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Chocoloskee to Flamingo, seven days through the Everglades

February 15, 2011

I added this map to help see where Chocoloskee and Flamingo are. You can move it around or zoom out to see better.


    February 8, 2011, Pavillon Key

February 8 was our first day. I had briefly met Keith and John prior to that morning.

We lauched from Chocoloskee, a little before the marina.We left our cars on the side of the road. Keith’s son was going to bring the car to Flamingo for us. Talk about service!

Getting to the ocean was a shallow water navigation challenge. Once out of the inner waters and the never ending oyster beds, howling wind made our trip very short and we arrived early at Pavillon. Keith had a rudder pin failure. John managed to change it at sea but that pin broke again in minutes. I gave another pin to Keith so he could change it on shore.

Once at Pavilion Key, the wind made it difficult to put the tents up. I had to tie up to bushes.

Flamingo bound

In order: Keith, Rick and John.

    February 9, 2011, The bog

I’m writing this in a hammock hung between to driftwood bits. Rick gave me some rye and ginger and I’m a bit tipsy.

Rick, John and Keith are my travelling companions in a trip through the Everglades. They do this trip every year and Keith keeps a log of their trips on Hobies’ forum. Normally the start from Flamingo to Chocoloskee but we are doing it the other way because of the prevailing winds of the week.

Although the direction we took was supposed to help us keep the wind at our back, this is the second day and we’ve had the wind in the face all day and tomorrow is supposed to be dead calm or coming from the South which would be worse. We only have 70 miles to cover in 7 days so it doesn’t matter. It’s giving me a great opportunity to see how other people handle their AIs.

Some stuff is simply normal sailing logic such as choosing to go into the wind instead of tacking too much. I’ve also witnessed some of the breakage. Keith broke two rudder pins in 2 minutes. I’ve seen how easy it is to break and how debilitating it is. The entire rudder unit is too weak to survive the stress of difficult seas. You have to reduce the sail size to avoid rudder trouble, which is a shame since it’s so much fun to ride this boat had into the waves. The entire front section plunges and somehow makes it back to the surface without stopping the boat. Just don’t plan on staying dry.

Packing for this trip, I took everything including the kitchen sink. My kayak barely floats. Fortunately, I’m still following and the stuff is staying dry in the dry bags. I don’t believe that the guys know I even have a computer with me. We already have so much stuff, including seven gallons of water, but I needed to test this aspect of the trip.

I took a lot of pictures but I’ll have to treat them once I’m on land close to a power cord and away from the mosquitoes. This hammock is mosquito less but I’s hard on my neck to write this much and I keep hitting the wrong keys#!

    February 10, Scorpion beachth

We lauched at noon. There was a breeze coming from the South. It was welcomed even though it was in our faces. At least it took care of the bugs.

The mosquitoes made my time in the hammock really unpleasant. Before crawling into it I was bitten all over my body by no-see-ums http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratopogonidae. The itch made me believe that there were no-see-ums inside the hammock (the hammoc is enclosed by a bug screen). Lying inside the cramped hammock, the high temperatures and general stickiness of all the artificial materials made it very difficult to cover myself. I was sweating profusely. It’s only at around 4 am that I was able to sleep a little. It was a light sleep. The hammock truly is not that comfortable for sleeping. I will have to be really desperate to use it again for anything than reading a book.

Today, we travelled only seven miles. It took us only a couple of hours even in the light contrary wind. Once we got to what they refer to as High Land, some volunteers were in the spot chosen by our fearless leader. Keith and Rick were a bit irritated but we found a spot only 100 feet from the intended destination.

Becky, one of the volunteer, is from Ashton North Carolina. She says that Ashton is the Bolder Colorado of the East Coast. I asked her how she felt about the fact that Florida recycles nothing and a lively refreshingly lefty discussion ensued.

Becky and her partner were dropped on the Island for three days by the park service. They were on an invasive plant species eradication project. The Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) which is a very nice garden plant was their target. The plant grows and flourishes better than the native plants. The effort to get rid of the plant “looks like trying to perpetually cut the grass to get rid of it” according to a very incredulous Keith.

