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Posts Tagged ‘Blackwater Bay’

COVID disrupted all our lives this past year, mine included, but I could not let the year end without a paddle. I wanted to challenge myself and paddle someplace new. I focused on the Everglades area, as I have not paddled any of these waterways yet. I looked at several: the Blackwater River and Royal Palm Hammock Paddling Trail, Nine-Mile Pond Canoe Trail, Noble Hammock Canoe Trail, Mud Lake Loop Trail, Halfway Creek Canoe Trail, and Turner River Canoe Trail. I also looked at the Everglades National Park and Wilderness Waterway, but I wasn’t sure I could work out the ninety-nine miles unless there were overnight stopping points along the way that did not involve a tent. 🙂

Paddling to Mud Bay from Channel Marker 47

After calling some outfitters, I decided on the first on my list, the Blackwater River, not knowing what to expect. When I arrived at the concession in the Collier Seminole State Park, Collier Seminole Nature Tours, I told Matt that I needed a kayak for the day, as I wanted to paddle the entire 13.5 mile loop. He suggested that I might want to paddle a shorter trail to Mud Bay and back. In the past few months, only one group paddled the entire loop; they had faster kayaks, and it took them six hours. Matt, challenge accepted!

I put in at the park launch at 9:30 a.m. on a rented Jackson Riviera sit-on-top. The first hour of paddling was peaceful and canopied—and sometimes jungle-like. What a beautiful day to paddle—sunny but not too hot! I arrived at channel marker 47 in fifty minutes having passed only one couple on a short out and back paddle. The loop begins at marker 47, and here I made the right turn and headed towards Mud Bay. I spent the next four hours paddling through the three bays: Mud Bay, Palm Bay, and finally, Blackwater Bay.

From marker 47, it took me about fifteen minutes to reach Mud Bay. Mud Bay was larger than I expected. I could feel and see the tidal current. Low tide would be at 3:45 p.m. The wind had picked up, and paddling became harder. At one time, something massive emerged on my left creating a large brown wave, scaring the hell out of me and rocking my kayak; I assume it was a manatee.

At one time, something massive emerged on my left creating a large brown wave, scaring the hell out of me and rocking my kayak.

I continued my paddle, now along the Royal Palm Hammock Creek, for about thirty minutes, to the Grocery Place Campsite (my one and only “stretch my legs and pee” stop), relieved to see the sign and know I was on track. I later read that the two concrete structures I saw on this site are cisterns remaining from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lots of history here.

Looking out from the campsite, I saw mangroves to the left but mostly water to the right. A great heron flew overhead, and a small raccoon scurried into the woods. I hopped back on my kayak, heading, I hoped, to Palm Bay, and wondering (briefly) whether I should turn around and head back before the tide started to head out.

The Trail to Palm Bay

I paddled into Palm Bay staying close to the mangroves to my left and eventually exited to Blackwater Bay about forty-five minutes later. The wind, stronger now, forced me to keep my head down to keep my hat on. I paddled even harder, passing lots of mangrove islands decorated with shell beds. Blackwater appeared to be the largest of the three bays and the most confusing. I pictured just me on this large waterway, a tiny dot on a map. I now understood what Matt meant when he cautioned me about getting lost here. I had no clue where I was going, and the many mangrove islands and lack of signage made navigating even more difficult. I just kept paddling, trying to keep the mangrove forest to my left. Did I mention that my phone battery was dying and my charger wasn’t working? I had just begun to wonder what I would do if I couldn’t find my way out of this massive waterway, (Could I sleep in the Bay on my kayak?), when I spied two fisherman on a boat (Thank you, God). I gave a wave and a hoot and paddled over. The lovely man who had just pulled in a fish, pointed just ahead of me; I was less than fifteen minutes from the beginning of the markers. Relief for sure!

Shell Beds on the Mangrove Islands

With the uncertainty behind me, I relaxed for the last two hours of paddling, enjoying the cool, dark waterway and the beautiful mangroves. Six hours in, I came upon marker 47 once more and a family hanging out on a low-tide sand bar in the middle of the waterway. I called over to see if I could join them for a few and had an opportunity for a chat and a final stretch before heading into the canopied path and the last hour of my paddle. I arrived back out the outfitter, tired and with very sore arms, seven hours after leaving. Matt had not left at 4:00 as he said he would earlier. He had waited for my return. I think he was nearly as happy as I that I had completed the entire paddle!

(Outfitter: Collier Seminole Nature Tours. Collier Seminole State Park, Naples, Florida. (800) 719-8160)

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