Thursday, April 28, 2011

Windbound

I got into a predicament that forced me off the water.  After paddling to Navarre Bridge with Jim Parker, I found there was no place ahead that I could get to, and needed a place to stop.  I was up against miles of restricted area of Eglin Air Force Base, and a county park area where camping is not allowed.   The only option was going backwards five miles---not about to happen.  I was given a chance to stay on the fence line between the county and federal properties for the night after the beach closed.  Storms today and tomorrow with 35 mph winds forecast  meant I had to get somewhere.  Staying wasn’t possible, and moving wasn’t possible.  Then I had a boat breakage.  I have a stowage compartment next to the seat, and it let go.  It’s nothing that affects performance or safety, but I’ll see if I can do something with it.  Also, I have 17 festered fire ant bites on the right foot and a couple on the left that need tending to.  So, long story-short, Jean picked me up for R&R, laundry, gear cleaning and repacking.   
This was at the start.  I had been advised to fly a flag to keep from being run down by bass boats.  After pushing the mast and flag through the wind for a day, that was the first thing to go.

We made a run into Fort Walton Beach in search of wicking shirts.  I had read never to carry anything in cotton---it’s impossible to dry, promotes hypothermia in colder water, and accumulates its own weight in salt.   I didn’t understand that never meant NEVER, NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER,  so I carried a couple cotton long-sleeved shirts.  I was absolutely rotting in them.  One I rinsed in some of my valuable fresh water and spent the next three days trying to dry.  It never did.  I took the cotton not out of ignorance, I knew better, but I had them and couldn’t see the expense of pricey synthetic wicking shirts.  I now consider them an investment.  While shopping we stopped at Fokkers Sports Pub at 196 Miracle Strip Pkwy, D-1.  Fantastic sandwiches and iced tea, and not lessened by being without real food for nearly a week.
 First night's camp.

The tug 'Good Shepherd'.
Sun., Day 2 –  A grueling day.  I departed at 8 a.m., with the wind 15-18 on the nose and 1-2 ft. breaking whitecaps.  I got to use the spray skirt for the first time.  It was a good day in that I got the chance to get into a much better and more comfortable rhythm with the boat.  The greatest concern was the riprap covered shore that runs half the length of Escambia Bay.  The huge stone and concrete waste that covers the shore would have given anyone little chance to make it off the water in rough conditions.  Being sore or tired didn’t matter; there was no choice but to grit and keep going.  I crossed Escambia Bay next to the Gulf Breeze bridge, and finally found a camping spot on Dead Man Island, Old Navy Cover, west of the  bridge.
Dead Man's Island (local name) near Gulf Breeze.
Mon., Day 3 – I got the chance to turn southeast, and who could guess.  The wind was a solid 15, occasional 20 mph, square on the nose as I paid hell getting across Santa Rosa Sound.  The bow was frequently dipping water as I worked to maintain a knot to weather.  Once in the lee of Santa Rose Island, smooth water and an occasional bit of a lee from the wind helped me keep moving.  I’ve had a couple experienced paddlers say it is all a learning experience, and no matter how far I go, I’ll find I’m still learning.  The first thing I learned was that bringing a book was a waste.  By the time I get in, set camp, prepare dinner, eat and clean up, and look over charts and the paddling guide for the next day, it’s time to hit the sack.

Big Sabine Point, alias The Ant Hill
I spent the night at Big Sabine Point on Santa Rose.  That was where the fire ants got me.  It is a “leave no trace” primitive camp site, with a big bag of trash right in front of the leave no trace sign.  At least it was bagged.  Food had obviously been left in the fire pit, and ants had burrowed in and set up a huge colony.  There was no avoiding them.  They were everywhere.  You can’t blame the ants.  If food and trash is left, whether it is ants, mice, raccoons, or bears, something will come for it.  The fault lies with lazy and thoughtless campers that preceded me and didn’t care enough about the environment to preserve it.  That’s my soapbox for the day.

Tues., Day 4 – The wind was 15-20 southeast, occasional east, and that was of course because I was now heading east.  On the bright side, I can feel my conditioning improving, and as long as I worked close to the beach, I was able to keep Ibi moving at around 2.3 kts.  After about three miles, what should appear to my sun-dazzled eyes, but a kayaker.  It was Jim Parker, again.  What a great guy.  He had launched at Navarre and paddled downwind to meet me so we could paddle back in company, and the company was great.  He’s a strong paddler.   While I was following every dent in the shore looking for any lee, he’d follow a straight track and laugh about how the wind was kicking his butt out there.  By late afternoon, we were back at Navarre, and that brings me to where I started the commentary.  So far I’ve paddled an even 50 miles---not a dent in the total, but a start.
Okay, don't ask how day 1 ended up at the bottom, but friends I've been at this for four hours, and you got it all.  Enough is enough for details.
Sat., Day 1 – I got a late start, but started down the Escambia River.  I saw a kayak coming and slide over to say ‘hello’, only to find to my surprise that Jim Parker there from West Florida Canoe and Kayak Club to meet up with me.  We went downstream together, but I just couldn’t keep pace.  I apologized for looking like an Oklahoma paddler, but that’s what I ‘are’, with little opportunity for on-the-water paddling time and conditioning. The wind was on the nose, and there was no lee.  The wind funneled up the river.  The channel course could turn 40-deg., and the wind just stayed on the nose.  By 3 pm, I’d had enough, and stopped at a spoil bar across from the power plant, where the tug Good Shepherd kept me company through dinner. 

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