Sunday, May 26, 2013

Key West Kayak Adventure

The following is an account of my June 2010 trip to Sugar Loaf Key in the Florida keys.

Day 1
I had to drive my son Max and his crew (Joe) to Cedar Key.  Max sailed from Destin last September, made it to Key West, moored for a while in Tampa and Cedar Key, and is just now on the final leg to bring the boat home. Max is on the right. [2013 update: Max has since sold the boat, served as part of a 3 man crew on a voyage from the Caribbean to New Zealand, and is going to school in Perth Australia].
We stopped for supplies at Walmart on the way to Cedar Key. Joe found a 20 in the parking lot. Not a bad way to start. Here they are showing it off.

After dropping off Max and Joe, I drove to within 5 hours of Key West and am crashing for the night at a Sleep Inn in Fort Pierce.

Day 2
Arrived at Sugarloaf at close to noon.
Here's the boat and trailer in front of Mark and Michelle's house. Very comfortable accommodations.
After meeting with Robbie at the marina I stopped in for lunch at the Tiki hut across the street. Had a chili dog, and while it was delicious, I felt worst for it.
The Tiki bar owner had a water pen for rehabilitation dolphins, but said he had not got around to making it escape proof. I jokingly suggested to use an electric fence as a barrier.  My attempt at humor was not appreciated. Turns out he was rather attached to two consecutive dolphins, both named Sugar, that were intended to be rehabilitated in the pen. Could be a while before the next chili dog.
Finished the evening cooking for myself. While out shopping for groceries, I found this character in the parking lot. Free range chickens are not allowed back home. I do not know why.

Day 3
Launched at the marina across the street in the morning. Good launching conditions. Only $3 for a kayak launch. Safe place to leave the car and trailer.

Headed west through Mangrove lined Perky Creek (spoiler alert: Mangroves line every creek in the keys).

Saw some Nurse Sharks upon exiting the creek.

The wind got up to a solid 20 mph by noon.  It was just too much to speed along under sail without knowing my odds of running aground; which I did while exploring the north side of Sugarloaf sound.  Lots of rocks and shallow. Spent much of the day parked on the lee side of Dreguez Key.

Day 4
Today I made it across Turkey Basin to the end of the back country at Barracuda Keys. I managed to miss all of the rock hazards and nosed up from deep water onto the sandy beachhead Barracuda Keys, and by sand I mean finely ground sea shells.

I might have seen 4 boaters from across Turkey Basin during the 5 hour trip, and absolutely no wave runners. [I later found out that personnel watercraft are prohibited in the Great White Heron Refuge, among other places. Quoting a news article: "Personal watercraft are not allowed in any backcountry waters in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, which is just north of Key West and extends from west of the Bay Keys to beyond Bahia Honda Key, Coast Guard Lt. Anna Dixon said. The Key West National Wildlife Refuge, which surrounds waters west of Key West from the Eastern Dry Rocks to the Marquesas Keys, also is off-limits."]

This island looked like a great place to hang a hammock. It is on the way to Barracuda off the eastern shore of Snipe Key and served as a good landmark. Stay east of it to dodge the coral rock in shallow water.

It helped to know the passages that connect basin to basin. Perky Creek connects Sugarloaf to Turkey basin and the Narrows (inner, middle and outer) get you from Turkey to Waltz Key Basin. I went through the Inner Narrows for a quick peak of Waltz Key Basin... and while the clogs may not be a fashion statement, I kept them on most of the time so I could jump in the water if ran aground. Flip flops are not recommended.
Day 5
Today I took Upper Sugarloaf Sound to Tarpon Creek and out to Lois Key.

These are the remains of a wooden bridge that was once highway 1, the only road into Key West.

Exiting Tarpon Creek. Imagine this scene without the channel markers and try to guess where the opening to the creek is. All Mangroves look alike.

Pointing towards Lois Key on the horizon. This key was once used to raise Rhesus monkeys but was abandoned due to the damage that the monkeys did to the mangroves.

The fast ride back. In the first segment of the video look beyond the bridge and notice the bend in the creek. The current and wind were at my back moving very fast. If I did not make the turn I would have bend pinned against the mangroves. At this point in the video I quickly put away the camera, furled the sail, and peddled while turning hard left. The Adventure Island takes a while to turn because the wide stance of the amas ("outriggers") make it slow to pivot. I barely made it. Would have been a mess. Had I not furled (rolled up) the sail first, I am sure the wind would have pushed me into the branches.

