Trip Reports

The 2006 trip report is courtesy of Bob Linfors, Our Team Navigator. After his battle against cancer we are honored to have Bob return to the fray and share his unique insight for this year's trip report. Without any further ado...



Prologue...

Concerning the retelling of history Lytton Strachey wrote: "It is not by the direct method of scrupulous narration that the explorer of the past can hope to depict a singular epoch. He will row out over the great ocean of material, and lower down into it, here and there, a little bucket which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen, from those far depths, to be examined with a careful curiosity."

I row Hailey's Pail: a 17 foot plastic kayak with a bent rudder, a fraying lead line, and a well-scarred hull. It is from this I pull up the following little buckets of history from the far depths of a seven day ocean adventure for your curiosity. Be careful.

Each boat we row is blessed with a figurehead but, since we're not sporting ten yards of bowsprit, a 200 pound topless teak mermaid with flowing brunette locks carved into its wood doesn't make a lot of boating sense. We go smaller. In 2004, my daughter, not quite two, had recently celebrated an Easter with an overloaded basket of chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs crammed with gooey candy. One gift she received and discarded was a small pail of plastic flowers. Leaving the polyurethane lilies, I rescued the pail from the rubbage bin and wrote my daughter's name on it, slid its handle through the straps of my front hatch and the name of my kayak henceforth has been "Hailey's Pail".

OB, our fearful captain, coiner of the phrase "The Only Day We Fear is Tomorrow," rows a boat with a deck weighed down under an explosion of useless knick-knacks. We don't know if it's the Perrine Garbage Barge or Snake Oil's Traveling Trawler of Junkdom. So, he goes for a more permanent marker. OB is a part-time air-brush painter, with stress on the part-time. He drunkenly fizzed "Candy" on his new used tandem. He took another gasser of scotch, closed one eye, checked his handiwork and called it art. 

So the Haitian freighter is named for his lovely wife, yet somehow the intelligentsia of CAC, a small splinter subset of the group that varies from zero to seven members depending on recent alcohol consumption, agree that Candy herself isn't all that peachy-pleased about having a garbage scow named for her. OB can count that among the many crosses he bears.

Chad carries Alien, a green foreigner from a different planet that smokes the occasional toothpick. He was carved from a hunk of balsa by one-timer Dave Isenberg back in 2000. Alien has made every trip and is currently painted in a light green Island Shirt that got him much longer play from the ladies this year than the sum total of minutes logged by the single members of our team. Alien in the off-season sits atop a stack of DVDs cursing in Martian about his keeper's snoring. I asked him to translate his invectives, but he hissed at me, took a long drag off his toothpick, and resumed typing.

Craig brought a wooden likeness of a kayaking Asian/Polynesian dude for a couple of years. His name is specifically racist, a soldier's reference to the natives whose soil the USA fought upon in the early 1950s. As this is an all-inclusive website, we'll refrain from naming the figurehead, but it is appropriate that it was claimed by Mother Ocean as one her numerous accepted offerings. Someone in a deep crevasse of the Atlantic on a watery shelf next to seventeen pairs of OB's Raybans sits Craig's unnamed figurehead (begins with a G, rhymes with kook; didn't write it, family audience) still kayaks beneath his long ropy hair.

Patrick boasts Shaft, a wooden fish-head in the design of a cutting board. Shaft has the longest history of the trip icons, I believe, for Shaft has a shady past as the lamp-shade-wearer at many a collegiate keg-fest in Patrick's heavy drinking days which have not yet officially ended, and God bless him for that. Shaft patiently oversees everything on Patrick's single, correctly giving him advice on where to and where not to set up his tent.

Jeff brought along a snake this year, presumably from either a Mississippi dollar store or dug up in the muddy remains of his Hurricane Katrina ravaged home. Or both? I'm not sure when Jeff started bringing the snake (who's name we later learned was "Skip"). He's closed-mouthed about it, an entirely unlike-Jeff trait, so I wonder... Anyway, all this observer can say about the snake is that every time I said, "Nice snake" a steely-eyed Heffé would sneer, "It's a serpent."

So once again, we embarked on this quasi-madness from Miami on a Saturday morning. By the following Friday and some 150 nautical miles later, we landed scarred and bruised in Key West. Here's just a bit of the details.


The Journey...

