Trip Reports

The Castaways Thirteenth Annual Adventure
by Jeff & Adam

The Things You Pack...

Every year I have this recurring nightmare, it's a little different every time, but it always involves the day of launch and I am missing some vital piece of gear... food, clothing, paddle, or boat. Never fails. I know it's time to start getting ready physically for this trip when I start to lose my mind again. And just to clarify, our trip is in June and the first appearance of this nightmare is in February.

This was a year of firsts, a year of changes, and will truly be remembered for the incredible weather and wind to our backs with which we were blessed. My trip started two weeks earlier - and a bit differently than usual. I am one of the team members that lives out of state, in Mississippi. I had been sorting out my plans for my journey to Florida and was days away from our first Gulf Coast Castaways Benefit when I was unceremoniously laid off from my job. I thought it was the end of the world, but my family and friends kept me together. I needed this trip, I needed to center myself. I had it easy though... it was just a job. It didn't define who I was. There were others on the team with greater burdens.

The nightmares fade as the days draw closer. Little pieces fall into place and everything comes together. Some of us are a little more extreme than others. I knew I had some sort of a problem when I was weighing the difference between my razors and which bar of soap I should carry. I've become OB. Nothing left but to start drilling holes in my toothbrush.

But on this trip... There are things you pack, and things you carry with you.

A properly chosen lyric is featured on our team shirt:

"We are alive.
And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark,
our spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark,
to stand shoulder to shoulder, and heart to heart."

- Bruce Springsteen

PRE LAUNCH - Everything Before

  • Our year of fundraising started with a new initiative. Concerned with the potential loss of a long time supporter of the team, we initiated multiple pre-trip benefits. One in the Keys assembled by Patrick (our Captain) and Mike (of the Gulf View Resort). Another was held in Mississippi by myself and Heath "Creak" who had to miss the trip. Another was in Miami, organized by Patrick's niece Amanda. And two more Celebrity Bartending events with Robbie and Stephen - Discovery Channel's Swamp Brothers. All events proved to be very successful.
  • The team arrives in Miami and we meet at Eric's house for another fantastic Launch Party. Patrick shares with the team that we have officially broken our goal of $50,000!
  • The Misspelled Benefactor: En route to pick up boats from Florida Bay Outfitters we receive word that Jim Frigo's name is spelled wrong on the team shirts: Firgo. This information came to us from... Jim Frigo. *hand to forehead*
  • Our final team meeting before the trip tomorrow. OB stresses the use of our whistles and staying together. Pete runs through the proper methodology for performing a T-rescue. The Rookie, Scott, arrives 30 minutes late, Greg arrives from Orlando and delivers the Advocare donations. Everyone but Carl is in attendance. Who the heck is Carl?
  • It's 2 AM and I can't sleep. I'm sure OB and Pete are wide awake too. (They were.)

DAY ONE - Virginia Key to Elliott Key

  • Launch Day.
  • I woke at 4:30 AM and can't see Robbie from the couch - I thought he was in the bathroom. Turns out he got locked out at 3 AM and couldn't wake us up so he slept in the van. I figured I would wait a few hours before referring to it as being hilarious.
  • Stephen "Cameo" has started to doubt his sanity for coming back for a second trip. He was nicknamed Cameo due to his adamant "One and Done" stance he claimed last year. Mystery of Kayaking, indeed.
  • Slightly overcast, but no weather threatens. Last check on weather claims the wind will be to our backs. We know to not speak of these things aloud.
  • Robbie, Stephen, Greg, and I arrive at the beach at 6:30 AM. We were led to believe the gate would not be open until 6:30, but just about everyone has been here since 6. I just love being late to the launch.

  • Everyone is packed except the Rookie, Scott, already nicknamed "Delay" or "Pacific Time" since he seems to be a few hours behind us every step of the way. Eric "Vino" dives in to help get his act together.
  • Inspirational speeches by Patrick and Chris Tart. Chris, of Hope Floats NC - a sister kayak team to the Castaways - joined us courtesy of cellphone. Chris tells the team that "you have a debt to pay - not to those who gave you the money, it's to the those that have battled cancer, those who have survived, and those we've lost."
  • Twelve boats and 13 paddlers push off from Virgina Key! We are joined by Lou de la Aguilera and Daniel of TotalBank pushing a Sit-on-Top. Lou helped raise over $10,000 for the team this year. Incredible!
  • Robbie gets good video of the team as we pass under Bear Cut Bridge. That'll look nice in the 2012 tripumentary. Robbie is acting road crew for 2012 due to a job related injury. Not many can claim "Alligator attack" as a job related injury, but he can.
  • Less than two hours into the trip, and the first shot is taken at Bob from OB - "Oh that would be great in Bob's next book, except he's NOT here!"
  • Uncle Lou and Daniel of TotalBank end their journey with the team at Key Biscayne. True to form, the Rookie flips over trying to get back in his boat, earning him the right to buy the first round of drinks at Rumrunners at Holiday Isle. Back on the water we are now eleven solo kayaks.
  • We pass close to the Cape Florida Lighthouse - closest we've come to it in years, and three years since I paddled passed it.
  • Slight detour to Stiltsville for Anthony. We stop to honor his father who lost his battle to cancer and to spread his ashes. Very surreal and quiet moment. We fight back the tears and push onward.
  • Crystal clear water, lots of critters, and the tide is rising on the Safety Valve - this is good news for crossing the shallows after Soldier Key.
  • OB, Stephen, and Eric are rocking "Pineapple Pickers".

  • Found a new spot for lunch at Soldier. Second shot at Bob by OB - "The chapters in Bob's book should only be odd numbers because he misses every other year!" Pure brilliance.
  • The Rookie 'confessed' that his fancy watch runs about 20 minutes fast. How ironic.
  • Before the turn to Sand Key Cut, picked up a few mangrove seeds to grow at home. Hopefully with better luck this time.
  • Sand Key Cut is a typical cluster of revelers. We get the typical "how did you get here" looks.

  • Arrived at Elliott Key, instantly mauled by mosquitoes - rookie mistake. Pete helped me move my boat up and we got too close to the mangroves. Hid in the water until everyone else showed up.
  • Carter, Uncle Lou, Joe and Road Crew Robbie arrive on Elliott! They bring much needed and appreciated relief supplies. Some former Columbus students arrive sharing sandwiches and ice... the students depart because they have tickets to the Heat game which starts in 30 minutes. I think they'll be late.
  • Vino helped Lou assemble a huge anti-mosquito canopy tent so the team can eat on the picnic table in peace... Vino is inspired to hand over his personal tent to Robbie and hang on to the pavilion to sleep in for the night while listening to the Heat game (who we later learned won by 12). OB reads Eric his last rites.
  • 24 miles down.

DAY TWO - Elliott Key to Key Largo

  • Peace talks with mosquitoes on Elliott Key have failed. Time to take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
  • Rookie Mistake of 2012: Scott informs us that he decided to use his pee bottle to spit out his tooth brushings this morning and nearly killed himself.
  • Tow Rope revisited - Craig gets a mile pull by Diesel and his girlfriend.
  • Card Sound Point - home of the Turkey Point Tourniquet - OB drops his phone in the water. If you're counting, that makes ten radios and one cell phone in 13 years.
  • Robbie and OB's family meet the team at Alabama Jacks - Patrick goes for a non-fried option for the first time in 13 years.
  • Annual Barnes Sound kick in the teeth. Morale buster indeed. 6.2 miles of slop and chop.
  • Ran into old friends, Ryan and Melissa Decker on the water.
  • A trio of Boat Ninjas sighted piloting a huge racing boat in Jewfish Creek.
  • Skipped our annual stop at Gilberts beach - way too many people crowding our spot and the jet ski guy threw plenty of grief our way. To make matters worse, a Park Ranger nearly killed us by throwing his boat into full throttle in a swimming area and 5 feet from our boats - spun Delay around and flipped Cameo.
  • Last push across Blackwater Sound - Road Crew Robbie meets the team on the water by way of Jet Ski - His brother, Stephen, remarks, "Poor Robbie. He's having such a terrible time."

  • We reassure Cameo that the worst is behind him... if you don't consider the 110 miles of pain ahead of you.
  • The team demolishes pizza by the Marriott pool before we crash.
  • Patrick, Eric, Anthony and I are made to sleep in the Snore Room. I honestly think the sheets are made from aluminum foil they are so loud. Ironically, nobody snores.
  • 27 mile day, 50 miles complete.