Becky killing Brazilian pests

The process of eradication is very tedious. Instead of yanking the plant off the ground, they spray the base of the plant with a hormone disruptor. It sounded like giving the plant birth control to me but the disruptor kills the plant over time. In my opinion, it’s just not very satisfying as physically destroying it.

The evenings on High land were very pleasant. There were mosquitoes but at least there were none of the no-see-ums. It’s the lather that can really drive you nuts.

Around the fire, the general agreement among my partners was that the Adventure Island was not meant for more than gentle sailing on some Swiss Lake on a calm day with a very small and timid 11 year old girl at the helm… and that to make my trip with the AI will require a lot of repairs and modifications. I can see that the rudder is not meant for sailing. The plastic is not the nylon reinforced type of material that you would expect but some cheap brittle stuff reminiscent of celluloid. The hatches are so leaky that I will have to install a permanent bilge pump and try to seal the line holes that go to the overdesigned under engineered rudder.

The rudder on such a boat should be nearly indestructible. Changing the material comes to mind but Hobie could also redesign it so I can withstand direct blows. Normal kayak rudder sure can but they are often made of aluminum and are not as cute.

Fortunately, I can drive the boat without the rudder. It is possible to steer it with the paddle. It’s not always easy but at least that will not fail.

    February 11, 2011, High land

We remained at High Land for a day of fishing. The weather was forever changing from hot to cold, windy to dead calm. In front of us, away from Island, we could see a line of ominous clouds passing but somehow never getting to us. The sky was very biblical if that means anything to you.

Of course, when you go fishing with connoisseurs, there is a right time and place to fish. I’ve never given much taught to tides since I generally don’t have much of a choice as to when I’ll be on or in the water. Keith and Rick were adamant that we had to leave only when the tide was right, which was sometime after noon. In the meantime I went along the shore to find something to shoot with my Olympus.

I had heard that there were deer on the Island and what do you know I got to see two of them. They were so unafraid that one of them actually walked up to me, within about 20 yards. I took many pictures but when my subjects just wouldn’t leave I had to exit myself. It was sort of like shooting animals at the zoo.

When I returned, it was still not time to go fishing but I went anyway. The volunteer guy had told me that there were grass beds right in front of the beach and that there could be trout there. My comrades were doubtful but I tried it anyway and got my first spotted seatrout there http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynoscion_nebulosus. I caught my second trout near the mouth of the river that we were supposed to explore in the hope of finding the elusive red fish that looks like a carp.

When Keith and Rick got to the mouth of the river, I had my two fish. I hooked and lost another trout that was larger than the ones I had, judging by what I saw flying out of the water. After that I only got silverbacks, which are catfish with spikes. I managed to get spiked real bad on the foot, so I had to go back to get my foot cleaned off before it got infected. It took a few hours before the skin surrounding the puncture lost its red color.

Keith caught a dozen silverbacks but no trout. Rick had caught a trout earlier in the day. We ate Rick’s and my two trout with mashed potatoes. Before the trip Keith told each of us to bring three packs of dried mashed potatoes, so we had enough to last a few weeks. The idea is that if we have a lot of potatoes we’re bound to catch a lot of fish sine that’s why we bring the stuff. I think it’s called magical thought… I guess it’s part of fishing.

Spotted seatrout is a delicate white fleshed fish. Keith really has is fish frying down to an art.

    February 12, 2011, High Land again

The Everglades are such a special place. The landscape and the wildlife is straight out of a children’s book. I feel very privileged to share the experience of the people I’m doing this trip with.

Today we woke up in the rain. We were cold and everything was wet. Fortunately the rain stopped and we were able to pack in relative dryness.

We left early without Keith. He’s always a bit late and this time we simply let him leave as late as he wanted. High Land was a very nice place but it felt good to move on. We had a perfect strong back wind all the way to Scorpion beach. We could have easily sailed all the way to Flamingo over 35 miles away.