Eight boats and ten paddlers, the largest CAC contingent by far, rowed away from Hobie Beach just off the Key Biscayne Bridge. A send-off prayer from Father Liam Quinn set the pace. We paddled out past Virginia Key, along past Cape Florida and into the open water beyond Stiltsville towards Soldier Key. After lunch we continued through open water to the Ragged Keys and then along the long skinny island of Elliott Key. Along the way we saw a sting-ray shoot up, arc at ten feet, and dive back down, its tail doing a squiggly jig against the sky. Chad's boss Greg along with his wife Tammy were waiting for us at the Elliott Key National Park Marina with sausage to barbeque and a cooler of beer. The evening was pleasant under a cool breeze. We planned the reading of the names for the wreath ceremony, and then Patrick told a humorous story to the circle of filled camp chairs about his recent enrollment at a health club. We all signed his Next of Kin form. OB had a shot of Cosmonaut Vodka bottled in Clewiston, Florida, and commented that it tasted like "fermented rope."

A day of two pleasant surprises. One: the morning mosquitoes on Elliott Key, usually hording and chanting about our tents like Mongols at the Great Wall of China, were thin in ranks. The usual Keystone Kops break-down of camp went smooth and orderly. And, two: the nighttime murderous bugs of Short Key were also in a mood to just mildly injure. During the enormously long row through the heart of Card Sound, I came upon a two-foot light gray nurse shark feeding in sea-grass. The water was shallow enough for its dorsal fin to flop about. I had a good bead on it, so I was able to drift up near without spooking it. For a solid two minutes I lightly paddled and followed it along as it swam and fed only a yard or so away for from my kayak, its white eye seemingly keeping a wary watch on me.
At Alabama Jacks, Sandy, our first ever female rower, Craig, and his friend Dave, left the journey, leaving us with seven paddlers on five boats. Later, with camp set up on Short Key, we watched a sunset worthy of the colors splashed across the kids' movie The Lion King. Mufasa would have been proud. Before turning in, Greg, Jeff's brother-in-law and rookie paddler, tried to teach Jeff and me the Electric Slide. Much splashing and laughing, but little dancing and learning.

We somehow had appeased the mosquito gods, for again we escaped an island known for desperately hungry bugs without losing much flesh or blood. We paddled out into Barnes Sound counting that as a serious blessing and started looking for the payback. It would come in the form of a brutally long afternoon row. We all, especially me, felt the four o'clock blues. Since my treatments last year, my cardio exercise has been limited and I began to feel it along the inside bay in southern Key Largo. I would lag behind, trailing equipment as we approached Snake Creek. Before the pain though, at nine that morning, we stopped in at Florida Bay Outfitters, one of our main benefactors. Monica had café con leches for the team. She began a kayaking camp for some youngsters and they came over to check our packed up boats. We saw dolphin rolling silently through Blackwater Sound. As we humped across Tarpon Basin, we could see over on the Atlantic side, three water spouts form, funneling right down out of the sky in dancing dark-blue strings. We kept a watch on them for fifteen minutes or so until they touched upon the opposite coast and zipped back up like sink-water when the faucet is turned off. Later, we happily discovered that our CAC toilet seat, created and installed by Jeff last summer before the parade of hurricanes, still stood in the channel near Tavernier Creek.


That evening Chad's mom and our boss at Columbus High School, Brother Patrick McNamara, treated the team to a nice meal. We stayed at Holiday Isle, another of our sponsors, our first hotel of the trip.

Paddling out on 06-06-06, we gave a wink to Beelzebub and looked forward to our annual mid-way-point-of-the-trip brunch at the Hungry Tarpon. I saw that morning what must have been a seven to eight foot nurse shark. It was off Upper Matecumbe in about six feet of water. A dark grey specimen, it unfurled itself just as I came over it and it stretched from the nose of my boat back to my rear hatch. Definitely a nurse shark and definitely huge for its species. That afternoon, as we approached the dreaded Long Key Viaduct, known for its deep water and unrelenting currents and waves, OB said, "Long Key, where ambition goes to die." At the tip of the island, shaped like an overturned "L", I found a bed of perfect, untouched sea biscuits, long ago abandoned by their occupants. I picked one, delicately placed it on a safe spot on my rear hatch, amid the spare life-vest and paddle, and hoped I could get it all the way to Key West without breaking it so I could give it to my wife. Since this is not a story hinging on suspense, I can say here that the sea biscuit made it without a scratch.


