Updated: May 15
A firm breeze from the Northwest made me devour the next 25 miles. There weren’t any distinct landmarks to help me keep pace. I kept scanning the horizon to try and find two inlets between the barrier islands that would help me know how far I’d gone. The first one would mean I had covered half the distance, and the second would be the gap to Cayo Costa Key.
I reached the first inlet without incident, the tide was near slack, but the second that separates Cayo Costa Key from Boca Grande Island was treacherous and shallow. The wind and the draining tide whipped up waves and breakers. I saw the foam pile from about a quarter mile away, and at first was unconcerned, but the sea and the horizon can be deceiving. On closer inspection I quickly lowered the sail before jumping bow first like a fighter into the melee of the wind and waves to reach shore. I’ve concluded that the Taran has very good steering and stability in rough and confused waters if I power through the confused washing machine sea with strong paddle strokes, but with the sail deployed it would have been suicidal as a capsize would be impossible to right back up. I was again reminded of the time I dislocated my shoulder but felt confident without the instability of the sail to distract me in these conditions.
Swells broke right on shore, the beach was steep, and the landing awkward. I tried to jump out quickly, but was overtaken by a wave, and the cockpit filled up into a crispy soup of sea water and crushed seashells. When I turned the boat upside down, I looked at the stern, I saw what could have been a huge headache. It seems this morning I got distracted from my boat packing routine and forgot to tighten the bungies for the spare paddle. They stayed in place through all the swell, surf, and tempest tossing of the inlet crossing but hung on by a thread . Not once did I ever think to look back and check and would have never noticed if the sea had taken them.
My arrival was greeted by four campers on an afternoon stroll. I saw them from some distance and noticed that they stopped walking and were looking attentively at me, and I landed not far from where they stood.
“We thought you were in some kind of distress. It looks rough out there. You want cider? We’re catching the ferry to head back to Punta Gorda.” I would have said no to beer, as the alcohol would have knocked me out given how thirsty I was, but cider would do well.
Once I had drained the water off the cockpit, unloaded most things and dragged the kayak above the high tide mark, I walked up a footpath leading into the island past where the trees grew like a green wall behind the dune grasses. I soon found the thing I was looking for; beach showers to wash off the salt. The men’s bathroom also looked very clean, and I made good use of it.
The footpath ended on the cul de sac of a dirt road. From there an offshoot led into a campground, while the road receded further into the island. The four campers who greeted me at the beach let me know that this was the way to the ferry and to the Ranger Station. I had no desire to walk across the island, but one of the campers let me know that there was a camp store that sold Mars bars, Twix and M&Ms, and I felt inspired with more than sufficient motivation to make the half mile walk at double pace.
At the camp store I met the rangers who were a husband and wife. They live on the island year-round and go back to the mainland only once every 8 days. The Ranger was a man in his 60s who had an impressive physique. He was broad shouldered and over 6 feet tall and had the physical presence of a mountain. His skin was baked brown from the sun but was tough like the bark of an oak tree, and he had a coarse authoritative voice that with his lack of any smile would have commanded a battalion of young soldiers to do what he said without asking questions. He could have played the rogue general in the movie The Rock with Nicholas Cage in Alcatraz.
"We are only taking cash for camping," he barked. That was a problem; I had only two five dollar bills and a few coins. When I started the journey I had taken about $200 with me, but over the course of time I ended up spending it in some of the most remote spots that would only take cash for services. One of my one of my dollar wise, pound foolish moments however, was in Brandford back in the Suwannee River. The hotel owner there offered me a $10 dollar discount if I paid cash rather than credit card. I should have replenished the reserves. The camping fee was $20 per night.
"Oh I'm so sorry. I thought I had more on me. Any chance I can give you what I have?" I said sheepishly embarrassed.
"Oh just give it to him for what he has. He's on a kayak, and we have two camp slots. He ain't going nowhere tonight."
That response came from Range's wife, a minuscule lady whose stature didn't reach my shoulder, but who spoke with the authority of a queen bee.
"Ok," said the ranger, sounding more sheepishly than me all of the sudden. It seemed his wife knew where his pressure points were like a rice farmer plowing his paddy with a buffalo. She was quite a talker and spoke at twice the normal speed. She told me that sea turtles come to nest here in their hundreds, and during the season they cover the beach with nest markers. On the ocean side there’s a lagoon that was breached by hurricane Irma, and only now had the sea deposited enough sand there to close the gap. “You would not believe what the place looked like after the storm trampled through here. Barely a leaf was left; everything looked brown and dead. But in just two years it all grew back. It’s amazing how nature recovers if you leave it alone.”
I thanked her many times for taking care of me. It was another cold night in the tent, but better than what the alternative might have been.
Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation