Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On The Road - 6

The first thing I awoke to this morning was a dead computer. Jean breathed a bit of life back into it, and I immediately started backing up files so I didn’t lose the last week’s work I’ve done on documenting the trip. It will have to go to the shop, so if there’s a short break, don’t lose interest. I’ll be back.

If there’s one thing I could count on with Ruth, it was that I was going to eat. I may get wind blown; I may get rain drenched, but I’d never get hungry. It was another 199.9 miles to Key Largo where I was to meet Gus, Carl, and Bill at Ed and Ellen’s Motel. I had rain. I had a very heavy, low cloud cover. I watched trees and palms whipping in the wind. But, I munched contentedly and continuously from a packed, insulated lunch sack that was straining its seams. Another new experience was passing nine highway caution signs for panther traffic, and panther crossing areas. Just to emphasize that they were serious, two had double flashing yellow lights while they warned of “Panther Crossing, Next 3 miles.” We were entering the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail, a 165-mile road that leads through marshes, wildlife areas, camping areas, and Indian villages.

L-R: me, Carl Anderson (Fernandina Beach, FL); Gus Bianchi (Orange Park, FL)
The Thin One, AKA Bill Finley (Hernando, FL)

I passed Ed and Ellen’s Motel four times. Once you find it, it’s quite pleasant to find yourself buried in a thick, wooded grove, but from the highway, it’s all wooded grove and no motel. The little yellow sign for the motel is high in the tree branches and almost impossible to see. It was only about another 15-minutes before Gus, Carl and Bill pulled in towing their boats on a trailer. We threw our bags in the room, and headed off for dinner. Gus, the one with all the local knowledge, was bound to show us the sights, so he took us on a road trip.

Credit: Florida State Parks

Our first stop was Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, an elaborate title for a quarry. The fossilized coral was cut in large slabs for the construction of the Florida East Coast Railroad by Henry Flagler in the early 1900’s, and smaller cuttings continued until the 1960’s. The display allows you to see the coral, and how the huge sections are cut and moved. The sign on the steel gate across the drive explained that the park was open Friday through Sunday. It was Wednesday.

Credit: Yachting Magazine

The next stop was at the World Wide Sportsman, a Bass Pro shop on Islamorada Key. They have anything you’d expect to find at any Bass Pro, but one thing was unique. They have Ernest Hemingway’s M/V Pilar, or at least her sistership. Indeed Hemingway fished from this boat in 1933. He loved it so much, he decided he needed one just like it, and in 1934 contracted for her construction by Wheeler Boat Yard in Brooklyn, NY, for $7,500. With this, he knew he could pursue the great game fish of the Gulf Stream. She was christened ‘Pilar” as his pet name for his wife, Pauline, and also the heroine in “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” The two boats are as identical as can be. Both shared berths in Key West through the 1930‘s. Both participated in World War II for the Navy. Hemingway used his to patrol for U-Boats off the North Coast of Cuba. This boat appeared in the Bogart and Bacall movie “Key Largo” in 1948, bearing the name “Santana”. In the 1950’s, she showed up in the Bahamas as the “Blue Heron” in a movie of the same name.

Hemingway and his beloved Pilar
Credit: explorekeywesthistory.com

After his divorce from Pauline in 1940, he relocated to Havana with Pilar, and berthed her in a small fishing village that was the inspiration for “The Old Man and The Sea.” He came to the U.S. in 1960 with his fourth wife, Mary, expecting to return, but the Cuban Revolution and the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 cut off his return to his beloved Pilar. He became clinically depressed. In July, he put a bullet through his head, and Mary gave Pilar to his long-time friend and Pilar’s captain, Gregorio Fuentes. Fuentes was so distraught over the loss of his friend, he never used Pilar again, and it was eventually moved and blocked on the tennis court at Hemingway’s home, where it remains in poor condition. Fuentes passed away in 2002 at the age of 104.

The Bass Pro boat was completely rebuilt and then rechristened by Mina Hemingway, Ernest’s granddaughter, as M/V Pilar in October, 1997. Sadly, the boat was surrounded by so many racks of men’s fishing shirts, a photograph of the boat was hardly worth the effort, so I’ve used some pictures found on line.

Gus coaxing tarpon at Robbie's Marina.

The next stop was the famous pier at Robbie’s, where 50-100 huge tarpon gather at the pier to be fed by hand, as they leap at the dangling bait fish hard enough to occasionally engulf half your arm. Well, on some days. On this day, it was still cold, windy, and gray. The tarpon were in no mood for gymnastics. If you dropped the bait in front of their mouth, they’d swallow it with a loud smack, but they weren’t about to work for it.

Credit: Tod Madar and Robbie's

My son once wrote a paper for school while living in St. Thomas about American tourists. It was so derogatory that the teacher sent us a note to express her concern over his apparent dark state of mind. In other words, his article was honest and insightful. When the girl on the pier at Robbie's tried to exlain why the fish acted barely alive, I decided to play the tourist card just for the heck of it. I said, “Well, it’s been raining. They don’t want to get wet.” She shot me that blank look that says, “Okay, your lights are on, but there’s no one home.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

On The Road - 5

With the planning for the Keys Challenge and the road trip, I spent a lot of time around 3 o’clock in the morning going over plans and checklists. Since that kept me occupied until it was time to get up, I wasn’t getting much sleep. I knew that I’d be fine once the event actually started. For me at least, things always appear more daunting in anticipation than in reality.

 The view across Joe and Ruth's enclosed pool.

Boat theft is still a problem in Florida. Joe told me about a couple thefts in his area. The Cubans come to steal boats for smuggling people, and the Mexicans come to steal boats for smuggling drugs and people. While in the Keys we were reminded yet again about the flood of people invading our country. One morning we passed a stranded Cuban boat in the shallows. In presentations, we saw pictures of just a few of the many stranded Cuban boats that find their ways to the Everglades and Florida Bay. People here send GPS units to Cuba with waypoints already entered for navigation, and landing and pick-up locations. Or is such a discussion too politically incorrect?

Credit: Photo by Kliments of me in canal.

The intention was for a bit of open water paddling while Joe took care of some commitments, but the wind was blowing hard enough that I took advantage of the canals. There is a good bit of current that develops as the area drains and fills as the tides change. While paddling against the current around the rim canal, a bit too much time was spent enjoying the sites. After lunch I found the current had changed and would also be running against me all the way back. The tally was only 8.5 miles, but the effort was much more. I didn’t need to feel cheated. There was a lot more paddling to come.

Just before I left, Joe decided to help by finding me an updated forecast. He sat the paper on the table in front of me. I took one look at it, and the only thing that would develop in my mind was, “Oh, holy crap!” The forecast was for winds gusting 30-35 knots over the next few days.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On The Road - 4

Great Blue Heron, Punta Gorda

After an early departure, it was a 272-mile dash to Joe and Ruth Kliment’s home in Punta Gorda Isles. After some time to visit and catch up on the long time since we had seen each other last, Joe and Ruth took me out to scout out some launch sites for my next day’s paddle. We stopped at the Peace River Wildlife Center, a bird rescue and sanctuary. Some of the injured birds are treated and released back into the wild, but some, because of their permanent injuries, become permanent residents.

