Update

Made it to Panama City after about 100 Miles of coastal and inshore paddling. The 8 inches of rain that fell over the weekend is finally past and some windy and cold weather has set in. Using the shore as windbreak. I’ve got to stay safe and out of dangerous chop. More in posts to come recappi ng the last few miles.

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Getting back on the water

Thanksgiving also gave me time to prepare some mail drop packages for portions of Florida with few services.

Dad tests out the newly installed hip pads and doubled seat padding. I needed a more sure feel on the hips for better control in rough water. We had fun sealing all the fittings with FlexSeal which should help keep the small dribbles of water from seeping in.

Had a great time hanging out with my little nephew on the Pascagoula beach, playing mini golf and getting schooled on modern video games. I had the highest score on NES Mario World though ūüėČ

The weather has shifted with a cold front and settled air mass bringing clear skies and breezy weather for the next week. I’ll be paddling through the Grand Bay NWR into Alabama then returning to Dauphin Island and the ICW toward Gulf Shores. The improved sleeping conditions in my tent should help make windy and cool nights a bit more comfortable. Stay tuned for more blog posts and SPOT updates when the wifi suits. Picture below from Voyage of the Paper Canoe in the 19th century.

Arrival at the Gulf

On a sunny morning I set out to cross the ICW where it heads to Florida. Shrimp boats with their long booms motored out with the falling tide, careful to stay within the navigable channel. The shallow areas of less than a foot continued for a few miles as my rudder sometimes drug on the sandy bottom and paddle often struck ground. Using the umbrella as a sail, I gobbled up the miles before 10am and later stopped on the white sand beach dotted with jellyfish and oyster shells.

The miles seemed to be flying by, especially now with the Gulf so close at hand.¬† Weather was perfect today for kayaking with less than 1ft waves.¬† It was interesting seeing how the¬†boats have changed and grown significantly more powerful with the great demands of saltwater fishing.¬† This boat had four 350hp engines…seems like a bit overkill if you ask me.

I had my eyes on a bit of a treat for my recent Alabama section of paddling and pulled in to Tacky Jack’s, a waterfront bar with a hole in the seawall large enough to pull my kayak through on onto their beach.¬† Wearing my spray skirt and pfd, I walked the few feet to the front door and soon devoured half of a massive burger, saving the rest for breakfast the following day.

Back on the water as the sun sank toward the horizon, I could see Fort Morgan’s peninsula point ahead and the oil rigs before the shoreline of Dauphin Island in the distance.¬† Steering a course for the fort beneath a sun dog’s prismatic wonder, I knew rain would soon be here.¬† Brown Pelicans examined me as they flapped past, gracefully skimming the choppy surface.¬† The smell of sea air and the saltwater washing across my deck helped drive home the joy and accomplishment of finally making it to the Gulf of Mexico.

Arriving at Fort Morgan’s boat ramp just as the sun set, it was clear I wouldn’t be kayaking over to Dauphin Island today, though the conditions were perfect.¬† Crossing the Mobile Shipping Channel in the dark seemed like less than a stellar idea regardless of the impending weather forecast.¬† After a chat with the ferry operator, I decided to take the opportunity to load my kayak on the ferry for an early morning crossing.¬† After hauling the kayak across a grassy field to the ferry landing, I chatted with some local fisherman then set up my mattress and bag in the large and clean bath of the historic hospital director’s home.¬† That night, the balmy winds brought thunderstorms and wet gusts that rattled the windows and raked the roof.¬† ¬† Come morning, the NOAA radio was abuzz with warnings of gale force conditions, waterspouts and tornado watches for the lower Mobile Bay and Dauphin Island.¬† I had some time to kill until the first boat arrived so I took the tour of Fort Morgan, a strategic military position at the mouth of the bay¬† occupied consistently since the early 19th century.

The rainy weekday morning meant I had the place to myself. Wandering through the dark and damp tunnels and chambers, the presence of battle and weight of the losses sustained within these walls struck me.  The cacophony of battle has been replaced with the distant crash of the sea swells and rhythmic dropping of water from a calcium deposit growing ever longer with each passing year.

