OK, this is going to be one of my long ones. EXTREMELY long.
Over the New Year's holiday weekend, I went on a kayak camping
trip that I used to do every new year's, but had not done for the
last several years. The trip was to the 10,000 islands, to a
special place there, which some of you may know about. This
particular island was being homesteaded by a man by the name of Mike
Ward. Mike, who passed away a couple of years ago, had friends that
came to visit him, not only from around the country, but from around
the world. These visits required a fairly significant effort on
everyone's part, since Mike lived on a mangrove island 10 miles away
from anything else that could be called "civilization". Still,
everyone made that effort every year, and in a big way. There have
been as many as 80 people at these gatherings, most of them arriving
by kayak or canoe, but some also came by sail or power boats. This
year, at least 40 arrived for New Year's.
Thanks, Rege, for the warning about manatees & eagle rays...
but the only thing that bumped my boat this time was a trout that
missed my lure 3 feet from the boat & slammed its head into the
kayak. What is it that all of these critters have, with hitting my
boat? Any way, I had just barely started my trip, about 1/4 mile
into it, when, about 50 feet to my left, several manatees started
thrashing around in the water, their backs & tails coming up &
slamming the water like beavers. It was like they were telling
me, "Hey Don, remember us?" Oh yeah. I do. I started using a very
loud & splashy stroke from that point, for the next several miles,
where I knew there would be more of them. There were. It was a
great day for manatee watching. I had gotten a later start than
planned, (3:20 pm launch), and I would have to buck the incoming
tide for the first hour, so I was paddling hard (with a HEAVILY
loaded kayak) to get there before dark. Conditions were great.
Fair weather, and only about 5 mph wind. It was so calm, that later
in the trip, I could see the spray from dolphins blowing when I was
about 1/4 mile away from them. It looked like the spray must have
been going 8 feet straight up.
I arrived at the island a little after 5:30, so I still had
enough daylight to get my campsite set up. That night, we had a
nice campfire, where I renewed some old aquaintances, and made some
new friends. Some of the new friends were talented musicians. They
had a guitar, a congo drum, another unique drum, and several small
percussion pieces. They played until about 11pm, and some of us
sang along, when we knew the words. I learned that I needed to
find "Paco de Lucia's - Entres de las Aguas" when I got back.
Saturday morning, I went fishing, and within the first 1/2 hour
I caught a 25" redfish. I brought it back to the campsite, and tied
it off in the water there, to keep it swimming until just before the
5:00 happy hour, where everyone would share the special treats that
they had brought for the weekend. I had brought 2 lbs. of shrimp
cocktail & a bowl full of kiwi fruit as my contribution, so now I
would be able to add redfish to the menu. I went back out fishing,
and caught a couple of nice sized sea trout, but released them...
they would be "out of season" until the next day (hard to do,
but...?). After catching them, I tried for a snook, to round out
the "Gulf Coast Slam", but no such luck. It was a great day of
fishing any way. I was able to explore around some of the
neighboring islands, and check out some good fishing spots.
At 5:00 happy hour, the redfish was a big hit. I cooked it on
the fire, in a Reynold's cooking bag, after oiling the fillets &
sprinkling them with a bit of cayenne, garlic, and seasoned salt.
Besides my contributions, there were dipping chips with 4 different
dips - guacamole, hummus, and a couple of unidentifiable (but good!)
others. There was freshly made sushi, mozzarella with tomato slices
& basil, and plenty of wine, rum, and even tequila made the rounds.
After the happy hour, I walked to the opposite end of the island, a
pretty fair distance, visiting some friends on the way, finally
ending up on a beach where some friends had sailed in, for the
deeper anchorage. One of the friends had helped introduce me to
kayaking years ago, so it was great to see him again.
When I made my way back to the main fire some time later, a lot
of story telling was going on. With a group like this, its always
great to be a part of that. There were a lot of rememberances of
Mike - a pretty amazing guy. He was a retired airline pilot - a
pioneer, really. He was among the group of pilots that flew trans-
atlantic flights before the jet streams were really understood. He
once told a story of how they were apparently flying against a jet
stream, and although their instruments showed normal airspeed, they
just weren't making progress, and were close to running out of fuel
before landing. Another story about Mike, was how, at the age of
72, he had kayaked SOLO from Alaska to Washington state.
One thing that was discussed was a bit disturbing. Mike had
apparently tried to homestead the island, and died in the 19th
year. If he had lived another year, he might have had a legal claim
to the island - disputable, but possible. Well, he didn't make it,
so now, the island has been the focus of several government groups.
Chances are, that this island, and possibly several others,
including Panther & White Horse, that have not been regulated in the
past, will be in the future. What does that mean for us? It means
that the islands may be "permit camping only". An arbitrary number
might be assigned to each island, and that is all that will be
allowed to use these islands, similar to camping in the Everglades
National Park. The days of having casually arranged camping
outings... ie: come one, come all... may be numbered. It would be
the death knell for this particular gathering every New Year's...
something that I have participated in almost every year for 10 years.
I have not mentioned the name of this island, and won't here.
Those that do know, please don't post it on the discussion group.
It's not my place to invite 100 or so people to this place, or this
event, so I won't. But, since possible future actions may affect
all of us, as kayakers, I wanted everyone to be aware.
It seems a bit anti-climactic, now, to tell about the fireworks
display that we had saturday night, but it was spectacular. I have
described it, in the past, as being something that would make a
small city proud, but that doesn't cover it. Not even close.
Someone said it was Disney-like, and someone else said it beat
Epcot. All I can tell you is... there were 6 guys lighting them,
dropping the mortars so quickly, it was almost continous for 30 to
45 minutes. In the morning, after beach clean-up, the pile was
impressive. This is a group that takes the words to heart - "Take
pictures, leave nothing."
On my way back, on sunday, a friend asked me to watch out for
some friends that were going back by canoe. He had to take someone
to the launch site in his power boat, to get to work on time, and
the canoe-ers would be leaving in his absence. He would be coming
back for them, after making sure that the first person was on their
way. I caught up with them just as they were reaching the channel
markers, and stayed with the group the rest of the way. Among the
canoe-ers were two women in one canoe, that were maybe 20, at the
oldest... doing this for the first time ever. It was an older
aluminum canoe, and a leaker. Paddle 5 minutes, pump water for 2
minutes, paddle 5, pump 2. These gals are TROOPERS. One of them
had never before seen a manatee, and I promised them that they
would, before this trip was through. Barely two miles before the
trip was over, I spotted a nose poking out of the water about 100 or
so feet ahead. They missed it, but as we approached, we saw that
there were 3 of them, including a baby. They were thrilled. I had
a good feeling, seeing these two young women bucking the stereotype
of non-active youth... they even refused a ride in the power boat
when it caught up to us... instead, choosing to continue to paddle
5, pump 2.. so they could say, "We did it. We went the WHOLE way."
Makes you feel good.
What a GREAT New Year's weekend.