Along the way I did see something interesting, there were a bunch of small boats clustered about a half mile off shore with men standing on the decks with long poles the ends of which they had under water which they were wiggling back and forth. As I drew nearer I realized they were oyster “rakes” and all of these men were harvesting oysters. Piles of the muddy grey shells were mounded on the fore deck of each boat. As one or two men scooped them up off the bottom another would sort the pile throwing back empty shells and other debris. One guy waved me over and I stopped and chatted for a bit. He could tell I was out for more than a day-paddle and asked me where I had started. When I replied St. Louis he thought I meant Bay St. Louis near where I had just spent the night. When I corrected him and said St. Louis…St. Louis the other two men in his boat, and a few that overheard us in nearby boats, stopped working and looked our way. I explained the trip and the standard reply was issued “In that little thing?” as well as the standard questions, “Where do you stop at night?” “What do you eat?”, “Can you really fit all your gear in that little boat?”
At this point in the trip I have also come to expect some sort of warning about the potential perils that lie ahead along my route. Usually greatly exaggerated and always from the perspective of a shore bound person or large boat operator. I was forewarned this time about the Gulf Stream and it’s fast currents and huge seas that I’ll encounter off shore from Miami. The currents and seas are there, and for a big boat captain operating ten miles off the coast they are a very real concern. For a kayaker following the coast in clear tropical warm waters… not so much. Of course there is always advice for things to check out in the area. Often upstream or behind where I’ve already come. This time however the oysterman pointed toward the casino buildings 12 miles down the coast and recommended stopping there for the cheap beer and all the "p... er.. um "women" I could want. I thanked him for his advice and continued on into the wind.
Taking me into a grocery store after a hard 8 hour day of paddling proved to be a bit of a mistake. I made us a bit late as I cruised the isles picking up the few necessities I needed to replenish my stocks and ogling ALL THAT FOOD!
By the time we arrived quite a crew had assembled and I was quite surprised at the turn out. I was also surprised to learn that more than a few had been following the trip and blog long before I ever found and contacted Melissa a few weeks ago. It felt great to be amongst a group of fellow paddlers again and we had a great time swapping stories (mostly me telling mine I guess) and of course, as every paddle group get together requires, eating food and having a few beers.
I had never thought of this area as a great paddling destination but when I was talking to the folks at the party I learned that (beyond the open coast) there is an almost limitless number of paddling routes you can choose from in the local bays, rivers, and bayous. Not to mention the lower 48’s largest un-dammed/un-screwed-with river the Pascagoula is near by. This area is truly a paddling treasure. Melissa and her business partners understand the value of the area win which they live and are paving the way (post Katrina) to get ecotourism running around here. Melissa’s kayak operation is brand new and she is going at it with all the enthusiasm and excitement a fledgling operation like hers needs. Already she is planning events such as the “Battle on the Bayou” kayak race as well as other events that will build the paddling community in the area and hopefully start to attract attention from outside as to the opportunities for paddlers this region holds. I have a feeling that once the word gets out Melissa and her partners will be doing well.
I only wish I had more time to check it out and was here when the area is at it’s seasonal prime… Another place to add to my ever growing list of places I must re-visit som