be long enough. So, at the last minute, I decided to go.
It is a two day drive from Sewanee to Flamingo, and my plan was to explore some alternate routes through Florida Bay, including Murray-Clive and Crocodile Dragover. At the end of the first day’s drive, I took advantage of the hospitality of Bill and Shelia Fite on Davis Island in Tampa. Bill is a fellow WaterTribe member as well as a canoe camping friend (See Santa Fe and St. Marys trips)and banjo enthusiast. Bill has sailed all over the shallow west coast of Florida, and his insights about routes are invaluable.
The second day’s drive took me to Flamingo. With my Senior Pass ($10 for a lifetime National Parks Pass), I had only to pay the $1.50 fee for a canoe or kayak and the camping fee. A real bargain. I settled into the Flamingo campground and explored about at sunset for birds and critters. Red Shouldered Hawks hunted around the campground during the day, and their place was taken by Barred Owls at night. I also encountered Great Egrets, Great White Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Storks Alligators and dozens of Coots. By the time I got back, the fierce winds of the day (20-25 kts and gusty) had calmed and the swamp angels (mosquitoes) had taken flight. I swiftly cooked supper and ducked inside my tent to eat, but not before an alert Crow attempted to fly away with part of the meal.
I fell asleep under the stars and an almost-full moon (I left the fly off the tent) while the owls hooted and the herons squawked. Except for the noise from a high school group at the other end of the campground, it was an almost-perfect evening.
Dawn found me fixing coffee and oatmeal, swatting mosquitoes, and listening to the weather forecast: 20-25 kt. Winds, gusting to 35, with a Small Craft Warning. It did not sound like a good day to start a three day tip on Florida Bay in my Kruger Sea Wind canoe with a Balogh sailing rig. The ranger concurred with my decision, and a look out onto the Bay from the ranger station further confirmed that discretion was the better part of valor.
Some friends had portaged from Hells Bay to West Lake a week or so earlier and paddled down West Lake and several smaller lakes into Florida Bay near Snake Bight, and Bill had recommended West Lake for a day trip, so I took the canoe off the car and launched onto the little bay at the West Lake parking lot. The wind was howling in the trees, but the protected bay looked easy to handle. I didn’t even take the cover for the sea canoe’s cockpit.
SURPRISE! As I paddled out into the open lake, I found 1-2 foot breaking waves. The water was cloudy and streaky since the long axis of the lake was oriented to the wind. I had to approach the waves at an angle (called “quartering”) to keep them from breaking into the canoe, so I paddled for an hour down the lake to the opposite shore. The waves and wind were increasing, and I wished that I had remembered the cover (Hubris kills!). I decided to turn around and carefully surf back; again quartering the waves to avoid burying the bow or broaching. I was happy to be back on solid ground.
Emerging from the launch cove onto West Lake
But the winds brought an advantage: the mosquitoes can’t fly in this stuff (the rangers said that this was a bad year for them.), so I decided to take some of the short hikes the Park offered. Here are some pictures from those walks:
Ole gator sleeping on a log
Another gator in the clear water
Anhinga drying its wings
Stork in Flight
Just before dark, I returned to the campsite, took a hot shower (they now have solar-heated hot water!), and fixed supper. Just as I went into the tent to eat, someone called, “Is there anyone here?” It was Park volunteer backcountry ranger John Buckley, a fellow Kruger paddler and WaterTribe lurker. He lives on a houseboat in the back country and was just in for resupply. He came over when he saw my Sea Wind on the car.
After our talk, I put on the tent fly since it was clouding up and read for about an hour before falling asleep. The tent, a REI Halfdome, had been a mainstay of my camping for about five years. It probably has about 200 nights on it. Only the Hennessey Hamock gets out more. It had been stored in the hot attic and the waterproofing felt sticky when I unpacked it. I mention all of this because a rain squall came and hovered over Flamingo for about two hours during the night, and all my stuff was soaked. I guess I need to move my tents and flys out of that hot attic!
The next day, the forecast had the winds dropping to 15-20 kts and only a Small Craft Advisory posted. Winds were out of the East, so I thought it would be a good day to reach (sail at approximately right angles to the wind) down through Murray-Clive and past Man O War Key. Only the return from Murray to Flamingo would be upwind. I rigged the boat with cover and outriggers and double-reefed the sail. I had GPS, SPOT and EPIRB all on board for safety. I had food and lights in case I was late in returning and foul weather gear in case the rains returned. I had sunscreen and lip balm and broad-brimmed hat for sun protection. I had a bilge pump and a sponge to get out excess water and four liters of drinking water. I was prepared!
Then I sailed out of the harbor with the Flamingo bulkhead lined with observers. As I passed in front of them, I realized that I didn’t have my life jacket! I had to turn back and go back to the truck to get it. Brain Fart!
Here is the video from the trip out:
Several items are worthy of note:
- Bearing WSW from the last Flamingo channel marker, you see a large key and then two smaller ones to the right of it. Murray is the right end of the larger key.
- After you go through the first pair of posts (one on the left and one on the right) coming toward Flamingo, you have to turn left, back toward the big key. Then almost all of the posts are on your right.
- Past Murray, the channel is almost dead straight until the little left and right around the end of Clive.
- After Clive, you come into the deeper Man O War basin, which is relatively deep and clear, even when the wind is making the rest of the water cloudy.
- Clive is covered with birds, and the rangers say this is a beautiful place during a full moon. A good reason to make the long climb up onto the Johnson Key Chickee.
Coming back, the winds had increased and the tide was running fast. Though the tide was in my favor, the wind was all of 20 in my face, and the waves were short, steep 3-4 feet, occasionally breaking. Again, I had to quarter them to find the mean between having them break over the bow and broaching.
When I got back to Flamingo, there were phone calls telling me that a friend had died and that my wife had pneumonia. Rather than stay the two more days that I had scheduled, I left in the dying light for the 900 mile drive home. Another adventure in the books. I still have to go to Crocodile Dragover.