Their two eagles are a good example. The female, on the left, was scavenging in a landfill when she picked up and punctured an aerosol can. The explosion tore off her left wing. When she was found, the can was still impaled on her beak and clearly told the tale of what had happened. The male eagle was with his sibling in a nest that their parents had built on a branch not strong enough to hold the weight of an eagle nest, which can reach 2,000 pounds. The branch gave way and dumped the nest. The sibling died from its injuries, and this bird sustained such severe multiple fractures that, while they were able to save his life, he will never be able to fly.

Wood Stork

Another new experience was coming upon a handicapped sailing regatta. The event has become so successful, that handicapped sail racing has become an Olympic event. We spoke to one team from Washington State and another from Nova Scotia. Trials are underway for the World Cup, with matches in Miami, Melbourne, Canada, Great Britain, Palma de Majorca, France, Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere. This is serious stuff, and includes classes in centerboard, keelboats, multihulls, and windsurfing. The boats we saw had two centerline seats. The forward one was convex so level is attained by simply sliding across the convex curve. The after seat was contoured for the more seriously disabled. Two handlebars erected across the seat moved fore and aft to control the twin rudders, and a toggle on the left handle rotated the seat mechanically so the boater always sat level.  They were between races, so we didn't get a chance to see them sail, but it's great to see such a program.  Because of an accident, or because of the injuries soldiers bring back after serving our country, it is wonderful to see there is a way for them to pursue what may have been their passion before their disability. 

Tomorrow will be a paddling day.

Yellow Crested Night Heron

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On The Road - 3A

I'd like to thank those who have joined the blog recently as regular followers.  I've never met, but have used Free Wine's website for information on paddling resources here in Oklahoma.  Welcome, 1pinkyak.  If you wish, send a message or add a comment to introduce yourself. 

Here's a picture I missed on the St. Johns River post.  This is a kid's playhouse!  It's large enough to be a mother-in-law or Nana house.  What lucky kids---a pulling boat that has the shape of a Whitehall, and steps that help them down the bank to the water's edge.

While we're off subject, take a look at this video David Hawkins sent me.  What beautiful flight, and just watch the eyes and talons.  Click to full screen and imagine yourself as a mouse.  Wow!

All the best, jim

On The Road - 3

I launched from a county boat ramp just south of the Rt. 207 intersection, near Palatka, and headed upstream. The St. Johns River is one of only a couple rivers in the country that flows north from its source. The St. Johns’ headwaters are hard to define, but the flow starts from near Blue Cypress Lake to the Atlantic at Jacksonville. Officially, it flows 310 miles, but there are numerous other rivers, lakes, and streams that flow into the St. Johns that could occupy a paddler for a very long time. A canoe or kayak is the ideal vehicle for seeing this river, with some areas little changed since this was all Native American hunting and fishing grounds. However, near the head waters the airboat is very prevalent, and a wise paddler carries a brightly colored flag on a tall whip antenna to make himself visible among the tall grasses. Otherwise, airboat operators refer to canoes and kayaks as speed bumps.

Water management is becoming an ever greater field of battle in Florida. Huge metropolitan areas around Orlando demand ever increasing quantities of water for consumption and watering the ever-present golf courses. Agricultural and industrial concerns ignore the ecological issues, and even the Corps of Engineers is having to spend huge amounts of money to undo damage it did in years past with channeling and water diversion. The natural aquifer is unable to keep pace with the demand, and entire ecosystems are being threatened. I had wanted to paddle the St. Johns last year, but found when I contacted the St. Johns County Water Management District, that the headwater regions of the river were so dry that people were running the river by ATV, so the trip was off.

Winter comes even to North Florida, and autumn was present in early January. I thought it interesting to see the contrast between autumn colors and Spanish moss, or the colors of changing leaves between palm trees.

A few miles up river I turned into the channel at Gibson Dry Dock, where I had earlier seen Tommy Kight. Because it is small and fully enclosed, the marina’s basin is the best hurricane hole on all of the St. Johns, and because of the large dry storage area, people with less than 45-ft. bridge clearance come here for long term layovers from up and down the East Coast. It is also the home of the Rat Island Yacht Club, a very active sail racing group on the river.

White Heron

Great Blue Heron

A few miles further along, I turned into the beautiful Dunn’s Creek, which twists and winds its way southeast into Crescent Lake. All along the river there are continual opportunities to see wildlife from birds to gators. Shortly after turning into Dunn’s Creek, Murphy’s Creek turns west. I was once anchored in Murphy’s with a group of Boy Scouts. After dinner, they wanted to take the dinghy for a row. They became quite upset when I refused, telling them it wasn’t safe in a small round-bottom dinghy on the creek at night. They couldn’t understand until I took the spotlight and shined it up and down along the shores so they could see the reflected red eyes of all the alligators staring back at us. I continued a few miles beyond the Rt. 17 Dunn’s Creek bridge before turning back. The round trip was 15.0 miles, and a nice preparation for the first day’s run in the Keys Challenge.

Dunn's Creek Bridge

Friday, January 27, 2012

On The Road - 2

Our Keys Challenge trip continues from the start of our road trip on 8 January. Anyone who travels Florida will recognize the Blue Angle jet at the Florida Welcome Center as you enter the state near Pensacola. Pensacola is home to the Blue Angles, which are the greatest possible recruiting tools for the Navy and Marine Corps aviation programs. They began flying in 1946, and were officially sanctioned by the Defense Department in 1949. The squadron does around 70 shows across the country each year during their March to November flying season. If you’ve never seen them perform, definitely add them to your bucket list. My favorite part of the program is when one of the jets disappears from view. The absence is worked so well into the program that it occurs without you realizing it even after seeing the program many times and expecting it. With a little sleight of hand, the team dazzles the spectators and draws their attention forward as the missing jet silently makes a low altitude approach from the rear of the viewing area and suddenly, and I mean SUDDENLY, materializes directly over your head as the pilot jams the throttle and everyone in the crowd jumps a foot off the ground. The spectators’ responses range from tears to excited cheers and applause. The whole show is an exciting and very moving experience.
Florida Welcome Center, I-10 at Pensacola

The Spanish played many very important roles in the history of Florida. The English were actually here longer, but Spain put a stamp on the state that endures to this day. It will be seen in the architecture throughout the state, and especially in St. Augustine, and even in modern construction, such as this Welcome Center, which seems part Spain and part Margaritaville. 

My first destination in Florida would be to visit David and Margie Hawkins in St. Johns County. After the long two-day drive from Oklahoma, it was great to spend a day of rest with them before heading for the river. Besides the opportunity to visit friends along the way, they were graciously willing to help me with a problem. There’s no opportunity to train for a long paddle or practice ocean paddling in Western Oklahoma, and an attempt to start a long paddle trip with no muscle preparation is doomed to failure, as I learned last year. Then a change in the Florida Keys Challenge schedule compounded the problem. The first two days were supposed to be about nine miles each, with the longer legs scheduled later in the trip after we had a chance to build up to the demand. A campsite problem made it necessary for the staff to combine the first two days into a single 18.6 mile leg the first day. Besides trying to paddle on the Canadian River at Stinchcomb and the Great Salt Plains Lake, I planned to do a paddle on the St. Johns River and Charlotte Harbor at Punta Gorda for some minimalist preparation prior to arriving in the Keys.

