The State of Florida has done a great job of publishing information on its water trails. There are 32 paddling trails in 15 regions throughout the state. Separate from these, the Florida Circumnavigation, has another 26 segments, and at 1,515 miles, is the most aggressive of the trips. The circumnavigation starts at the Big Lagoon State Park west of Pensacola and follows the coast counter-clockwise around to the Fort Clinch State Park north of Fernandina, just south of the Georgia state line. The state and National Park Service requires that the trip be made in that direction to better schedule people in and out of the campsites, some of which are small and can accommodate only a limited number of people. Particularly in the Big Bend conservation area, the sites have to be reserved, and campers can be arrested for camping anywhere other than the established sites. Part of the trip is made inland, inside barrier islands and on the Intracoastal Waterway, but much of it is coastal, especially on the West Coast, and of course the Keys are all ocean. Some campsites are in established parks, but some are as primitive as you can imagine. These are located on spoil islands, so named because dredging operations have dumped mud and sand in areas outside navigable channels until a barren island rises above the surface of a sound or river. The 26 segments are again broken into legs between camping sites so a day’s run can be between 10 and 20 miles.
A lot of this trip can offer obstacles that really put a paddler to the test. Shallow tidal flats where a canoe may have to be dragged a half-mile through knee-deep mud, strong currents, rough open Gulf of Mexico waters, untamed wildlife, and long stretches without water or facilities, and getting stranded where you may have to sleep in the canoe are a few. WaterTribe.com runs a Florida Circumnavigation each year, but it is done as an endurance race. This event, including a forty-mile portage, is on the par of an iron-man
event. I’m just going as a cruiser, but the race organizers offer some good guidance even for those of us going at a slower pace. They emphasize that paddlers must come prepared to be totally self-sufficient, and include 26-pages of things one should be prepared to deal with. Within this warning is this segment. “Fresh water may not be available anywhere along the course except at the checkpoints. Animals will break into your boats and rip open plastic jugs to get at your water. After they take all your water, they will take your food./ Animal hazards are common. Within the last few years there have been several attacks on humans resulting in injury and/or death. These attacks have come from bears, (large) cats, dogs, sharks, alligators, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, coral snakes, pythons, sting rays, barracuda, spiders, bees, hornets, wasps, fire ants, ticks, mosquitoes, manatees, and whales. Other dangerous or annoying critters, too numerous to mention, are also in abundance.” Then they go into poisonous plants, that Ponce de Leon was killed by an arrow covered with Manchineel sap, and mistakenly eating the fruit of the Manchineel “may be the last thing you eat.” Each little fruit has enough poison to kill 20 people.
To keep things in perspective, they add at the end, “enter at your own risk. And have fun”
If you can avoid all the negative stuff, having fun, and some new experiences, is the objective.