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Part 1 Dec. 31st - Day 11 - Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation

Updated: Jan 29

Around Florida by Kayak Map

Early last night was warm. It felt like it would be a night I would sleep naked on the air mattress and leave the rain fly doors open to circulate the air, and still feel hot. Then after a few hours the temperature became pleasant, and then a little chilly. I zipped up the rain fly and got into the sleeping bag; an hour later I was putting on the wool socks and coiling up to get warm and missing the uncomfortable heat. What a difference a cold front makes. When I woke up just before the sunrise I debated if I should paddle with the thicker wetsuit I’ve been carrying, but fortunately once the sun rose things didn’t feel so bad. There wasn’t a smudge of clouds in the sky.

The Northwest wind blew cold air directly on the nose. The 21 miles to Matanzas Inlet felt like penitence and took 7-hours of pumping out brute strength. The moment I stopped paddling I started to move backwards.

I find that long paddles on the ocean can be disorienting. Some structures on shore are small but close, others are large and close, and some are large and far. There really isn’t always a good way to tell which is which at times, and judging distances becomes difficult.

I tried to look at the farthest thing I could see in the horizon and pick that as the goal, usually a tall building, but that felt disheartening after an hour. I could not tell if it was any closer. I tried a few closer buildings that might have a peculiar feature like a house with different color, but those too were not helpful; if I stopped concentrating on it and let my mind wander, I wasn’t always sure if it was the same house, or another like it. “Surely this must be a different one; if it was the same, then I’ve gone nowhere all this time!” But it was indeed almost always the same house, and I was moving slowly.

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I settled on using a few seagulls that would land a little ways in front of me. They were close enough that I could reach them in about 5 minutes, and would fly off and land a little further along, as if they were pacing me. “Come this way,” they would say to me, and I would follow along.

While I was doing this exercise a flock of some 15 gray pelicans flew by in Vee formation heading north. I wondered how they could make such good progress against the wind. I wished I could have saddled them like reindeer to pull me along like Santa’s sled.

Now all this time paddling into the headwind I had been adamant about one thing. No pausing for any reason. The moment I stopped paddling I would get pushed by the wind and start moving backwards. I had 3 phone calls and didn’t pick up because squandering the distance I had fought so hard to get felt like wasting food in front of the famished. But at some point, I had to stop to pee. I haven’t yet mastered how to pee in a bottle in the kayak. It’s tricky, especially with thick wetsuit pants, so I held on till I could hold no more, then headed to shore.

The beach was really steep; waves were breaking right on the sand, so landing was complicated. I tried to time the lull and go in on the back of a wave. It didn’t quite work out this time. I was sluggish with the loaded kayak, and the next wave caught up with me. I paddled backwards to try and get the wave to pass under me, but it picked me up and dumped me right on the sand hard, but I managed to avoid a large boulder put there by some terrible prankster. Hitting it would have been disastrous. I peed for what felt like 2 minutes in part from fear of the rock.

I looked at the GPS to see how far I still had to go. I dreaded doing this because I was afraid to find out how little distance I had covered. Eighteen miles in 6 hours; that wasn’t so bad. In another hour I would be there.

The Matanzas Inlet has broad beaches on the north side and the waves break gently some distance out at sea on a shallow sand bank. It’s an ideal place for kayak surfing and I have been here twice before with friends. We plunged down wave faces without fear of being wrapped in a churning barrel. If the wave was just right, it was possible to catch a ride all the way to the sand. Today however, after some 21 miles of head wind paddling I had not quite the strength to catch any waves, and I lazily allowed myself to drift under the inlet bridge making sure to avoid several dangling hook lines from fishermen and onto an exposed riverbank by the grass covered dunes. It was almost low tide and the river bend had a large exposed section where people walked about collecting pebbles.

I had one aim in mind; head over to the Matanzas Inlet Restaurant across the bridge and eat at least two servings of fried Calamari, which I had been thinking about for the past hour. I remember from my previous visit that they were particularly delicious. The building was a charming yellow and blue adobe structure with tables under a wooden pavilion overlooking the inlet. Best of all, I knew they had a garden hose I would be able to use to wash off the salt. The crustiness of the past three days was starting to bother me. When I arrived at the location, I felt confused as if I was at the wrong place; the restaurant was gone and I saw only an empty lot with broken concrete and weeds. I walked over to the gas station across the street where the attendant told me the restaurant was destroyed during hurricane Mathew a few years ago. “Oh, it was awful,” she said. “The waves crashed in through the front and out the back. The whole thing was hollowed out like a shell. Poor guy, the owner, fought with the insurance company to get compensated for months, but the outcome must not have been good. He had tears in his eyes, when the bulldozers came to level off what was left. It’s a shame. We really could use a restaurant here. There’s nothing else until St Augustine beach.”

I felt awfully sad. I could taste the fried calamari in my head. I settled for a prepackaged chicken sandwich from the gas station refrigerator, which seasoned with hunger, was far tastier than I would admit. I stocked up my food bags with a new batch of power-bars and biscuits, and as I still had room in my stomach, ate a half a dozen bananas, which, would have been too inconvenient to keep for more than a day. While there, I had the idea of also purchasing two large jugs of distilled water which worked fabulously as an improvised freshwater shower.

Walking back to the boat I noticed someone looking at it with an ardent curiosity. He was a man in his sixties, but he had the arms of a sail trimmer. “Are you a fellow Kiwi?” he asked me, pointing at the fern leaves I have drawn on the kayak bow.

“Far from it I’m afraid. Just from Miami some 300 miles that way.” I said pointing south. He seemed a bit disappointed, New Zealand is so out of the way I think it must be a rarity for one Kiwi to cross paths with another so far away from home.

“I too have a Taran which I paddle back home in Auckland, though yours is the prettiest I have ever seen.” He told me that he was here visiting his son who is attending college at the University of Florida and was spending new years with him in St Augustine. He seemed eager to tell me about some of his kayaking adventures down in New Zealand, and how he once paddled from Auckland to Christchurch in the winter some ten years ago. It would have been fascinating to hear the story, and he was eager to spend the next hour telling it in all its details, but it was already past sunset, getting cold, and I had to paddle to the island across the inlet where I could camp away from anyone who might bother me at night.

Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation

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