Over the last few weekends I have gone out on my old Kayak and played around several Inlets. The weather pattern throughout several weeks in June 2014 was conducive for going out on the Ocean: Light West wind in the morning creates very calm water, and low tide in the late morning allows to first ride out the inlet with the outgoing tide, then play around on the open water or rest somewhere on the beach, and around noon or early afternoon ride the incoming tide back through the inlet. Plus on most days the Wind shifts to SouthEast for the familiar on-shore sea-breeze once the day gets really hot. So on an ideal day you can paddle with the current and tailwind twice on an out-&-back round-trip!
The first of those trips was on Sunday, Jun-8, at the Jupiter inlet. I parked the car near the Southern end of Jupiter Island, not far from the Coral Cove Park. One of the advantages here is that you can go out the Intracoastal, past the turn with the Jupiter lighthouse, then out the inlet. The water here can be very clear, but only when the tide is coming in – otherwise you get the murky water from the Loxahatchee River. Here is the GPS track from this outing:
Not surprisingly, it is a very hot day. The color of the graph shows temperature, generally between 27C (green) and about 37C (red). Once further out on the calm water I strap on the snorkel gear and go for a swim. During the 20-25min intervals the temperature is that of the Ocean water, a refreshing 27C (marked in green). Note how I drift during the snorkel with the Kayak due to the Gulf stream Ocean current, more significant the further out one goes. I tie a dive flag to the Kayak and myself, so I do get noticed in the water by boat traffic and do not get separated from the Kayak. I also use the Inlet as a way to orient myself, specifically the ability to see the A1A bridge through the Inlet.
This trip was about 12 km and 3.5 hours. One of the most enjoyable aspects was the snorkel way out in the Ocean. I had never gone out that far off the coast, almost 3 km. My only concern was to watch for thunderstorm clouds forming, as you do not want to get caught far off the beach when a storm is brewing. The next day I read in the newspaper that about 2 hours after I stood there and took the photo at the jetty, a boating accident killed one young man snorkeling in the water right near the inlet. One always has to pay attention when in the water.
The following weekend (Sun, Jun-15) I take the kayak out to nearby Palm Beach inlet. I park at the Phil Foster Park, right on the East end of the big Blue Heron bridge. This is a popular dive and snorkel spot, with some artificial reefs and shallow water diving with lots of fish right off the parking lot. Here is the GPS track, again with temperature overlay.
I didn’t time it quite as well today, as the tide is already starting to come in as I’m starting and there is a good SE breeze and as a result a moderate 3-5 ft swell on the open water. Consequently I am hugging the North shoreline of the Inlet so as to not having to work too hard against the current of the incoming tide. This gives me a good upper-body workout as this outing overall will be a bit shorter. Once out of the inlet I cross the current and round a large buoy. There are too many waves and so I decide not to snorkel out here. Instead, I let the current carry me back in and then pause at a small pier on the Northern End of N Ocean Blvd on Palm Beach Island. I remember this place form many bike rides up from Delray Beach which naturally end on this pier. Under the pier there are some coral and quite a lot of fish, so it’s actually fairly interesting to snorkel around here. (See green spot in the GPS track due to the cooler water temperature.)
After that refreshing break I continue with the current and decide to round Peanut Island on the way back. There is a good amount of boat traffic on a sunny weekend so I need to pay attention and stay close to the shore. The trip was about 6.5 km and 2 hours.
The following weekend (Sun, Jun-22) I want to go for a bit longer trip. I start early (6:30am) and drive about 45min North to the town of Stuart. The Sandsprit Park there is a popular place to launch boats and has generous facilities and parking space. By the time I get on the water it is about 8am. From my Bing map it appears as if I can do a loop around some canals, which I decide to try. Unfortunately this turns out to be a dead end after about 80% of the distance, so I have to return the same way and pass the launch site after 1.5 hrs of very hot paddling (due to lack of Ocean breeze). Here is the GPS track of the entire day:
After that dead-end round-trip I enjoy the open water of the the Saint Lucie Inlet, separating Jupiter Island to the South form Hutchinson Island to the North. The tide is going out and the current is now very strong. Normally my speed on the old double kayak is about 5 km/h in calm water, on this stretch my average is about 9 km/h, with max above 11 km/h. I could not go back directly against such a strong current, which is why I need to bring plenty of time (to wait for the tide to turn) or find another way to return. I stop at a sandbank at the Northern tip of Jupiter Island. As there are no roads leading to this part of the island it is very quiet and peaceful here. After a little break I cross the inlet and round the tip of Hutchinson Island. The rocks of the jetty here are spaced apart and except for low tide one can pass through them. I need to pay attention here as the current of the tide around these rocks feels like a river with rocks in the middle. Beyond that to the North lies to so-called Bathtub Reef, a very nice spot for snorkeling. I spend about 1/2 hour in the water, which is very refreshing. I swim in the calm and shallow waters to see various coral formations.
