In the early 1980s I started exploring the Everglades from a small 15' deep V-hull aluminum skiff with a 30 hp engine. My interest in this area was sparked by my friend Shawn McMullin who insisted I stop fishing Biscayne Bay and drive to Flamingo to fish the Whitewater Bay area. Armed with a chart he loaned me, I drove south to Flamingo. Enamored by the beauty of the landscape during my drive to the marina I was getting excited to get my boat in the water. Once I got into Whitewater Bay I was hooked! The possibilities of exploring this vast area got me dreaming of future adventures. Every weekend I plotted out a section of that area and meticulously made my way to every spot I could get into with my boat. Eventually I started getting too far out and would have to bring my camping gear to spend the night. I did this for over 10 years until I decided to head to Chokoloskee and figure out that area as well.
One day, while I was on the Buttonwood Canal going to camp at Graveyard Creek, I passed a group of kayakers. They had beautiful long, sleek kayaks and they were all in white (a vision perhaps). I asked them where they were going. They answered that they were doing the entire wilderness waterway. I was shocked! We had done this by motor boat but could not imagine anybody being able to put all their gear in these sleek kayaks and paddle so many miles. It left an impression in my mind as I looked at my boat, overloaded with every possible manner of camping equipment packed in ugly trash bags.
In the early 1990s I visited Baja, California and was introduced to kayak fishing by using a sit on top kayak. I was hooked! When I got back to Miami I immediately started researching this particular method of fishing and found a couple of websites that were active with forum members posting reports and techniques. I bought my first kayak a yellow Scupper Pro, twin hatch model without rudder. After a few years of fishing from this kayak I sold my powerboat as it was maintenance intensive. I was really enjoying kayak fishing even more than fishing from a powerboat.
I started toying with the concept of camping from this boat. Of course that meant changes in equipment but eventually I did my first trip, an arduous 6 mile journey against the tide at night to Picnic Key. After that horrid adventure, I got a rudder to install on the boat and made myself learn the method of tide prediction as it applied to kayaking from point A to B. Now, I feel quite comfortable touring, camping and fishing out of a kayak or canoe.
Although getting further into the backcountry requires more vacation time, the experience of traveling with the rhythm of the Everglades by working the tides and traveling slow enough to really experience the subtle beauty of this wilderness has become a passion for me. With the powerboat I sped along covering miles but never really seeing or hearing anything. I am in another stage in my life where I want to slow life down to really enjoy it. I also want to get there under my own power. As I get older, this is becoming more important to me.
Experimenting with kayaks and canoes:
I had done numerous trips with my Scupper Pro for about four years. The sit on top was adequate for short trips of 2 night, 3 day adventures but it was killing me on longer trips. These plastic kayaks are slow and require alot of energy to push through the water when they are loaded with gear. I would find myself exhausted after a short 10 mile trip. There is plenty of wasted space for storing gear because of the open cockpit and on the new models the tankwell is useless on a camping trip. But the worst part is that the open cockpit would leave me exposed to wind and water and I did not like that feeling.
Eventually, I started to use closed deck kayaks and used a variety of them to see which one would allow stability to fish while being able to cover the miles without much effort. The closed deck or touring kayaks are the ticket for the Gulf of Mexico and coastal exploration. I owned several touring kayaks but they were difficult to fish out of. I loved the QCC 400x touring kayak with rudder. It is a compromise of sorts as it is not a long sleek touring kayak but it is a stable fishing platform that allows for effortless paddling while loaded with supplies for a week long trip. However, in the backcountry the closed deck kayaks don't work as well if you are camping from a chickee (platforms above the water). They can also be a problem at higher tide phases when you can't get out of your boat to stretch or relieve yourself because of the lack of solid ground to stand on.
Presently, my new experiment is to use a solo touring canoe in the backcountry and that has worked out well. I did own a Wenonah royalex Vagabond and a Bell Merlin 2 canoe which was fitted with a soft spray deck to try it in the coastal areas when the wind is up. Unfortunately, the spray deck is a pain when you want to trim the boat in winds or when trying to get stuff from below deck while at the chickees. However, it does keep you warm and dry when it is raining or cold.
Recently, I sold the Merlin 2 and my QCC 400x touring kayak and bought a Hemlock Kestrel. I lowered the seat a bit and added a foot brace to make it comfortable for both sitting and kneeling.Dan Cooke made me a cover to fit the Kestrel. Last season I took the Kestrel on it's first long trip in the Everglades. You can read about it under this blog. I am still learning and experimenting with new route, techniques and paddle craft. Great ways to fully enjoy this gift we share in Florida, the magnificent Everglades.