Kayaking Southwest Florida's marine estuary system is truly paradise for sit on toppers. Calm back bay waters, mangrove islands in water so skinny that nary a power craft has ever dared the maze of tangled islands protecting this nursery of the gulf of Mexico. Plus with the Great Calusa Blueway - a project that has 190 miles of marked kayak trails, this is a travel destination for paddlers. But, hey I live here so I get to take advantage of it all the time.
One way I find great hidden put in's is by using Google Earth to explore the aerial views, then map routes and transfer those to my Garmin GPS unit. Believe it or not, with the miles of shoreline here, it's still difficult for Kayakers to find easy access to put in the boats.
There is one especially intriguing area in the Northwest area of Lee County. To the west of the mainland, we have the barrier islands, Sanibel, Captiva, Cayo Costa, to name a few, then comes the inner sound of Pine Island and the back bay mangrove tunnels. Looking at this image, (right) you can tell it would be easy to get completely lost in about 5 seconds.
We call this area the Kizmet Maze. Once I had my GPS batteries almost die on the way back to the put in, believe me, I never let that happen again! Every turn, every bend looks the same on the water. The path through the two islands is sometimes hidden from view, with water 6 inches deep passing between two trees 4 feet apart!
The day my partner Nancy and I explore the Kismet maze we arrive around 2PM and find the put in site at the end of Kizmet parkway no problem. The street ends at the water, no houses so plenty of parking. This is next to one of the many man made canals in the Cape Coral area.
There is a nice cut in the canal bank with carpets on the ground to prevent scratching the boats. We just have to cross this 100 foot canal and enter into the mangroves via a tiny creek.
We have a Scupper Classic and RTM Tempo. Both approximately 15" without rudders. I put crazy creek Kayak seats on both and have been very happy with that brand of seat. Both boats have dry hatches.
Mangrove tunnels are so named because the tops of these trees sometimes completely merge above the creeks, creating a tunnel for you to explore.
Some of these creeks are man made, from early attempts to provide drainage and saltmarsh mosquito relief efforts. Others are created by the forces of tide and storms that allow the daily currents of incoming and outgoing tides to rapidly flow through the estuary.
Here, the first creek is pretty low at low tide, and we found ourselves towing our boats by the bowlines. But within minutes, we were transported back in time, the sound of clicking shrimp and crabs amongst the prop roots, the minnows in the shallows...could make you day dream of prehistoric primordial swamps...
This is where we first met the biting flies. Not sand flies or no see ums, which are a pain in the summer months, the big kind. Not sure what kind of fly, just that they follow us a ways. Score: something like flies 4-5, Dave Nancy 2 with paddles as weapons . We head south and see lots of herons, ibis and night herons. A great blue scared us when it took off, it was huge.
The creek tunnels at the south of my track were fun, clear water ripping through the cuts between islands, clear water, oyster covered bottoms.
Inside these islands it's quite hot, around 94 in the summer with little air movement other than us creating our own! As we headed north we could now see Bookelia town on the tip of Pine Island in the distance across the sound and white caps. Ahh!, a cooling breeze from the sea.
We circle a small key looking for a rest spot but find none. While these are islands, the mangrove roots often go right out into the bay, leaving no sand, no beach.
By now we've been going about 6 miles. We tie up on some old trees that had toppled over and have an impromptu lunch. We love to stretch out on our boats, if we release the seat buckles, we can lie completely flat, a bit uncomfortable but, doable. I think there is a skill and teqnique to SOT napping.
From here we rounded back up and east to the way we came. Lots of birds, jumping mullet, a bottlenose dolphin and her calf, and big fish stirring up. Schools of "tailing redfish".
In one cut between islands we notice a herd of manatee. Well I notice a baby when it surfaces for a breath of air. Perfect set up for a picture. Sea Cows, or Manatees are a protected species and love these areas in the warm months, feeding on the sea grass beds.
As I fumble for my camera, I look down, noticing that I am now in about 2 inches of water. But the water is 6 feet deep here. Then I realize I am floating silently over a 1200lb momma manatee cow. Only problem, she has no idea I am directly above her.
Manatee are deadly afraid of boats. Motor boats especially, as they maim and kill many each year. I'm thinking, if I can just slowly paddle over her.. The second my paddle touches water, she shoots straight up into me. I grab the sides of my boat and bow my head down as I am flung up and then down in a tremendous splash!
Next a huge pressure wave of departing manatee herd rapidly shoots away from us and I hear laughing. Nancy is doubled over laughing at the ridiculousness of the scene.
I am sure, not to many have been attacked by a manatee, but I can claim firsthand knowledge of it. I didn't even dump the boat. But I never did get my picture of junior either. (See Manatee Guide For Kayakers here at TopKayaker)
At this point we paddle a "short cut" to the north of the established path - it looks like a short cut. A half hour later, on GPS maps it's shown as connecting to the canal near Kismet.
It dead ends a hundred feet or so from it resulting in a few miles of back tracking! Nancy is no longer laughing. But hey, you can never know, unless you try.
It's interesting how a large creek just stops. The walking mangroves have moved in on what once was an opening to the larger canal and our SUV beyond.
The flies were waiting for us on the way out..mind you, not too bad. An annoyance really. Overall a nice day on the water and fun to make all the twists and turns. We both thought it unwise to explore this area without GPS.
Nancy said to add "no short cuts".
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