Friday, February 15, 2013

St. Johns River - Day 3

The roar of airboat engines awoke us at 5 am. As soon as the first signs of light appeared in the sky, a barrage of gunfire commenced that could not have been surpassed by the largest National Guard training range. It seemed nearly impossible that any wildlife could survive that much lead in the air. Maybe it was the change of schedule, maybe being jarred awake by the heavy gunfire and airboats, but I was all thumbs this morning and seemed to have to do everything twice. We got off to a late start, not pushing off from the shore until ten o’clock.

We encountered our first two airboats up close. The first was just someone passing by, and the second was Ken Stafford, a field program supervisor for St. Johns Water Management. He stopped, and we floated along side-by-side for about 15 minutes as we talked. He reiterated about the dikes being private property, and that he had just seen a sheriff arrest a man on a dike a short time before. We had seen the sheriff’s car pass along the top of the dike. It seems the man was a jogger who felt the dike would be a quiet place to exercise. He received two citations for $250 in fines. Perhaps the district has been having some problems with damaged equipment, since their locks and dams are so isolated, but otherwise that seems like such an excessive measure. We were on the dike while portaging, and had a district helicopter make a couple low-level passes over us. I guess they understood what we were doing, as we never had a problem. I had had the passing thought that if we got in a jam we could always camp for a night on the dike. So much for that. After our conversation, we got a chance to watch Ken drive his airboat up a ramp and over the dike.

Ken Stafford, about to force his airboat up the ramp that
crosses the dike.
About to mount the top of the dike.
Gus moves out of the prop wash, which unfortunately isn't really
captured by the camera.  You can see the river's surface being
blown, but the lens totally missed the white spray that fills the air.
Just about 50 yards past where he left us, we turned from the canal into a narrow, twisting channel. It was the start of what they call the ‘hydrological St. Johns,’ or the first of the river’s natural channel. The next feature we passed was Bulldozer Canal, and a few miles later we entered and transited Lake Hell-N-Blazes.

An anhinga hanging its feathers out to dry.


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