Ten Thousand Islands Report
(Everglades City)


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Report By:  gbailey    Date: 2/16/2011 
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(part 1 of 2) Feb 2011 Ten Thousand Islands - launched from Everglades City, paddled thru Indian Key Pass out to Camp LuLu and then on to White Horse Key (3 nights 4 day trip)

My Report:

(Everglades National Park)
February 2011

The seven of us (Franklin, Larry & Debbie – Andy and myself – Steve and Jack) departed northern Florida before the sun rose, headed to Everglades City, approximately 345 miles away. Dan Makley and Dan Jr along with Mike Qualls (from Livingston, Tenn) were already there and were expected to me us for lunch.


Arriving on the scene just before noon, the parking lot appeared full of rack-topped vehicles, easily the most we’ve every seen in one place. It appears that the brutal winter in the northern states had shifted lots of people down south, looking for warmer air temperatures and less snow and ice. Forecasted high temps were near 80 with a nighttime low of 60 degrees – just about perfect, with light winds expected each day.

With limited cell coverage in the area, we were a bit out-of-touch with each other, until Mike walked up to us and introduced himself as we pulled through the parking lot. Quick hellos and intros and off to lunch we went. Across the street we grabbed a sub-sandwich (consensus = not very good) then headed to the loading area to get our boats ready. Our target time to launch was 1:30, timed to get us in the water near high tide. As the group moved around each other stowing their valuables, I headed up to the Ranger Station office to leave a Float Plan for our trip. Our route had us camping just out of the boundary of the Everglades National Park, but nevertheless it is still a good idea to let them know who is in your group and where we planned to paddle, just in case an emergency arose and someone needed to reach us.