Scorpion beach is a bit narrow and nested amongst mangrove threes. It’s really lovely. Picturesque is the word. We were cold when we got there and we made a fire while our boats were still stuck in the mud offshore. Finding the wood got us warm and by the time the fire got going the sun came out. It turned out to be one of our best evenings with zero mosquitoes or no see ums.

Rick and I stayed around the fire into the wee hours, meaning 9 pm.

    February 13, 2011, Middle Cape

The night was very cold. My sleeping bag is rated for minus 7 Celsius but it obviously showed its true rating. Without clothing the bag is ok until about 15 degrees and really uncomfortable at 10. I always say to people that a bag is only good to about 15 degrees above the official rating, well it’s true. I had to put a fleece jacket and socks. I would have worn more had I had anything else to put on. I also put the hammock’s cover over my bag. It worked out ok but I’ll pack some seriously warm clothing for my trip.

We left Shark River and Scorpion Beach at half past ten. Keith was behind as usual. We waited a while but again we ended up leaving him behind to mend his kayak. Otherwise we would have passed out of heat exhaustion as we dressed for an arctic crossing.

The wind was strong and straight behind us and we covered our 15 miles in less than 3 hours. My average speed was around 6 miles per hour (10 mph) with top speeds at 8 miles per hour. Since the sea was not too choppy the boat did not pitch too much. When the kayak tries to go over a large rolling wave the tip of the boat often digs into it, slowing the boat down, but more often than not the kayak still manages to overtake the wave without too much trouble. It can be fun but, as I pointed out earlier, it puts a lot of stress on the stirring system, both the handle and the rudder have to work extra hard to keep the boat in line. This is the sort of wear I will have to be mindful of since replacing any part of that system is really difficult at sea and often requires special parts that I may simply not have.

The beach we’re sleeping on goes on for many miles. It’s named Middle Cape http://www.floridapaddlingtrails.com/tripreport.asp?map=594. It’s our last sleeping stop if we manage to reach Flamingo tomorrow.

When I reached the beach I had to haul my boat way up a steep hill. I thought I was alright but I had to pull it up another three times. At one point I was worried that I would have to move my tent. The tide was one of those really high ones. On my GPS the curb went all the way up the screen indicating a very high tide. I simply don’t remember how many feet that meant.

Keith prepared us a very well received meal of sausages and Brussels’ sprouts.

    Valentines day!, Flamingo

Again we left Keith behind. He may take 15 minutes to put his pants but always manages to catch up. The wind around the East Cape was coming sideways, so the first 5 miles were easy. Turning the Cape, we had to go into the wind all the way to Flamingo, about 10 miles further. Fortunately the winds were strong and it only took a few hours.

We had to steer clear of mud flats near the port entry. Twice a dolphin surfaced right next to me. It never came to the surface once I had the camera at hand.

Everything about this trip went smoothly. Keith and the boys really have it down to a science. If you want to cross the Everglades I suggest that you do it in the winter and that you consult this site : http://www.floridapaddlingtrails.com/tripreport.asp?map=594.

9 Comments
  1. Natasha permalink

    Everything but the kitchen sink? Kayak barely floats? Advise us of your “donations” overboard, when the ocean gets rougher :)

    • Well, next time I will not have seven gallons of water! That’s seven times 3.8 liters which translates to 26.6 kg or 58.5 pounds! I’ll also leave the lawn chair behind but I’ll have my diving stuff for a while.

  2. popeal permalink

    saw the link to your blog on spearboard; very entertaining!
    Wishing you fair and warmer weather.
    Albert

  3. Amazing expedition! Soon I will be on my own. I will be reading and learning a lot from your dedicated reports. thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks, You can read the edited version in the next four issues of Small Craft Advisor (81, 82, 83, 84). Other stories about small craft voyages are in that magazine. No commercial fluff pieces, only stories.

      An epub version of the entire trip should be available in the next year.

      • Natasha permalink

        Why am I getting emails of someone’s comments?

        Natasha

      • I think it’s because you started the thread. It may also depend on your wordpress options. I’ll look into it.

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