I intended to launch Ibi from the Gibson Dry Dock marina at San Mateo from which I had sailed on the St. Johns, but the rocks and low tide made this impractical. Before going to a local ramp, I visited with Tommy Kight, the marina manager and friend, and got a chance to see his new shop. For years, Tommy has helped raise long-forgotten relics from the bottom of the river, from sunken wrecks to cypress logs.

"Growth of a Thousand Years"

Standing at the rear of the shop was a ten-foot piece of wood that would make any woodworker’s heart beat faster. It was from a cypress log that had probably laid in the mud of the river bottom for a hundred years, and was probably growing when Columbus arrived in the New World. I took a picture of the knot, simply to add more interest to the picture, but the texture throughout the rest of the plank was a perfect run of tight growth rings and grain that speaks of native woods long gone.

E. Stuart Hubbard wrote of “Harvesting the Growth of a Thousand Years.” Lumbering was the largest Florida industry in the state’s infancy, and millions of board feet of swamp cypress and longleaf pine were shipped from the Wilson Cypress Co., in Palatka, for destinations around the world. Wilson’s was the second largest sawmill in the world, and it felled virgin timber from 1893 until it closed in 1944, and worked 600 employees at 75-cents to a dollar a day. The mill used tugs to tow large floats of logs up and down the river, and invariably a few logs would escape and eventually sink to the bottom. You would think Florida would welcome the removal of these huge river hazards from the river bottom, but ever vigilant for a dollar, they charge a salvager $5,000 for a salvage permit, plus another $5,000 annually for renewal. Tommy also had a piece of longleaf pine with 32 growth rings to the inch, versus the 3-6 rings per inch found in any wood currently available.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I just returned home at 11 pm last night (Tues., 24th) after my 3,743.l mile road trip to the first Florida Keys Challenge. If you are just tuning in, please go back and read from 6 January. Jean did a great job of keeping everyone updated on the highlights of the trip, but also did a wonderful background on each of the keys that we visited that will add to your understanding and appreciation of the area. I’ll take you through the event with a fleshed-out “boots on the ground” account (or butt on the water, in this case) along with the pictures from the trip. I hope you enjoy it, especially the pictures.

I would be most remiss if I didn’t mention those who were most helpful in making the trip possible, such as Gus Bianchi, David and Margie Hawkins, and Joe and Ruth Kliment, and of course Jean. First, Gus Bianchi made me aware of the event and of PaddleFlorida.org. If you visit their site, you will see the wide selection of trips they make possible, including the Florida Keys Challenge. PaddleFlorida is a non-profit educational organization with the mission of promoting paddling in Florida, water conservation, and wildlife preservation. If you check under “about/contact us” you will get to meet the people that make PaddleFlorida work. Most of them are volunteers who really pour their hearts and souls into making the trips possible and making the details of every day a reality, often under difficult circumstances. We all really grew to be amazed by their commitment and appreciative of their efforts. Thank you all.

The first question is usually, “Would you recommend this to a friend?” The answer: “Absolutely.” There are several reasons why these trips play such an important role. First, they allow paddlers of nearly any skill level to participate in an event that will greatly improve their skills under the safest possible conditions. Paddlers are given the opportunity to try things that may be new to them, or may be a bit beyond their current skill level, while enjoying the security of a large support system. Sooner or later, regardless of what waters are frequented, a paddler will get caught out in conditions for which they may not be prepared. The varied conditions encountered during such an extended and supported trip build confidence and skill that make a paddler safer, and which otherwise may take years to acquire under normal paddling conditions alone.

Second, you spend your time with people with a wide range of experience. You learn from some by simply watching what they do, while others actively provide pointers and training, like the afternoon of instruction in wet exits, self-rescue, and rolling that occurred off one of the beaches.

Third, one of the best pleasures is getting to spend your time and share your experiences with a group of like-minded people that also share your love of nature and paddling. We had paddlers from New York, Georgia, Montana, Vermont, New Jersey, Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and of course, Oklahoma, and I may still have missed one or two.

Fourth, especially in the Keys Challenge, it is the best way to gain access to places normally closed to individual paddlers and campers. The Keys are densely populated by both residences and businesses, making stealth camping, commercial camping, or even just getting ashore impossible. Much of the shoreline is razor-sharp limestone or mangrove. What is accessible is generally private property or closed to access for conservation reasons. Commercial campgrounds require reservations a year in advance, and may charge $80-100/night just for primitive tent space. Trying to arrange access to nightly camping can be exhausting to impossible. Being part of a larger, organized event, opens up places otherwise inaccessible.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"I Hope You Dance..."

Received a note from an acquaintance yesterday expressing regret that he hadn't gone paddling that day.  Then came a note from another friend:  "I'm sitting in the yard and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden.  I'm spending more time with my family and friends and less time working.  Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure.  I'm trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.  'Someday and "one of these days' are losing their grip on my vocabulary.  It it's worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.  I'm not sure what others would've done had they known they wouldn't be here for the tomorrow that we all take for granted.  I think they would have called family members and a few close friends.  They might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles.  I like to think they would have gone out for a Chinese dinner or for whatever their favorite food was.  I'm guessing; I'll never know.  It's those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours were limited.  Angry because I hadn't written certain letters that I intended to write one of these days.  Angry and sorry that I didn't tell my spouse and family often enough how much I truly love them.  I'm trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to life.  And, every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special.  Every day, every minute, every breath truly is a gift!  Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance!  (or go paddling!)  Hope you wring as much enjoyment out of this day as possible. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Marathon Man

Just received this kind email from friends in Florida visited by Jim after he left Key West yesterday.
We enjoyed Jim's visit yesterday, very much.
I'm amazed that he can have paddled 115 miles,
driven 7 hrs & still arrive appearing like it was a
normal day!! We thought he'd "crash" right after
dinner, but no - he was up till 11, visiting with us.

I know he pushes himself to his limits, paddling,
but his stamina for just plan exhaustion seems to
be endless.

He certainly is a marathon man!!
So we're just reporting in, to say that he was in good
shape when he left us this morning & will undoubtedly
arrive home looking like he's been on a vacation,
not a marathon paddle last week!

Patience, patience!