Day 6
Day six was a land day. My mission was to retrace the steps of my son Max during his recent voyage. Max spent about 3 months in Key West, among other places, living aboard a $2,400 boat he sailed down from the Florida panhandle. While my trip is simply a vacation, Max's was a life changing experience (although he may not agree with me yet).

I visited Max during his last stop in Gulfport, just outside of Tampa. I spent the night on the boat and got a feel for the lifestyle of a live-aboard. While that may sound cool, it can mean you are one step above homeless.

Max's boat was moored near Wysteria island on the horizon. Look on Google Earth and you will see a checkerboard of moored boats.

For a live-aboard, the dinghy is the only means of getting to land. Renting dock space long term is unthinkably expensive, if available. The dinghy dock is cheap, but space is limited. This is their designated parking lot.

Most boats in the harbor are a match of taste and wealth. These boats are an expression of character, for better or worst.

This picture was taken while he was in Tampa. Max was 24, had just graduated from college, and was looking for adventure. He left in October 2010 and, as noted on day 1, is just now sailing the final leg home from Cedar Key. He is within 100 miles from home at the time of this writing is ready to begin his new career, whatever that may be. I am very proud of him.

Day 7
Another day of brisk winds.

I explored the mangrove creeks to stay in calmer waters.

This 30 second video pretty well captures what it is like to be in a Mangrove tunnel. It's about 99% Mangrove. I did hear some insects buzzing, but I never got bit. It was well past daybreak with lots of wind overhead. I would have been eaten alive had it been early morning, or sunset, during this time of year.

Tried again to make it to Snipe Point. I got close, but did not hit the mark. GPS said I would be there by noon, but with the howling wind at my back I knew getting back would be rough. The tide had bottomed out and I was finding it difficult to stay clear of the coral rock and shallow areas. Turned around at this coral sand bar and made it back to the dock at 5:30pm.

Day 8
My friend Johnny, who just happened to be down with his family on vacation, invited me to join him and his son and dad to go Tarpon fishing. We anchored within a quarter mile off the tip of Key West. The day before he had caught two in this spot, his wife reeling in a 140 lb'er. We hooked two fish that were most likely Tarpon, but the both got off; but the most exciting moment of the day happened when a 3 foot Barracuda went airborne hitting a smaller fish that we were reeling in followed quickly by a 6 foot shark circling below for leftovers.

Johnny and his son Trae.

Hooked a Tarpon (we're pretty sure). It got away. Had a blast. Very grateful to Johnny for the trip. Went back to Sugarloaf to prepare for a day at Bahia Honda.

Day 9
Today's destination was Bahia Honda State Park.

The kayak launch was like the rest of the park - perfect.

The launch was carpeted leading to a wood ramp, then to a short sandy beach. No rocks. It was easy.

The end of the old bridge provides a vantage point for pictures.

I sailed to the little dot of an island on the horizon.

The water was very clear. I took off one of my tramps for a view.

The current was deceptive. In light winds it was difficult to get to the left bank after going through the gap in the bridge. The flow did not slacken after passing the bridge and moving into the Atlantic. With every tack left I was pushed further offshore. I should have approached close to the bank, going under the bridge instead of through gap, turned hard left, and walked it in when the water was shallow enough.


Side note: My brother highly recommended the Thai Sweet Chili Butter Sauce rice bowl with Grouper at the Square Grouper restaurant on Cudjoe Key. It was delicious. From the looks of this menu, it's all good.

Days 10 and 11
A two day ride home. Stopped in Ocala, then on to home in Shalimar FL. The keys were beautiful and definitely worth the drive, but they also made me appreciate what I have closer to home. Destin Florida's east pass is one of the best places for sailing in the south. White sands, clear water, dolphins, the party-ers on crab island, and desolated beaches just outside the pass. It's nice to be home.

The AI friendly sandy shores of the Destin east pass.

