Irma effects on the Wekiva

We live very close to the Wekiva river. In fact, I could nearly throw a stone into the river from our house. There is a private park just down the street from our home where we launch our boats – it’s one of the reasons we purchased our home.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, Hurricane Irma struck Florida in September of last year. This is what the river looked like once the storm cleared:

This was just shy of 7′ gauge height according to the USGS equipment close to this location. Normal height is around 2.5-3′. According to vague news articles, the huge torrents of water sent down the river from the storm caused massive sediment and plant displacement. I’ve reached out to the Friends of the Wekiva organization for more information.

Here’s what the gauge height looks like from the beginning of data collection for this equipment in 2008 through today:

The peak at around 7′ was the day after Irma came through. We were kayaking on the river a few weeks ago, and as the data indicates, we’ve never seen the water levels so low. Luckily it’s still passable via kayak, though it was remarkable how shallow it all was.

Mr. Pibb can from the early 70’s I pulled from the river.

Lawn tractor and trailer – new ‘yak transport!

Bio-luminescence Paddle at Haulover Canal

So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted to this blog – just over 5 years, to be precise. I haven’t stopped kayaking, but I had stopped blogging about it. Between then and now, I’ve moved from the Orlando area to Pittsburgh (where the kayaking is vastly different) and then back to Orlando again. All that aside, it’s time to chronicle the ‘yaking again.

This trip won’t feature any photos, because I didn’t take any. This was my second night paddle – the first was a few years ago when I did an Independence Day fireworks paddle on the Allegheny River in the heart of Pittsburgh, PA. Certainly not the kayaking I’m used to, but was fun in its own way.

This paddle was to experience the bio-luminescence that is so popular in Florida during the summer months. Commercial kayaking tours for this experience are plentiful and book quickly – so we decided to go out on our own.

A National Geographic article summed it up better than I could:

When you enter the lagoon on the north end of the refuge, your paddle becomes a paintbrush and the water a canvas. Each stroke creates streaks and puffs of blue-green neon light under the surface and sends glittery droplets into the dark night sky. The living laser show is created by one-celled, light-emitting organisms called dinoflagellates. And from June through early October, the Indian River Lagoon is packed with the luminous organisms, often numbering more than 100,000 per liter of water. “These little life-forms create cold light within themselves like fireflies do,” says Elisabeth Mahan, A Day Away Kayak Tours co-owner and guide. The glowing effect illuminates tiny fish, sea grass, water droplets, and kayaker hands dipped beneath the surface. Adds Mahan: “Bioluminescence is something you have to experience for yourself. It will leave you awestruck.”

Armed with lots of mosquito repellent, we launched from Bairs Cove ramp right around 7:30pm, when the sun began to set. Parking was a challenge, as some of the aforementioned tour groups were also launching from this area. Though their website directs their patrons to park along the grass, many of them ignored that direction and took all of the trailer-specific parking at the launch. Luckily someone left and we were able to grab the last spot.

The wonderment started pretty much the moment our paddles hit the water. The neon-blue shimmer was visible, even though the sun was still above the horizon.

We lazily paddled to the Indian River side of the canal, and hung close to the shore until the sun was completely gone. The river was aglow with everything that disturbed the water – the waves crashing against the shore, the schools of fish leaving streaks of light in their paths, even our boats had a “halo” of blue around them at the darkest part of the trip. Photos don’t begin to capture the experience – it must be experienced.

The weather was perfect. It was in the 70’s, and being near the coast, there was a constant ocean breeze the entire time. I admit I was timid about being on the water at night, especially with the threat of storms around us, but all went well.

For gear, the GPS was absolutely necessary for safety. I pinned the boat launch and enabled tracking so there was no way we’d get lost. I recommend this – navigating the water at night is very different. In addition to the normal gear (PFD, emergency whistle, drinking water), I wore my Petzl Tikka headlamp, brought my Nitecore SRT7 Tactical light, and a Stanley FatMax spotlight. I probably went a bit overboard with the lights, but I’m anxious and being over-prepared helps that a bit. I can’t stress the need for insect repellent enough in this area – “Mosquito Lagoon” is nearby, and the name is absolutely fitting.

I’m looking forward to more night paddles, this one was definitely a highlight experience.

Salt Run – Anastasia State Park

Castillo de San Marcos

What a trip this was! We decided to do a mini-vacation and stay overnight in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S. Saturday we walked around the city, visited Castillo de San Marcos, a fort built in the 17th century, and took a cheesy tour of the Old St. Johns County Jail. There are just a lot of things to do in this quaint old city – we easily could have spent a few more days here.

Hangin' with Bob



Places I wholeheartedly recommend:
The Hyppo – gourmet popsicles, perfect for a hot day. I had watermelon, and it was fantastic.
Fudge Buckets – FUDGE. I left here with a lot of it. Very creative flavors, enthusiastic staff who are obviously passionate about their business.
Bistro de Leon – French cuisine. Fantastic food.
The Manatee Cafe – A small vegetarian / vegan restaurant. We had the perfect breakfast here before kayaking on Sunday.

Sunday morning we grabbed a late breakfast, and after a little debate based on the weather, we headed to our planned launch at Anastasia State Park. It had been raining lightly since we left the hotel, but every time we’ve worried about the weather, it’s turned out to be a wonderful day, so we pressed on. Glad we did, it was perfect for a mid-July day.

The launch - Anastasia State Park

Anastasia is a beautiful park. It’s a beach launch into Salt Run, and parking is close. We were in the water just before 1pm, about two hours after low tide. The water was very shallow in places, and some were out of their vessels pulling it over sandbars, but we were able to paddle around without getting out. The water conditions started out pretty calm, but as we paddled closer to the inlet it progressively became more challenging.

Low tide at launch

St. Augustine Lighthouse

Once we reached the inlet, and headed across the channel, it was a bit nerve-wracking with all the powerboats. The waves were literally crashing against the seawall – probably was the roughest waters we’ve paddled to date. About mid-channel, a large cannon was fired from the fort in one of their hourly-ish demonstrations. It was probably ten times louder and more percussive than I ever imagined. It was REALLY impressive, and sent me into giddy laughter. A tourist-y pirate ship crossed in front of our path, with a pirate boisterously singing to his crew and passengers. That same vessel would later engage into a small cannon fight with another pirate ship on the water, which again caused me to laugh uncontrollably at how utterly cool it was to be on the water with cannons being fired left and right.

Castillo de San Marcos

Pirate ship off the starboard bow!!!


We beached the boats right alongside the fort (AWESOME), had a power bar, took a few pics, then headed back. The current heading back across the channel and back into Salt Run was STRONG. At a few points, we were paddling pretty hard and barely showing any forward speed. A small part of me worried we were in over our heads, but we made it back to the run okay.

Beached at the fort

This was a bit of a stretch for us in terms of endurance. We were on the water for 5 hours, and were completely worn out by the time we got back to the launch site. A little swim helped, and the outdoor showers were a REALLY nice thing to have after we got the boats loaded up. The $8.00 fee to enter Anastasia didn’t seem so steep at that point.

Overall a really great day on the water!

7 miles achieved in pretty rough waters. We feel accomplished.  Here’s the map.

Orlando Wetlands Park

I’ve been meaning to check out Orlando Wetlands Park for a while now. It’s actually a man-made, intentional swamp/marsh that is tightly managed and controlled, and functions as a last-step filtration for waste water. I did a bit of research on the facility, and I find it truly elegant and fascinating what they’ve done.

My daughter was VERY excited to go on this “jungle adventure”, as she called it. She packed her butterfly net and motel, her binoculars, and donned her new swimming medal (necessary for hiking!), and we set out for the park. It’s about a 20 minute drive from East Orlando, in the heart of Christmas, Florida. (yes, really.)

Ready to go!