I'm sure many of us are familiar with a current TV advertisement depicting guinea pigs rowing a small boat to provide energy for their owner's computer.  One little creature sits in the back of the craft, with megaphone in hand, calling "Row," " Row,"  "Row."  During Jim's 110-mile paddle down through the Florida Keys, I'm sure he heard similar words in his mind, especially during the longer legs when other, faster paddlers got out of sight ahead of him.  He sometimes expressed frustration at the end of a long day that he hadn't been able to keep up with the speedier members of the group.  Still, he finished the trip in a good and timely manner, and was happy and well at the end.  The frustration he occasionally expressed to me by cell-phone reminded me of a segment from Travels with a Donkey by R.L. Stevenson.  "We got across the ford without difficulty - there was no doubt about the matter, she was docility itself - and once on the other bank, where the road begins to mount through pine-woods, I took in my right hand the unhallowed staff, and with a quaking spirit applied it to the donkey.  Modestine brisked up her pace for perhaps three steps, and then relapsed into her former minuet.  Another  application had the same effect, and so with the third.  I am worthy the name of an Englishman, and it goes against my conscience to lay my hand rudely on a female.  I desisted, and looked her all over from head to foot;  the poor brute's knees were trembling and her breathing was distressed; it was plain that she could go no faster on a hill.  God forbid, thought I, that I should brutalize this innocent creature; let her go at her own pace, and let me patiently follow.  What that pace was, there is no word mean enough to describe; it was something as much slower than a walk as a walk is slower than a run; it kept me hanging on each foot for an incredible length of time; in five minutes it exhausted the spirit and set up a fever in all the muscles of the leg.  And yet I had to keep close at hand and measure my advance exactly upon hers; for if I dropped a few yards into the rear, or went on a few yards ahead, Modestine came instantly to a halt and began to browse.  The thought that this was to last from here to Alais nearly broke my heart."  Jim refers to all his vessels as female entities, and Ibi is no exception.  He would never lay a hand on her rudely, but he surely wished several times during this trip that he could have driven her faster.  Still, they finished the journey together safely, as did R.L. Stevenson, albeit with some frustration and difficulty.  Can't wait to see the pictures he took and have him set down his own impressions of the trip.  Have a good one, and be safe out there!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Jim's SPOT is up and running, being activated at 8:15 AM, EST, so today's track can be followed by clicking on the Follow Ibi's SPOT Track on the right side of this blog.  Jim hopes to be in at Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park before noon, and will probably head his truck north as soon as possible.  A big "fiesta" is going on at Key West this week-end, celebrating the 100th anniversary of completion of Henry Flagler's rail line to Key West.  While appreciating the importance of that building feat, Jim would prefer to leave the celebrating to others.  Look for news from him tomorrow! 


The group will shove off early this morning on a short, last, leg of this particular paddling journey.  They will end at Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park at the southern tip of Key West.  It will be about a 6-mile trip.  It's possible that the SPOT track won't be available today because of their proximity to NAS Key West.  Weather conditions there are predicted to be almost ideal, with a high temp. of 78-degrees, mostly sunny and an easterly wind of about 10K.  Contrast that with this location:  High temp. of about 61, 20% chance of rain (we can hope), and wind gusts up to 60K.  Some members of the Flatwaterpaddlers of Oklahoma group went out for a bit yesterday, at Mission Bend, north of the Three Fingers area on the upper Fort Gibson.  Temperature yesterday was supposed to get to 45-degrees, but wind chill at beginning of the day was 9-degrees.  One paddler reported having ice on his glove fingers and on the boat.  He said that the wind finally died after the noon hour and the water became glassy.  Lots of birds were spotted during the trip including buzzards, red tail hawks, wrens, kingfishers, a mockingbird, crows, Canada geese, great blue herons, many kinds of ducks, cormorants and woodpeckers.  He also spotted squirrels and deer and some bobcat tracks.  To join this member-run group, go to Flatwaterpaddlers of Oklahoma on the net. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In safely

The group has arrived safely at Boyd's Camp after a long day.  The SPOT signal was lost when they were near NAS Key West.  Jim called at 4:55 EST to let me know all was OK.  They'll shove off tomorrow on the last 6-mile leg of the trip, which will end at Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park on Key West.  After a barbecue lunch everyone is expecting to leave.  Jim will be driving north to Punta Gorda for a visit with friends.  Thanks to everyone who has been along on this trip via the net!  Watch for Jim's next venture. 

Enjoy it now

The signal from Jim's SPOT unit was activated at 8:21 EST as he began a 20-mile leg of the trip toward Key West.  The group will stop on the northern end of Key West this evening and then finish the trip tomorrow with a last 6 or so miles.  Jim was able to shave a bit off his paddle yesterday by going in close to Cudjoe Key and following a channel.  That saved him about 1&1/2 miles so his trip yesterday was 16.4 miles instead of the expected 18 miles.  WHEW!  There was entertainment provided for the group at the KOA Campground on Sugarloaf Key last night, but Jim said all he wanted was to get some rest for sore muscles. Winds in the area today are expected to be easterly, at about 5-10 knots, with humidity at 67% and a high temp. of 79 F.  Family members in upper sections of the East Coast are expecting snow today.  It is extremely dry out here, and cold, with no precipitation expected here.  At least there are no prairie fires at the moment.  They did a lot of damage out here last year.  Drought conditions and fires exacted heavy tolls in the Okefenokee Swamp also.  An acquaintance who is a spokesperson for a Florida paddlers group, the FPCKC Group, says that water levels in the Okefenokee Swamp are so low that paddling trips are very limited, to about two miles.  Fires within the massive swamp began on April 28, 2011 with a lightning strike, and continued to burn until December.  Most of the fire is out now, except for some small areas of peat fires which only higher water levels will extinguish.   Overnight canoe trips within the refuge were temporarily suspended due to fire damage and low water levels.  As of July of last year that fire had consumed about 75% of the 400,000 acres in the refuge.  Okefenokee refuge is the largest freshwater swamp in North America, encompassing about 700 square miles across the Georgia/Florida state line.  More than 480 square miles of that were scorched by the massive fire.  We spent about a week near St. Marys, GA, last year, at a campground and witnessed ash-falls from the Okefenokee fire several times.  Paddling conditions in the Florida Panhandle are regularly reported to us by the Florida Panhandle Canoe and Kayak Connection.  Their website provides invaluable advice and some really neat pictures of paddling trips participants have taken.  It gives links to: Jim Parker's "Paddling the Florida Panhandle and Surrounding Area," USGS Real-Time water levels for Florida and Alabama rivers, Florida Designated Paddling Trails, Paddling.Net, and a list of other paddling clubs in the area. If you plan to do some paddling in the Florida Panhandle, look them up.  We were honored to meet Jim Parker last summer.  He came out to paddle with my Jim as he was beginning a paddling trip along the west coast of Florida.  We encourage anyone with an interest in that area or in paddling in general to look him up on the FPCKC site.  Now - as for the snowier part of the story; a cousin in snowier climes sent me this:  It was snowing heavily and blowing to the point that visibility was almost zero when the little blonde got off work.  She made her way to her car and wondered how she was going to make it home.  She sat in her car while it warmed up and thought about her situation.  She finally remembered her daddy's advice that if she got caught in a blizzard she should wait for a snow-plow to come by and follow it.  That way she would not get stuck in a snow drift.  This made her feel much better and sure enough in a little while a snow-plow went by and she started to follow it.  As she followed the snow-plow she was feeling very smug as they continued and she was not having any problem with the blizzard conditions.  After an hour had passed, she was somewhat surprised when the snow-plow stopped and the driver got out and came back to her car and signaled for her to roll down her window.  The snow-plow driver wanted to know if she was alright as she had been following him for a long time.  She said that she was fine and told him of her daddy's advice to follow a snow-plow when caught in a blizzard.  The driver replied that it was OK with him and she could continue if she wanted, but he was done with the Wal-Mart parking lot, and was going over to Sears next!  :>)  Enough with the smoke, fire and ice for now.  Fair winds and happy paddling to our intrepid group in the FL Keys.  Enjoy it while you can!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

But it's only an inch on the map!

