The Kayak Chronicles ©
by Darren Caffery
KEY WEST PADDLING
Monday July 30, 2007
After visiting some relatives in Orlando and Boynton Beach, we headed farther south to Key West. Although I've been to Key West in the past, this was my first time paddling there. There are LOTS of places and islands to paddle there, and LOTS of places to get out of the kayak and swim and snorkel. It is another paddling paradise.
Since we flew to Florida, we didn't have our own kayaks. We ended up renting at a place near our motel called Lazy Dog Outfitters. They didn't have any sea kayaks, so we rented recreational kayaks. Although the recreational kayaks weren't ideal for paddling the distance, we decided to be lazy dogs and just paddle a 8-10 miler instead of our typical 15-18 miler. We also decided to explore the Key West waters on our own as opposed to taking a guided tour. It worked out fine.
On the day of the paddle, the air temp was in the mid to high 90's with sunny skies and high humidity. After a brief orientation to the area the outfitter got us loaded up and on our way. We launched around 10 am into the small channel off of US1 at the Lazy Dog Outpost. Given the extreme heat, we quickly made our way out of the channel and into the Atlantic Ocean. The water was shallow with areas of coral and sand bars. We were warned by the outfitter not to get out of the kayaks over the shallow areas with coral. In addition to damaging the reefs, certain types of coral reportedly can cause severe burns and stinging upon contact. Because of the offshore coral reefs in this area, ocean conditions are very benign. Unlike the Jersey Shore where we are accustomed to paddling, paddling here in Key West was like paddling in a large warm saltwater pool. After paddling only a few miles, we found a relatively shallow area with a sandy bottom so we decided to stop paddling and take a summer plunge into the crystal clear waters of Key West. Although the water was warm (around 85 degrees), it was still much cooler than the air temperature so it was a refreshing dip. Words cannot even fully describe how relaxing it was just soaking in the ocean. I could totally understand where the Lazy Dog Outfitter name came from. Peace, Zen, Tao of Paddling, whatever you want to call it, it was Paradise and a nice escape and change from the summer hustle and bustle near my home at the Jersey Shore.
After enjoying a relaxing float, we re-entered our kayaks and began a northward paddling course up the coast. On our way, Tom observed a 5 foot nurse shark on the ocean floor and I paddled next to a small sea horse and a rather large stingray. Upon first sight of what looked like a white sand beach, we began paddling towards it. We soon landed at the beach and since it was about noon, we decided to have lunch. After lunch and some beachcombing, I waded out into the shallow water for another dip in the ocean. The beach was pretty remote, other than a few stray wave runners and a boat or two, there wasn't much action on the water. Every now and then the silence of the area was broken by some huge fighter jets from a nearby USAF base, which appeared to be doing some kind of training over the ocean.
After about an hour of enjoying the beach, we launched back into the ocean and decided to paddle farther offshore into the deeper blue waters of the area. After paddling about a quarter mile offshore, we decided to jump off the kayaks again to cool off. The water depth was about 20 ft where we jumped off and we could see right down to the bottom. Another relaxing swim, or should I say “soak”. It was again very peaceful and quiet but I have to admit every now and then the tranquility was broken by the Jaws theme music which played in my head. After we had enough soaking we headed back towards shore and towards another channel which was going to take us out of the ocean and into the Gulf of Mexico. On our way, we paddled along quiet mangroves and at one point, we entered a narrow cut-through of canopied mangrove. Paddling through this area was spectacular. It was like a tropical mangrove tunnel. The water was shallow and crystal clear and teeming with brightly colored fish. The way in which the sunlight cracked through the mangrove and reflected on the water was so vivid it looked like it could be a tropical Thomas Kincaide painting. Mother Nature’s beauty at its finest.
Once we made our way through the mangrove tunnel, we paddled westward about a mile in the open water of the bay, under the bridge for Route 1 and then made our way into the Gulf of Mexico. We slowly made our way along the shoreline of Raccoon Key and ultimately back to our takeout at the Lazy Dog Outpost. Our circumnavigation was a total paddle of 8 miles in the Summer heat of Key West. To end a great day on the water, we doused ourselves under the cool fresh outdoor shower at the outpost. After just a short ride to our motel, we soaked some more in the beautiful pool until sunset and later that night, went into town for some of the famous Key West 'nightlife'.
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