Stop the Handle Water Scoop

My 2011 AI had nice large handles on the side which are know to more experienced AI owners as water scoops. The curvature is perfect for diverting water from the smallest of waves into my lap. Here is a simple fix involving a foam pool needle:
Cut up a small pool needle into this shape

Cram it into the handle well.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Crack Near Set Screw in Drive Spine

While peddling out of Cinco Bayou early Saturday morning I noticed the tell tale clicking of an un-tuned drive. Usually this is the result of improperly tightened cables. After hitting the beach in the east pass of Destin, an inspection of the drive revealed the poorly tensioned cables, but I also noticed the set screw was backed out - not sure if there was a correlation between these two findings as I check my cables regularly. I have had two instances where this screw backed out and the shaft for the fins shifted to a point where the drive would not pull out of the well. When this happens, the only recourse while seaborne is to dive under the boat and pound the shaft to the center position to allow the drive to be removed from the well. The shaft must now be re-centered and the set screw tightened. There is a flat on the shaft for the set screw that you have to line up blind. You will find this to be a challenge. I put an alignment mark on the end of the shaft, so, while on the beach in Destin I simple realigned the mark and turned the set screw to my previously established reference of 3 female threads showing. It seemed a little easier to turn than normal so I went to 5 threads showing. Turned out, the spine, just below the set screw, was cracked.
The dealer said that this was not an uncommon problem, but the good news was he had another spine in stock and it would only cost me 20 bucks - much less than I thought it would be. However; the two previous experiences with the screw backing out and the probability of recurrence got me thinking.
In the photo above I have pounded out the shaft and placed it next to the drive. In the center of the picture, just below the large hole in the spine for the shaft, you can see the crack. What's new here are the thru holes I drilled in the spine and the shaft. You can probably guess what's next...
This is what it looks like with the shaft reinserted and a 4-40 UNC stainless steel screw installed. The shaft was surprisingly easy to drill through. I used a 7/64 bit, some oil, and a home edition drill - no drill press required. It only took a few minutes.
The other side looked like this. I shaved off 5 or six threads of the hole in the spine to make it more streamline and attached a stainless steel self locking nut.
I think the thru bolt may be a more robust solution than the factory provided set screw. I had applied thread locker to the set screw, but it still failed, and any attempt at tightening will stress the area. I suspect this issue will get to be very common as drives age.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Islands in the Sound

It's getting late in the year and I have yet to camp once. Down to my last couple weekends before the water turned from bath to unpleasant, I set out on a clear October day with a 20 to 25 mph north wind for a broad reach both ways down the east west Santa Rosa Sound. I went west from Shalimar to Navarre averaging 6 mph, hitting over 9 on occasion, got there by lunch, and headed back east.

The northern coastline of the sound between Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola is largely either Air Force property or part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. All sand is as white as the Gulf beaches. I made a mental note about the spot ( 30° 24.341'N  86° 39.801'W) in the picture above - those trees are perfectly spaced for my Hennessy Hammock. I much prefer the Hennessy over a tent, but seldom get to use it because trees like this pair are hard to find in the sound.

The most prominent feature of this run, by far, is the chain of small islands in the region between Hurlburt AFB and Liza Jackson Park. Spectre Isalnd is the furthest west of the chain, but as far as i know the others are unnamed. I struck camp on an island in the Sound on this sandy point ( 30° 24.289'N  86° 39.733'W). I was up early and heading home by dawn.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Night Sailing

On the hottest summer day relief is only hours away, so I called my friend Mark, who also owns an AI, and we headed out intentionally late for Destin (barely visible in the background). 

By the time we arrived, Crab Island was shutting down.

However, after sailing under the Destin bridge and into the harbor we found that the party was just getting started. There’s Mark in line with the big boats. This picture was taken at the narrow entrance off Noriega Point. 

I parked near the docks and watched the return of the party boats.

It was a windy and fast run through the night back to Shalimar on a broad reach - difficult to capture on video with the low light. Once I reached protect waters, I took this picture while holding the camera as still as I could, but nevertheless, picture does not do it justice. You will have to experience that for yourself.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Alaqua to Shalimar

This was my first time down a creek with the Adventure Island. The Alaqua is wide and plenty deep, and although the movement of the current is barely noticeable, it was easy making at least 3 mph. I launched at 8 am, winds were moderate for the trip, I toured Destin harbor for several hours, and still got back to my Shalimar dock by 8:30 that night. Total travel distance was 30 miles. Launch point was at the intersection of Hwy 20 and the Alaqua, 2 miles by water from Choctawhatchee Bay.

The Alaqua is a wide, deceptively fast flowing creek, with a potential for a foot of tidal variations. The stretch I traveled was mostly lined with hardwood trees. As I neared the bay, the shoreline transitioned to salt marshes. These marshes are the preferred method of erosion control, as opposed to shoreline armoring, which causes a domino effect of erosion.

According to an article in the National Wetlands Newsletter, in addition to coastal protection, "Marshes also provide vital spawning, nursery, juvenile and adult habitat for many fish and invertebrate species." The guy in the photo above is fishing the marsh line from a peddle driven Hobie kayak. As I passed by, I saw him make a catch.

Leaving Alaqua creek and entering Alaqua Bayou, Choctawhatchee Bay is visible in the distance. The remainder of the trip was a familiar ride down the length of the bay in a warm pleasant wind, with a short stop in Destin's East pass (my favorite spot), followed by a sunset cruise back to Shalimar.
Just another day in paradise.
More pictures are linked here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Trip report - Choctaw Beach Florida

Depart: 4 Sept, 8am
Distance traveled: 60 miles
Return: 5 Sept, 4pm

I was anxious for a long multi-day adventure with little to think about. The wind direction on this trip was nearly perfect... rarely had to tack. It was my first look at the beach along the northern shore of Choctawhatchee Bay. This area is much less inhabited than the southern shore.

The most notable feature was the uprooted pines from natural erosion unabated by seawalls.

I turned at the way-point to watch the sunset and camp before the day's wind died. The wind slacked, but did not die, motivating me past my planned camp site and well into the night. Throughout the night I was followed by a pod of dolphins. In the still and quiet darkness of the night the sound of dolphins breathing is exhilarating. It turned very dark when a strong, north wind picked up for a broad reach run for miles to the southern shore in bath water warm waters. I made it to the Destin east pass at about 2 am - about 30 miles in 6 hours. The experience was unreal. 
I carry two tents, one for sleeping on shore or boat, and another, the Hennessy Hammock - the preferred method of sleeping on land. Across from crab island I went to bed late, exhausted, but slept well in a cool northern breeze. I was out just long enough to fell a tinge of Zen from being in the wild. It was wonderful.
This was my fourth overnight Adventure Island kayak camping trip, and by far the most successful. My goal was to sleep (not a given), and reset my gear for perpetual days and nights on the water. This meant repacking to near departure conditions, minus some food and water, nothing lost, everything back in place, ready for another night.
I bought 4 used army surplus light canvas bags with a neoprene lining for $5 each to help keep things dry and organized. These bags worked really well. They are about the shape and size of a large grocery bag. I have one stiff roll top clear plastic bag, typical of the type waterproof bag normally used, but I found it limiting in that you can't put much in it and still get it through the hatch; plus the bag is too rigid to conform to the space available. I fill the canvas bags about half way, making them easy to get in and out, and I just set the bottom of the bag in the kayak and lightly roll the top. This keeps the water out while allowing access without removing the bag. Critical items, like the blankets were kept in over sized zip logs bags and then placed in the canvas bag for double protection.
I should make the next trip will be one way. Traveling in a circle lacks in accomplishment, plus, next trip needs to be a tad further. I am not ready for the Ultimate Florida Challenge, but maybe I am getting closer. 

Packing list (items missing are x'ed)
Bow (Nose) Bag
Blanket, light: army parka liner (nylon-polyester-nylon)
x - Blanket, heavy: wool
x - Blanket, anti-hypothermia: space blanket
Socks: 1 pair of heavy army wool/cottons
Forward Hatch Fore Bag
Tent: Hennesy Hammock
Tent: Coleman Kraz X1
Air pump
Forward Hatch Center Bag
Pants, nylon, light
Pants, nylon, heavy
Shorts, nylon, light
Shorts, nylon
Shirt, nylon, long sleeve
Shirt, nylon, short sleeve
Socks: 1 pair of light army wool/cottons
Slaps, plastic
Hat, wide brimmed
Hand towel, cotton
Forward Hatch Back Bag
Bibb, Gortex
Jacket, waterproof with seals
Rain coat, light
Center Hatch Box
Fishing license
Cell phone (recharged)
Credit card
GPS (takes 2 each AA batteries)
Spot (takes 3 each AAA Lithium batteries)
Ipod (recharged)
Clear glasses
Spare glasses
Insect repellent
Center Hatch Aft Bag
x - Water purification tablets
x - Lighter
x - Flint
Flashlight, small, waterproof
Head lamp
Gloves, sailing
First aid kit
x - Batteries, Camera
x - Cell phone charger
Pencil and pad
Tooth brush
Tooth paste
Nail Clippers
x - Razor
Clothes pins, 4
Between Mast Step and Center Hatch
Crocks and Plastic Bags (foot protection for muck)
Boat bailing sponge
Rail Pocket, Port
Rail Pocket, Starboard
Short rope
Aft Hatch Bag, Center
Flashlight, lantern style
Flashlight, red/green fore lamp
Light sticks, chemical, red and orange
x - Saw, folding
Batteries, AAA, 3 pack, lithium (Spot)
Batteries, AA, 12 pack (GPS, fore light, aft lantern, water proof torch)
Batteries, C, 2 each (fore light)
Aft Hatch Bag, Front
Float, canvas (used as an air mattress)
Aft Hatch Tool Container
Vise grips, small
Dowel, wood for pushing out broken rudder pin
Rudder pin, second spare (first spare is attached to hatch)
Hex wrench (size that fits all boat fixtures)
Port Tramp
Utility poles (golf clubs shafts with hooks)
Gun wail
Sun shade with bamboo
Alt storage for Kraz tent and Hammock
Main Cooler
Paper towels
Trash bags
Hand towel in a zip lock
Instant coffee, individual sealed servings
Zip lock bags, empty