Finding an expended clip on a concrete walkway seemed like an unlikely historical find. Sure enough, the park interpreter recalled a recent weekend reenactment where they stormed the beach head like in Iwo Jima.

Old and the new. Oil rig off in the distance but a cannon is no match for it’s potential destruction.

A few squall lines blew through with 45 mph gusts and driving rain.¬† The ferry would have a shorter schedule today and quit running shortly so I scurried back to the landing and unpacked the gear and carried the kayak on board with the help of a ship’s hand.¬† The heavy ferry was rocking in the swells as white caps and breaking waves folded around us. It would have been a foolish crossing with the outgoing tide and stiff 15mph north westerly blowing.¬† This may be the smartest $5 I’ve spent in a long time.¬† Most of the ferry ride was spent fielding questions from passengers about my odd mode of transit.

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The following 4 days showed no sign of improvement with heavy bands of rain and a strong northern wind with wintry cold conditions.  My first stop was the Dauphin Island Campground but after asking for one of their expensive $22/night sites, I was informed they do NOT allow hammocks or anything tied to the trees.  The prospect of paying to  sleep on the ground in the heaviest rain in weeks sounded grim.  Unfortunately, there were no other legal options for camping and the increasing wind and rain meant sketchy conditions to go kayaking looking for shelter.  Surprising even myself, I gave my sister and brother-in-law a phone call and they were excited to drive the hour along the Gulf Coast from Mississippi to pick me up.  In the meantime, I explored Fort Gaines and Dauphin Island by foot.

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The two parks are not linked and I¬†couldn’t justify spending the same for another tour of a similar fort.¬† I’m left to ponder the irony that a fort once designed to repel people has now transitioned its efforts to pull people in.

I just happened to be near when I spotted what I first thought was an apparition atop the fort.¬† After rubbing my eyes, I watched incredulously as he rammed the rod down the cannon’s mouth and checked and rechecked his fuse and powder.¬† Shortly there came a high pitched whistle then a concusvie explosion that echoed out over the water.¬† A plume of white smoke nearly a hundred feet wide expanded on the swift-moving wind.¬† It smelled pretty darn authentic even if he was shooting blanks.

Much of Dauphin Island is residential streets amid forests of saw palmetto, live oak and long leaf pine.  Although many homes are built on pilings or stilts, this colorful easter-egg house had a main level.  Certainly some unique beach-themed homes on my walking tour to the wildlife refuge and back.

 

Dauphin Island was habitated by westerners as early as 1710, with 20 fortified houses whose inhabitants grew gardens, fished and harvested local shellfish to survive.¬† ¬† The same man who founded Detroit, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, was given governorship of the new Louisiana territory and established his headquarters near this sprawling live oak photographed below. Unfortunately the fabled paradise described turned out to be a few fig trees, some apples and a couple grape vines. Coupled with the summer heat and relentless mosquitoes, I’m sure it was a dreadful existence for some time.

Dave picked me up in the truck and we were soon riding high and dry over the Dauphin Island Bridge where below me, the waves and white frothy water assured me that I made the right choice.  My family was excited to reunite and I was in need of the comfort of a hot shower and rich meal of southern cooking.  Over the Thanksgiving holidays I spent time playing with my nephew on the beach, grilling out by the pool and working on gear and boat repairs through tumultuous late fall weather.

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Had my first deep fried turkey which was delicious, succulent and indulgent.¬† I’ll have to wean myself back on to tunafish and beans after all these delicious meals around the table.20181122_151110.jpg

The Christmas tree is up and that’s my cue to skee-daddle.¬† I’ve added some additional gear to make winter paddling safer; neoprene skull cap, Stohlquist Paddling Boots, Poggies (hand mitts hooked to the paddle), and exchanged hammock for tent.

My route has changed for the winter to account for the Red Tide conditions in Florida and the avoidance of coastal conditions.¬† I will paddle about 400 miles of Florida’s Circumnavigational Paddling Trail to the Suwannee River then turn upstream for over 230mi to the Okefenokee Swamp.¬† From here I’ll contact the local outfitter for a 7 mile portage to the St. Mary’s River which flows to the Atlantic by Cumberland Island. I’ve included a new map below:

Mobile Bay: East Side

The weather was picture perfect with a gentle tailwind that let me sail down the east side of Mobile Bay. Many long docks, boat houses and beach homes lined the water. The shallow sandy bottom required the longer piers to put the boats into deep enough water. With shallow water also comes breaking waves if conditions are right.

