Finish: 3:30 PM - Chassahowitzka Springs FL
Daily dist: 28 miles
Total dist: 1783 miles
Weather: SE wind 10-15 mph
Notes: Saw manatees and the first kayakers in Florida
Poor Joe, who I met up in Pensacola, has been e-mailing repeatedly urging me to stop and check out Crystal River to see the manatees. I can only imagine his disappointment when my spot marks touched at the end of Crystal River but never went up to where the manatees would be. He had no need to worry though, once I realized that the weather was going to throw a system my way that would stop me in my tracks for a couple days, I made plans to be some place that would be comfortable and fun. The Florida Circumnavigation guide showed only a couple camp sites along this section of coast and one happened to be right at the end of the Chassahowitzka river at the like named springs. The guide not only said the campground there not only has showers but that the area is popular with manatees. The perfect place to wait out the wind.
The route from Crystal River down to Homosassa River is very well marked and absolutely gorgeous. The route winds around Indian shell middens and coral rock islands covered with palms and cedars. With the first mangroves I’ve seen on the trip, the area offers an amazing mix of several coastal plant environments. It was a great morning of paddling through an area I can’t recommend enough. Things changed drastically however, when I passed south of the Homosassa river. The trail markers I’d been able to mindlessly follow suddenly disappeared along with the water. After taking two turns south of the Homosassa (convinced I was on the right route) I suddenly found myself temporally misplaced (I won’t say lost) in a broad maze of low featureless salt marsh islands. To make matters more interesting the already shallow water was rapidly receding with the outgoing tide turning the always shallow channels into mud flats.
The upper half of the trail had been so well marked I was convinced that I must have wondered off the course. So I backtracked a bit and fired up my GPS to verify my location. Sure enough I was still on track but, right when I could have used them most, the red and green trail markers were gone. I’m not sure why the top half of the route would be so well marked and not the bottom. Judging by the night and day difference between the two halves of the route I’m guessing the trail keepers might not want to admit to the lower half. In place of the beautiful palm covered islands were just featureless grass islands, oyster banks, and mud. With the tide out I found myself on foot dragging my loaded boat over oysters and mud.
Along the way the river got increasingly clearer and warmer and the plant life changed from salt marsh to freshwater palm and oak forest. As I came to within a mile of the rivers source I saw a sight more rare than any other on the water, not a dolphin doing back flips, not a shark leaping out of the water, not an osprey grabbing a fish off the surface of the water, not a cormorant swallowing a fish bigger than it’s head (which I did see today), not a flock of several hundred waterfowl (which I have also seen), even more rare than a manatee. After 15 days and over 300 miles of paddling the Florida coast, the very rare sight I saw when I rounded that bend was… OTHER KAYAKERS!
HEY FLORIDA PADDLERS ARE YOU OUT THERE!?
I know I’ve been paddling some of the most remote coast line in the state in during a streak of outright unpleasant paddling weather, which has to explain why I had yet to see one other kayak on the water since I left Alabama. I know that when the weather conditions improve and I get to more populated areas, Florida’s paddlers will come out of the woodwork to show me just what this state‘s paddling and paddlers are all about…right?