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.

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