The park was completely empty upon our arrival, except for a small SUV with a bike rack on the back. Just as we were beginning our walk, the owner of said SUV was ending her bike ride on the trail. Really nice lady – she recommended a good path for us to take, considering the age of my daughter. It was perfect, though I had an extra ~40 pounds on my shoulders for the last leg of the hike. 🙂

I was impressed with the park. On our short hike, we saw quite a few varieties of birds. This is definitely a place for bird watching! There are plenty of benches and picnic tables, and the trails seem very well maintained. We’ll be back, though probably when the mercury isn’t knocking on 100 degrees.

We hiked just shy of a mile.  Here’s the map.

Wekiva River – Katie’s Landing

Peek a boo

The original plan was to paddle the Silver River in Ocala on Saturday. Tropical Storm Debby changed those plans, though. We didn’t want to drive almost 2 hours if we were going to be rained out, so we instead decided to stay close and just head to the Wekiva River. The weather was overcast, a humid 90°, and drizzling lightly. I packed my cheap NOAA alert weather radio and we launched from Katie’s Landing, heading Northeast toward the St. Johns, right around 3pm.

The river was very quiet – we didn’t see another soul on the water the entire trip. Well, not a human soul, anyway. Lots of wildlife, LOTS OF GATORS. Gators around every bend. Swimming across our path, staring at us from logs and marshes, and splashing into the water every couple of minutes. Most of them were small-to-medium-sized, but a few of them had to be over 8 feet in length.

Gator off the port bow! Gator off the port bow!

We stayed in the main channel on the first half of the trip, past the homes on the right bank, past Wekiva River Haven, into what I call the “pure wilderness area”. At one point, a very large gator splashed into the water, creating a wake you’d expect from a ski boat. We didn’t see how big he was, but based on the splash and area he came from, he was probably the largest one of the trip. It was around this point where I started chanting “Hare Krishna”…

Gators weren’t the only wildlife we saw, though.  We saw quite a few birds. I was able to identify most of them, which is kind of cool.

Little Blue Heron

Anhinga in flight


Wood Ducks

I'm not sure what kind of bird this is. Immature Great Blue Heron, maybe?

Little Blue Heron

Black Vulture


The trip back was mostly uneventful, which likely clouded our judgement. We reached a fork in the river – left would have kept us in the main, wide channel, along the bank with all the beautiful houses, the same path we took on the first leg of the paddle. “Wanna go right this time?” KC asked me. I checked the GPS, and while it confirmed a narrower channel, it did appear to be navigable. We pressed on. A great “twofer” photo opportunity immediately rewarded us – a Great Blue Heron and a Pileated Woodpecker:

Great Blue Heron, Pileated Woodpecker above

The path narrowed. Only room for single file with the ‘yaks. KC was ahead, and got hung up on a log. She glanced left when her paddle got stuck, and looked right at a gator, about 3 feet from her at eye-level on an adjacent log. I thought her disturbed look was just because she was stuck. She didn’t tell me about the other part until I was through. She thought I had seen it. It’s probably better that I didn’t.

I then slipped past her and took the lead. There was a tiny path in the marsh ahead of us – around 6 inches across. I’m not nuts about paddling with marsh on both sides of my boat. Gators hide in marsh. I prefer to give them their space. We took a breather, and confirmed that turning back wasn’t really an option. Right around this point, a tiny gator swam across the 6 inch path between the marsh in front of us. Tiny is bad, because mom is never far, and is very protective of her young. We discussed our options again – turn around and go back past the gator on the log 3 feet from our only path, or forge ahead into the unknown, creating a path through the marsh. I started singing the theme song from Super Mario Brothers, dipped my paddle into the water, and wedged my boat into the marsh, creating a path for KC to follow. It must have been quite a sight from behind me, wet foliage flying into the air with every paddle stroke.

Just paddled through that marsh... not my favorite.



After much singing and a little cussing, we made it through without becoming reptile dinner. The path widened a bit.

Gator country. Not thrilled about this leg of the trip.

The next several yards of the path were meandering, so we didn’t really know how much more we’d have to overcome before our comfort would return. We certainly weren’t turning back, so lack of options had my anxiety levels pretty high. “We’re ALMOST to the main channel.” Hooray for the GPS. Hopefully the stress was behind us.

