Updated: May 15
In a journey with a million paddle strokes, it’s best to pick an easy start day. It will be good to build up confidence, and not have thoughts of backing out even before you start. But today wasn’t a day for that.
All last night the wind made a deafening whistle over the trees and the rain poured like a waterfall. The storm sewer in front of my house was flooded, and the parking lot had ponds over big enough to float a boat in it. The morning was not much better. I rolled the kayak to the beach on my dolly and packed the gear under a curtain of rain. In went every bag, until I realized I had forgotten the repair kit. "Not a promising sign", I thought. I walked back through the beach path, and realized I also forgot the keys to the beach gate. With no easy way back, I walked a long route along the beach before I could jump back over a fence through the neighbors’ yard, and thankfully his annoying dog wasn't around.
The first day always feels strange. So many things I need to do! Checking gear, packing bags, checking the GPS, putting on sunscreen, checking the hatches, checking the sail lines, checking the rudder lines, and checking so many more things that will eventually need to be unconscious and instinctive were a daunting mental checklist.
When I launched the rain eased, but the wind filled the sea with a thousand breakers resembling a flock of sheep in a blue field rolling grasses.
The first few strokes felt really heavy. I only paddled the loaded boat once, and the wind was nowhere near as strong as today. It felt like I was paddling through peanut butter. I pointed my heading to the Northeast to counteract the drift from the strong East wind, but it was a futile effort. Twice the waves beat me all the way to shore and I had to get out of the boat and drag it through shallows in Crandon Park. The kite surfers gave me a puzzled look as though I was some strange sea creature crawling out of the ocean. What was I doing out in a kayak in these rough conditions? This endeavor felt more like The Great Walk Around Florida. I gazed towards the beach front condos and could still see the beach entrance to my house.
My plan was to go as far as Government Cut south of Miami Beach which is the entrance to the Port of Miami. From there I would paddle through the canals behind the barrier islands and be protected from the wind. However, the conditions soon overpowered me, I acquiesced to the will of the wind and waves, and allowed them to take me through Bear Cut inlet and I slipped in behind Virginia Key into the intracoastal waterway. The effort to cover the first 3 miles took me more than 3 hours, and I was exhausted.
I had hoped to reach Oleta Park, still 8 miles north, but I decided to stop on a small spoil island just north of the MacArthur Causeway. The wind was too strong, and I was not yet fit enough. "How underwhelming," I thought, "it's only the first day, and I am already falling behind.
A few people were already on the island. One was a man in his 50s with a large cross tattooed on his right shoulder sitting feet in the air, in his small motorized dinghy. He stared intrigued as if I was some curiosity washed in by the tide. “Do you fish off that thing?” He asked. “Not from this kayak, I’m paddling around Florida” I said feeling somewhat awkward, “Today is day one. It’s kind of rough so I’m only going as far as here. Would have hoped to make it to Oleta Park but this far will have to do”.
“Oleta is like another 10 miles ! My arms would feel like rubber if I had to paddle all the way there!” he said with surprise, and then proceeded to name several towns north of Miami; St Lucie, Fort Pierce, Daytona, New Smyrna, and how unimaginably far they were on a motor boat, let alone to get to on a kayak, which was not the least encouraging to me. "You'll be paddling a lot! You have no idea! If I were you I would go out on the gulf stream. You can get a boost of like 5 mph to cut down on your effort." I could not tell if he was serious or not. Yes the gulf stream current would certainly give a boost, but it's no place for a kayak, on a day like today. The waves would toss me like a toothpick, and it would be the last anyone heard from me.
The other boat on the island was a party boat. A group of teenagers were dancing to the sound of blazing reggaetón and a blasting fire horn. The booze was flowing, sometimes into the sea, and it seemed to me no one had a steady hand on the tiller as the boat went around in circles. In Miami that counts for normal. When the good weather is out the bay shallows behind Key Biscayne become a motorboat parking lot and it’s noisy like a swamp lake before dusk with everyone blasting a different soundtrack. Today, however, the howling wind and the skies promising rain, this lonely teen party seemed oblivious that soon it would be pouring buckets on their parade. I pitched my tent for the night and hoped they would soon be gone, and I would have peace and quiet.
Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation