To Part One
Natural Treasure or Small Sailboat Hell
Jackie and her Mom were waiting for us a Flamingo. We helped Esther and Wayne load their gear and thanked them as best we could. I gave the Rangers my contact information so we could keep in touch about water conditions in the Bay. They felt it would be at least a week before I could get back to the SCAMP. Tired and dirty after our three days and nights on Florida Bay we were Ready for a Florida City motel room with a hot shower and a soft bed.
||Andrew and Mike in the Old Town canoe.
The next day we all drove to Tampa to get Andrew to the Airport and pick up the van we had left there. Since the start of the EC Jackie and her Mom had been following us with the pickup and trailer. Jackie had left the trailer at the finish in Key Largo, so I wanted to get it to Flamingo. We started back south in both cars and made it to Ft. Meyers before Jackie gave out. She had worked hard to organize or extraction and now she was having a Lupus attack. She and her Mom stayed in Ft. Meyers to rest and I headed south. I finally got the Fish Sandwich in Key Largo I had been looking forward to, hooked up the trailer and drove to Flamingo.
It was now Wednesday and the Rangers told me that with a predicted wind shift and some tide action caused by the up coming super full moon that Saturday was my best bet for getting the SCAMP out. I decided to try to get to the SCAMP on Friday afternoon. I knew that Esther and Wayne would not be availed, so I set out to find a Fishing guide. I found one who had a flats boat with a pole and poling platform and he agreed to take me out Friday afternoon after his charter. I was waiting at the marina when he returned with has clients and after telling the Rangers what we were doing we set out for Curlew Key and, I hoped, SCAMP.
From Tin Can Pass Channel I saw SCAMP but could not tell if she was where we had left her. The guide said he had not fished Curlew Key in several years but at one time a small channel lead off to the South to Curlew Key. We found a channel but the water soon got shallow and we had to stop the motor and lift it up. I was excited because there was now 1 foot of water over the grass where there had been just 4 inches when we came out by Canoe. I felt if I could get to SCAMP she would be afloat and moveable. The problem was we were approaching the Key from the North East and SCAMP had been left near the South West corner so I could not see her. With a strong East wind at our backs poling the boat was easy. We were about ¼ mile from the Key when the Guide decided he was going to have a very hard time poling back against the wind. He did not want to go any further down wind for fear he could not pole back before dark. I could get out here and crawl the rest of the way or go back to Flamingo with him. I paid him and went over the side. I found with my PFD I was floating enough to crawl using my hands and feet. The guide turned his boat around and started poling into the wind. I still could not see SCAMP and could only hope it was still there. I crawled the ¼ mile to the Key and looked back to see the guide had made it back to Tin Can Pass Channel an had his motor running again. I still could not see SCAMP but as I crawled around the end of the Key she was there, just another 150 yards to go.
On the boarding ladder I washed as much mud off as I could. Back on board I found everything just as we had left it. A quick call to Jackie to let her know SCAMP and I were okay, and I made ready to set sail. It was getting dark fast but that big full moon was up so I hoped I could see enough to sail. My goal was Buoy Key and the Tin Can Channel. This was directly into the wind of course. I started tacking up wind with no center board and the rudder held all the way up by it's up haul so it would not drag. Thanks to the two skegs SCAMP made progress to windward but I had to use the lee oar to turn the bow through the wind when tacking. The moon was so bright SCAMP cast a shadow but I could no longer see the bottom. We got stuck yet again in the grass near the Southeast corner of Buoy key, just 100 yards from the Channel. My clothes were still wet so I took them off and got into a sleeping bag for yet another night, my fourth, on Florida Bay.
|The author spends a fourth night on Florida Bay
Saturday morning I woke to to the sound of power boats in the channel. I could see that I was stuck on a high spot just 50 feet from a area of one foot deep water close to Buoy Key that seemed to join with Tin Can Channel on the north end of the Key. I tried to get out and push but the boat would not move. I got back in to wait for the expected high tide. The Ranger boat that had helped with our extraction the previous Sunday came down the Channel and I gave them the thumbs up to let them know I was okay I stuck a stick in the mud with a mark showing the current water line and waited. By 1:00 PM the water had come up 3/8 of an inch. By 1:30 it was up 1 inch and I decided to go for it. This time when I got out of the boat I could just move it. The wind was still very strong out of the East making Buoy Key a lee shore all the way to the channel. I got to the pocket of 1 foot deep water only 20 feet from the floating mat of dead grass that passes for a shoreline around these Keys. If I had let the boat get blown onto this mat it would be very hard to remove. Once SCAMP was floating the strong wind was trying to rip it out of my hands. I held on tight to the aft Port quarter and started moving north. In the 1 foot deep water I could walk the boat forward. I was sinking up to my knees with each step. In a few spots where the water was less than 1 foot deep I had to crawl on my knees. It took over 30 minutes of hard work to reach the North end of Buoy Key. Here, where the Channel touches the Key, I wanted to anchor on the edge of the channel. I reached into the boat from the water and got the anchor and threw it out. At the boarding ladder I washed the mud off and reboarded.
My plan was to catch my breath, get a drink of water, let the rudder down and set a double reefed sail for the now downwind run to Flamingo. No sooner had I grabbed my water bottle than the anchor started dragging. I was heading right for the end of Buoy Key and a fixed channel marker. A few frantic strokes on the Port side oar got me into the channel, just missing the marker. The SCAMP was being blown down wind with the anchor still out and the rudder tied up. I got the anchor aboard and let down the rudder. Now I could turn around and see what was happening. The so called Channel that I had been trying to get to for over a week was only about 30 feet wide and not deep enough to let the rudder all the way down. I was being blown down wind at about 4 mph with NO sail up. The channel went downwind for as far as I could see and I had enough steerage to keep the boat in the channel so I decided to just keep going under bare poles. At this point the Ranger boat that I had seen in the morning going east was coming up behind me going west. They were going at just above idle speed because this area was too shallow for even their fancy boat to get up on a plane. It took them a long time to pass me and they were surprised at how fast I was going with no sail up.
I was able to keep in the channel all the way to the south end of Joe Kemp Key. The very area where Andrew and I had made our fateful mistake. I put up some sail to tack the last ¼ mile up the Flamingo channel Northeast to the marina. This last bit took 45 minutes of short tacking to windward. Finally I got through the opening to the marina and in the wind shadow of the trees, took down my sail. I rowed up to the dock by the boat ramp and the Rangers were there to help me tie up. We were ALL glad this ordeal was finally over. The Rangers told me they had gone all the way to Crocodile Dragover on their patrol today and that there was almost no water there. That area had been on our original plan to get to Key Largo. They said next time just plan on going the long way around.
So will there be a next time. I have learned to never say never, but I have now seen enough of the shallow part of Florida Bay to last me a good long time. Jackie and her mother were in Florida City and I loaded the boat on it's trailer for the trip to a Motel and a hot meal. During the time Andrew and I had been stuck on SCAMP some friends and a lot of people who had been following or EC adventure got up a save the SCAMP fund through Duckworks. There generosity allowed us to stay in Florida the extra 10 days it took to get SCAMP hone and we can never thank them enough. To all the people who helped and especially to Esther, Wayne and the great Rangers.