Everglades Diary

5 Day Solo Trip - Cape Sable Loop

South Joe River sunrise

My first trip starting from Flamingo was originally planned as a 5-day solo expedition which would take me in a clockwise loop around Cape Sable, avoiding a run against the strong prevailing southeast winds on Florida Bay. As it turned out, I wasn't able to reserve the sites that I wanted on the days that I would need in order to accomplish this, and I wound up going the other way: counter-clockwise around the Cape, and finishing with a windy struggle from East Cape to Flamingo. The weather was warm and the mosquitos and no-see-ums were out in swarms, confining me to the tent after sundown for most of the trip. Even so, this counts as one of my most enjoyable trips.
Here is how the trip was planned:
  • Day 1 - Flamingo to South Joe River: 11.5 miles - This was an easy run up Buttonwood Canal, across Coot Bay and entering the Joe River at it's southern entrance, ending at the South Joe River chickee.
  • Day 2 - South Joe River to Little Shark River: 16 miles - Another easy day of paddling across some of the most beautiful waters in the Park. I continued up the Joe River and across the eastern margins of Oyster Bay to the Little Shark River. My day ended at he Shark River chickee, which sits right up against the mangroves, turning this site into "bug central" after dusk.
  • Day 3 - Little Shark River to Graveyard Creek: ~11 miles - This was my "play day", with a nominal distance of only 7 miles between sites. I used the extra time to explore several of the many small creeks and mangrove tunnels that form the labyrinth of the Shark River delta. Definitely one of the most enjoyable days I've ever spent in the Everglades.
  • Day 4 - Graveyard Creek to Middle Cape: 16.5 miles - This was the longest leg of the trip, and I got to see both the best and the worst of Everglades beach camping. The weather remained warm but the Gulf breezes helped to keep the bugs at bay.
  • Day 5 - Middle Cape to Flamingo: 14 miles - The last day took me around the Cape to Florida Bay, and straight into the teeth of a 20 knot wind for the last 5 miles of the trip.

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    Buttonwood Canal in the morning

    Day 1 - South Joe River
    Thursday, 11/22/01 - I had arrived in Flamingo the day before to pull my permit and spend some time seeing the sights and paddling the local canoe trails, and I spent the night in the campground there. The mosquitos at the campground were bothersome even in broad daylight, and were unbearable after dark. On the morning of departure I loaded the canoe at the boat ramp of the Flamingo Marina and pushed off at about 7:30 AM, heading north along the 3 mile length of Buttonwood Canal. The Canal is a man-made waterway, dredged in the 1950s to provide a passage from Whitewater Bay to Florida Bay without having to take the long route around Cape Sable. The southern end of the canal was later dammed to prevent saltwater intrusion into Whitewater Bay, but boaters are still able to use Buttonwood Canal to access Florida Bay by means of a boat lift arrangement at the Flamingo dam (known as the "Plug" by the locals), and are charged a small fee for the privilege.
    The early morning was clear and warm with a light breeze out of the east. I was passed by a couple of motorboats out for the Thanksgiving holiday, but overall it was a quiet paddle that took about an hour before reaching the open waters of Coot Bay at Coast Guard marker #1, the first marker on the Wilderness Waterway trail.
    The crossing of Coot Bay took about 30 minutes and the light easterly breeze presented no problem on the open water, and after about 45 minutes of steady paddling I reached Tarpon Creek at the northern end of the Bay. Tarpon Creek is a beautiful little half-mile connecting stream between Coot Bay and Whitewater Bay that is governed by a strong tidal current. It can be busy with motorboat traffic, but today it was quiet and ospreys were my only company, their loud, chirping calls sounding high overhead in the warm morning air. I had entered the creek on a rising tide which put the current against me and slowed my progress until I reached the creek's entrance at southern end of Whitewater Bay, near Coast Guard marker #10. Once out on the open water I turned my canoe to the west and made good time again with the following easterly wind, reaching the wide southern entrance to the Joe River at about 10:30 AM. I stopped here for a long break to fish for a while in the lee of a pair of small keys that sat at the mouth of the river, but I didn't have any luck, and soon continued on up the Joe River between banks of low, scrubby mangrove.
    The small bay where the South Joe River Chickee is located is guarded by an island that separates the bay from the Joe River, and allows access by two creeks at either end. I reached the southern channel at about noon, and worked my way along the winding passage. As I rounded a corner at the far end of the creek, the bay opened up and I could finally see the chickee in the near distance at the north end of the bay, sitting about 50 feet from the northeastern shore. I docked at the chickee at 12:30 PM and unloaded my gear on one of the wooden platforms that would be my home for the night. After setting up the tent and eating some lunch, I set out again to explore.
    There is a creek at the southeast corner of the bay that leads to a another, smaller bay, and I made for this in the warmth of the bright afternoon. The little creek wound it's way westward for a short distance until opening into the small bay, which bore a close resemblance in shape and size to Liquor Still Bay near the Ten Thousand Islands to the north. The trees here were very tall, and the shoreline was dotted with small, shaded "alcoves", that permitted views deep into the surrounding forest. At the far western end of the bay a small opening in the mangroves led to a quiet, overgrown pool of water that was fringed with the hulks of dead trees, and I surprised a pair of otters who were resting on one of the fallen trunks. They slipped into the water at my approach and I could see them streak by just under the boat as they made for the opening behind me. Rays of bright sunlight streamed through the green canopy, and the tall trunks of the living trees were like the pillars of a primeval cathedral stretching into the dim distance of the forest. I lingered here for a moment until the swamp angels found me, then retreated back out into the open sunlight and returned to the larger bay to the east. I continued across the bay to the creek just south of the chickee and crossed the Joe River, making my way into the tangle of tiny islands and twisting channels that separate the Joe River from Whitewater Bay. I fished without any luck for the next couple of hours, and finally returned to the chickee at about 4 PM and prepared dinner.
    The late afternoon air temperature was in the lower 80s, and the mosquitos came out in force just before sunset and found me in spite of the distance of the chickee from the shoreline. The light breeze did little to help disperse the ravenous bugs and I was soon driven into the tent, where I read for a while before finally drifting off to sleep.

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    Looking north across Oyster Bay

    Day 2 - Shark River
    Friday, 11-23-01 - I departed South Joe River chickee at about 8 AM. The wind was light and continued to blow out of the east under a sunny sky, and a pair of swallow-tailed kites dipped and soared overhead as I made my way up the creek leading to the main channel of the Joe River. Just north of the chickee the river is divided by a big island, and narrows to a pair of 50 foot wide channels between banks lined with low mangroves. I took the eastern channel and rounded the island, and the river soon resumed it's normal width of over 100 feet. The stream meandered along in a general northwesterly direction, and the eastern bank was broken in spots by passes and creeks that connected to Whitwater Bay. About 4.5 miles upriver the channel narrowed a bit and took a turn to the north, until finally reaching the southern end of Oyster Bay, where there is a small nook in the eastern shoreline that houses the Joe River Chickee. I had been hoping to stop here to take a break and stretch my legs a bit, but both platforms of the chickee were occupied by a pair of motorboat parties, and I went on to take my break in the canoe near the southern entrance of Oyster Bay instead.
    It was about 10:30 AM when I left the Joe River and paddled out into Oyster Bay. About 4 miles to the north lay Oyster Bay Chickee, which was on my original itinerary, but the site had already been booked and I had to camp instead on the Shark River Chickee, about 4.5 miles further to the northeast. Still, I had plenty of time and I took a leisurely course along the eastern margins of Oyster Bay as I paddled north. Oyster Bay and Whitewater Bay are separated by an archipelago of hundreds of large and small islands that are riddled with creeks and passes, and I spent the next couple of hours exploring a few of these as I worked my way north. The wind had picked up to over 10 knots but was still out of the east, and I was protected from the wind by the islands to the east as I wound my way between them, stopping at times to fish, take photos, or just enjoy the peace and beauty of the late November morning.
    I reached the double platform of Oyster Bay Chickee shortly after 12 noon. One of the platforms had a few 5-gallon buckets scattered about, but there was no sign of the occupants, and I stopped at the unoccupied side to eat some lunch and rest for a while. After the break, I turned to the northeast to rejoin the Wilderness Waterway at Cormorant Pass, and as I wound my way between the scattered islands I was witness to a territorial squabble between a pair of great blue herons. One of the big birds had encroached on the fishing grounds of another heron, who rose and pounced on the interloper, and they met with a clash of beaks and feathers and indignant squawks. The encounter lasted less than a minute, and the intruder was forced to retreat, filling the air with raucous screeching as he flew away, his injured pride the only wound sustained in the brief battle.
    I rejoined the Wilderness Waterway trail at Marker 2, near the north end of Cormorant Pass, and half-an-hour later I entered the Shark Cutoff on the falling tide at Waterway Marker 3. The outgoing tidal current was fierce through the Cutoff, and I was drawn rapidly through the short passage to where it finally joined the Little Shark River at Marker 5. The tidal flow was abruptly reversed where the two streams met, and I was spun about in the strong eddys that resulted from the conflicting currents. Regaining control of the canoe, I began the laborious run up the Little Shark against the falling tide.
    On it's journey from the great River of Grass to the Gulf of Mexico, the Shark River forks into the Little Shark River about 4.5 miles south of it's headwaters at Tarpon Bay. Just beyond the fork, there is a smaller tributary stream flowing in from the southeast, and this is where the Shark River Chickee is located. Fighting the outgoing tide, I worked my way upstream between banks lined with very tall mangroves, and about an hour later I finally reached the tributary and rounded a corner to see the chickee sitting hard against the mangroves on the southern bank, just off of the Little Shark River. The weather was still warm and I envisioned swarms of mosquitos and no-see-ums later in the evening as I approached the chickee platform at about 3 PM.
    The tide had fallen considerably, raising the chickee platform about 4 feet above the surface of the river, and it was an awkward and precarious few minutes as I unloaded my gear from a standing postion in the canoe. I finally climbed up onto the single platform and set up my tent. A light wind blew across the river from the east and kept the bugs down for a while, but as the day lengthened into evening, I was often plagued with no-see-ums in the still breaks between the intermittant breezes. I had a head net, but the evil little buggers were small enough to crawl through the netting and I had to douse the netting with bug dope to keep them out while I cooked dinner. I finally retreated to the tent just before sundown, when clouds of mosquitos joined the no-see-ums and made life completely unbearable out in the open air. The shrill whine of millions of bloodsucking insects steadily grew in volume as the dusk turned into night, and trips outside of the tent became a full dress affair complete with long sleeves, hat, and head net. The windows of my tent were black with hundreds of ravenous little insect bodies, and I fell asleep that night to the singing of the swamp angels.

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    Alligator in the Shark River delta

    Day 3 - Graveyard Creek
    Saturday, 11-24-01 - The bugs had mostly dispersed when I emerged from my tent the next morning, but there were still a few no-see-ums to contend with, and I wasted no time leaving the Shark River Chickee. The tide was once again low, making canoe loading a tricky operation, but I finally packed everything into the boat, got it all tied down, and was on the water by 8 AM.
    My destination today was the Graveyard Creek ground site, which is situated on a high sand ridge on the northwest shore of Ponce De Leon bay, and is only about 7 miles as the crow files from the Shark River site. This left plenty of time to explore the intricate network of rivers and creeks that make up the Shark River delta, and in fact, the day was specifically planned just for this.
    Instead of heading straight downriver toward the Gulf, I instead turned to the right as I left the unnamed river where the Shark River Chickee sits, and soon reached the junction of the Shark and Little Shark Rivers just to the north. I rounded the bend at the fork in the rivers, which was divided by a large three-sided island, but instead of heading down the wide channel of the Shark, I turned immediately to the north and entered the narrow entrance to a small, winding creek that connects to one of the many rivers that make up the delta to the north of the Shark. The creek twisted and turned in a general northwesterly direction for nearly a mile. The high mud banks were exposed by the low tide, and tall mangroves, some growing to nearly 60 feet in height, lined either side of the narrow stream. I finally emerged into the larger river and then began working my way toward my destination on the Gulf of Mexico.
    I followed the river westward, making small side trips and detours, and stopping occasionally to investigate a few of the many mangrove tunnels that lead from the main channels. Most of these were either too shallow from the low tide, or blocked by deadfalls and snags, but I did find a some that allowed me to travel for some distance before either dead-ending in a tangle of downed trees, or running out of navigable water. I found and followed one skinny little creek that led for more than a mile into the surrounding forest, with only a few snags and overhangs blocking the way. The understory of the surrounding forest was open and clear of undergrowth, and ranks of tall, straight mangrove trunks stretched endlessly in every direction, rising to a thick canopy that completely blocked out the sky. The slightest sounds reverberated through the deep green silence of the jungle. White ibis and other birds stalked among the roots, hunting for food, and the occassional sudden squawk of a startled bird would seem to come from everywhere at once.The low mud banks exuded the scent of decay and were riddled with the burrows of the fiddler and mangrove crabs that scuttled through the tangle of stilt roots that crowded in on every side. If anybody should ask me for the definition of the word "primeval", I wouldn't hesitate to send them a picture of this place. Eventually, the creek ended in a blockade of deadfalls and shallow water, and I had to turn back. The trip down the mangrove tunnel and back had taken over an hour, and as I reached the entrance again and rounded the overhanging trees at the entrance of the creek, I ran smack into a large alligator that was sunning itself on the mud bank to the right. I pulled back abruptly by digging my paddle into the soft bottom, and narrowly avoided striking the gator's tail where it lay across the creek entrance. The gator hadn't been there when I first entered the tunnel and it took me by surprise, as did the several other pairs of eyes and snouts that ducked under the water just ahead of the canoe. The big gator on the bank never moved as I gingerly made my way past and continued on down the river.
    The day passed quickly and the weather continued to be perfect, with a light easterly breeze at my back for most of the way. I zig-zagged my way through the network of broad rivers, moving steadily westward, and I soon reached the terminus of the river and got my first view of Ponce De Leon Bay. I still had plenty of time, and instead of crossing the Bay, I found and entered a creek that flowed into the bay from the north. The creek soon took a sharp turn to the east and northeast, and I followed this until I reached a wide pass that joined to a larger channel that once again took me westward, until it intersected with an wider channel that flowed south into the Bay. I continued to avoid the open water, choosing instead the shelter of another small stream that connected to Graveyard Creek to the west, which flowed back out to the Gulf and opened into a small lagoon on the northern rim of Ponce De Leon Bay. I finally reached the Graveyard Creek campsite and finished the day's journey at about 3 PM on the falling tide. I beached the canoe on the steep sandy bank of the creek, pulling it as far above the tide line as I could, and tied it to a mangrove stump.
    The Graveyard Creek campsite is located on a high ridge of sand that fronts the northern bank of Graveyard Creek where it flows into Ponce De Leon Bay. Behind the ridge is an open mangrove forest that is watered by high spring tides, but is otherwise dry. On this day, the campsite resembled a storm-tossed wreck. The remains of a broken picnic bench were cobbled together with the steel post of a washed-out barbeque grill to make a crude table, which was tied with old rope to the fallen trunk of a great mangrove whose upended root system rose in a tangle more than 10 feet over my head. The massive trunk of another downed tree bordered the south side of the ridge, paralleling the tangled mangrove shoreline. The remains of one of the two toilets lay collapased and covered with sand more than 50 feet back in the trees on the extreme northern end of the ridge, where it had apparently been blown by a recent storm. The sandy beach leading west and north was littered with downed trunks and broken stumps, with tall, skinny mangroves towering overhead amid the wreckage.
    The warm weather and the scent of human soon brought out the no-see-ums, so I pitched my tent as far out in the open as I could manage to take advantage of the slight breeze. Donning the head net and long sleeves, I prepared and ate an evening meal, and washed up amid a cloud of the tiny flies. I took sanctuary in the tent just as the mosquitos made their appearance at sunset, and I sat up for a while reading and planning my next day's journey by flashlight, and listening to the whine of ravenous bugs at the door and windows of the tent. It was then that I made an intereseting observation. A small cloud of no-see-ums had followed me into the tent, but instead of engaging in their usual assault on my exposed flesh, they instead perched quietly along the walls of the tent. If they ever bothered me when the lights were out, I was sleeping too soundly to notice.

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    Little Shark River entrance

    Day 4 - Middle Cape
    Sunday, 11-25-01 - I was on the water early and made a direct crossing of Ponce De Leon Bay with only a light easterly breeze ruffling the open bay waters. The distant coast of Little Shark River Island lay nearly 3 miles dead ahead, and nearly a mile to my left the many rivers of the delta emptied in to the bay amid a broken shoreline of tall trees. The open Gulf spread out wide and blue-green to my right, fading into a dull blue in the distance where it merged with a brilliant blue sky dotted with puffy white cumulus. I rounded the point at the northern tip of Cape Sable at about 9 AM, where I took a break at the Little Shark River entrance, which was busy with motorboaters on this clear Sunday morning. A line of Coast Guard channel markers showed this to be a primary passage to Oyster Bay from the Gulf.
    Continuing south, I hugged the shoreline of northwest Cape Sable, a wild stretch of thick, tangled mangrove forest that is strewn with the wreckage of countless storms. The sticky marl clay that passes for soil in much of the Everglades comes right to the water's edge here, and the bottom just offshore is littered with the ghostly remains of fallen trees whose barnacle-covered branches reach up from the bottom, appearing suddenly in the green water just under the boat as I passed them by. I was sheltered from the breeze here, and the day grew warmer as the morning progressed. A passing fisherman in a motorboat offered me the leftover ice from his cooler, which I accepted gratefully, adding it to my food cooler. About 3 miles south of the Little Shark River I passed the small bay where Big Sable Creek empties into the Gulf, and another 2.5 miles brought me to the narrow mouth of Little Sable Creek.
    At about 11 AM the trees thinned out, and the marl shoreline began to break into short stretches of yellow sand that soon evolved into an expanse of wide beach. I had reached the Northwest Cape campsite, and I stopped here to eat an early lunch. Northwest Cape begins the first of several miles of unbroken beach that runs south as far as the Middle Cape Canal. The beach is backed by a salt prairie where a variety of trees and other scrub relieves the monotony of the endless mangroves. As I grounded the canoe on the beach, I was disturbed to see a smoking pile of trash and empty beer bottles left by motorboat campers, and I doused the smoldering remains before I moved on, wishing that there was a way to pack out the ugly pile and clean up this otherwise beautiful stretch of coastline.
    The sandy beach continued uninterrupted for another 3 miles, curving gently southward in a broad arc until reaching the pass at Middle Cape Canal. The strong tidal outflow from the canal has built a massive sandbar that sits just offshore from the canal entrance. The bar was now exposed by the low tide and was occupied by hundreds of pelicans and cormorants which flew off in a rush of wings at my approach. I beached the canoe on the narrow spit of sand at the eastern tip of the bar for a short break.
    South of the canal the coastline was once again lined with mangrove forest, and continued it's slow curve to the south. The trees eventually ran out and the sandy beach resumed, and I soon reached the broad stretch of golden sandy beach that markd the Middle Cape campsite. Once again the sharp stench of burning plastic greeted me as I approached the shoreline. Another ugly pile of plastic bags, beer bottles, and other trash lay in a smoldering heap on the sand, far above the high tide line, and once again I beached the boat, got out my bucket, and doused the stinking mess. There was no sign of the perpetrators, or anybody else for that matter, which was a little surprising given that on the weekends, Middle Cape is ofter swarmed by boaters and fishermen attracted by the fine fishing offered at this spot due to the confluence of tidal currents and moving water at the point. I returned to the canoe and paddled a bit further south and finally arrived at my destination. It was about 2:30 P.M.
    Middle Cape is a gorgeous stretch of open beach backed by a scrub forest, which provides little shade from the blazing afternoon sun. I unpacked my gear and pitched my tent in the shelter of a sand dune bordering the scrub on the western side of the beach, but this soon proved to be a mistake, as the dune blocked the already sparse easterly breeze and allowed swarms of no-see-ums and mosquitoes to gather around the tent as I cooked an early dinner. After eating my dinner and cleaning up, I relocated the tent to the open beach on the extreme western tip of the point, close to the water just above the high tide line where the breeze was able to keep the bugs somewhat at bay.
    The long day of paddling and the exertion of setting up camp, not once, but twice, had left me hot, sweaty and tired. I was alone, so I stripped down and bathed in the tidal pool that was formed by the eddy of the currents around the spit of high sandy beach on the point. The water was cool and refreshing, and I rinsed the dirt and sweat out of my clothing and hung it over the tent to dry in the warm afternoon sun. After my bath, I strolled along the southern beach for a while, then returned to the tent site and sat on the sand and waited for the sunset, but the sky had begun to cloud over and was hazy and overcast on the western horizon, and the sun was obscured as it sank into the west. As usual, the bugs became obnoxious at dusk and I retired to the tent, noting the dim flashes of lightning on the horizon far to the southeast, and lowering the tent fly as a precaution. I fell asleep early, but was awakened in the small hours by the steady drumming of a light rain on the tent, which soon lulled me back into a deep sleep.

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    Whitecaps on Florida Bay

    Day 5 - Flamingo
    Monday, 11-26-01 - I woke before dawn. This would be the final day of the trip, and possibly the most difficult, and I wanted to get an early start. I was concerned with the probability of running up against the strong easterlies that blow across Florida Bay when I rounded the point at East Cape and began the final leg of the journey. But right now, in the dim light of early dawn, the wind was light and I wanted to get as many miles under the boat as possible before the afternoon breezes picked up. I ate a quick breakfast, packed my tent and stowed my gear, and pushed off from the Middle Cape beach just before 7 A.M.
    The day brightened under an overcast sky, and the long curve of the sandy coastline receded to my left as I made my way south. The wind was still light and I made good time as I cut straight across the open water, following a heading that would take me directly to the point at East Cape. Curtains of rain could be seen moving along the eastern horizon, and I was soaked on one occasion by a passing shower. At one point, I heard a loud booming noise off to my right, but could see nothing when I looked in that direction. A minute later I heard a loud splash and turned in time to see a great manta ray rise from the water and sail for a short distance through the air before landing on the surface in a loud belly-flop. The ray disapeared after the third jump and I was once again alone in the quiet of the grey morning.
    Paddling steadily, I reached East Cape at about 8:15 A. M. The wind was still light and I stopped for a short break and took a leg-stretching walk northward along the East Cape beach. This was once the site of an old military installation, Fort Poinsett, which was built in the early 1800s during the Seminole Wars, but was later abandoned. The great hurricane of 1935 erased all traces of the fort and destroyed a coconut plantation, and East Cape is once again the domain of birds, wildlife, and campers. During my walk I spotted a pair of deer in the scrub bordering the beach, and saw a bald eagle swoop low and land on the knarled branch of a dead mangrove far back in the salt marsh to the east.
    I returned to my boat and pushed off from the East Cape beach, and began the turn to the east that would take me back to my starting point at Flamingo. The wind was still very light and I made good time, reaching the East Cape Canal by 9:30 A.M. Up until then I had been alone on the water, but now as I got closer to Flamingo, motorboats began to make their appearance, and a group of them were clustered around the mouth of the canal. In the southern distance, the dark smudge of Carl Ross Key lay on the horizon under scudding rain clouds that moved steadily westward, but the sky was beginning to show signs of clearing. The coastline here is lined with low, scrubby mangroves, and is backed by extensive salt marshes that are carpeted by acres of sea purslane, a salt tolerant dune plant with fleshy, edible leaves. Ospreys sailed overhead, their high chirping cries sounding clear as they called to one another. The sky gradually cleared, opening bright and blue overhead, and the breeze increased steadily out of the east. I reached the campsite at Clubhouse Beach at about 11:30 A.M., and stopped for an early lunch eaten in the boat. As I ate, I kept my eye on the water to the east, and was dismayed to see the wind increase perceptably over the course of about 15 short minutes. By noon whitecaps were beginning to form and the wind began to blow steadily harder, increasing to nearly 20 knots, with gusts up to 25 knots. It was only 7 more miles to Flamingo, but it would be a tough 7 miles, and I pushed out into the wind shortly after noon for the final run.
