As sun set in Bokeelia, I paddled up and down to shoreline looking for a campsite. Calusa Island seemed like the logical choice but there were fisherman almost everywhere you could camp. There was also a hidden camp in the interior of the island that wreaked of marijuana. If you looked closely, you could see a very elaborate camp in the trees. I decided to to head west and look for something on the other side of Bokeelia. As the darkness grew, I finally found a little patch of sand high enough the tide wouldn’t swamp me in the middle of the night. Naturally it started raining.
The next morning it was still raining so boat traffic was at a minimum in the Charlotte Harbor. Instead of paddling to Cayo Costa and then turning north to Boca Grande, I found it was a shorter distance to just paddle 5.5 miles straight across the harbor. Somewhere in the middle the water became calm and it looked like molten silver. The reflection was like looking into a fun house mirror and I couldn’t distinguish the water from the sky anymore. Fog surrounded me and it was creepy paddling in those conditions. You really had no idea what direction you were heading so I kept checking my GPS to stay on track. A couple of hours later, I made it to Cape Haze Aquatic Preserve.
The water was crystal clear but it had these olive drab hues to it. As I paddled, I was constantly scanning the ocean floor for sea life. Suddenly I saw a very large gray body appear underneath my kayak. The barnacles on it told me it was a manatee. It was just sitting there about 3 feet below me. It suddenly noticed I was right on top of it and it took off. From my experience last year, I knew what was about to happen and braced myself. The water erupted underneath me and and I began paddling as fast as I could to try and escape the coming explosion. My kayak bounced up and down and the manatee torpedoed away from me. I kept my eyes on it and it quickly flipped around and shot straight back at me. This 400 pound animal breached the best it could and tried to hit my kayak. Because I was already paddling away from it, it barely missed my rudder and made another giant water explosion right behind me. My kayak vibrated from the force of the ripples. The sound was deafening. I was in shock from what had just transpired. My heart was racing. I couldn’t believe this manatee just tried to purposely hit me. I felt extremely lucky and just kept on going north towards Dog Island.
I camped on a smaller island just south of Dog Island. It was in a busy waterway but only one boat stopped there. I relaxed and later that evening another manatee paid me a visit for about an hour. It didn’t sound well but there’s not much I can do for a sick manatee, if it was even sick. I used my new solar charger for the first time and it was amazing. Its a 21 watt Aukey solar panel. It charges quickly under sufficient sunlight. It even charges on cloudy days just slower. Unfortunately, the USB port are not waterproof so I have to be very careful until I can figure out a way to protect them.
The next morning, I paddled 10 miles to Skip’s Marina in Placida and stopped there so I could hit up a nearby grocery store. Skip’s had and an amazing bar area. After resupplying, I decided to have a couple of beers. It was St. Patrick’s Day after all. The bartender was gorgeous and funny too. Skip even came by and said hello and we chatted about his marina and my kayak adventure. This was a perfect spot to stop and they’re very kayaker friendly. I soon left and paddled another 10 miles or so until the sun went down. According to google maps, South Venice Beach looked like a great spot to camp. Wrong! This portion or the intracoastal waterway was cut out so the embankments were very steep and about 15 feet high. There was no way to easily reach to beach. As it grew darker I spotted some low areas on the east side of the waterway. This was the corner of a nature park that closed at sunset so I felt comfortable camping there for the night. The next morning I made some coffee and was enjoying a cup when I heard the low guttural growl of an alligator. I convinced myself that wasn’t possible since the water was saltwater. After packing up my kayak and launching, I paddled past a tree and noticed a large yellow sign reading “Caution Alligator Habitat.” I chuckled realizing that I really did hear and alligator. I paddled against the tide for about 6 miles until I reached Snake Island in Nokomis. I’ve camped here two nights due to a storm rolling in. I did get a chance to sample some local cuisine at The Crow’s Nest and Pelican Alley. Pelican Alley was amazing! The seafood chowder was the best I’ve ever eaten. They also had a glass floor so you could watch snook swim below as you dined. The Crow’s Nest didn’t seem to appreciate my presence but the oyster po’boy was delicious. Tomorrow I hope to paddle out and find a place to camp near Sarasota. All the hotels and campgrounds are booked until May because of spring break, so I have to squat on tiny pieces of secluded sand and mangroves. I think it will be that way until I reach Fort Desoto but I’m sure they’re booked up as well. I haven’t checked yet.