The group has a big task in store today, which began for Jim when his SPOT Track checked in at 7:21AM.  They'll be paddling from Bahia Honda to Sugarloaf Key.  By road they're only about 30 miles from Key West.  Paddling small vessels along the outlying reefs requires more miles and lots more effort!  Jim and I used to do vessel deliveries, mainly to the Caribbean from the East Coast of the U.S., but sometimes from Europe as well.  We had an inquiry once from a woman in New York who wanted a sail vessel delivered to the west coast of Florida.  When told how many days we expected the trip to take, she replied, "but it's only a few inches on the map!"  AHHHH - how blissful is ignorance!  The group Jim is paddling with will be passing Big Pine Key, Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve, Little Torch Key, Ramrod Key, Summerland Key and Cudjoe Key on their way to Sugarloaf Key and the KOA campground there.   Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve, a long and shallow expanse is a protected area of seagrass meadows, mangroves and coral reefs.  Key deer, the smallest of all white-tail deer are often spotted in the Preserve.  Little Torch Key, named after torchwood trees, is close to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.  By road, Little Torch Key is just 24 miles from Key West.  Ramrod Key was so-named after a ship named Ramrod was wrecked on a reef south of there in the early 1800's.   Summerland Key, is midway between the metropolitan areas of Marathon and Key West.  Cudjoe Key was possibly named for the Joewood Trees found growing there, also known as cudjoewood.  Another possible origin of the name Cudjoe was a fugitive slave or free negro who lived on the island before 1849.  Drug interdiction authorities maintain a "Fat Albert" radar aerostat on Cudjoe Key.  Sugarloaf Key is  a U-shaped island, about 15 miles by road from Key West.  The name for this Key was possible given because of an Indian mound on the eastern side of Upper Sugarlof Key which resembled an old-fashioned loaf of sugar.  Another possible source of the name might be after a variety of pineapple once grown in the area.  The Key is home to the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.  Weather forecasted for the area being paddled by the group today calls for 70-degree temps., light winds and high humidity (approximately 85-90%).  That'll result in a lot of sweating for sure!  Today's leg of the trip will cover some 18 watery miles, with a 20-mile leg tomorrow and then about 7 miles on the last day.  So, you can see, there's a lot more distance to be covered by the paddlers in those little boats than if they were going by land!  Hope everyone keeps well hydrated! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Long trek ahead

The group Jim is paddling with have two very long days ahead of them.  Tomorrow will be an 18-mile trip, and the next day will be an endurance run of 20 miles.  Now,  some of you intrepid youngsters out there might scoff at those distances, but for some of us older geezers those miles look mighty long!  At least Jim has learned to balance calorie intake with the output required for such efforts.  Last summer he had some days when he was all done in at the end of a run because he hadn't consumed enough carbs. while underway.  We're old dogs trying to learn new tricks, and sometimes those lessons don't come without pain.  It didn't dampen his enthusiasm, though, and he's thoroughly enjoying this trip. A real highlight tonight was a presentation to the group by Doug Alderson.  Doug is the Florida Paddling Trails Coordinator, Office of Greenways and Trails of Florida, Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  Impressive title for an impressive man!  He's a professional writer with many books to his credit, a photographer, and a very enthusiastic paddler.  You can check out more about Doug on his website at:  www.dougalderson.net.  Jim and I were privileged to meet him last summer while doing a camping/paddling trip on the west coast of Florida.  Doug came down to the St. Marks area for a day paddle with Jim, and they spent enjoyable hours together.  We subsequently bought a couple of his books.  Jim spent today doing housekeeping chores and laundering some clothing.  His cell-phone battery was charged in company with 12 others at a single available electrical outlet, by making use of a power strip with a couple of 3-way plugs attached!  Guess it's a good thing cell-phone batteries don't require a lot of energy to recharge!  The group will head off to Sugarloaf Key early tomorrow.  Keep track of their progress via the SPOT link on the right side of this page.  Best Wishes!

Day off on Bahia Honda

The group is taking a day of rest on Bahia Honda Key.  Jim checked in from there at 13:02 (1:02 PM, EST) yesterday after departing Knight's Key at 7:52 AM. One part of the group left early from Knight's Key, without breakfast, to take advantage of more advantageous tide conditions.  Jim left with the later group.  His group paddled to Molasses Key, and then went on for a lunch stop at Money Key.  Jim said it had been bothersome getting everything packed into the boats that morning,  All their gear had gotten wet overnight because of heavy dew.  During the 7-mile open-water paddle, though, they had experienced calms and seas.  After coming ashore at Bahia Honda, Jim's first consideration was to find a good place to put his gear out to dry and try to find a place to recharge his cell phone batteries.  The next leg of the trip will be a 20-mile paddle down the keys.  Follow along with Jim in Ibi by clicking on the Follow Ibi's SPOT Track link on the right of this blog.  Have a good one everybody. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To Bahia Honda

Jim pushed off with the group at 7:52 am EST, heading for Bahia Honda.  The weather there is great, as seen on the "net," with zero wind, 73% humidity, clear skies and a temp of 75 degrees.  Out here on the plains our high is expected to be 49 today, with the low temp. this am at 18 degrees F, and it's very dry.  We're in normal OK wind conditions - S/SW at about 15 with gusts over 20.  Don't know how the wild birds survive here in this dry, cold winter weather.  On Bahia Honda the group of paddlers is likely to see many types of birds we'd never see here, including endangered white crowned pigeons.  Poisonwood trees there are probably as common as the Blackjack oaks and cedars are here.  We were surprised when we moved out here several years ago to find that this area regularly hosts migrating pelicans and sandhill cranes, as well as large flocks of snow geese and Canada geese.  Jim should have many opportunities for getting photos while on the extended stay at Bahia Honda (they'll be taking an extra day there) which he'll share on his facebook page and blog upon his return home. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On Knight's Key

Jim checked in today, Tuesday, January 17,  at 2:14 pm EST at Knight's Key.  This Key was an important supply port during construction of Henry Flagler's East Coast Railroad.  It is about midway down the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West and gave Flagler's crews deep-water access to ships laden with building materials.  The area suffered severe devastation from a hurricane on October 3, 1906, with many lives lost.  Today, one can make a 2+ mile trip from Knight's Key out to Pigeon Key Terminus on foot, by bicycle or by tram.  The group Jim is paddling with will spend a day of rest at this point before pushing off to cover the 7-mile open water stretch south to the Lower Keys.  Bahia Honda Key will be their next stop.  Whoops - after talking to Jim on the phone at 7:30 CST, I have to revise this.  The group will be pushing off tomorrow for Bahia Honda where they'll take a one day rest before proceeding southwards.  Jim says he expects they'll have to drag the vessels a bit in the morning due to low water.  Two of the participants suffered falls on the limestone rocks getting ashore at Knight's Key today, and one of the other participants has chosen to be trucked south to Bahia Honda instead of taking part in the 7 mile open-water paddle tomorrow.  The group will stop for lunch  and a breather about half-way across.  Someone visiting the group this evening said the paddling looked like good exercise.  Jim said he commented that it had long passed the definition of exercise and could easily be classified as an endurance run.  The entire group will be ready for a day of rest after tomorrow's paddle.  Fortunately there is little wind being forecast for that area tomorrow, so hopefully their trip might be a bit easier for that.  Don't know if I'd exchange the 15 degrees forecast for our area tonight for that paddle though!  Best wishes to everyone.  Go safely out there!

