Our New “Toughest” Canoe Trip

Four months ago I reported on what was at the time our toughest single-day canoe trip everblog. That was an eleven-mile trip in Lake Kissimmee State Park which, although not the longest day trip we had ever taken, was, because of the winds (17 to 24 knots), our toughest trip so far. That trip happened in early March. Less than a week after telling the story, we broke that and other records, maybe permanently.

Toward the end of June, Nancy decided to head back down to Flamingo, expecting the Saharan dust that was forecast to hit South Florida that weekend to create some spectacular sunsets. We were there a few days, but the dust must have passed us by. But we were up until after three o’clock one morning trying to capture a Gigapan of the Milky Way, and we did spend another full day in our canoe. This is that story.

The Start

The day started out beautifully. It was sunny, and by the time we launched the canoe at the marina around 10 am, the temperature was in the upper 80’s and climbing. Winds had been calm but were starting to build slightly from the northeast. Nancy decided to head toward Lake Ingraham instead of Snake Bight, our typical haunt. In our small cooler, we had lunch and drinks. We each had our regular 1-quart water bottles. Nancy was going to bring the 1-gallon water jug from the van, but couldn’t find it. As we came out the channel around 10:30, we headed west.

Lunch

After a leisurely 5 miles, we started our lunch break just before noon. As we got back underway, Nancy mentioned that she was starting to feel bad, but I convinced her to proceed west for just another hour. Looking back, that may have been a mistake. For the next leg, the temperature was in the low nineties and the wind was a steady six knots from behind us. Averaging about five knots, we made it to the entrance to the East Cape Canal at 1:40 pm. Nancy rejected my suggestion to check out the lake, so we headed back.

The Return Trip

Before lunch, when the wind was light and off our quarter, I expected the return trip to take about 50% longer, but now that we were paddling directly into the wind, that estimate was starting to look a little optimistic. For the next hour, we went less than 2½ miles and decided to rest a few minutes just off the beach. Then the wind started to pick up. We rested again less than a mile later. I was already beginning to wear out. About ⅔ mile later, we stopped again, this time long enough to do a beach cleanup. By then the wind had increased to almost 15 knots. During the cleanup, I finish off my water bottle. Twenty minutes later, we got back in the canoe. The wind was still strong. We had trouble making headway and after less than ½ mile, we stop for another beach cleanup. Besides tired, I’m also feeling dehydrated. Nancy shared some of her water. After removing all of the lobster/crab trap lines on the beach, I was greatly relieved to discover that there were still drinks in the cooler. I finished them. More than fifty minutes after we arrived, we again left the beach. The canoe is now fully loaded with debris.

The wind is still about 15 knots, but I feel refreshed. Still, we only cover two miles in the next hour. Around 6:30 Nancy notices a feather floating by and wants to circle around to pick it up. We make one pass, but as I mentioned in the previous article (Our Latest (Toughest) Canoe Trip), winds above 15 knots begin to adversely affect our maneuverability. For one thing, they can make it very difficult to turn into the wind. We missed the feather, and I didn’t have enough energy for another pass so we head back to the beach for another rest. We still have 4½ miles to go and sunset is in less than two hours. I don’t rest long. But then after taking half an hour to travel just ¾ mile more, we rest again.

The Final Push

Now it is only an hour before sunset. Nancy is too quiet. There will be no more stops. The winds are back down to ten knots out of the east, though, and dropping. The sun sets at 8:17. I’m running on fumes. We have headlamps in our dry bags, but at that point, I thought we were closer to the harbor than we actually were so we don’t pull out the lights. We keep paddling. And paddling. As we round the last point into the marina, it is dark, and there is a giant splash just off our port quarter. It must have been that large crocodile, but I was just too tired to jump. We kept paddling. We got to the dock at 9 pm. The winds were still six knots. We were met by a park ranger. He helped remove the trash. I wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but fortunately, Nancy did our talking. We managed to remove and stow the gear, but it took everything I had to get the canoe back on top of the van. The next morning, we slept in.

Conclusions

All total, we canoed just over 20 miles (shattering the old one-day record). The winds weren’t as perilous as they got on the Lake Kissimmee State Park trip, but they did become quite a challenge. Although we didn’t get to look around much, I was glad that we finally made the trip to Lake Ingraham. I was really glad when it was over. I felt obligated to tell this story only because it changed some of the claims I made in the original story so soon after the first story was published. We probably won’t need to update this story again for a long, long time.

Everglades Update

We were in the Flamingo campground of Everglades National Park for Christmas. We had made our reservations in August, but when the federal government shut down we were concerned, so we called them. Turns out there were no rangers, so nobody was collecting the $25 park entrance fee (we had already paid the campground fee), but the gates were not locked and their concessionaires were manning the visitor center and keeping the facilities functional. This is considered the busy season for this park and they get a lot of international visitors (who were predominantly Chinese on this trip).

The first day we went canoeing to Snake Bight, which is the bay to the left as you paddle out the channel. We followed that small unmarked channel along the shoreline as far as it would go – technically further, because for the last half of our route the water depth was probably about an inch less than our draft. It is really soft mud in that section, which cut our cruising speed to below two miles an hour. It was an incoming tide; otherwise one would have to be careful not to get stuck. If you tried to get out of the canoe you would sink up to your knees, so if you did get stuck you would have to wait for the next high tide, which could be up to twelve hours later. We did see, and get pictures of a number of birds feeding on the flats, including plenty of roseate spoonbills (sorry, no flamingos this time). Below is a picture of Nancy at work. As you can see, the “channel” is to our right and the mud to the left. Ahead is a flock of white pelicans. This channel would peter out just a little ways ahead – still a little too far away to get good pelican shots.

Fate Of The Osprey Nest

The osprey nest that was the subject of Nancy’s current favorite image, Osprey Family, is gone. The whole snag was blown over during Hurricane Irma fifteen months ago.