One solution to the problem of going against the tide current is to avoid the inlet altogether: I go North and portage across the very narrow part of Hutchinson Island, essentially just across the beach and the road at Bathtub Beach. This brings me back to the wide Intracoastal. Due to the now very low tide there are some stretches of very shallow water; at times I have to get out and walk as there is barely more than a few inches of water under the kayak. Coming back around the Southern tip of Sewalls Point it gets very hot again, around 35C. I am fairly tired by the time I’m back at Sandsprit Park and happy to get out of the sun and heat. Good thing I brought enough sunscreen and applied it repeatedly to avoid sunburn. This was a much longer trip than the previous two, about 21 km and 4.5 hours.
After a few weeks of rainy and stormy weather there is finally another good weekend for kayaking in July. This time I plan to go back down to Miami and circumnavigate Key Biscayne, which I had done twice before, once with my son Philip many years ago. Paddling around Key Biscayne is about a 4 hour trip and provides a nice variety of sandy beaches, a lighthouse and mangrove settings. This time, however, I have an even longer loop in mind: How about combining Key Biscayne with the Miami downtown area and the canal for the big cruise ships? I check the tide schedule and with low tide at 9:45am I figure I need to start very early to take full advantage of the tide current.
I load up the kayak on my car the evening before so I can leave very early in the morning. At 5:30am on Saturday, Jul-19 I start driving down to Miami. Unfortunately there is over-night construction on I95 reducing the highway down to just one lane, which costs me about a half hour in stop-&-go traffic. Not what I had planned, but I am still early enough by the time I get to the Rickenbacker Causeway and park my car. From here I plan a roughly rectangular course. Here is the GPS track:
The first hour or so I’m following the skyline of downtown Miami. It’s somewhat surreal to be paddling right next to tall skyscrapers and hotel buildings. At the very beginning there are even a few raindrops, which makes me wonder whether the forecast of low percentage of rain is going to come to pass. I’m rounding the Brickell Key which opens up the view towards the Miami river. Big yachts are mooring here, right in between the downtown hotels and office buildings.
From here its just a short distance to Bayside, with its Hard Rock Cafe and various other cafes and restaurants. I remember this place from many visits a long time ago when I first moved to Florida, by now 18 years ago. I pass the American Airlines Arena, among others home to the Basketball games of the Miami Heat. Next up are the big cruise ships on Dodge Island, Carnival Cruise Lines and other megaships. I notice one of those cruise ships closing the back loading dock and think to myself, perhaps I’ll see this ship later on.
In the meantime I go a bit further North under the bridge of the MacArthur Causeway, the big highway connecting Miami with Miami Beach. Here I need to paddle fast against the noticeable tidal current pulling the water out the big ship channel to the Ocean. I round the NW corner of the rectangular course and head roughly East towards Miami Beach. There are a few of the small, artificial islands with some of the most expensive real estate in the world: Palm Island, Hibiscus Island and Star Island. I get a slight current pulling me along while I look at the mega-mansions along the water line. Here is a photo of a 28,000 sq.ft mega-estate on a 6 acre lot on Star Island, assessed at $52m for tax purposes according to Zillow:
So definitely a lot of variety here, with prime views from the waterline in the kayak. Then I round the Miami Beach marina and follow the government cut canal out to the Ocean. At one point a small Pilot boat passes me; this probably means there is some bigger vessel following behind. And when I turn around near the end of the rock jetty, as expected from earlier in my paddle, I see the Bimini Resort cruise ship coming by. Quite impressive the size of these things when you look at it from a kayak:
The water displacement effect of this ship in the narrow channel is quite noticeable. First the water is pushed out sideways which creates an outflowing current around the rocks – I need to paddle a bit to stay clear of the last rocks. Just a half minute later the current reverses as the water is rushing back into the channel once the big vessel has parted.