Key names

Names of the Florida Keys through which Jim is paddling evoke strong images:  Conch, Hog, Knight's,  Duck, Grassy, Fat Deer, Vaca (Spanish for cow), Ramrod, Knockemdown, Cudjoe, Sugarloaf, at al, including the romantic-sounding Islamorada.  While that last name may be pleasing to the ear, it wasn't so easy on actor Gene Hackman last Friday.  He was hit from behind by a pick-up truck while riding a bicycle on the Key.  We're happy to report that his injuries weren't serious; he was briefly hospitalized with bumps and bruises.   Crawl (Kraal) Key was named for the corrals or pens there which once held sea turtles destined for human consumption.  There is now a sea turtle "hospital" in the area, one of very few in the U.S., with facilities and staff trained to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured sea turtles.  The city of Marathon encompasses most of Knight's Key, Boot Key, Key Vaca, Fat Deer Key, Long Point Key, Crawl Key, Grassy Key, Hog Key and East and West Sisters Islands.  Imagine being the city manager of  such a  municipality - with all it's coastal allure, literally miles out at sea.  Satellite images of the area are surprising to this writer, with numerous homes and facilities in such a fragile, vulnerable place.  Key Vaca, by the way, may have been named by or for the intrepid early Spanish explorer Alavar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca who had many incredible adventures beginning with a trip to Florida in the 1500's. An excellent biography of Cabeza de Vaca is available at:  www.pbs.org/weta, on the people index.  It makes for fascinating reading!  Weather conditions for the group with which Jim is paddling call for easterly winds today of 15-20 knots.  Following today's paddle, expected to be about 12 miles, the group will have a "lay day" to rest and recuperate before a 7-mile open-water paddle on the next leg.  God-speed to all.  Be safe out there!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Between Kraal and Fat Deer

Jim checked in at 1:56 EST after a trip of approximately 12 miles from Long Key.  The group is spending the night at Curry Hammock State Park on Long Point Key.  That key is situated between Kraal or Crawl Key and Fat Deer Key, and has a very nice camping place for the group.  For one thing, there is more than one shower.  At Coconut Grove Resort, the entire group had to wait in line for one available shower.  Jim took advantage of the opportunity today to wash his clothes - while wearing them in the shower - before taking care of normal ablutions.  :>)  Don't you all wish you could do that???  Have to give this group a lot of credit.  Included in the group is a 79-year-old woman who is paddling solo.  Her daughter and son are also participants in the trip.  They are from Vermont.  Jim said one member of the over-all group opted out of the paddle today, choosing instead to be transported by truck to the day's end-point, after his experience with yesterday's weather and sea conditions.  Jim was happy that today's weather, although the wind was at 25 knots, led to smaller waves.  His knees, though, are really sore from having to brace against the sides of the boat in the seas.  Happily, everyone in the group made it in safely today.  Weather forecasted for tomorrow is supposed to give them some relief. 


Weather predicted for Long Key and the area the group will be paddling today is for NE winds at 15-20 knots, seas 2-3 feet, with nearshore waters being choppy.  Small craft are advised to exercise caution.  With some long open water stretches in the offing, a later than usual departure time, and an 11-mile paddle ahead of them, the group is facing some challenges.  The later departure time was necessary because of low tide.  An earlier, or more usual, send off would have made the group drag their laden vessels across grassy flats for a long distance.  Not good for boats or paddlers!  God-speed to all of them and may they stay safe!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Long Key State Park

Today's paddle from the BSA camp at Craig Key (Lower Matecumbe Key?)  to the state park on Long Key was only 6.9 miles but brought a few new experiences.  Coming south to the bridge between the two keys, the seas were only 2 feet.  Just southeast of the bridge the group experienced shoals that mandated getting out and walking their vessels.  Jim "found" a sand-filled hole that seemed bottomless and immediately went in up to his mid-section.  At least it was sand and not the mud he found in a similar situation last summer off the coast of lower Georgia!  After the shoals the group experienced 3-4 foot waves with breaking white caps.  One of the kayakers was flipped and lost a bit of gear.  A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat was nearby and quickly helped him get upright and retrieve some of his belongings.  At that point in the journey, the Tennessee reef goes out 4 miles from the Keys, and Jim estimated the waves offshore were running 10 feet.  He said that Ibi was handling quite well except in one instance when the rudder was lifted out of the water, giving him little control.  Ibi is a Superior Expedition, decked-over canoe, built by Scott Smith in Michigan, with great carrying capacity.  Jim is quite enthusiastic about her handling characteristics, except he wishes he could make faster passages.  Still, it's always best to be safe!   Winds for tomorrow and Tuesday are forecast to be stronger and more easterly.  Will have to wait to see if plans for the group will be changed, as there is a longer open-water course awaiting the group.  Go safely out there!

20 years ago

As Jim makes passage toward today's end-point on Long Key, I'm watching his progress via the SPOT link and remembering a passage we made together twenty years ago.  At that time we were sailing as representatives of the State of Delaware in the America 500 Quincentennary Rally, tracing Columbus' voyage of exploration to the new world.  We sailed our 35-foot sloop to Spain, with stops in Bermuda and the Azores along the way in 1991.  We then spent several months in Spain.  Following visits to many of the sites where Columbus had lived or visited, we then traced his route to a tiny island in the Bahamas, through Madeira, and the Canary Islands.  Along the way we met sailors from all over the world, including some from Finland with whom we still keep in touch.  It was an incredible experience and it's hard to believe that our voyage was 20 years ago. The entire trip took over a year, and we sailed over 10,000 blue-water miles.    Our navigational devices were certainly much more advanced than those which had been available to Columbus.  While on blue water crossings Jim does insist on the time-honored practice of taking celestial sights with his sextant and working out the boat's position manually.  We also had a sat-nav on that trip and a good chronometer (a Casio watch!).  Still, it was always necessary to be vigilant - to avoid shipping, partially submerged containers, etc..  Also, in some areas, electronic navigational devices are notoriously lacking in accuracy.  Today, with Jim in a canoe which is infinitesimally smaller than any previous boat in which he's gone to sea, I'm able to sit in comfort at home and watch his progress in great detail, thanks to a satellite a thousand miles up in space.  Jim carries a GPS and the SPOT device with him which gives me much comfort, but as always he also relies on charts, visual line of sight and common sense as well.  He's one dedicated person, seemingly with salt water in his bones, in one small boat, out on the briney, doing his thing, and seemingly having a ball.  Cheers from land-locked western Oklahoma to all who enjoy being on the water. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jimmy Buffet Land