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trip Report - Bioluminescent Night

Quick notes on Aug 8, 2010 attempt to camp on kayak. Still preparing for a multi-day trip. Had a nice day cruising the gulf. Stopped for 2 o'clock lunch at a tourist trap called Angler's at the base of the Okaloosa Island Pier. Menu features "Shaggys' Popcorn Shrimp" as an instant loss of culinary credibility.  Dodged the fish (been there before). Asked the waiter which: chicken or ribs? He looked at the menu, checked the prices, and said, "oh... same price... either one is good" (read: "15% is 15%"). The ribs were, as you would expect from a seafood restaurant featuring popcorn shrimp, mediocre.
Parked for a while, then headed back into Destin east pass. It was getting late. Knew the tide would be rushing out, but figured it would be OK. Ran downwind from a stiff breeze. 90 degree turn to the north would mean broad reach. Got headed making the turn into the pass. Seems like this is not too uncommon. Mouths of passes and bayous tend to channel the wind (heat rising from land?). Current was absolutely ripping going out. Tacked west in hopes of hugging west jetty to find some slack in the current. Found no relief, current seemed faster. Tacked across to the east jetty and almost got spun out of the pass and back into the gulf. Managed to surf a couple rollers to get across. Peddled like a mad man until reprieve next to the rocks. This side has finger jetties that slow down the current. Had to park on a sand bank formed by a finger jetty half way down because of a lightning storm that was approaching.
Broke out the new tent - Coleman's Kraz X1 - and set up on top of boat parked in beach sand. Worked hard to beat the rain. Tent went up fine. The stake points on this tent match the amas spread within a few inches. Could not ask for a better stock solution.  Inside the tent was miserably hot and steamy. Dusk and rain on this southern August day didn't put a dent in the heat. Unfortunately, fly on for the rain, the Coleman Kraz vents on one side only. Opened the noseeum mesh for better flow and caught a dog fly. Had to rezip, kill the fly, and start sweating. Headache building to boot.
Everything quickly got wet or damp. Rain, ocean, sweat, drinking water (spilled some on a dry shirt). Add salt, let dry, get sticky.
Realized no way to sleep, packed tent, left the little sand spit, peddled further up the pass, lightning in the background still creeping in. Dark now, parked under the bridge, maybe nap there. Leary of the bridge trolls, a bridge troll leared towards me. Sailed further up the pass and finally into the bay.
Parked 50 yards off the north shore of Santa Rosa Island in waist deep water. Offshore significantly reduced the bug count and increased cooling breeze. Rocked the seat back, layed on canvas float on top of kayak.
Swished water to watch eerie bioluminescent microorganisms' green sparkle. Conditions were right for bioluminescence. Dark summer night with no moon. Light too low for pictures. Described here.
Would have fallen asleep, but damp all over. Cotton is a bad idea on the water. Making pact: buy more nylon.
Woke at perceived near day break and geared up to finish 5 mile sail to Shalimar home.  Beautiful sail across the bay over slick dark water in a brisk new wind.  Actually got cold in contrast to the hot day.  The Gill bib saved me again. Hundreds of seagulls sleeping on the water late at night. Sparkling bioluminesence water all the way.  In spite of tiredness, headache, did not want it to end.
Landed at Shalimar at 2:57 am. Grossly misjudged the time. Mental cognizance failing.  Must have slept very little.
Sleepy, tired now. Stop here except to conclude: better plan to stay dry next time.
Lessons: nylon, tent ventilation, bib good, more dry packs.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tent on a Kayak

