Ten Thousand Islands Report
(Everglades City, FL)

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Report By:  gbailey    Date: 2/22/2007 
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Everglades National Park (part 2 of 2)

My Report:

continued ... Part 2 of 2

The weather forecast called for another front to pass through during the night with increasing winds to 25 or 30 mph on Sunday, from the NW. We secured the boats and gear for the night in anticipation of the front, then hit the sack for our last night on LuLu. Around 4-5 am the winds started howling and intermittent rains passed through. Fortunately again, our campsite was situated in an ideal location to protect us from those strong winds. The air temperature began to rise quickly just ahead of the front, maybe by 10 degrees or so, then cooled down a bit by early morning, when the rains stopped and blue skies appeared again. We had a few wet things to dry and pack for our return trip, but since we had to wait for the incoming tide we again were not rushed. The warm sun was enough to dry the tents and rain-flys, and that is always nice when unpacking things at home the next day. No one wants to unpack a wet, sandy tent, if possible.

Around 12 noon we took on a few snacks and energy food for the expected difficult return trip. Although we would be returning via West Pass, a somewhat narrow passageway back to the mainland, we still had several small crossings to make, where the NW winds would have a fetch of Ĺ mile or so to build up steam and come at us on our beam side. I told everyone to hang onto their hats and paddles and stay together during those crossings in case anyone had problems. Tim and his group would be leaving a short while later and returning via Russell Pass, just east of our route.

Within a few minutes we had to make the first short crossing and the wind gusts were powerful, maybe 20-25 mph, but you could see them coming across the smooth waters and brace accordingly. Soon we were back within confined, mangrove protected waters and enjoying the strong push of the incoming tide. The largest open water yet was to come just west of Gaskin Bay, and we braced well and often, staying as close to the shoreline as possible. Finally, we were at a point where we had to choose our route (and hope it was West Pass). Grouped closely together and checking our maps and GPS, we were looking at either four or five possible paths ahead, and they all appeared to be about the same size passageways. Only one would be the correct choice though, with the others either ending in dead end bays or looping back around to the open Gulf. After a short discussion and debate we chose the 2nd door from the left and proceeded. It seemed to be the right choice as we continued along a path that somewhat closely matched the mapís contours for West Pass.

Again, with the strong incoming tide pushing us along and the wind to our back occasionally, we didnít want to move along too fast and outrun the tide. We still had shallow waters ahead of us in Chokoloskee Bay and we definitely had no interest in finding shallow shell bars in these windy conditions. With no sandy beaches or bars to stop at, we floated along, grabbing snacks during the lull before the anticipated rough open bay waters ahead.

So as we neared Chokoloskee Bay we could see how the winds had muddied the waters and was blowing white caps off the wave tops. Fortunately for us, once we made one 60 degree turn weíd have the winds to our back for the rest of the trip, a segment almost 4 miles long, with occasional twists and turns all the way to Everglades City. Even with the following winds, the gusts required constant attention to not only brace properly, but to hold onto the paddle! One factor in our favor though was that the water was only 2-4 feet deep for the most part along the bay. So even with the strong winds, the waves never reached above two feet, so everyone could relax a bit. Regardless of how strong the winds became that day, in waters that shallow, theoretically the wave heights could never reach above the dept of the water.

By 2:30 we had reached Everglades City again, but we still had approximately 200 yards to reach the takeout point. And that may have been the most difficult short stretch we faced, since we had paddled out of the wind behind a spoils island, only to have to reenter the windy bay again to reach the takeout. Along that stretch we had to turn further south and the winds were hitting us from a rear quartering position, not the ideal direction but we had no alternative but to slosh through it.

Pulling into the takeout was a gingerly process, with visible rocks ashore and just beneath the surface. Teamwork allowed us to pickup each boat quickly and safely move it to the grassy unloading zone and soon we were all out of the water. The cars were brought around and gear packed at the end of anther very satisfying trip.

The takeout was a busy place with people coming and going, but mostly NOT going. One guided group had to return because the winds were too difficult for them to maneuver out and cross the bay. In fact one tandem was unable to turn into the wind and so was blown downwind, down the channel a mile or so where their escorts had to retrieve them by vehicle! That was quite surprising, since several of us own big tandems and the thought of not being to handle those conditions didnít seem possible. I suspect that lack of experience was the major factor in their set-back. Our return route allowed us to use the strongest winds to push us along, keeping them on our stern, and made for a quick and safe return, in spite of the windy conditions.

Canít wait to return here again, since as Robert Keeler said recently, weíve only seen about 25 or 30 of these 10,000 Islands.

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Post Date: 3/1/2009

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