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Ozello's St. Martin Keys

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Hank Brooks | Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers
Published Tuesday, May 01, 2007

For one reason or another, I was not able to make the trip to Ozello's St. Martin Keys for the past year. I had heard a lot about the from the people who have made the trip with Marv Phelps - our current Trip Leader extraordinaire, the non-TBSK officer who led the most TBSK trips in 2006.

I had heard things like clear water, sponges, coral and turtle grass. I also heard that you have to paddle about 6.5 miles down the St. Martin River in Citrus County in order to reach the St. Martin Keys (a total paddle of over 13 miles - some in open water). So I knew that the paddle would not be easy or quick.

The trip to the launch point took about 1.5 hours from Palm Harbor. The turn off onto W. Ozello Trail is about 3.5 miles north of Homosassa Springs on U.S. 19. Because of wind was supposed to pick up in the afternoon, Marv had changed the launch time from 10 a.m. to 9 a.m. Besides Marv, there was Rachel Doran, Ken Norquest, John Ennis and myself. Within 20 minutes of arriving, these experienced paddlers were on the water and under way.

It was great to be back on the water after taking about 10 days off for some family, non-paddling, and vacation. Because of the distance, I wanted to take it easy to have some strength for the return trip - as it turned out this was a wise decision. With about an 8 mph wind at our backs, we made over 3 mph. On the way out we stopped at what I called "Pee Island" because as John said, "This is you last chance to take a pee".

St. Martin River
From the mouth of the St. Martin River, there is was about 1 mile of open water before we reached the keys - about 5 of them of different shapes and sizes. As we approached the keys, Ken made what I thought was a joke, saying, "From here, perhaps we should get out and walk instead of paddling to the keys." After about 15 minutes of paddling the water got shallow, very shallow - 12 to 18 inches of water.

The tide was going out and the wind was pushing the water out to the Gulf. It's amazing how the shallow water has a "suction effect" on a kayak's hull, making if feel like you are paddling in molasses. Add to this the fact that because of the shallow water you can't dig into the water to use your "power stroke", and it makes for very slow going.

As we approached the shallow water I heard Marv proclaim, "OK, now is the time to look out for sponges and coral". I replied, "I see some black lumps under the water." I soon learned that these were a type of sponge. There was also a tubular, chimney sponge, some of which almost broke the water's surface. "What are all those orange golf balls doing in the water?” I asked. I was told that those were coral - ranging in size from the golf ball size to large orange size. These were buried in turtle grass. I wished I had an underwater camera to show you a picture. As we paddled along, we would often scare a large fish or manta ray that would scurry off when presented with our boats. "Did you see the size of that one?" I asked as another large manta ray scurried off. Although the water was clear, I had wished that I had brought my goggles so that I could see more clearly.

After a bit of more "sponge spying", it was time for lunch on a muddy beach on Long Island. Since many birds had used the island for nesting, the aroma was not "spring fresh", but the solid land under our feet gave us a chance to stretch our legs and we got a bite to eat.

Paddling Ozello
Soon it was time to leave this natural paradise. Being on the leeward side of the island it was difficult to detect that the wind was starting to pick up to 10 to 12 mph, gusting to 15 mph. As we paddled through the shallow water, which surrounded the islands, I felt like I was barely moving as we fought the wind. We soon broke into open water and the "slog into the wind" was on. I was glad that I had saved some of my strength for the paddle back. After we got to our take-out the wind pick up to over 15 mph. Glad to be on solid ground. Next time I come I will bring a diving mask.

Last update Thursday, January 17, 2008

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