Last leg of the Wilderness Waterway
0400. “Are you awake, Dawn?” “Yep.” “Let’s go. I can’t sleep either.” So off we went. Thankfully the tide was up and we could repack our boats leaning over the side of the chickee. The snoring continued behind us as we softly paddled off into the dark. The stars were still magnificent.
And for the very first time in our Wilderness Waterway adventure, there was a current helping push us along. It had to be a good sign. Surely KneadingWater would be waiting for us at Oyster Bay Chickee.
Down the Harney River we paddled, following the track of the rising sun. Not a breath of wind, we silently slid along. At marker 9, we turned into Shark River. At Shark River Chickee, around 0730, SavannahDan and Paddlemaker were still fast asleep. SandyBottom made a short detour to check if KneadingWater was also there. He wasn’t.
Into Whitewater Bay we paddled, sails up. At marker 2 we made a detour for Oyster Bay Chickee. Surely KneadingWater would be waiting there for us. 0900, and he wasn’t. SandyBottom was almost beside herself. I managed to persuade her to wait until we got to Flamingo before we called the Coast Guard.
We had a good following breeze for most of Whitewater Bay, but in the last few hours, the wind died out completely and the temperatures hit the upper C20s or F80s. We were both pretty quiet.
Entering Coot Bay, a tourist boat passed us. Over his loud speaker, the tour guide asked us if we were doing the Wilderness Waterway and how long it had taken us. We were, SandyBottom acknowledged, and it had taken us two-and-a-half days. “That has to be a record,” the guide explained to his followers. “Normally, folks take ten days doing about ten miles a day.” SandyBottom and I looked at each other.
The last mile or so down Buttonwood Canal, I turned to SandyBottom. “I’ve been thinking what we should say to who ever the race manager is at Flamingo. Let’s ask if KneadingWater has checked in. If he has, fine. If he hasn’t, then we can say we may have a small problem.” SandyBottom had been thinking along the same lines. She was convinced he’d met his maker; I was pretty sure he was having a beer in Flamingo.
We reached the haul out ramp in Flamingo at 15:15, and SandDollar rushed to greet us. “KneadingWater’s checked in!” were her first words. News seemed to have traveled fast. We let the expletives fly and relief overcome us. And where was he so we could pummel him into unconsciousness? “He left early this morning for Key Largo.”
We found the trolley - one tyre now deflated - hauled our boats across to the seaward side of Flamingo’s marina and tied them up to a marina finger – they almost looked like real boats.
It was a relaxed afternoon. We popped a hamburger in the microwave at the local store, and it was as good as the young salesman claimed. I had my last mouthful in my fingers as I scratched my head, and a seagull instantly stole it (and nearly my finger). We even had an ice-cream for desert.
We emptied our boats and repacked everything in preparation for tomorrow’s final leg. We beat off the pelicans as they came to claim anything not tied down. We chatted with the four or five other WaterTribe crews working alongside us. And we slowly waited for dusk so we could find somewhere to stealth camp for the night.
With a perfect Florida Bay sea view, albeit dark, SandyBottom and I pitched hammock and tent respectively, tucked away out of harm’s way, and slept soundly until I woke her at 0400.