Off Lostman's Five (above): Scareman left around 0400, and SandyBottom followed him about half-an-hour later, hell bent on doing the Nightmare for the first time. Guiltily I lay in my cosy pit and waited as dawn crept in.
Packing quickly, swatting the occasional mozzie (no, Florida's coldest winter on record had not killed them all off, merely made them hungrier for fresh meat), I left Seiche and KneadingWater as they heated coffee and packed, on the water just before 0700.
An hour or so later, the 7-10 knot headwinds kicked in. Reaching the top of Rogers Bay, I cut straight down the bay to enter Cabbage Cut, a bit of a shortcut to Rogers River, 3-4 kms long and about three to four metres wide. If you want to see alligators in the Wilderness Waterway (WW), this is the place to see them. And I was not let down—four this year! And some biggies (above, not using the zoom;)!
I reached the T-crossing of Rogers River, praying for at least a tailwind against the inevitable incoming tide. And who sped past me but Scareman, with Pacific Action Sail ablazing, full dry suit and bug net decor (above). I didn't feel so bad after all, him leaving three hours before me. But I did tell him he was going too fast for bugs!
Heading out the river, KneadingWater and Seiche caught me but lingered back. Offering a bribe of a lunch to stop at Rogers River Chickee from KneadingWater, I declined, to try and catch the Nightmare at a decent state of tide, the entrance being just past the Rogers River ground site.
The 13.7 kms (8.5 miles, but seems much shorter) Nightmare has conjured visions of horror and near-death experiences over my four ECs. I had to take it! The route serves as a "shortcut" between Rogers and Broad Rivers, so you don’t have to take the outside coastal route to either the Broad or Harney Rivers, the latter being the preferred re-entry to the WW. But if you do take the Nightmare, you are committed to the tangle of Broad River at its most western end, which I was familiar with!.
The tide was down nearly a metre, but the route was fine—hardly any overhanging branches, no pythons nor alligators, and just one thick downed branch across my path to scrape the boat over at a fast paddle. My fears had been conquered. And just as I met up with Broad River, KneadingWater and Seiche caught me, also taking the Nightmare (and having see one alligator guarding the Nightmare's entrance).
Reaching the tangle of Broad River (above)—much more exciting than the Nightmare—we pushed our way over and under fallen limbs. This was my second time taking this route—the first being my very memorable first EC, with SandyBottom in her Kruger, in the pitch black with only one headlamp...
Consistently against wind and tide we meandered along, down the Broad—taking a ten minute stretch break (above) on the Harney River Chickee—through to the Harney—a very long stretch hugging the sides of the mangroves, and then nipping around the corner onto Shark River.
No matter how many times I do this particular part of the Wilderness Waterway, it never ceases to amaze me that if you have a headwind paddling west on the Harney, you will also have a headwind when you turn the 180-degree corner on to Shark River, paddling east. (I am open to explanations!)
Night fell as we searched for our stop for the night, Shark River Chickee. Convinced that Dawn was either fast asleep on the chickee, or perhaps even in Flamingo!, we called out to her in the pitch black… to hear an “I’m behind you!” from aft. She had just caught up to us.
Having been a bit spooked by the alligators down Cabbage Cut, she’d decided not to do the Nightmare on her own, and had taken the longer outside coastal route, re-entering on the Harney River.
Nice that we were all there together, arriving around 1930 hours.
Getting ourselves all set up over the next hour or so was one of the highlights of the trip. The chickee is a nearly 4x4m platform, with a narrow walkway leading to a Port-a-Loo. We wanted all the boats up with us for ease of unpacking and repacking the next morning. SandyBottom's and my boat were laid diagonally across the walkway, we hung KneadingWater’s in the rafters, with his cockpit full of everyone’s paddles, and Seiche’s boat lay across one side. We then pitched three tents (my Macpac not free-standing but fine tying chickee-level lines four corners out) and SandyBottom hung her hammock above my tent. This left a small space in the center for "lounging" and cooking supper. A great memory of the trip. Though everyone but me snored all night…
During all the heaving of boats, we lost KneadingWater's SPOT overboard...