Jim checked in at 1:40 pm today after a paddle of over 12 miles; beginning his run from Windley Key at 7:50 am.  The group was "treated" to 20-25 knot westerly winds, and 1-3 foot running seas.  Most of the trip was in the lee of land.  However, the last mile or so of today's trip was all "uphill," after crossing westward under a bridge and heading back north to the camp site.  The group of 68 paddlers stopped for lunch at Indian Key, a very small island, which used to hold a community of shipwrights and carpenters (with possibly some wreckers thrown in the mix).  Jim said he had no trouble at all getting to sleep last night, after an 18-mile paddle, despite Jimmy Buffet music blaring from loudspeakers at the resort and palm fronds thrashing about overhead in heavy winds.  Tonight's camp will hopefully be a bit quieter, in a Boy Scouts of America base camp at the south end of Craig Key.  Tomorrow's paddle with provide somewhat of a challenge, being in open water for over two miles without a land barrier to block the wind.  Jim says he's just taking it one day at a time, trying to at least stay in sight of the faster group of paddlers making up part of  the contingent.  Tomorrow's destination is the south end of Long Key.  A piece of inspiritational writing dear to Jim is the following:
Some years ago when I had little or no money, I thought I would sail about and see the oceans of the world.
Whenever I get grim or springfull; whenever I feel like knocking peoples hats off and escaping; whenever it's a dank, drizzly November in my soul, then I know it's time to get to sea again.
Choose any path you please, and ten-to-one it carries you down to water.  There's a magic in water that draws all men away from the land, leads them over the hills, down creeks, and streams, and rivers to the sea.
The sea, where each man, as in a mirror, finds himself.    Ishmael
To each of you, enjoy the journey!


The group will be pushing off early today, Saturday, January 14,  from Coconut Grove Resort on Windley Key.  All of Windley Key is within the municipal limits of the community of Islamorada.  Prior to construction of Henry Flagler's East Coast Railroad down through the keys in the early 1900s, Windley Key was actually two small islands, known as Umbrella Keys.  The two islands were filled in during construction of the railroad and the name was changed to Windley Key after a settler.  Several extensive stone quarries were worked on the key, yielding fossilized coral in the form of Key Largo limestone.  The limestone was used in construction of the rail bed, and in later years to make ornamental features for buildings.  The quarries were worked until the 1960s.  Jim will write more on this history later.  Being a susperstitious sailor of long standing, I'm thankful that the trip yesterday was a safe one.  It's believed by most sailors that no voyage should begin on a Friday, and certainly not on Friday the 13th!   :>) :>)  Hope today is a good day for all. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Update on first day

Just got a phone call from Jim at Coconut Grove Resort, Windley Key.  He's paddling the only canoe in a group of 68 vessels.  All the other paddlers are in kayaks, including a 20-foot tandem British-made kayak paddled by a husband and wife team.  Sixteen paddlers from Michigan are also in the group.  Jim said it's hard to keep up with the group, as kayaks are built more for speed than are canoes.  He also said he doesn't envy the group organizers, as "herding" paddlers seems to be akin to herding cats.  Does paddling a kayak make one independent thinking or do only independent thinkers paddle kayaks?????  :>)  Jim had a bare 5 minutes to down his lunch before getting back underway shortly after noon, and  he got in at Coconut Grove shortly before the offshore tide level gave way to bare grass.  The distance covered was 18,9 miles, which Jim paddled in 6 hours, 5 minutes.  Not bad Jim!!!   Hope his next door tent neighbor doesn't mistake the full moon for the sun and start noisily breaking camp at 4:30 am tomorrow as he did last night.  I think everyone in the group deserves a good night's rest after a long day.  He's enjoying the group adventure and looking forward to a more leisurely 12-mile paddle tomorrow.  God speed!

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

This Florida State Park, at mile marker 102.5 on the Overseas Highway (US1), is located on Key Largo.  It offers opportunities to explore mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks as well as a coral reef.  There is a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium.  Glass bottom boat tours and snorkeling trips to the reef provide lots of opportunities to view sea life in-situ.  Additionally, there are two man-made beaches for swimming and snorkeling.  About 100 feet offshore of one of these are some remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck, easily viewed by snorkelers. An interesting place!

Checked in

Jim checked in via the SPOT at 2:48 EST at a point just south of the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park.  He's approximately 18 miles from today's start at Pennekamp Coral State Park on Key Largo.  I'm sure everyone will be ready for some rest after an 18-mile open water paddle.  R&R (not the Navy version) are sure to be in order! 


Aanyone wishing to follow Jim's paddle progress can check out the link to the right:  Follow Ibi's SPOT Track.  This neat application gives real time positions updated approximately every 10 minutes and can be viewed as a map with street names, as a satellite view (really cool) or as a hybrid map.  Will make postings as Jim is able to check in, understanding he's concerned about saving cell phone batteries since the group will be tent camping. He does carry extra batteries for the SPOT unit. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

miles to go

Jim checked in yesterday for this newest adventure.  He was 1952.7 miles from home when he called.  Anyone who knows him will not find that precise measurement surprising.  At the moment he's on a bus, headed back to Key Largo to the Pennecamp Coral State Park where the group will begin their 110-mile paddle south to Key West.  The entire group checked in yesterday and spent the night about one mile north of Key Largo at a lodging house.  A skipper's meeting is scheduled for this evening.  Jim said there are various rumors about the weather they are expected to experience, but he's relying on official weather forecasts.  After years of blue water sailing he's sure to keep a good eye on the weather.  The group is to break camp at first light tomorrow and be ready to push off at 7AM.  The first leg is going to be a challenge for everyone - 18 miles of open salt water paddling.  Good luck and God speed to all!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rolling to the Keys

Jim sends a happy high-five as he sets out today driving to the southern terminus of his trip in the Florida Keys.  He enjoyed an 8-mile paddle in the Peace River yesterday, with flat waters and calm wind.  He's now looking forward  to exploring the Keys with about 70 other paddlers.  Participants in this seven day open water paddle will be leaving their vehicles at the southern end of the trip and be shuttled back to the northern entry point.  Jim said he'll be thinking about the 7-mile bridge in the Keys as he drives over it, wondering what it will be like to paddle back underneath it.  Together the two of us have driven over and sailed under many bridges, here and abroad, but never this particular bridge.  Fair winds and gentle seas are my wish for everyone participating in this waterborne exploration of the Keys.  Go safely!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Salt water paddling today

Jim is paddling the Peace River near Punta Gorda today.  You can follow him along via  Follow Ibi's SPOT Track link on the right side of the blog.  He was enjoying near 90-degree weather there yesterday, poolside, with a couple of friends.  Must be nice.  The birds and I were shivering in 40 degrees of cloudy overcast here in NW Oklahoma.  We're keeping the home fires burning!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jim made the road trip from St. Johns County down to Punta Gorda today and is staying for two days there with friends who moved down from Delaware.  He'll be out paddling on the Peace River tomorrow. You can keep up with his travels via  Follow Ibi's SPOT Track link on the right side of the blog.  Jim said he's getting some good photographs as he goes along and will share them with everyone on the blog when he returns home.  Have a happy everyone!  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On The Road - 1

I left NW Oklahoma for the first leg to visit a couple of our friends in North Florida. The first day was 12.5 hours at the wheel for 655.8 miles. The night was spent at a motel in Vicksburg.

