Left home (Saint Petersburg, Florida) around 4am, arrived at the Everglades City National Park Service canoe launch at 7. I was thinking they opened at 7am for some reason,,,well it was 9 - Everglades City NPS Site - oh well, it gave me time to check the latest weather and better plan my campsites. Campsites in the Everglades must be made within 24hrs of departure. The weather forecast was not looking favorable. Not one but two cold fronts were on the way and the current winds were out of the SouthWest, the exact direction I planned to travel! Thought about driving all the way around to the South end of the Park at Flamingo but that adds another few hours of driving, besides my last adventure started out there and I was looking for a different perspective. Checked the launch, low tide! This launch is known to be a challenge at low tide due to the muddy conditions. I must make many car/canoe trips to get packed. Packing/unpacking is not my favorite part of any adventure and mud just adds to the complexity. Oh well, my spirits are up and almost nothing can dampen the desire.
Campsites in the Everglades are limited, I worried that I may not get the ones pre-planned, no problem, my 1st choices were available. Originally I wanted Sunday Bay Chickee but the thought of no fires permitted on chickee's or ground sites with two cold fronts approaching steered me to beach sites. Love beaches anyway so it was a no brainer. I took 2 nights at New Turkey Key and 3 at Pavilion Key given the cold fronts were destined to interfere. Notice the muddy distance that all gear must be hauled...yuk! If planning a launch here be sure to stay to the North end (left facing shore) as the mud is more firm. Asked the rangers if I could put in here then load my canoe from the NPS marina just to the right of this photo but of course they said 'NO'. Took me about an hour and a half to get underway, all the while pulling 'Robinson Calusa' futher out as the tide continued to fall.
Underway at last, Yip-yip-yipeee. Hey, where is the channel? Where is all the water? Entering into what I'm thinking is the channel the water is only about a foot deep. The leeboard and rudder draw about 1.5' so they must be kept somewhat up. Both leeboard and rudder kickup automatically should they hit an underwater obstruction but it is difficult to steer this way. I paddle about a quarter mile and realize that at this rate I'll be pulling in to New Turkey Key around midnight. My goal was to have camp set-up on the island before the Super-Bowl started.
As I start to paddle out a small plane scares the bejesus out of me as it swooped in close overhead for a quiet landing. I quickly learn that the Everglades Airport is just North of the canoe/kayak launch so expect some low flying aircraft here, a little unnerving if not expected.
So I fire up the new 1989 'Iron Genny' (sailors term for motor) and head under the Turner River Bridge, a shortcut I'm told around Chokoloskee. Just added this little 12lb. 1.5hp Cruise-n-Carry to the 'Robinson Calusa' gear list this year, having altered my itinerary on last years Memorial Everglades Adventure. A strong headwind and river current forced a different route during that voyage and I did not want a repeat if at all possible. The little magic box ran like a charm and saved my poor back!
It is a very low tide and appears I must double back once past the Turner River Bridge, just how one likes to start out any voyage, going backwards. This marker is pointing North which is the opposite direction I'm needing to go but the only way around these shoals at low tide. I was lucky to see a flats boat returning from the East side of the bridge so followed its path to the other side of the small bay. The place was riddled with exposed oyster beds and sandbars. Finally found the very narrow slice of water on the opposite side with barely inches of water. This was listed in 'A Paddlers Guide to the Everglades National Park, by Johnny Malloy. It was like, motor on/off every 2 minutes, paddle/push/pole for the next mile. A kayaker came through the bridge shortly after me but took the short route side and soon ran out of water all together. I got stuck in the yuk-a-muck a couple of times where it took quite a while getting loose. Only had a few feet of leeway in most spots. Hindsight, plan for higher tide if given a choice. I really think it would have been faster/easier staying North of Chokoloskee, also would not have had to lower and raise the mast for the Turner River bridge.
Finally in the clear across Chokoloskee Bay and enter the Lopez River. This is another tricky place at low tide, well most all of the Everglades gets tricky at low tide. Passed a young French speaking couple in a blue tandem kayak as they got caught up in a shoaled dead end. They were going really well until running out of water. I chatted with them a few moments back at the canoe launch, seemed like a cheerful pair. They chose the North route around Chokoloskee which was most likely a better choice.
The Lopez River has quite a few dog leg bends to be be negotiated that are not easily recognized without local knowledge. The nice French couple was heading to Rabbit Key so we parted ways at this point as I continued up the Lopez River. It was my 1st time here as well and I got real lucky with some of the navigation decisions made along the way. Speaking of which,,,if you ever venture out in this neck of the woods be sure to hone up on your chart reading skills. Most of the land looks the same, Red Mangrove and mor Red Mangrove. The trick for me is to closely follow the chart and align island edges, a tall order wile taking in all the nature around. Polarized sunglasses are a must in areas like this. They cut the glare off of the water so one can judge bottom color patterns much better.
This is the Lopez River Ground Campsite. I was in a hurry at this point and did not take time to stop. What is visible is an old cistern built by Gregorio Lopez.
Hey, this lil' motor is kicking off some miles...noisy but efficient...about 6knots here but I'm worried about making New Turkey Key in time for the SuperBowl.
Just through a choppy Sunday Bay and taking a shortcut to House Hammock Bay. I turn South West and dodge large oyster bars like the old video game frogger.
Entering the Huston River the only remaining fishcamp lies off to the East, as seen from a distance here. This is another place I would have liked to get up close and photograph but SuperBowl is calling and I must be on my way.
I am starting to smell the Gulf of Mexico. A strange feeling comes over me when I aproach the Gulf. The water, air and plant life all seem more lively. I know I'm close without looking at any chart or GPS.
A few more bends and WaLa...the Gulf! The winds quickly calm from 10-15mph to almost nothing as I reach the coast.
With my New Turkey Key destination only a few miles ahead and deeper water I can now start to relax.
The lil' motor keeps going, and going, and going without so much as a hickup. I have added fuel to the tiny built-in tank four times now. It holds about 1 quart so I am getting about 25mpg which is great for a boat! I carry a 2.5 Gal supply of fuel on this 1st motor trip. Really did not expect to use the lil' blue boy this much but there is no way I could have made it the almost 25 miles in time for the SuperBowl without...
Finally...New Turkey Key...the fuel runs out a short distance from the island so I paddle around checking it out. Looks like I'm the only one here! Fine with me...
I look for a smooth beach landing spot and make it ashore about 16:30, plenty of time to set up camp before the big game. Been talking with my cousin Steve's spirit all day and wanting the Cardinals to win, just because they are the underdogs.
Camp is pretty much set-up now so time to pull out the SLR and start taking my favorite HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos. I have three cameras along on this mini expidition, all Canon, 5D Mark II with 70-200mm f/2.8L & 17-40mm f/4L lenses, S5 IS, and SD900 with underwater case. Each has its place and all get stored in waterproof storm cases while underway. I leave on case cracked open for quick photos along the way. Salt spray and digital cameras do not work well together!
This is the view from my camp at the start of the SuperBowl. It just does not get much better then this.
I knew it would be iffy for pulling in the big game way out here so I went for this highly recommended radio with supurb AM reception. It is a stereo portable that also would play my iAudio MP3 player without headphones. Great tone and I did get the game on AM. I was suprised that none of the FM stations carried the game, and only one AM carried it live! Glad I picked it up, and yes it received great FM as well.
Well, my team did not win but 'I sure did' by just being here! A little vino and campfire capped off a fabulous travel day in the Everglades!
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