Wednesday, March 20, 2013

EC2013 Days 6-7

Homeward Bound, as that great ol' song goes!

With FeralCat still snoring soundly as we packed up over him—later moving to a bit more space where SandyBottom's tent used to be—and me feeding DeadCat an apricot as she snuggled in her hammock—we headed off as dawn broke. Destination Flamingo, and Flamingo's WaterTribe-famous microwave hamburgers.

In true EC fashion, the tide was roaring out against us paddling up the Harney River, so we hugged the southern side of the mangroves to find some slack. It's always terribly exciting turning that last long right hand bend of the Harney into Shark River. Often, for some bizarre reason, if you've had the wind against you heading west up the Harney, you'll often still have it on the nose paddling east out the Shark. Not today. We caught the tide out, and even a breeze woke up, to pop sails.

In only one previous EC—my first—have I had the weather opportunity to have a decent paddle/sail down the long, wide expanse of Whitewater Bay. Normally, the winds have been atrocious, and we've had to head right across  east to snake down Joe River—which may shelter you from the seas that kick up on Whitewater Bay—but the winds are only slightly reduced, with only low grasses offering some protection. This was the second time, and what a lovely, sunny ride we had down the Bay, averaging around 4 knots.

Around 1400 hours, we arrived at Flamingo, with Seiche and KneadingWater's family to greet us. We'd decided on the way down to not stay the night at Flamingo—hey, we're not that much on holiday!—but to keep on paddling the last 55 kms (34 miles) across Flamingo Bay, perhaps resting on a key for the night, on the way to the finish at Key Largo. So we took off our for'ad and stern hatch covers, and with four of us hanging on to each side of the rim of each hatch, one-by-one slowly carried our four boats the 200m or so from the northern side of Flamingo's ramps, to the ramps of the southern marina. It was the most walking we'd done in a week.

Then it was burger time! And waiting for SandyBottom to reach Flamingo, to check what her plans were.

One day I'd like to visit Flamingo, in clean, dry clothes, and try one of the Flamingo microwave burgers, just to see if they taste as incredibly good as they do after six EC days. Just 45 seconds in the microwave et voila, heaven on earth. Down we scoffed those, watching SandyBottom arrive. She decided to stay a few hours to rest, and then perhaps head across Flamingo Bay later that evening. We mentioned that we may be on Rankin or End Keys, if she felt like stopping by.

Flamingo Bay. We paddle left to right.
And we were off. The first hour or so felt as though I was paddling in treacle. The tide was heading out, and there's a lot of water moving with that tide. It took us some time to finally reach Tin Can Alley, to truly head south. Flamingo Bay is around 99% very shallow—we're talking 30-50cms or mostly less in many places—with a few strategically placed windy channels—perhaps 60-70cms deep—to make one's way across. This is why speedboats have to stay on the plane to get from Point A to B. And one never leaves one's craft—the mud can suck you down. And without a chart for the day (or great local knowledge), and a GPS for night, you've pretty much had it trying to find your way across. I've never seen a pleasure boat on Flamingo Bay at night.

Seiche powering along.
KneadingWater, I believe pointing to the heavens...
Once past Tin Can Alley, we popped up sails and in dead calm, glassy waters, sped along. The sunset behind us was superb. We reached Rankin Key just before dusk, so decided to keep paddling in such superb conditions. KneadingWater shot ahead, and as night fell, we donned warmer jackets and turned night lights on. It kicked up a bit as we neared End Key, KneadingWater trying to find an appropriate place to make camp for four. HammerStroke, Seiche and I had pretty well decided that we'd keep paddling, but once we hit the beach, KneadingWater was a little less gung ho, mentioning that it would be safer to stay put. Hey, I'm back on holiday!

I was glad we stopped, in no hurry not to miss another last night of camping with great pals. We each found a wee place to pitch a tent in the scrub, and gathered together in the dark to cook a meal and yarn. It was nearer 2200 hours before we hit our pits. Everyone seemed to sleep very well. I was happy to lay there resting, dozing off every now and then. At 0400 I asked KneadingWater to stow his FEK sail, flapping as the wind increased, and around 0500 we were up and packing. The wind had changed more around to the NNW, and I realized that strategically, we should have taken Crocodile Dragover as our route across. If anyone else took that more NW route, they'd be well home before us.

With the wind coming in kicking up the foam in the shallows, the beach looked as though it had snowed in the night.

Of course, once we rounded Manatee Key, the keen NNW hit us, making a fairly typical long, wet—yet satisfying—ride to Key Largo. It's no fun if the last 10 miles or so are too easy!

As always it's great to paddle around that final point and slowly see—and hear—everyone waiting on the dock and beach at the finish line, cheering you in. Just makes you want to come back again next year...

A very happy KiwiBird, at Key Largo.

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