What follows are the lessons learned from my first test of camping on the Adventure Island. I bought the cheapest Walmart tent known to man (Greatland’s 2-3 person backpacking tent with a 7 x 9 foot hexagonal base), pressure checked a single person airbed the night before, and ventured out for an overnight stay in the wild a couple miles from my house in Shalimar Florida. This is what I found out:

1. Practice at home. It’s a good idea to fit the tent on your kayak before you hit the water. It helps to devise a plan for attachment with the availability of resources. Here's a picture of one of my attachments:

2. Get a good air bed. This was my most important finding. It is absolutely essential to have a leak proof air bed… and do not forget the pump. A one person air bed is all it takes to smooth out your curvy AI cockpit. The dips in the seat and foot areas and the rise over the center port were not an issue. It’s not required, but you may want some foam in the drive well area to suspend the bottom of the tent over the wet spot. Either way, the air bed worked surprising well; it will keep you high and dry.This will not be the last time you hear me rant about the air bed, so get used to it.

3. Location, location, location. The dream spot is: in less than 2 feet of water; out of the boat wakes and protected from wind driven waves; and away from human borne noise, lights and riff raff. Of these desirements, I got none.
a. Location. I was in 2 feet of water, but only off the bow. The stern was in deeper water, forcing me to set up  in a horseshoe pattern, back and forth, – a very time consuming process by yourself.  It’s possible to set up in deep water, but I would only attempt it with some help, and never at night. I  should add that, in retrospect, I wonder why I did not simply stand in one spot and spin the boat around.
b. Location. Get out of even the smallest waves. I was parked in a “no wake zone,” but found that very late at night this has little meaning. Plus, a storm that kicked up night provided a steady source of wind driven one foot waves. Although I think I could have handled two foot waves without getting wet, the constant rocking was a bit annoying.
c. Location. The spot I picked was less than a mile from the very busy Brooks Bridge near the center of downtown Fort Walton Beach. The constant traffic noise and lights from city was counter to the whole purpose of camping out. The foot of the bridge is a favorite hangout of the homeless. I think I may have been better off camping with them.
4. Secure the moorings. In the middle of the night I heard a constant static hushing sound. I looked out the tent window and to see a barge disturbingly close. The hushing sound was water churning on the square bow of a barge. Hearing the bow before the engine was disturbing. I immediately rechecked my moorings, again. To ward off sleep, try worrying about whether you will drift into the intercoastal waterway. Tie up three ways. No single point failures unless you’ve got a documented confidence interval, which I did not.
5. Know what you are stepping into. I failed to check the sand bottom near the tent entrance in the daylight. I parked in some muck and almost lost a flip flop. I had given up until it floated to the surface, broken strap, barely functional.
6. Unload the tent first. I made the mistake of getting everything out, then setting up the tent. This was stupid. A water setup has limited access to dry land and stuff on the boat does not fall harmlessly into the sand. I should have put everything away (except a flashlight) before erecting the tent. The interior becomes available for breaking out and storing supplies once the tent is up. Start with removing things from the center port first. The center port is accessible when the tent is empty.
7. The fly is just that. I found this to be the driver on water depth. If you have to setup by yourself, you will be chasing the fly from one side to side. In the wind, you better have a plan. Next time, I will have some sort of rope system for pulling the fly over the top. This is where a smaller pod style tent may work better; however, one caveat; make sure it can accommodate at least a one person air bed. Again, my opinion is that the air bed is absolutely essential.
8. Keep a towel by the door. It was surprisingly easy to get in and out of the boat without getting water or sand inside the tent. To get in, I just sat in the doorway on the tramp, dried my legs and feet, and rotated in. Rinsing is part of the process on every exit and entry. No chance of sand or debris.
9. The tramp. I imagine that this can be done without a tramp as the air bed will keep you safely above the sides, however, you should serious consider some means of preventing the sides of the tent from drooping into the water. With the tramps, I got absolutely no water anywhere.
10. And finally… No Poker runs. I camped on the weekend of the Poker run. About a hundred of the very rich descend upon the area at the break of dawn with Cigarette boats; generically known as “go-fast” boats, formerly used for drug smuggling, currently used for penis extending. The objective is to “race” (not an actual race, thank God) from bar to bar consuming a billion dollars worth of fuel and cocktails using 10 billion dollars worth of assets for a couple thousand dollars worth of charity. OK, I admit it, I like watching them go by, and I would don the matching “team” life jacket to ride in one; but after a few runs I may feel compelled to save the environment and trade the fuel for the basic needs of millions.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Billy Bowlegs