I decide to take a bit of a break here in the calm and clear water and go snorkel on the North side of the rocks lining the channel. The by now familiar change into snorkel gear – fins, mask and snorkel – and I’m floating in the water holding on to my trusted companion:
I apply some more sunscreen as the sun is getting really intense now. The following section from here on South is less eventful. Fisher Island and then Virginia Beach pass by slowly on the right side. My course is towards the first park on Key Biscayne. It is about 4 hours after I left in the morning by the time I reach the beach at Crandon Park. I need to get some rest, water and shade. I pull the kayak ashore, take my drybag and the (expensive) carbon paddles with me, then retreat to the shade of a big tree next to some shower and restroom facilities. I eat some snacks and refill one of the four water bottles I brought about 3-4 times. I will need to stay hydrated for such a long paddle.
After a bit more than 1 hour I feel refreshed and continue on south. Lots of water sports here, wave-runners and standup paddle boards, plus hundreds of people swimming or just lounging in the water to escape from the heat. In the meantime, there are some big storm clouds brewing just West of Miami. At times they get so big that even the big jets intending to land at Miami International airport fly a few big loops to wait for them to pass. I sure hope they will not come further East out to the water, as that would require me to pause, if not abandon my kayak trip.
About 6.5 hours after I started in the morning I finally get close to the Cape Florida Lighthouse marking the Southern tip of Key Biscayne. It is a beautiful summer day and there are big crowds here in the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. No entrance fee when you arrive by kayak from the water; but I need to keep going, as I want to meet up with friends later on.
I turn the SE corner of my course and head NW again. In the far distance I see the tall buildings in Coconut Grove which is broadly where I need to head. In this section the heat is almost unbearable: The SE breeze is now at my back and also slowing down due to the fallout of the big storm clouds from the West; this creates some very unusual cloud formations and also wide-spread lift which the various birds in the area are leveraging to get up high and continue on their journey without effort.
Near the SW corner of Key Biscayne there are a large number of boats anchoring in shallow water. It is party central, loud music playing, lots of noise and people, mixed with exhaust fumes and beer cans floating in the water. Compared to the quiet journey so far this is the most unusual spot. I often ask myself why people pay much money to get out on the water in a boat, only to then congregate with many others in such a cacophony of loud music and booze. Definitely not my scene. Much to my surprise, there is a small pod of dolphins swimming around here, a welcome contrast to the dozens if not hundreds of boats lining the horizon:
The next leg across Biscayne Bay is the hardest of the trip. The water is choppy, the wind doesn’t help much, I’m tired from by now more than 7 hours on the water, and I’m late for my rendevouz with friends. It is a 10 km straight line distance to get across Biscayne Bay to the Dinner Key Marina. I am getting very tired and also very thirsty. I should stop, drink and call my friends, but somehow I always tell myself that I’ll be there soon and so I continue on. Eventually I get close enough to see various boats and hope to spot Barry and his family who should be anchoring near the West Islands Park. Finally their boat comes into view and I paddle straight to them, fairly exhausted 8h 45min after leaving in the morning.
The next two hours are pure bliss: Barry and his family offer up a wide variety of snacks and cold water bottles while we are chatting and relaxing on board his sailboat. We are watching many nice boats go by in and out of the Dinner Key Marina, a boater’s paradise down here. If it was up to me I would not want to leave for many more hours, but I have about another hour of paddling from here to get back to the car, so eventually and reluctantly I hop back into my kayak and set off.
Thanks to the still fairly high tide I can round the little Key with just a small sand bank requiring me to walk and push the kayak – making for another scenic photo opportunity.
The last hour is slow due to some light headwind and waves, as well as great fatigue in my arms and shoulders. I pass the Mercy hospital where a helicopter lands – probably bringing some accident victim from somewhere in the Miami area. Beyond that is the famous Villa Vizcaya, which Jill and I visited just last year. I take some photo but it’s late and getting dark so they are all blurry. At long last I reach the Rickenbacker Causeway and head straight back to where I had parked the car.
I am very tired now, but also very content with having closed this loop. Almost 12 hours (8am-8pm) and nearly 9 hours of paddling, with 39 km distance, that’s far and away the longest paddle I have done.
Now I have about 1 hour to get to the airport to pick up my son Philip who happens to come back from a 3 week vacation in Austria with his grand parents. I tie down the kayak, eat some snacks and drink several bottles of water and gatorade which I had wisely stashed in the car. The drive home is filled with stories from Philip’s vacation and my long day. I am too tired to unload and wash everything tonight, that will have to wait until tomorrow. Good thing next day is a Sunday, and I can recover at home with sore shoulders and a few blisters, but also some magnificent memories about a day in Biscayne Bay.