An evening thunderstorm blew up before I could make it to Fairhope. Lightning flashed around me approaching quickly from the west so I threaded my way between docks and found a boardwalk platform beneath which I strung up the hammock. About 15 minutes later amid the downpour, the creek flash flooded and I was glad to be strung up off the ground. The sand was quickly undercut at the platform by the flood but as rain passed, the creek quickly fell.

Overnight as I slept under the public beach access, two guys arrived with beers after 1am and took a seat right above me, chatting into the night. I decided not to pull the troll card and kept quiet, camouflaged feet away from them.

A dense fog advisory accompanied the mornings on Mobile Bay as I kept my distance from shore to avoid the many docks and remains of broken pilings. The purple pink hues of fog under sunlight were welcomed as and promise of blue skies to come.

At Mullet Point Park I found a pavillion to hang up the hammock and kept dry in the foggy night. The sunset from the dock was splendid. No edits necessary.

Paddling in to Weeks Bay, I had my first up – close view of dolphins hunting in the brackish water.

The forecast called for winds overnight gusting to 30+ and the cold front that blew through brought thunder and white caps to Weeks Bay where I had taken shelter beneath an expansive live oak with swings.

After a few hours bouncing around in the roaring wind, I took down the hammock and built a wind block in the pine straw deeper into the woods. It’s not every night I’d rather sleep on the ground but the temperature kept dipping to the low 40s.

The morning brought gale force warnings over 50kt and small craft advisory so I made some coffee and sat out the strongest gusts until afternoon. Launching into the shallow water and breaking waves wasn’t fun but once sealed in the boat, it was a downwind paddle out of Weeks Bay on a falling tide.

Just hanging out, walking on water.

The submerged reef on the right allowed a protected shallow path down along Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge’s marsh shoreline. Catfish and other bottom dwellers frequently stirred up the water at my approach.

The day had grown long and the marshy exposed shore was not favorable for camping. Just before the crossing of the ICW, an abandoned boat ramp and RV campsite with some long leaf pines offered a shelter for the night. After kindling my fire for lentils and rice, I caught up with my journal while enjoying the colorful sunset over the bay. What a day!

Pre-Trip Preparation

Over 4000 miles in a year?

¬†Yeah, I don’t know either!

 

The biggest hurdle in preparing for the upcoming 2018 season of paddling is my healing collarbone injury.

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Following three months of physical therapy, my shoulders and core are feeling strong again and up to the daunting task of paddling over 4000 miles.

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The Prijon SeaYak I picked up last spring in the Shenandoah Valley needed some cleaning and outfitting to prepare it for the journey.  It has new custom made hatch covers by Snap Dragon, freshly resealed bulkheads, aluminum rudder and shade-tree quality custom seat made from an old camping pad and prosthetic boot.   One of the many benefits of a kayak over a canoe for this trip is the ability to safely encounter waves and dynamic water from larger vessels, currents and wind. The lightweight carbon fiber Aqua Bound Sting Ray paddle makes a huge difference in forearm fatigue compared to the heavier paddler I used on the Mississippi River.

3 miles from home is Lake Shenandoah, a 36 acre impoundment lake popular with local anglers and boaters.¬† It has been a great place to put in to test out the new features and fittings of my seat and foam pad additions.¬† The few days we’ve had wind on the lake has been great for umbrella sailing with the large golf umbrella I plan to bring.¬† Not only can it serve as rain and sun protection, but serious propulsion when the wind is right.

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Sometime around the first week of July, I plan to put in on the Monongahela River in Fairmont, WV.¬† This will begin my journey downstream on the Mon to the Ohio River and on. This blog will be updated infrequently via wifi as the trip permits.¬† At this moment, I’m planning to have no cell phone to communicate or call with but relying on my marine radio for locks and weather, printed river and tide charts. Life is simpler on the rivers, more basic and visceral.

I’ll try to make a post about the gear list and layout once things are finalized and test fit into the boat. Stay tuned here on this new blog for updates and stories from the Monongahela River.