(Click any picture to enlarge)

Last week was a sweet run through the Destin East Pass and down the uninhabited stretch of beach towards Fort Walton. There were a few boats, mostly fishermen. This week was the alternate universe. After crossing Choctawhatchee Bay from my Shalimar home, instead of heading south east towards Destin, I turned west down the sound and into the throng that was the Billy Bowlegs Festival.
The sound is the section of intercoastal they call "The Narrows" as can be attested by barges attempting to navigate hard turns in a strong current around sand bars and into thick traffic while lining up for the boat lane between the Brooks bridge fenders. Actually, everybody knows (read: I looked it up on Wikipedia) that the "Narrows" was probably dubbed by the Confederates as a choke point to ambush Union ships. The Confederates set up shop on the sacred burial grounds called the Indian Temple Mound to gain a height advantage. While they encountered no enemy resistance, they did find a fortune (today’s dollars, then - worthless) in Indian arrowheads and artifacts among the remains.

The Billy Bowlegs festival is based on a conveniently distorted tale of a pirate named William Augustus Bowles (1763-1805) who may or may not have set foot on the Fort Walton Beach Landing. No documentation supports the "bowlegs" moniker for Captain Bowles, but, regardless, if you're a dead pirate, any reference to you as "Billy Bowlegs" is bound to be branded as a festival.

The police presence was unsurpassed. This helicopter circled overhead for the duration of the festival. Not sure how this augmented protection, given that every square inch was well covered by forces on the water. Conservatively, there was a police boat every 100 yards around the perimeter of the mile long crowd.

These guys must have been from the SWAT team. Black boat. Black uniforms. Broad daylight. Someone should have told them.. dude... we can see you.

I caught this stealthy collection of officers leaving the coast guard station with a parade of others. I cannot certify that they were undercover, but they all looked like Buford T Pusser (click image to enlarge).

Some cops seemed to have rented a boat and hung out a shingle to keep from being left behind. After springing for the helicopter, funds must have been tight. The force was everywhere. Last year I was stopped twice while peddling my kayak. I was told to stay out of the boat lanes by one cop and go to the opposite shore by another (which required crossing the boat lanes). One guy asked me where my life jacket was. I pointed to my chest (I had it on). Just checking. This year I was only hassled once. I was waived away from the shoreline and into the boat lanes (policy change, I suppose). I'm a non-drinking pacifist in boat without an engine hugging the shoreline dodging waverunners. Don't get me wrong, I like having cops around, just don't let them get bored.

Nevertheless, the party could not be stopped. More than 3000 boats attended the festival. The local paper said that the crowd on land was the largest yet.

I met up with some old friends on the beach. One of the two in the foreground is my ex-roomate Mike from the 70's. He's the original wild man. We shared an apartment on the water in the Narrows back when minimum wage earners could afford it. One day he drove into the courtyard to show off his newly spray painted black Pinto. It smoked badly and lacked a muffler. I'm on the second floor looking down at Mike's car parked in the center of the courtyard. Mike takes one step out of the car into a white cloud of exhaust fumes wearing ear muffs, turns, and scans the area, looking a lot like Bulushi in Animal House. He named the car "The bean," as was embossed in foot tall crudely formed letters using masking tape. Now, click and see if you can guess which one is Mike.

I made a connection with Mark, a fellow Adventure Islander who I also happened to know 30 years ago. Turns out, he just happened to graduate same year as me and lives across the street. He had bought a tramp for his AI. The photo above is a test with a male adult passenger. I wondered how the boat would take the load, as the amas arms don't seem like they could handle much, but the boat just rotates and the load path is mainly through the amas.

The highlight of the festivities was the "attack on the city." This was the 54th year of the festival and the 54th time Captain Bowlegs successfully catpures the city. Basically, the city rounds up a loser militia, a toy gun and rubber sword battle ensues, women are swooned, and colorful silk clad pirates rule the day.

I will be there next year. My dream is to block the harbor with a floatilla of kayakers.  No one would see it coming.