DAY THREE - Key Largo to Windley Key

  • What an amazing day!
  • "Scott you ready to go?" asks Patrick. "All set! I just need to pack my boat."
  • Morning push off delayed three hours - and it isn't Scott's fault. But he'll make up for it later. Pete performs a full rudder cable replacement on Craig's boat.
  • OB and Patrick head to Florida Bay Outfitters to meet our Guest Paddler. We were joined by JD the DJ from Radio Margaritaville.
  • While waiting for the team to finally get in the water, I hoisted my paddle up and actually 'sailed' across half of Blackwater Sound.

  • The Rookie tries surfing, takes a wave wrong and ends white side up. How many Castaways does it take to perform a T-rescue? Three apparently. The Rookie learns that the best kind of paddle leash is the one actually attached to your paddle, and the rest learn that 1) the whistles are basically useless, and 2) not many were listening to Pete during his safety briefing.

  • We all meet up at the mouth of Dusenbury Channel before making our way into the Grottos... and JD takes a tumble! Pete shows the team the fast way to perform a one man T-rescue.
  • The Grottos are a peaceful tunnel of mangroves, and always breathtaking. I managed to get ahead of the team to film the serenity. Close to the exit I pulled aside to film the team as they passed. Right about then I became a delicious snack for about a half million mosquitoes.
  • In Buttonwood Sound, I catch a wave that launches me a solid 100 feet in seconds. The rest of the team is in the same groove.
  • The push to our Salty Piece of Land goes quick, and we're greeted by a pod of 5-7 dolphin. The team breaks and I go after Team Flipper. It is an amazing moment being so close to these creatures. It crosses my mind that I should really stop to go eat and rest. What a terrible thought...
  • The wind is whipping so hard that I wasn't paying attention, nearly lost my boat while trying to anchor for lunch, and snapped my paddle leash. Wild.
  • The Toilet Seat survives despite credible reports they all were gone! The team rejoices.
  • Made incredible time from Buttonwood to Snake Creek. Averaging 6 knots with the wind at our backs. Robbie meets us at Snake Creek - "You guys are hauling!"
  • We arrive at Rumrunner Beach and the newly named Postcard Inn Resort in record time despite our massive morning delay. Stephen comes up with a great idea to attach his camera to Pete's boat to film a world famous roll - I have hooked another cameraman!
  • The Rookie raises an eyebrow when he learns that a) we weren't kidding about buying the first round, and b) he has to do the team's laundry. Needless to say, some members of the team pitched in to help and I learn the hard way that OB's laundry bag stinks.
  • Anthony "Hebrew" is concerned of some wrist pain...
  • 21 mile day, 71 miles complete.

DAY FOUR - Windley Key to Grassy Key

  • Always tough to get going on this morning. The days of muscle tearing without significant recovery takes its toll. But it's nothing that a good hour of paddling can't fix.
  • Hebrew has a small alien attempting to hatch out of his arm. The situation is in doubt, but he boldly presses on.
  • OB and Patrick pass Bud n' Mary's for the 13th time.
  • Great video through the Tea Table Slaloms, as suggested by Hebrew.
  • Fantastic brunch at Hungry Tarpon - OB tries to pull a fast one on the Rookie by pulling the "Waitress/Name" Bit from 2002. Shockingly, the Rookie has read Bob's book.
  • The Swamp Brothers do their thing and battle the tarpon! This year, Stephen cleverly brings Kevlar gloves.
  • The Captain claims he would kiss a man in public to meet Jimmy Buffett.
  • The Viceroy pranks Cameo with a little help from myself - OB ties a line on Cameo's stern and lets the kid drag the old man a few hundred yards.

  • Picture perfect break at Anne's Beach.
  • Rays and sharks spotted in the shallows.
  • More surfing from Fiesta Key to the Long Key Viaduct - making excellent time.
  • Pushed past Pete's Patch to check out a new spot on the LKV: The Pools.
  • Departing the Pools, came across a half dozen turtles! Amazing sea life this year.
  • Robbie and Mike Horvat meet the team on the water to help cure our 4 o'clock blues.
  • Arrival at the Gulf View Resort! Mike, Stephanie, and the boys, Casey and Jack, are wonderful hosts. We all hang out at the pool before cleaning up to try a new restaurant called Sparky's. The Wreck is officially off the CAC list.

  • The Swamp Van has a bucket of live scorpions in it. "You're safe to sit on the bucket. Just don't open it." Robbie says.
  • Greg packs up his gear - this is the last stop for Rainman. The real world snatches him back.
  • 26 mile day, 97 miles complete.

