Thursday, February 16, 2012

Florida Keys Challenge - 5

You can’t say enough about the beautiful sunrises and sunset in the Keys. The sunrises really make it worthwhile getting up, and today brought another beauty. As the mare’s tails predicted, today would be our third day under small craft warnings. In retrospect, however, the common theme among all the participants was how wonderfully blessed we had been with the weather. The strong system Joe Kliment’s forecast had predicted never got far enough south to bring us those 35-40 kt. winds. We never had a headwind the whole week and a half except for a short 7/10 of a mile going into the Boy Scouts Sea Base and 8/10 of a mile coming out of Boyd’s the last morning. The rest of the time, the winds were occasionally on the beam, but mostly on the stern or either quarter. It shocked the heck out of me, and I doubt few future Challenges can hope to see our experience repeated. I’ve looked at the Pacific Action Sails for a couple years, but haven’t made the investment because they are downwind sails mostly, and I never go downwind. I’m so used to beating into a headwind, I was beginning to doubt it was possible to paddle a canoe downwind. On the second, third, and fourth days we did paddle under small craft warnings, but the offshore reefs kept the waves in check. Mostly we could stay in areas with mere ripple to waves of a foot. While offshore seas were building to 8-10 feet, according to the weather service, we never saw waves of more than 2-3 feet except for a few four-footers kicked up by opposing wind and current. One paddler said he saw six foot waves, but waves always look big when you are sitting basically on the water‘s surface. From that perspective, a six-foot wave would completely blot out the horizon. However, that’s not to minimize what we did encounter. They were great skill and confidence builders.   

Icon 1 is our departure from Long Key, 2 is our lunch stop on Conch Key, a
mere knoll of sand crossed by the Overseas Highway, and 3 is our arrival at Curry Hammock.

Doug Alderson came in late last night. It was great to see him again after having the chance to paddle with him on the Gulf Coast last year. He was to take the job of stern sweep for the rest of the Challenge, and to make the pain of being last less onerous, he dubbed the rear of the fleet Margaritaville, and invited one and all to join him in the back of the pack. That’s the imagination you could expect from an accomplished author. The meet gave me the chance to pick up his latest book, “Wild Florida Waters: Exploring the Sunshine State by Kayak and Canoe.” If you are not familiar with his work as naturalist, photographer and author, check out:

Our lunch stop on Conch Key.

It was 4.4 miles across Long Key Channel from Long Key State Park to our lunch stop at Conch Key. One person opted out of the trip across the channel, perhaps because of yesterday’s experience, or perhaps because of the channel’s reputation as a conduit for large sharks, especially large hammerheads, making their way from one side of the Keys to the other. The afternoon paddle took us past Duck Key and Grassy Key. The total distance for the day was 11.6 miles, and it brought us to Curry Hammock State Park on Little Crawl Key.

Channel entrance to Curry Hammock State Park.

The area where we camped is normally a day-use area, so we had to have a special permit from the Park Service. There were nearby showers, however, where I took a double shower--part with my clothes on and part with them off. I guess that made today laundry day. The miracle of all polyester clothing made it possible to get clothes dry quickly.

Curry Hammock iguana.

During the evening, we had a presentation by a young biologist/photographer from the National Audubon Society. The Audubon Society is about much more than birds, and is about conservation and preservation in general. He spoke on the ecosystems of the Everglades and Florida Bay.

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