Several nights ago, we went kayaking. Summer days are hot in Florida Kayaking Laws, so we started at 6:30. It's still hot when we get in the water, but it slowly cools down as the sun starts to slip behind the mangroves. We had an early dinner, loaded the kayaks onto the car, put all the gear in the trunk and drove the short distance east on Manatee Avenue to Palma Sola Bay. We parked on the right side of the road, did the kayak and gear load in reverse, and pushed our kayaks into the bay.
We paddled north toward a small mangrove island in the middle of the bay. As we passed, I noticed a few shorebirds in the trees and wondered if this was a summer camp. The sun was resting on the treetops, low enough to cause an uncomfortable glare on the right side of my face. I pulled my hat down on that side. Every kayak trip is an adventure and I wondered what this one would bring.
I grew up on the water, swimming, fishing, boating in northern Minnesota, so the urge to be on the water is part of my DNA. Shortly after we arrived in Florida, I signed up for a guided kayak tour that was held at a sandy launch site in the quiet inland waters of south Sarasota. After a short "how to" lesson from our guide, our small group launched our kayaks and followed him across the bay. We paddled past a small mangrove island, across the intercoastal waterway and along the shoreline to a gently sloping beach. We got out of the kayaks, crossed the sand to the other side and saw the waves of Sarasota Bay! What a surprise! We ate lunch, then paddled back. The water was calm and beautiful. I was hooked.
My husband and I considered buying our own kayaks, but we had some reservations: would we use them enough to make it worthwhile, where would we store them in our already crowded garage, and how would we transport them? Before we even had a chance to answer our own questions, we took the plunge.
First, we attended a "kayak test drive" hosted by a local boat and tackle store on a small lake. After trying out three or four kayaks on the pond, we each chose the one that suited us best. We briefly considered a tandem, but quickly realized that wouldn't work; on car trips, we never agree on the best route.
How would we do a tandem?
The folks at the store outfitted our car with roof racks to hold our new kayaks; we bought paddles, seat cushions and life jackets. A neighbor helped us by installing racks for the kayaks on a garage wall. They will be stored on their sides, one above the other. Everything is ready to go!
Our financial investment had become significant, so we had to make it worthwhile and get out on the water. After a few first-time outings near our home, we decided it would be safer to learn the ropes by joining a group of kayakers who went out every weekend. Fifteen or twenty kayakers would gather at a designated launch site, unload their boats, and start paddling the day's route, along a river, through mangroves, or into a bay. They would always stop for lunch on a beautiful beach, then turn around and paddle back. The problem was that they were all experienced sport kayakers who seemed more interested in speed than stopping to "smell the roses." Barry and I were always so far behind that we lost sight of the group. Often we would reach the lunch spot just as the rest of the group was already on their way back. We couldn't keep up.
So we decided to go it alone. Barry bought a handheld GPS that we hoped would get us out of the mangroves. We bought a book on Best Florida Kayaking sites and headed out on our first trip. We launched near Highway 41 outside of Palmetto and paddled away from the road and across a bay. Soon we found a small tunnel in the mangroves that led us into another smaller body of water. I wish I had brought some colored thread to tie to a branch and Barry fiddled with the GPS.
We found another opening in the mangroves and walked through, the branches scratching our faces. It was beautiful and quiet, very