For Bob

DAY FIVE - Grassy Key to Bahia Honda

  • Greg and Robbie see the team off before Greg hits the road for Orlando.

  • For the first time in days, the wind is not strong. In fact, it's blowing at our backs at about 3-4 knots - the same speed we're paddling. In effect leaving us with zero breeze and the oven on broil.
  • Recon discusses the mystery of Sticky Skinny Water - why we go slow in the shallows. Real or imagined? I know there is physics and oceanography in there, but my core is overtemp.
  • "It's so hot! Milk was a bad choice!" - Everyone but Vino laughs.
  • The dreaded Vaca Cut - known for the fastest current in all of the Keys - is flowing with us for the first time ever. We celebrate by not paddling and enjoying the ride.
  • Huge shark passed between me and Vino. We share the "Did you see that?" glare.
  • Hebrew's hurting pretty bad, but makes it to Sombrero Beach.
  • Robbie meets the team at the beach with fried chicken! Unfortunately, it's after most of us have eaten, but the meal does not go to waste.
  • A local decides to show the team how to feed a newborn at the beach. As we depart, Vino receives a proper telling-to that we're not supposed to land our boats where we did. We'll need to sort this one for the future.
  • Cameo cranks up "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" as we prepare to cross the Seven Mile Bridge. A song, which details the sinking of a ship with all hands lost. Lovely choice.
  • "Hydrate you morons!" - so sayeth the Viceroy.
  • For the first time in many years the team crosses the 7-mile Bridge as a solid group. And for the first time in many years, it wasn't incredibly boring. However, we did have to say away from Craig who was trying to earn back his Pylon King title.

  • The tide is heading out at Molasses Key so we move our break spot away from the shade of the mangroves and to the deeper cool waters just outside of the flats.
  • I meet a group of Texas Aggies in the shallows - we're everywhere. Adam plays a numbers game and loses. It's hard to leave this long and well deserved break.
  • Molasses Key Richard Dawson Revelations:
    - September is not when pregnant women start to show.
    - Alligator is not an animal with three letters in its name.
    - And snow does not come with a summer storm.
    - "Show me Alligator!!"
  • We land on the ocean side of Bahia Honda State Park for the first time since 2005. We are met on the beach by Robbie in the Swamp Van, Jose in a Fire Rescue truck which is part of the Firefighter Cancer Support Center, and the Seminole RV with Nancy and John.

  • Our lodging was supposed to be on Bahia Honda (long time sponsors), but a last minute invite by Mike Lawrence to stay at his townhouses at Tortuga Beach Club was a welcome substitute to camping.
  • Chipmunk sighting by the Captain, but we think it's just the heat.
  • Pedro and Maria Almeida grace the team again with an unbelievable meal.
  • 24 mile day, 121 miles complete.

DAY SIX - Bahia Honda to Sugarloaf Key

  • 8am and it's already a scorcher.
  • My rudder is totally jacked. In a moment of stupidity last year I forgot to pull the rudder blade up at Hungry Tarpon. I backed my boat out, rudder stuck in the mud, and bent the aluminum tiller plate hard. Looks terrible, but still works - sort of. At least I can turn left.
  • For the first time in years we do not pass under the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. You wouldn't think an old crusty bridge as a thing of beauty, but this one is truly remarkable. The history of the Overseas Railroad and Highway is intriguing. The remains of the Bridge always warm my soul as we cross the deepest water of the Keys.

  • Holy Krishna! Little Palm Island Resort welcomed us back to provide an amazing lunch. Again we are the Gypsies in the Palace. Linda takes good care of us.
  • It has just dawned on me that Pete has been calling Craig "Carl" for days.
  • As we depart the oasis, we follow Recon's GPS line towards Tarpon Creek. However, we notice there is a boat in the shallows and people in the water trying to push it... South Floridians call these people Pirate Bait. I could imagine the boater's concern when they finally looked up to see ten boats coming at them from nearly all directions. At 2pm and low tide going out, they were in it deep and wouldn't have figured out how to get out until the tide came back in. We left them free, but they were doing their best to ruin their engine as they zag-zigged like a drunken snail across the flats with a rooster tail of water out the back. Some people you just can't help.

  • We determine that Vino has not seen Jaws, The Godfather, or Caddyshack. However, he claims to have seen.... well nothing.
  • A week of tides and wind our way, and Tarpon Creek is still 5 knots strong against us. What gives?! As we leave our break at the burned out bridge, I decide to try and take out Hebrew with my boat. It was either that, or go over.