Finally back to the main channel, just off of the launch site. A small gator crosses our path once more, just for good measure, I’m sure. Back at the launch, all body parts intact. A somewhat harrowing paddle, but definitely no regrets!

Here’s the map, paddled 3.34 miles total.

Tampa Bay – Fort DeSoto

Kayak Cutie and I decided to take a little mini-vacation this weekend.  We found a good rate at the Crowne Plaza – Westshore near Tampa Int’l Airport. Arriving mid-afternoon on Saturday, we hit the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, had a stellar dinner at Doormet (Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese!), and retired early. Slept in on Sunday with a leisurely late check-out, and headed back down to St. Pete to our planned launch at Fort De Soto Park.

View from the hotel room

My original plan was going to take us from a Gulf-side launch out to Egmont Key, but after careful consideration and some input from a more experienced kayaker, I decided to keep us on the calmer Tampa Bay side instead. De Soto has dozens of great launch sites on both the Gulf and Bay sides. We chose a site around an 8th of a mile SSW of the De Soto kayak concession area. A 4WD vehicle was very helpful on the muddy roads leading to the launch, but there were also plenty of other spots where that wouldn’t have been necessary. Drop in was easy – parked less than 20 yards from the water.

Mangrove Swamp
The launch site starts in a mangrove swamp. It’s labeled as a kayak/canoe trail, and much of it is strictly off-limits to motorboats of any kind, which is nice.  The trail isn’t bad, but with the weather in the 90’s, the dense mangrove trees blocked most of the breeze, and there wasn’t much in terms of wildlife.  We encountered a few manatees and a couple of birds, but were much happier once we hit more open waters, even though the difficulty picked up a bit.

Mangrove Swamp

Bunces Pass
Bunces Pass is a somewhat busy channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico with Tampa Bay. Most of the traffic was recreational, as a much larger channel is around 4 or 5 miles to the south, but it was busy nonetheless. Wave-runners and other small-to-medium sized boats zipping by at full-tilt make for a slightly unnerving paddle across, but it wasn’t too bad. We headed north across the channel to a protected barrier island called Shell Key.

Sawyer Key, Sister Key

Shell Key
Once out of the channel, the paddle became much easier as we closed in onto the Key. We beached the boats at the southernmost tip of the key, had a nice swim, and roamed the beach for a bit picking up lots of cool shells. Camping is allowed on the Key with a permit – adding that to the list of potential kayak camping locations for sure.

Our 'yaks on Shell Key

After lazing about on Shell Key, we packed up and headed back across the channel.  “DOLPHIN!” I shouted to KC. “Nine O’Clock!” Finally, on our third saltwater trip, we saw dolphins playing in the water.  They weren’t extremely close, but close enough to appreciate them clearly. They disappeared shortly after a few powerboats sped through.


Even though the skies were pretty clear when we launched, the NWS had predicted potentially severe storms later in the day, so I brought my NOAA weather radio with alert.  Around half way back to the launch site, the alarm wailed from my dry-storage. There was a SERIOUS storm rolling in, bringing a potential for quarter-sized hail and 60+ MPH winds. It ended up being farther away than I initially thought, but we picked up the pace a bit regardless.

Home Time
We made it back to the put-in before the storms were even close, though thunder was in the distance as we strapped the boats down for the 2 hour drive home. We did drive through some NASTY weather on the way home. The sky looked like a strobe light with all the lightning. I’m pretty sure it hailed a few times, and those gusts of wind really rocked the SUV with those two kayak sails on top, but everything stayed in place and we arrived home safe and sound.

6 miles on the water today.  Here’s the map.


“The Perils of Staying Inside”

A friend of mine shared a profound article with me from the Wall Street Journal, titled “Mom Was Right: Go Outside”.  It touches on evidence that being outdoors, especially in nature, improves mood, creativity, and general well-being.