    I rounded the point of the sheltering mangroves and pointed the bow into the wind, which was now blowing directly out of the east, dead ahead of the canoe. I thanked my luck for this small bit of relief - if the wind had been quartering from the southeast as it often does, weathercocking would become a significant problem and would slow my progress considerably. With the wind directly in my face I could keep the canoe tracking on a relatively straight course. Even so, my progress against the strong breeze was slow and laborious. The inshore waters between East Cape and Flamingo are wide open with virtually no shelter apart from the light scattering of small islands to the south and west of Flamingo. The wind had raised a short, rough chop and waves occassionally broke across the bow, sending spray flying back into my face every few minutes as I struggled onward. I kept my eyes glued to the distant speck of Curry Key, the nearest bit of shelter and still more than a mile-and-a-half away.
    My arms began to ache but I dared not stop to rest knowing that I would be only pushed back if I did. I dropped from my seat to kneel as I paddled, keeping as low a profile to the wind as I could manage, and I plowed onward. I finally reached the shelter of Curry Key at about 1:00 P.M. It had taken nearly an hour to travel 1.5 miles and I still had another 2.5 miles to go. I rested a bit in the shelter of the tiny island, and then pushed off once again.
    The wind lightened just a bit as I crossed the open water between Curry Key and Guy Bradley Key, but still blew hard in occassional strong gusts. I was able to make slightly better time, reaching Guy Bradley Key in about half-an-hour, where I stopped for another rest. It was still nearly 2 miles to Flamingo and the wind had increased again to it's former strength. As I dug my paddle into the muddy shallows, the shoreline crawled by at an excruciatingly slow pace, and at times I felt like I was paddling at a standstill. It was after 2 P.M. when I finally reached the outdoor amphitheater at the Flamingo campground. I was tempted to beach the boat here and walk the distance to the marina and bring the truck back, but stubborn determination prevailed, and I dug in and pushed onward instead.
    When I finally came abreast of the Flamingo Visitor's Center, a group of tourists leaned over the railing, all pointing at the crazy man in the green canoe. The tour boat was just leaving the Marina as I made my approach, and it was a frustrating few minutes as I struggled to maintain my position against the wind while waiting for the big boat to pass. Tourists waved with big smiles and snapped my picture as I fought to keep the canoe from being blown back to East Cape. It was with a huge sigh of relief that I finally rounded the corner and pulled into the sheltered cove of the Flamingo Marina. It was a bit of a shock to be so suddenly out of the driving wind and waves, the canoe gliding effortlessly across the calm surface of the marina and grinding to a halt on the concrete of the boat ramp. Arms aching, I tied the canoe to the dock, and walked a bit unsteadily to the truck and brought it back to the ramp. I loaded gear and boat onto the truck, still in a bit of a daze at the sudden return to civilization. It was nearly 3 P.M. when I gassed up at the marina store and headed back up the Ingraham Highway and began the long drive toward home.

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