Monday, February 20, 2012

Florida Keys Challenge - 9

No. 1 is our departure from Bahia Honda State Park; 2 is our lunch stop on
Long Beach, and 3 our arrival at Sugarloaf Key KOA Campground.

The morning we prepared to leave Bahia Honda State Park brought us yet another spectacular sunrise. Today would be the only day that chow wasn‘t carried ahead to our lunch stop. After breakfast, we all packed bagged lunches to carry with us. It would be one of our longer days, so we didn’t tarry.

The crossing of Bahia Honda Channel was maybe worse than the larger seas we had experienced before. They weren’t bigger, but came from about five different directions at once. Instead of coming as waves, there were just eruptions of vertical spikes of water everywhere and without warning. There was no rhyme nor reason to the water, and it was impossible to predict what was to happen next. It was very discomforting, and like being in a washing machine.

The nickerbean pod.

The nickerbean can be found throughout the tropical hammocks and mangroves of the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, West Indies, and Bahamas. In the United States it occurs in the Keys and as far north as Central Florida, but no where else in the country. They have been used to treat malaria and the pain of toothache. The gray seeds will take on a bright shine, and were the original ‘pet rocks’ (Yes, actually referred to by that name.), and carried by children to play with, or wear on a necklace.

Our scenic lunch stop on Long Beach, Big Pine Key.

Here’s a good place to bring up the subject of the lazy ’H’ I mentioned at Lower Matecumbe Harbor and promised to get back to. If you go back, it is at L24.8503N Lo80.7458W, this is what you see in the harbor just south of the BSA Sea Base.

Flagler sent a crew to Key West to build a commercial marine port. He wanted Key West to be his railroad’s terminus for cargo in and out of the U.S. Freight could travel down the East Coast on his rails to be loaded on ships for foreign ports, and be imported into the country the same way. When his crew reached Key West, they contacted Flagler and reported there was no land to build his port on. His single-mindedness was never more evident than when we answered something to the effect of “Well, then make some.” The shallow bottom would be excavated to make land, and the result would be deep water right alongside major construction. Thus, the deep ‘H’ (excavated area) and island (where the bottom material was deposited) appeared where none had existed before. (The white dots to the left are the concrete railroad trestles left after the hurricane.) This practice continues to today. The result is that you can be a half-mile offshore and perhaps not have enough water to float a kayak or canoe, but if you get within feet of shore, you can often find water so deep you can’t see the bottom in crystal clear water.

Sugarloaf pier and Oversea Highway bridge.

With the falling tide, there were grass flats we’d be unable to get across. We ran from the end of Summerland Key, past beacon “18” and straight for the elbow in the peninsula, while leaving Venture and Out Keys to port. We could see some fishing boats alongside a quay against the shore, so knew there was water there. We followed the shore west and around inside Gopher Key by paddling under mangroves and through one mangrove tunnel within ten feet of shore. Once we got around to the northwest point , we were clear of the shoals and able to make a shot across Cudjoe Bay and up Bow Channel. The Sugarloaf Key KOA campground was right next to the south side of the bridge. Here we had a paved ramp to pull out on, and a large wooded grove in which to camp. The day’s paddle was 16.4 miles. We were in the groove and going well, but unfortunately realized our adventure was winding down to its inevitable end.

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