The article definitely hit home for me.  I’ve been an avid “indoorsman” since birth. I hated being outside, for pretty much any reason.  It took me 35 years, but I’ve discovered exactly what this article describes.  At the beginning of this year, I went on the first real camping trip that I’d been on in my adult life.  I was so deeply impacted by that simple one-night trip, I almost immediately made plans for a second. I took up kayaking and since have been on the water more weekends than not.  The almost overwhelming calm I experience when I’m camping or kayaking is as powerful as the anxiety for which I take prescription drugs. Being outdoors hyperconnects me with nature in the opposite direction that I’m otherwise hyperconnected with the electronic world. I hope that WSJ article inspires someone. I so wish I’d discovered this sooner in life. I’m now the weirdo that takes pause in a strip-mall parking lot to point out the Snowy Egret to my four-year-old daughter.  I’m really okay with that.

Indian River – Haulover Canal

Back on the water! Woohoo! Today was a relatively lazy paddle on the Indian River. We launched from a nice beachy site at the end of a long, unmarked dirt road off of Courtenay Parkway just northwest of the Haulover Canal Bridge. The site seems to be pretty popular for paddlers, land-based fisher-types, and frolicing families. Parking is unstructured along the sides of the dirt road by the launch. When we arrived in the afternoon, I was able to drive right up to the water to unload the boats. That’s always nice. Use of the launch is free. There are no facilities. Bring bug repellent, the mosquitoes are fierce.

Mullet Head Island
Our first destination was Mullet Head Island, a protected bird sanctuary just southwest around a half mile from the launch. The wind was pretty swift today, and the river was white-capping quite a bit. It was a fun paddle out in the open water. What an amazing island Mullet Head is – hundreds, if not thousands of birds nest and hang out here. I’m still pretty new to bird identification, but we for sure saw a lot of Brown Pelicans, several Roseate Spoonbills, and various herons. The island is truly a spectacle. We circled the island, I took quite a few pics, then headed east across the channel, stopping briefly to marvel at a horseshoe crab navigating the shallows.

Horseshoe Crab

“Dolphin Cove” and Bairs Cove
We drifted randomly for a while, just taking in the scenery before heading back inland toward the canal. There’s a smaller, quieter route into the canal on the south side that is perfect for canoes and kayaks that dumps out into a place Kayak Dave has dubbed “Dolphin Cove”. We hoped to catch our first dolphin sighting from our kayaks here, but it wasn’t in the cards. Just northeast of here is Bairs Cove, a powerboat ramp and spectacular place to see manatees. We were able to see several of them, and they’re certainly not at all shy. These are just wonderful, serene animals. Given that powerboats are one of their only threats, it’s conflicting to me that there’s a boat ramp in a small cove with so many of them, but I digress.

Redneck Circus
One just never knows what will hold my attention. Today, it was a boat trailer that was solidly stuck on the busy single-lane boat ramp in Bairs Cove. This shiny object kept me paddling against the wind and current for nearly an hour while we watched two trucks, a boat, and several people try to un-stick the trailer. At one point, an old full-sized 4×4 Bronco took a crack at it, with a boat in the water pulling the trailer at various angles to try to un-wedge the un-budging trailer.  The ensuing tug-o-war lifted the rear end of the Bronco around 2 feet into the air, ironically mimicking a bucking bronco.

Once the struggle ended, we bid the boat ramp and sea cows adieu and headed back down toward the launch site, avoiding the various fishing lines from both banks, and called it a day.

Journeyed just under 3.5 miles on the rough water today.  Here’s the Map.

Gator Attacks Kayaker in Central Florida Lake

Now there’s something that every kayaker LOVES to read.

"I was almost gator dinner." -Buffy

It’s alligator mating season, which means they’re a little bit more aggressive and territorial.  I’m certainly no expert, but I believe that in this instance, the gator was baited by the small dog who was sitting in the boat.  (The small dog, Buffy, now has a facebook page.  Why not?)

At any rate, I think I’d soil myself if this happened to me.

(Also, I think I want a hat cam like this guy has.)

Here’s the article.  Below is the uncensored video.  LANGUAGE WARNING.