After unloading and parking the cars it appeared we were running on time, although we did hold up for a few minutes when it seemed our “sweep” paddler (Andy) was headed back to the launch site with Steve. We were too far apart to determine the reason so we just sat and floated a bit to soak in the surroundings. It didn’t take long for them to catch us again (someone forgot their camera) and then we were off. As is usual near the main Indian Key channel we met quite a few very large boats, most full of tourist taking photos of us! We played in their wakes as we paddled along, safely outside of the channel. By 3:30 pm we got our first glimpse of the open Gulf of Mexico, just a few miles ahead with Indian Key the last sandy beach before the vast open waters. Turning north along the outside islands as we passed Indian Key we zigged and zagged around Tiger and Picnic Keys before heading straight for Camp LuLu. Unfortunately, we were quickly met by someone at LuLu that informed us there was not enough room for the 10 of us on their island! Franklin was unable to talk our way on, so we decided the best thing to do was to head on to White Horse Key, our intended 2nd and 3rd night destination, approximately 4-5 miles away. With clear skies and a full moon expected to rise just before sunset, we thought we’d still have enough light to setup camp if the sun set before we made our target. We picked up the pace a little as we moved up the coast, first passing Round Key, then Panther and Hog Keys before we passed the southern tip of White Horse Key. It was at that point, 6:19 pm, when the sun set to our left into the Gulf waters as we neared our base camp island. Although we had paddled almost 5 hours, it was an incredible sight to see the sun sink out of sight, quite inspiring. Within a few minutes we all pulled onto the shallow waters of White Horse Key and hit the beach. Expecting to be met by a few mosquitoes, we were not disappointed but our first goal was to pick sites for our tents and get them setup. A splash of deet was quickly applied as we walked the soft sands of the flat beach. The full moon was plenty high and already lighting the white sands, removing any need of flashlights for moving around. It wasn’t long before I counted 9 tents pitched along the mangrove trees and sands. Everyone was a bit tired after a long day so quick dinners were the order and no camp fire the first night. With a low temp near 60, sleeping would not be difficult tonight. (first day - 15 miles and 5 hours).
Thursday was kind of a slack day, with some recovering from the long drive and paddle the day before, while others collected firewood and still others fished or took a spin in Franklin’s hammock. We also had a chance to walk a large part of White Horse Key, with its interesting mix of sandy beaches and large red mangroves. Those mangroves created a very nice shade for some of the tents and the hammock and we all gravitated to the shade after mid-day. Mike and I fished along the outside islands, with a nice Spanish Mackerel taking my bait for a ride before I hand-reeled it to my boat. I hooked two others but didn’t land either, then had a fish bite off my trolling spoon so the fishing was done for me. Jack filleted the fish and Mike grilled it that night on some hot coals from the fire – it was quite delicious! That afternoon we met a group from Minnesota paddling 5 canoes and camping 7-8 days among the islands. Interesting mix of ages, with one couple just over 80 and two youngsters near 20. The guys were also from Minnesota and had two other groups coming down later. Apparently the guides drive down with the boats and gear while their customers fly down from their snowy, frigid home states. Must be quite a shock to them with high temps near 80 in the Everglades but in the low 20s back home. Probably a shock when they return too! With a full moon rises just after sunset, we dug a fire pit below the high tide line and started our first campfire. A bit of cloud cover obscured the moon initially, but soon it had broken loose and was very clear and lighting the beach and the gulf waters again. During the night the tide would continue to rise, with 10:30 pm being the high point. We’d see for sure how close it’ll get to the tents, that is, those still awake would see it. Those that turned in earlier were left to hear the slapping waves as they sounded louder and louder, as they slowly crept up the gently sloped beach. The next day several admitted to unzipping their tent doors to see how close the water was, as the sound from the waves would both lull one to sleep then sound a bit alarming a while later. I believe the water was no closer than 5-6 feet away, with the back end of Franklin’s tandem probably a bit wet!
Friday started with Andy up before sunrise for a loop around White Horse, his splashing paddles breaking the dead silence of a very low tide. The low tide line was approximately 60 feet out, with a solid sandy bottom with a little coral mixed and scattered. Toward the southern end of the key a sandbar stretched out maybe 100 yards, and just after breakfast we all scattered over it looking for signs of marine life. It didn’t take long – we saw lots of live starfish, huge sand dollars and even a few conchs. Also, a few scallops were crawling along the now exposed sea bottom, their single “foot” stretching out to pull them along very slowly. The starfish and sand dollars were also moving slowly, carrying with them a layer of wet sand on their tops, as they must have been slightly buried along the bottom before the tide fell. We also saw lots of periwinkles making their zigzagged path to nowhere along with something unknown that piled high domes of sand, leaving a single hole through its top. We sprang on a few of those and dug furiously looking for the excavators, but were unsuccessful in our search. Finally, one of the smallest and interesting finds was baby eels, about 1.5 inches long. Looking a bit like a minnow caught in the tiny pools of water at low tide, their flat tails suggest otherwise. When put down again in the shallow waters, they would quickly dig through the soft sand with their tails and bury themselves completely, except for their heads just above the bottom.
We had planned a ˝ day, 9 mile loop north then through the inside islands on Friday and as it neared our 10:30 departure time everyone had gathered their paddling gear and packed a lunch, and we were off. Paddling north past Gullivan Island, the waters were still quite shallow, so we took a long loop around the points. Debbie decided to take the short loop and spend more time around the local keys and took some incredible photos as the day proceeded (see the link on the Forum page). With light winds we could see the waters north of Gullivan were not so clear, and in fact were a bit milky / cloudy as were turned inside of Turtle Key. After turning south we began to see more green water from the incoming tide and passed around many other mangrove lined islands with no names attached. Quite a few people were fishing in power boats, more than we’ve seen before in our trips down here. The water temperature at Marco Island was 67 degrees, so it couldn’t have been much warmer than that for us, so I suspect the fishing was a bit slow for everyone. Temperatures closer to mid-70s would bring in more bait fish, which would in turn bring in more game fish and wake up some that have idled during the cooler months.
Heading toward Foster Key, I was hopping to divert east ˝ mile and attempt to enter a mangrove trail leading to a closed lagoon. However, we never got our bearing in sync, and for the 1st time I really had no idea where we were! Although it was high-noon and we had plenty of time to figure things out, it was quite interesting how similar our surroundings looked no matter which direction we pointed our boats. Just more mangroves and water, with no discernable path leading to anywhere in particular. Finally, we decided to follow Franklin’s GPS and head for more open waters and pronto, we soon were looking at the large sandy tip of White Horse Key again, this time 2-3 miles away. Several sea-turtles lifted their heads just in front of us as they drifted in with the incoming currents. Looking for a place to stop for lunch, we paddled over to the northern tip of Gullivan, where a long sandy cape forms at low tide. Probably 150 yards long, it extends out toward another key, coming within 30-40 feet of closing off the water flow. Sea gulls and terns settled on the very end of the cape, and every 2-3 minutes all of them would suddenly lift off and perform a quick circle out in front of us then, just as fast, they’d circle back and land in exactly the same spot, with the terns grouped together, as were the gulls and a few pelicans. What is that worn saying? Birds of a feather, flock together? We saw it in action so it must still be true. After lunch some headed back to the campsite (first one gets the hammock?), while Franklin and Larry decided to stop and visit the Minnesota group, with their identically shaped and tan colored tents lined up along the northeastern tip of White Horse Key (aka Buzzard Point, as we so aptly named it a few years ago). Andy and I were the last to depart our lunch spot, paddling closer to Gullivan’s eastern shore and marveling at how thick some of the mangrove trunks appeared – some almost 3 feet in diameter! Lots of dolphins were working some fish in between Gullivan and White Horse, with some jumping clear of the water and tossing their catch in the air. We’ve seen this playful behavior before and it never gets old. That particular area was busy each afternoon and into the evening and was easily visible from our relaxed positions in the sand. Front row seats in fact!

--- end of part I ----
Confused

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Location Data:

Distance (miles): 48
Fees/Costs $: none


Photos from Everglades City:    (Click image to view full size)

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just starting out from Everglades City

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Dan Makley & white pelicans

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Andy & Dan @ Gullivan Key

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Northern tip of Gullivan Key

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our basecamp at White Horse Key

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a juicy scallop

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a juicy scallop with its foot extended

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starfish at low-tide

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tiny crab on surface of sanddollar

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live sanddollar

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escape hatch blown open

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baby conch

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White Horse Key at low tide

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slimey whatchamaycallit

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high tide line (@ 2 pm and 2 am - but we never saw it that close)

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a Lincoln (orange) a Nordcapp (yellow) Greg's tent (blue) the sand (white)

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Franklin's Valley Aleut Two Sea tandem with Larry Gordon stowing gear

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shady camping spots (with a nice view too)

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gnarly mangrove

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Steve Huffman and his Current Design Oracle GTS

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Jack Perdue and his Current Design Solstice Titan HV

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Andy Mitchell taking another nap while afloat

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Gulivan Key with Gulf of Mexico view

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red mangroves

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ancient mangrove trunk

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now thats a fire

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the Gang (of 10)

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Camp LuLu

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Camp LuLu

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Camp LuLu and Hermit Mike's Villa in background

 


Post Date: 3/23/2011

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