The very first day started out with my head in a cloud. I was feeling a little sleep deprivation up to this point due to last minute rush and a few too many refreshing beverages aboard the Windfall Memorial cruise the previous evening. The dedication cruise consisted of Steve's friends and coworkers of the Everglades. It was very important to me as it signaled the start of my wild 'Robinson Calusa' adventure to come. Here I am ready to shove off for two weeks into the unknown - alone! One friendly Canadian watched as I spent about an hour getting loaded up. I was talking to myself wondering if all the "stuff" would actually fit. I guessed the weight to be as follows - 120# boat with mast sail and outrigger - 300# gear - 190# me - so the total would be around 600#. The max. capacity is 950# from what I understand. When I shoved off the stern dipped under water a bit which gave me a pause. Calusa now had a draft of aprox. 6" with me in it. This made it marginally dangerous for even calm water...what was I to do? Move on and see how it goes.
This just in...the friendly Canadian that watched me launch sent some photos he had taken at the ramp. Thanks Jacques! Hope the Everglades portion of your vacation was a great experience... you can see here how little freeboard I actually had...this is the only photo I have fully loaded with me getting in...
The first obstacle was the Buttonwood Bridge. Oh great, the mast must come down to clear. This all sounds pretty easy on paper but with no shore or shallow water and a heavily loaded canoe it made for the first tedious procedure. This was one of the few times I unstepped and stepped the mast/sail underway. With the vinyl covers in place I must walk the slippery gunwales (top rails) to get forward or aft, not so easy. Shortly after passing under the only bridge on this trip and restepping the mast a tour boat "The Pelican" came cruising by. All the tourists took photos of Robinson Calusa and waved farewell. I'm now starting to feel the Man vs Wild spirit paddling at 2 knots with absolutely no wind. The heavy load makes the Calusa feel more like a large tree barge than a high performance canoe. I can paddle along a 3 knots easily with no load...oh well, not racing anyone. A group of 5 Stooges entered the canal in a canoe and kayak about midway to Coot Bay just in front of me. The two fellows in the kayak must have been out for the first time. The front kayak guy had a head net on (bug protection) even though none were around at the time and flailed his kayak paddle wildly. About then they would slow down and stop sideways so the canoe had no place to maneuver, therefore crashing into them. I passed them once and they almost crashed into my rudder. I'm starting to think my journey could end right here and now with these Bozos paddling on the same planet.
Finally make it out of the Buttonwood Canal and into Coot Bay. The wind picked up slightly and I was able to paddle sail and distance myself from the five Stooges that seemed intent on following the Robinson Calusa for some destructive reason. By the time I had crossed Coot Bay the Stooges were about midway, still making so much noise that no wild animal would dare come out of hiding for miles. They started singing and laughing so loud I could hear them until entering the first connecting waterway to Whitewater Bay. This is what it looks like from a boaters' eye view. I would soon start to track my position with a permanent marker on charts every 30 minutes or so. The GPS can give an accurate position but mine did not have marine chart graphics built in, therefore necessitating close supervision of the marine charts and aerial views I had printed. The Google Earth aerial view prints helped immensely in identifying mangrove islands.
View entering Whitewater Bay, a huge shallow bay scattered with mangrove islands. I can hear thunder over my left shoulder about this time. Hope it will pass. This is a 15 mile day and I'm about 1/3 into it with no secure place to pull in, keep on truckin'. At least the wind is favorable and moving Calusa along without paddling. I do start thinking about where the rain gear might be... The wind is now picking up and waves begin to build. I pull behind the lee of an island to lace up the covers and search for my rain jacket - oops. I'll know better next time. A big gray rolling cloud is now visible and approaching fast. A power boat pulls along side, the Spanish speaking folks are lost, I give them directions back to Coot Bay and ask them to follow a power boat heading in that direction. OK, I need to get moving, that rolling cloud is coming up fast...Wham-o, first storm on the first day...the winds hit around 30 knots for a brief time but the roller furling mast worked perfectly. I had the exact amount of sail for the conditions.
The main section of the storm passed slightly west of me so the rain and wind was not half as bad as it could have been. half way to the nights destination, a chickee at Watson River, the rain continues. It finally succeeds in soaking through my jacket. The shivers set in and I've no place to turn...just keep going...at least the wind is in a favorable direction so I can sail a port tack broad reach.
Still raining, I finally reach the first chickee. A small power boat is berthed in front with three fishermen, and a lot of their gear is sitting on the platform. They ask, "Are you staying here tonight ?" I reply YES, about all I could muster at the time. Then I sailed in a circle shivering in the cold rain while they loaded and moved out...they don't seem too happy about it, but I also understand they were trying to seek shelter from the rain. These guys should have thought about that in advance, especially in a power boat. The fishermen leave and pull a hundred feet around some mangroves and anchor. I can hear the motor shut off and them talking as I climb up on the chickee. God, does this place stink! Like fresh fish slime...these nice fishermen cleaned fish all over the platform, not just in one place, and left the slimy, scaly mess without washing it off!!! Tired, cold, and soaked I now must wash an otherwise clean and dry deck before setting up camp. Just what I was hoping for! The stinky goo was all over in spots. I wiped and smelled all the wet looking areas with my fingers to determine which ones to clean. What some folks are thinking I don't always understand. Anyway I get setup on the now wet deck, heat up some beans and off to sleep. Need rest, it has been a long day and I must get an early start to make Harney River Chickee by tomorrow evening. Only a few no-see-um's up until now.
The sail was rubbing on the metal roof of the chickee so it had to come down. I could have pulled Calusa further forward to clear but that would have exposed more surface to the rain and the tides are fairly strong which would have meant long spring lines to adjust for the height during the night. A few no-see-um's made their presence but were tolerable with 100% DEET...Steve would have never put on nonorganic chemicals, but for me...anything that will keep the pests at bay and not harm the environment is OK. The minuscule amount used surely would not harm anything other than me. It's times like this that would bring out the subtle differences in Steve and me. Call it mixed constructive criticism...think it boiled down to the bugs liking me better but in reality it was probably Steve's tolerance to pain...I have little! Must be the Robinson blood.
A view from inside my tent on a chickee. Relaxing time for an hour before sleep. Lights on, Charts out, VHF marine forecast on, planning the next days travel. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Should I try a shortcut behind that island or will the tide make it a mudbank? I have taken a few chances this day so why not expand a little. Only tomorrow will tell.
Another view from inside the tent out back of the chickee. It was interesting to watch the little ecosystems in the mangroves. At first glimpse it appears nothing is happening but upon further investigation a micro world appears. Ants cruise for food while snails hang under leaves. Hermit crabs scour the bark for tiny morsels while birds seek them out. Along the waterline another system interacts. A lot to see if you open your eyes! I'm keenly aware of these tiny creatures from all the photographing of similar systems around my office lakes. I find it amazing the miniature worlds that exist around plants and trees.
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