Backwaters of the Southwest Side of Pine Island
26 November 2014
This is the second Thanksgiving that Ellen and I got lucky enough to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving paddling around beautiful Pine Island in Florida. As with last year, we were thankful especially for my mom and step-dad, Patsy and Gene, who generously loaned us their winter home for our trip, and also their great friends Sandy and Dan who did everything from helping us launch our boats to loaning us their car one night to fixing the washing machine when it was acting up to giving us fancy crackers to help fill out our lunch the last day we were in town. They’re Thanksgiving superheroes!
We got to paddle three days of this four-day trip, which was fantastic. This post is all about our first paddle, which happened in some interesting weather. The temperatures were all right, especially by Midwesterner standards: a high of 73 and low of 55. But there was a high surf advisory and wind gusts up to 30 mph with threats of riptide and 5-6 foot waves. That morning on the news, the weatherman said, “Small boats, stay in today.” But he meant motor boats, I think, and in any event, in open water. But kayaks can creep where even the smallest of motor boats can’t go, so we went out with the plan of sticking to the backwaters.
It was a good plan, but the thing of it is, you need to paddle through canals to get to the backwaters, and the wind was with us in one canal, speeding our boats along like yellow bullets, but against us–and cold!–in the next canal. The work of getting to the backwaters was considerable–in fact, most of our paddle was in canals, as you can see if you click here and look at the record of our paddle (for it to really make sense, click on the top right for satellite view), and we tried to find a place to tuck in and eat the lunch we had brought along to no avail, since anywhere we tried to pull over, the wind messed with us. Finally, a woman came out of her canal-side house to see what in tarnation we were up to, and when she heard our lunch dilemma, she lowered this awesome boat lift you see pictured here–a sort of elevator for watercraft–and let us come on up and eat our lunch on her dock. Nice lady!
The backwaters, though–they were warm! We could feel the heat of the water radiating up around our boats, and the wind was totally blocked by the mangroves. We wound around and around mangrove paths, which led to some protected smaller, shallower open waters where there were birds ahoy! check out the slideshow below to see the cornucopia o’ birds we saw this day–well worth the work of the paddle out!
We were also lucky enough to see two seaprate ospreys enjoying their lunches–kinda ghastly from the fish perspective, but good eats for these birds!
The other wildlife of interest in the mangroves were these cool spider crabs, which were literally all over the mangroves as we paddled all through them. It was pretty creepy, and Ellen was completely fixated on them, which made them hard to ignore. We learned later that night that the crabs live on the mangrove branches so that, when high tide comes, they can crawl into the water and eat the little tiny fish that swim around in the mangrove branches. So: they’re not hanging out there waiting for us. This is cold comfort when the branches you are paddling through are alive with them.
We had two cool brushes with wildlife that we did not get pictures of. One was only an audio brush–we heard a great horned owl hooting–they nest in the mangroves. And we shared the canals with some dolphins, which is nice and all but man, they are big, and when they come up to breathe, it’s unsettling to a person not used to seeing something that size under the water.
We paddled 7 1/2 miles this day, earning our dinner when the wind was against us.