I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Paddle Day 56-143: Fabulous paddling in the backcountry

Paddling into the wind
Wonderful kayaking in skinny water with skinny paddle.  Rivals Maine as a kayaking mecca.  Lovely scenery, challenging navigation, and heart pounding paddling all in one day.  Seventh day in a row on the go, as I race for the end of the expedition

In this part of the lower keys, they use the Fat Albert blimp to see if the weather is okay for kayaking.  Fat Albert is a large white blimp that the military use to keep taps on drug and people smuggling relative to Cuba and Mexico.  To prevent damage in high winds, they bring the blimp down, so local kayakers only paddle when the blimp is up, as that means the winds are mild.   I looked for the blimp before I set out, but didn't see it.   That didn't bother me.  I thought they must be doing maintenance on it, since I had yet to see the blimp up over the several days I had been in this area.  I should have thought of the other possible option - that the winds had been too high for days.

It was an easy paddle as I left with the incoming tide and the wind both at my back, as I whizzed down the channel into the backcountry.
All sky and shallow water as I headed into the backcountry
It was lovely skimming in shallow water over the bottom and being surrounded by huge endless sky.  My skinny Inuit paddle is perfect for this skinny water.  There was often just a few inches of water, so being able to use a long narrow paddle meant I could get enough "bite" to propel myself forward against the wind.

Looking down to see sponges and corals was a repeat of yesterday.
Vase sponge
There were only a few widely separated keys in places.
Being blown towards a mangrove key
Navigation was fun, as there were no bold landmarks, just specs of mangroves on the horizon.
Indistinguishable keys
You had to keep track of your location and time on the chart to follow a route through the shallows.  The tides made it even more interesting.  The tides south or Route 1 came from the Atlantic, but north they came from the Gulf of Mexico, and the times were wildly different.  I was trying to paddle through quickly enough to avoid low tide, when I might have bottomed out far, far from shore.

It reminded me a lot of kayaking in Maine, except there were palm trees here instead of spruce and pines.

As the wind picked up, it was paddle, paddle, paddle to get to the next mangrove clump, where I could get a moment of protection from the wind, but only when I was practically touching their leaves, as the clumps were so low.

As the wind increased even more, it was all I could do to paddle against it.   I paddled my hardest for each long crossing, and then rested for a few minutes cozied up to the mangroves.

I decided to land early at boat ramp along Highway 1 where Chris was waiting for me.  But there was a long fetch and the surf rolling into the narrow space between the break walls was daunting.   I looked instead for any small holes in the mangroves I could haul my kayak through, but there were none.  With no other landing spots for several miles I descided my best option was to just go for it and surf in to the concrete ramp.  I back paddled to slow myself down as much as possible.  I called for Chris to grab my bow and pull it starboard.  It worked like a dream as I landed with minimal bashing of the kayak on the concrete.  I was so glad to be off the water.  The 20 mph winds in shallow water were tough.

It was a great day overall.  I was fully engaged the whole time.  The first third was pure beauty and happy exploration.  The second third was somewhat windy, but the navigation was invigorating.  Then the winds picked up and it was full out paddling and adrenaline surging.

Gratitude List:
  • Gliding over shallow water
  • Loads of sponges
  • Great white herons
  • Navigational fun
  • Water ballet with Chris at the end
Date: January 26, 2016                                               Restart Paddle Day: 56    Paddle Day:143
Start location: Cudjoe Key, FL                                     Launch time: 10:00 AM
End location:  Big Coppitt Key                                      Land time: 2:15 PM
Average speed: 3.5 mph                                              Max Speed:  5.5 mph
Miles: 15
Total expedition miles with kayak and bike: 2491        Motor-portage miles: 404
Sailing Miles: 1025                                                      TOTAL Expedition Miles: 3516
Kayak Storage: Chris Percival
Host: Ruth Montegue

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