Updated: May 15
At 5:30am I was awakened by a flash of headlights and the sound of a car engine. “Shit!” I thought. Park rangers doing an early walk through for sure. What am I going to tell them? I began to work up in my mind a story of braving the sea at night, sprinkled with the remorseful victim of fate that left me no choice but to camp in this inconvenient place, and would soon be gone before anyone else came by. I waited to hear from someone outside, but I heard no voices. When I peeped my head out, I saw only a lone fisherman setting up his rod in the sand by his pickup truck. Why out of the entire beach he chose to set up next to me I cannot guess, I took that as a sign to get ready and get out.
I was excited to reach the St Marys river today and begin the new leg of the journey away from the ocean and across to the Gulf of Mexico. I also booked a hotel in town and planned to take a rest day after two weeks of non stop paddling. I checked my mileage and have nearly crossed the 400th mile which marks 1/3 of the total distance, but two days ahead from 1/3 of the time. Hopefully slacking a little now won’t bite me in the home stretch.
I chose to take the path along the backside of Amelia Island as I could not be certain I would clear the St Marys River jetty with enough time to ride in with the flooding tide. The jetty, as I remember from my last visit here, is even longer than the one on the St Johns River, and the beach by the town of Fernandina is so steep that even a three foot swell would make landing more difficult than jumping out of the jaws of a shark. The tide here is also one of the biggest in Florida; last time I was here I was surprised how the high-water mark on the jetty near Fort Clinch was at least a foot above my head.
As I paddled, I rounded a bend of mangroves on the channel and was greeted by a huge industrial complex filled with puffing towers, rusting cone silos, and giant conveyor belts running over a hundred feet in the air like a dystopic wet and wild water park. I sniffed a pungent encompassing smell of pulp that irritated my nostrils. It was the unmistakable calling card of a paper mill. I suppose there is no good place to situate a paper mill. Some 10 years ago I would go skydiving in Palatka near Gainesville; that town also had a paper mill and it filled the atmosphere with an odor so horrible it would make me want to change clothes and take a bath. I hope the residents got some good money for their trouble. I paddled away from the hideous place as quickly as I could trying to breathe a little as possible.
While making my way out I came across another hazard; oyster beds. Large heaps of them were exposed in the low tide; I wondered what else might lie in these shallow waters. I began to wish I had taken my chances with the tide around the jetty. Slowly, I began to feel the water depth ahead with my paddle hoping I would not touch anything. These living rocks are sharp like swords and will eat through the fiberglass hull like a paper shrewder . I felt a shiver of fear and pain run through me as I thought about it. When I reached deeper water, I was careful to look out for the channel markers, and not deviate from them no matter how long and serpentine the path was to the river.
Arriving at the St Marys boat ramp on the back side of town I was received by a familiar troublemaker I had not yet seen thus far; mosquitos! A haze of them was set loose on me sucking more blood than a parking cop handing out tickets in Miami Beach. I did my best to walk away quickly, but they followed me for a mile into town.
I was happy to see that the kayak dolly worked well. For two weeks I have carried this volumous item without any use, but today it earned its worth. It held up the kayak and all the gear without issue. It is a little rusty from the saltwater exposure, but I think it will survive until the end.
Walking into town the first inn I saw was an old plantation house typical of the Old South. Colonel Sanders would not have been out of place smoking a cigar on the front veranda while the floorboards squeaked under his rocking chair. The building could have been here for a hundred years. On the front yard was a forest of garden ornaments but most notable was a captain hook pirate. I left the kayak on the front parking lot taking up two spaces, walked up to the porch and in through the front door. Inside was an emporium of old furniture accumulated over many decades. On the corridor was a grandfather clock a little shorter than my height, and an old wooden cabinet where on were three porcelain angels each holding plates of gingerbread cookies, green grapes and nuts. I touched the grapes to see if it was real, and it indeed was so I pricked one to eat.
“Hello, anybody home?” I called out, noticing that there seemed to be someone in the kitchen. The innkeeper, an elderly lady, came out to see me. She was a diminutive woman barely five feet tall, but she had full rosy and smooth cheeks, a small stubby nose and fiery ginger hair. Her eyes were large, but ever so slightly slanted, making me wonder if she had some amount Native American ancestry. I think she must have been quite pretty in her youth.
“Yes, can I help you? Oh, my Lord Jesus, did you fall off the dock?” she asked in a thick southern accent.
After two weeks of not having seen a reflection of myself, I had no idea what my appearance was like. Upon gazing at my reflection in the living room mirror, I concluded that I did not have the looks of a desirable guest. “Oh, I was paddling on my kayak. Would you have a room for two nights?” I asked, hopeful I was not arriving on a busy weekend.
“Kind of, there is a room for today, upstairs, and maybe one for tomorrow. One of the guests told me he is trying to close a deal on a property in town and may be out by tomorrow, but I can’t guarantee.”
“That’s perfectly fine. I’ll take it, and tomorrow we can see what happens.” I said, relieved that after two weeks I would have a bed.
“Are you parked in the front?”
“In a way yes, my kayak is there but no car.”
“Well, you’ll have to put that in the backyard. You’re taking up two parking spaces. There’s a hose in the back for you to clean yourself, but don’t be dripping everywhere. Some of these floorboards are warping, and I don't have money to fix them.” The note about the hose was music to my ears.
Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation