We May Not Have To Trade In Our New Canoe After All
As I mentioned in the discussion on our page for Royal Terns, I managed to flip our new canoe shortly after Nancy got that shot. Although I believe that was the first time I’ve ever done that to Nancy, it really damaged her confidence. She has been more hesitant about our canoeing adventures ever since. She has even been considering trading in our new canoe for another model. It might be too early to tell, but that may have changed after our last trip at Lake Kissimmee State Park.
Our New Canoe
We bought the Kevlar Flex-core Wenonah Escape, a 17½-ft, 53-pound canoe, because our old 75-pound, 17-ft, aluminum Grumman seemed to be getting heavier every time we used it. We got the new canoe less than six months before our Cedar Key trip and had used it only about eight times. But we had already noticed that although our new canoe was faster in calm conditions, without the small keel of the Grumman, it was much more sensitive to weather conditions. Especially in a crosswind, the weight distribution of our gear was now critical; too much weight aft and the wind would tend to turn the vessel away from the wind, and having the center of gravity too far forward would turn the canoe into the wind.
The Fateful Cedar Key Trip
We were in Cedar Key for the 53rd Annual Old Florida Celebration of the Arts, but decided to stay around for a few days to explore. It was a beautiful, sunny day when we began the canoe trip that morning. The winds remained about 5 knots throughout most of the day. Our first stop was on the first island, Atsena Otie Key, about a half-mile south, to get pictures of downtown Cedar Key. Then we were off to Seahorse Key, a couple of miles further to the southwest, to get lighthouse pictures and such. The “Royal Terns” was one of Nancy’s last photos, taken just before 5 pm. The wind started to pick up as we headed back to Cedar Key. By the time we passed Grassy Key (about 2/3 of the way back), winds were approaching 15 knots, and we were in the trough of a chop that was higher than one foot. As the wind was picking up, I was spending more and more effort maintaining our course and devoting less force to making forward progress. I was wearing out, so I decided that I needed to shift some weight forward. That’s when I made some critical errors in judgment. Without alerting Nancy, I raised up just enough to lift a gear bag over the next thwart. But that was too much. I clearly overestimated the stability of the canoe and the seriousness of our situation. We flipped.
Most of our gear was in dry bags, but Nancy hadn’t put away her best camera and lens before starting the crossing. From the water, we righted the canoe, rounded up and returned most of our gear to the canoe, and from inside the waterlogged canoe, paddled or swam to shallower water west of Atsena Otie Key. There we could stand up and touch bottom, bail out the canoe, and continue to the Cedar Key harbor. Then, we immediately called Canon to see how best to preserve the equipment. They said we didn’t need to do anything except mail it to them so they could take care of it. But they couldn’t. We had to buy a new Canon EOS 7D body and 100-400mm zoom lens. Oww.
Redemption in Lake Kissimmee State Park
At Lake Kissimmee State Park (official website), there is the Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail, which winds over eleven miles. Nancy has brought her school camping club here before, and they have canoed this trail. We planned to follow our traditional routine of launching just west of the bridge to the cow camp, heading west along Zipprer Canal into Lake Rosalie, then south to Rosalie Creek. Next, we paddle to Tiger Lake, then east-northeast to Tiger Creek.
Tiger Creek then leads to Lake Kissimmee, and from there, it’s a shorter paddle northwest to the east entrance to the Zipprer Canal. The journey then ends at the State Park Marina, just a short hike around the water structure from the starting point.
This trip started normal enough. It was mostly sunny at first and windy, but we didn’t feel the wind from below the banks, especially in the tree-lined sections of Zipprer Canal. Lake Rosalie was another story. By then, the wind was seventeen to twenty-four knots out of the southwest, which means its fetch was essentially the whole length of the lake. As we entered the lake, we paddled directly into at least 1½ feet waves. We were paddling full speed ahead, and Nancy was really getting pounded riding up (and down) in the bow. (Where I came from, you’d have to pay at least a quarter to get this much excitement). It was Nancy’s understanding that we should be hugging the shoreline where it would be calmer, a misconception apparently held by many people. It is only flatter near the windward shore, where there is no fetch, or distance that the wind has blown over the water to build up the waves. On the leeward (away from the wind) side where we were, there is no relief; the waves are as high as they are going to get.
Whether in the front or back, a straight stroke along the side of the canoe will tend to turn the canoe away from that side. Normally, the two paddlers would be stroking on opposite sides of the canoe – one on port and one starboard (right as you face forward) to cancel out their individual turning forces. You would change sides on a regular but not too frequent basis. One would call out when they need to change sides, so both paddlers change sides together. The weaker paddler (or the photographer if they are not the same person) would usually be in the bow. The stern paddler is normally responsible for course corrections and casual maneuvering. S/he does this by adding a little side flip or “J” to their stroke as necessary. If the paddlers’ strength is similar, few “J”s would be necessary. In other circumstances, they may be required on every stroke. Tight curves, as found in many creeks in Florida (like the two mentioned below), require turning effort from both paddlers. Nancy taught canoeing in her previous day job. She knows more strokes than I do and is very good.
Since we’ve owned this new canoe, I’ve had to modify the standard tandem canoeing protocol/etiquette. As a crosswind picks up, I’ve started making sure the stern paddler is stroking on the lee side (or on the same side as the wind is trying to blow the bow) to better counteract that force. As the wind approaches extreme, I ask the bow paddler (Nancy) to shift so that we are both on that side.
At first, we are paddling directly into the wind. Our next waypoint, the next creek entrance, hidden in the tall grass, is about 45° off the port (left) bow. The problem is, under our current wind conditions, I soon discovered that if I let the bow get over 30° off the wind, then even with both of us paddling hard from the leeward side or even using one of the turning strokes, it takes quite a while (and maybe a lull in the wind) to bring the bow back on course. Paddling in the trough of an occasional 2-foot chop isn’t something I was going to let happen. As we got into the middle of the lake (and the bearing to our waypoint approached the beam), the waves were slightly smaller, and the wind showed signs of weakening (at least part of the time). We changed course, so the wind came from about 30° off the starboard bow, which is as far off the wind as I felt we could reliably recover from. Then we eased off the power a bit (when not recovering from a gust) and let our leeway (the sideways direction and speed that the wind is pushing us) make up the difference in course angle. We eventually found and entered Rosalie Creek.
Rosalie Creek is narrow, winding, picturesque, and protected for the most part. Nancy can photograph. There is some current, which makes station-keeping a little more difficult, especially since I’m already tired. We enjoy the view and the rest, and then we enter Tiger Lake.
Tiger Lake and Lake Kissimmee
As we enter Tiger Lake, we see an osprey catch a fish. Then an eagle tries to take the fish. We watched a remarkable aerial display that lasted at least five minutes. The osprey had a tighter turning radius, but the eagle was always right there. Finally, the osprey dropped the fish. Maybe it decided that it was expending more calories defending the fish than it would have gained from eating it. The eagle made a low pass looking for the fish, but unsuccessful, it flew off, as did the osprey in the opposite direction. A few minutes later, the osprey flew by again and grabbed another fish (without interruption).
Although not quite as strong, the wind is still alive and well. But we are a little more rested. From Tiger Lake, our next waypoint, Tiger Creek, is close to directly downwind. The wind is now helping with our speed. But the waves, which are growing as we cross the lake, are trying to broach the canoe (turn it sideways to the wind, possibly burying the bow in a wave or capsizing the boat when it gets in the trough). This takes heavy corrective paddling from the stern paddler as every wave goes by until we reach Tiger Creek.
Tiger Creek is wider than Rosalie but still serpentine. Again, Nancy is taking pictures (including close-ups of a snail kite eating lunch).
In Lake Kissimmee, our intended track was to the northwest, just off the windward shore of the lake, and the lake was full of water plants, so the waves weren’t too bad. The wind had even started subsiding. We found our way to the canal entrance and then to the marina. Although we were completely bushed, we did manage to get the canoe secured back on top of the van right at sunset.
This wasn’t our longest paddle. We’ve done more than fifteen miles on a day trip on more than one occasion. The most recent time was around Snake Bight east of Flamingo (at the end of the road in Everglades National Park). And even though almost half of that trip was through water about two inches shallower than the canoe with a thick muddy bottom, the weather was mild, and the trip wasn’t as tough as this one. (Interestingly enough, on our last trip to Flamingo, Nancy mentioned canoeing to Ingraham Lake, which is at least ten miles west of Flamingo. Now that would be quite a day trip for us.)
But more importantly, the wind and waves were worse on this trip than on the Cedar Key trip that caused us to capsize. I’m hoping that was enough to rebuild Nancy’s confidence. Stay tuned.