  • Vino and Recon tow the Captain as he does an on-air live radio interview. The rest of the team trails behind and listens to it on OB's radio.
  • A triumphant arrival at Sugar Loaf Lodge and the Tiki Bar! Our hosts tell of some concerns about the new restaurant, so we eat at the Tiki Bar. Irish Kevin joins the team and buys a round. He is a local celebrity of Key West, and a huge fan of the Castaways.
  • 20 mile day, 141 miles complete.

DAY SEVEN - Sugarloaf to Key West

  • Outstanding hot coffee and breakfast goodies delivered by my wife, courtesy of Baby's Coffee!
  • Stephen introduces me to an English indie rock band, Doves. Ironically, it's a song called "Ship of Fools" that catches my attention.
  • I chase a second pod of dolphin for about 10 minutes, cresting mere inches from my bow. One sighting like this during the trip is amazing, but two is a true blessing.
  • In the back waters of the Pineapple Coast it's easy to get turned around: The Viceroy goes AWOL! Pete and Adam issue a Silver Alert - Pete throttles up to catch OB. Fearing a problem, a few more of us go after in the even Pete needs assistance. Turns out OB's fine and he claims: "Man I was just really in a groove."
  • Lots of bonnet heads in the shallows as we turn in to Cow Key Channel.
  • Very few boats left in Davey Jones' Locker...
  • We arrive at Castaways Bar - chaos ensues. A ten minute search for the "best spot" splinters the team. Factions arise, traitors show their true colors, double agents are exposed, resources are stolen, talks engage, and the civil war ends.
  • Talk of last year's escort to Key West by the Conch Republic Navy's Flagship WOLF draws my favorite movie quote of the trip from Stephen: "You're sending The Wolf?? Sheez... That's all you had to say!"
  • Four members of Lazy Dog Stand Up Paddlers meet the team on the water. Two of which paddled nearly all the way from Higgs Beach to Castaways Bar.

  • Conch Republic Air Force flies overhead as we paddled up to the White Street Pier.
  • The team takes formation and comes in together. 19 mile day... 160 miles complete!!

  • Dozens of friends, family, and even the Mayor of Key West meet the team at the beach - a spectacular landing! Carrie Helliesen outdoes herself making sure the team is cared for and welcome.

DAY EIGHT & NINE - Everything After

  • The Castaways make the Key West Citizen again! Sorry, not the front page, but we're there. The Rookie took center stage and got right in front of Mike Hentz to be the 2012 face of the Castaways. We all enjoyed being back in Key West - each of us sampling our favorite establishments, such as Blue Heaven for a phenomenal lobster omelets, Finnegan's Wake - purveyors of fine spirits.
  • The annual ACS "Awards Ceremony" was held at the Florida Eco Discovery Center. There was a silent auction which a few members of the team got a hold of some exciting prizes. Carrie and Pam Kessler, the RFL Chair, introduced the team and invited Patrick to the front. They showed our 2011 Tripumentary which many of the attendees had not actually seen. It's quite humbling to see so many speak so highly of something I created. Our team was honored with Star Supporter shirts, and medals.

  • Patrick honors the spouses of the team that are present and recognizes each of the team. I present OB with a new and improved Castaways Toilet Seat - when Jay heard that the other was possibly missing, he immediately asked when I was sending him a new one to paint. To Patrick, I present an artsy picture to canvas print of the CRN WOLF escorting the team into Key West. The man raised over $11,000 for the ACS this year - more than anyone in ALL of South Florida.

  • In addition to the thanks from the ACS, we were honored with the presence of Rear Admiral Grosscup and other high ranking members of the Conch Republic Navy who presented us with several of their rare and coveted Conch Republic 30th Anniversary Pins. It's always a privilege to be in the Great Republic!
Following the Awards, the team gathered outside along the Port of Key West docks as the sun began setting for our Honor Ceremony. We read through the names of those we honor with this trip. This part of the trip has become a little more emotional and difficult for me each year with the people I've lost. We each have our own reason we do this trip. We all have names that hurt more than others. Some that even bring joy. Because, on this trip, there are things you pack, and things you carry with you.

Choose to carry hope, and leave your burdens behind.

"Oh how it pleases me
to be in such company
and I am so glad our paths have crossed.
I hope that I will see you soon.
Iíll be home come hell or high water.
and I know I will see you soon."
- William Elliott Whitmore

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