The Long Key Viaduct was its normal challenge but Poseidon held off on the trickery and didn't throw a squall at us. Still, Duck Key was a welcome sight, even though just before it, OB and Greg almost were capsized by the obnoxious captain of a parasailing boat. (That foolishness is rivaled only by the idiocy of Jet-Skiing as the complete antithesis of kayaking.)
We stayed at a new sponsor that night, The Yellow Tail Inn, on Grassy Key. We had excellent accommodations. A half-mile walk up US1 brought us to The Wreck, a sports bar, where we dined and tested the depths of their beer pitchers.

Early into the morning wake-up paddle, Patrick, in mid-story, so not aware of approaching danger, was completely startled when a spooked sting ray zoomed across our bows and slammed into his kayak on our far right. The ray hit him with a dull thump whereupon he yelped, jumped, and almost dropped his paddle. He asked the appropriate question complete with obscenities and we filled him in. We breakfasted on Sombrero Beach on Marathon. Bill Pacetti, the manager of a Publix in Miami, was hoping to meet us with supplies, but a car wreck on Plantation Key kept him from getting there. So he called Nancy Bean, the manager of the Publix in Marathon, and she drove out to the beach with bags of food, drink, and ice for us. Then, we made the crossing of the Seven Mile Bridge. The current was across our bows, so as we rowed towards the Molasses Keys, we had to tack out into some tall waves so we didn't get too far off course. It was an arduous bowel-churning crossing, but by one p.m. we had made landfall and our home for the evening, Bahia Honda State Park, was already visible in the far distance. We enjoyed a sunny, beachy, sitting-in-the-cool-water break for two hours.
Later at our camp-site, after some hefty slices of pizza, Jeff observed, "How come when I'm in the boat the air is hot and the water's cold, but when I'm in the ocean the air is cold and the water's hot?"

On this day, we passed over some of my favorite waters. Off the Newfound Harbor Keys is water teeming with life. It never fails that we see nurse sharks, bonnet head sharks, and tarpon. And this year was no exception; we even saw a small black tip shark enjoying a morning forage. An approaching storm kept us from enjoying a close up view of Little Palm Island as we paddled on a direct line towards Lois Key/Loggerhead Key/Monkey Island (its name depends on what map you look at or what local you talk to). We did outrun the storm and the sometimes nasty open waters south of Ramrod and Summerland Keys weren't so bad. We lunched in the island's shallow waters where a small bonnet head shark made a fleeting guest appearance. On the west side of the island as we paddled towards Sugarloaf, we saw numerous black tip sharks, all of them rather large and toothy looking.

Our dealing with the Pineapple Coast took a new approach this trip. Instead of plodding along the bottom rail of endless mangroves and monotony through the long burning afternoon watching each other for signs of insanity, we entered the belly of the beast itself. A channel cuts through to the inner waters of Sugarloaf and we needed to take this to find our new destination. We found the small cut in the brambly mangroves, and, with deep breaths all around, we entered. Weirdness ensued. The channel cut back and forth all over itself like a drunken snake tied in a slipknot. Currents converged and diverged like stairs in an Escher painting, so that despite amble distance, careful maneuvering and exquisite oar-handling, we bumped and rammed each other like besotted circus clowns.
And now that I've mentioned besotted circus clowns, a certain member of the team, me, applied the grease-paint upon arrival at the Sugarloaf Lodge, a new sponsor, in the form of immediate and frequently refilled rum runners at the bar close to the docks. My memory becomes fuzzy like TV static here.

Due to my own shenanigans, the final day of paddling dawned with head-busting pain. Skipping the gross details, I begged the Skipper permission for me to try paddling anyway. He nodded through tightened lips. I was determined to make the trip all the way to the end in my own boat. After what I went through last year, no hangover was going to keep me from this goal. About eight that morning, Patrick did a live-on-the-air-cell-phone-from-the-boat interview with a local radio station in Key West. While he talked, I lolled and moaned in the cockpit. From push-off until about 11am, I paid the price for the previous evening's revels. But I knew by then that I'd make it.

And at 2 pm, we did. We landed at our long time sponsor, the Casa Marina Marriott in Key West, to the cheers of family members and the ACS Chapter of the Lower Keys who gave us word that our efforts in fund-raising had accumulated over $30,000 this year.


You've read the story.. now see the Pictures!

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