On day 2, I completed the trip from Vicksburg to North Florida, and another 13 hours at the wheel for 670.8 miles. I had hoped to make the legs roughly equal, but was surprised to see there was only 14 miles difference between the two. I encountered a lot of fog, first near Hattiesburg, MS, and then crossing Mobile Bay, AL. I was surprised to find the fog inland was actually denser than on the bay.

Saturday, the 7th, was an R&R day. In the afternoon, we drove to St. Augustine and stopped at Carmelo's for pizza. For those who know St. Augustine, the old Florida Railroad administration offices are now dormitories for Flagler College. Carmelo's is right across the street. Imagine that, a pizza parlor and grill across from the dorm complex! Location, location, location. We got two huge 20" pizzas with the idea of keeping the leftovers for dinner. They were so big, that by evening, we were still too full to eat more. The next day when I paddled the St. Johns River, I took a couple of those immense slices for lunch. Keeping the boat stable is one thing.  Balancing a big slab of pizza  on one's leg while paddling, so the saucy slice doesn't slip off into the bilge water, requires a somewhat different skill set, and more attention.

St. Johns Jog

 Follow Jim's  SPOT location today - on the St. Johns River for the day.  Alligators?  Waterfowl?  Nostalgia?  Check it out via the link on the right-hand side of the blog site, Follow Ibi's SPOT track.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

On the Road Again

Finally out the door and enroute to Key Largo for the Florida Keys Challenge.  Again, you can follow on SPOT if you wish, by clicking the link in the right margin.  Jean may put a few short updates on the blog, and when I return, I'll have the full account and pictures.  Cheers, jim

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Great Salt Plains

Great Salt Plains and Lake

The water level in the lake has just gotten back up to its normal conservation level. Like most lakes in the state, to varying degress, it was mostly dry all summer. The added brownish picture in the upper left of the aerial photo was taken later in the day, it appears. The whole area should be salt white. The area has a very gradual gradient, making the lake cross section about like a cedar shake---long and thin. The water is so shallow, I would guess you could wade three-fourths of the lake. There are, however a couple upsides. The lake is on a major waterfowl and bird migratory route. Over 300 species of bird life are reportedly found here. Half of the lake, the shallowest area, is closed to any watercraft most of the winter to provide a quiet resting and feeding area for waterfowl. The salt plain is so large I understand it is visible from space, and it provides one of only two spots on earth where unique selenite crystals can be found. Digging for these is a popular pass time, and many people have sought these treasures in the salt plain. Unfortunately, a group of Boy Scouts dug up a bomb. Then someone remembered the area used to be used as a bombing range. It was closed for about a year until the area was scanned and ruled safe.

The southeast shoreline is bluff. Deeper water can be found as you approach the spillway at the east end of the lake, but from there the land flattens out very quickly. An advantage is that small children can play in water near the beach that rarely passes their kneecaps.

A disadvantage is that the bottom is never very far away, and this large stone shoal is about 50 ft. across, and barely awash, making it a hazard well away from the shore.

While I went to the lake to get some paddling exercise, Jean finished a baby quilt called a sheep and rail fence pattern. The border is a cable pattern. It is a beautiful job that the picture unfortunately doesn’t do justice to.

As for the lake, I managed another ten miles in light air, and bright sunshine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012



Doesn’t she look just so serene, so quiet? Abby unfortunately has this habit of strumming the metal bed frame to make enough noise to raise anyone out of a coma. She has no front claws, but it’s like she’s wiping her feet fifty times before getting back in bed. So she woke me out of a sound sleep at 4:45 this morning. Then the pre-trip checklists and packing issues started streaming nonstop through my mind, so getting back to sleep was impossible. Today I’ll get the oil changed in the Ram, tend to those checklists, repack everything for the unusual requirements of this trip, and try to get in another pre-trip paddle tomorrow.

If you have periodic trouble sleeping, I found Melatonin to work wonders. I was introduced to it on ship. It is a natural extract, so you’re not pumping strange chemicals through your system, is non-prescription, and of importance to us on board ship, it causes no problem with the Coast Guard. The greatest thing I liked is it worked without causing a stupor or adversely affecting performance. Part of this may be because the directions call for two tablets, and we always only used one, and it still worked. I could sleep soundly, but still rouse immediately if an alarm went off or someone was knocking at the cabin door, and then get up and perform normally. There is the usual liability warning on the label about operating machinery, but I never experienced a problem with myself or anyone else using it. Like any sleep aide, it is for limited use and not to be combined with any other medication.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back on the Canadian

One of the more interesting sluice-gates I think I've seen. 
Controlling the Canadian River's water level
in the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge.

There was good water level in the lower reaches of the river,
but you could see where it had dropped about 3 ft. since the last heavy rain.

By the time we were about 4 miles up the river, the sand banks and
log jams got much larger and the water much shallower.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Canadian River/Stinchcomb

Historic Route 66 Bridge over Canadian River

When trying to get as much paddling exercise as possible before the Florida Keys Challenge, I hated to lose yesterday. But, with winds of 47 here, and 58 and 62mph clocked around us, an open lake with no wind break was no place to be. So, this morning I started out on an empty Sunday morning road while counting off the top 50 country tunes of 2011 on the radio. I normally wouldn’t go 185.2 miles round trip for a day paddle, but the Flatwater Paddlers of Oklahoma were doing a New Year’s Day paddle, and I hadn’t had a chance to meet any of the group yet except Scott Richard on our failed Arkansas River trip. I started several hours earlier then they had planned with the idea of meeting them on the river. A look at Google Earth showed missing them would have been nearly impossible, but miss them I did. I met a large group from OKC Kayak, but not a trace of the Flatwater Paddlers.

Canada Geese on the Canadian

This trip was on the Canadian River at the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge. This is located in Yukon, a suburb on the west side of Oklahoma City. I went all the way up the river until I was paddling as much sand as water, searched three branches off the river into the wetlands areas, and came about at 2pm. I saw a lot of herons, but they were so skittish I wasn’t able to get close enough for a photo. A few geese and mallards were more attainable after several attempts.

I also didn’t see any beaver, but certainly saw their work with several trees taken down, and dozens girdled. In all, I was on the water five hours and managed 11.1 miles.