FL - Florida Keys - 2004/03/07 - Content Keys - 23.0 miles



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Kayaking to the Content Keys deep in the great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge on a windy day provided a 23 mile adventure into the tropical mangroves of the Florida keys flats. We saw sponges, sharks, skates and rays in the turquoise water.




The previous day we had waited on the wind with a day of tourist activity. Today we were determined to get back on the water, even though the wind was still strong from the southeast, as it had been for most of the week. With a forecast of winds to 20 knots, we knew that our plans to get out on the reef would have to wait. A day back in the interior of the Great White Heron refuge on the shallow water of the flats would be the best use of this windy day. In the shallow 6 inch deep water, it would be impossible to generate any waves. We would just have to battle the pressure of the wind.

We headed out the long road to the north end of Big Torch Key to a launch site at the very end of the road. The entrance onto the road off the main U.S. 1 highway is on the very narrow Little Torch Key that lies south of the bigger island. The road goes up the center of both islands, making repeated left and right 90 degree turns as it works its way north and west into the undeveloped area of the back-country. The road finally turns south and dead ends. Parking is off the side of the road. A small foot path heads out through the young mangroves to a very shallow channel and a pond surrounded by mature mangroves. The exit from the pond, a small cut in the overhanging mangrove branches, is hidden from the shore. The footing over the pockmarked limestone is slippery, whether the tide covers most of the path with water or when the muddy rocks are exposed by a low tide. Entry and exit will be difficult or even impossible at dead low water.




We launched one at a time in the narrow channel and pulled into the pond. Jellyfish standing on their heads with their tentacles waving upward covered the bottom of the pool. We exited between the mangroves to the wide but extremely shallow shelf between Big Torch and Toptree Hammock Key. There is a deep channel in the middle of the passage, but we stayed in the shallow water and headed for some small keys to the northwest. Our eventual destination for the day was the Content Keys to the north of Big Torch Key. (Page 137 in Sea Kayaking in the Florida Keys by Bruce Wachob).

The orientation of the keys is northwest to southeast and I always feel that I am going more northerly than I actually am when paddling in the back-country here.

The shallow water forced us to wander around among the small keys, seeking slightly deeper channels among the sponges and hard corrals covering the bottom. The strong wind pushed us along and rippled the water surface, making viewing the bottom vegetation difficult.




We turned north, partially shielded from the wind behind the north end of Big Torch Key. We passed by a small island where pelicans roosted on the southern end. White guano covered the dark green leaves of the mangroves.




On the northern end of the island were huge black mangrove trees. Once much farther inland, their roots were now supporting them above the water like stilt houses as the island eroded into the bay. The massive knarled trunks gleamed white against the deep shadows under the thick canopy.

Leaving the island we headed out into the open bay. There Steve broke out his sail and coasted over the shallow flats, trailing a raft of paddlers eager to utilize the favorable winds.




The wind calmed with the sail up and we soon had furled it back up. We paddled across several shallow bars alternating with deep channels until we reached the Content Keys. This collection of small keys is on the edge of Florida Bay, the area between the Keys and the Everglades. On the edge of this deeper area, the water was much clearer and the colors of sea and sky seemed to brighten. I took several pictures out here, but unfortunately did not notice the water droplets on the waterproof camera. The LCD screen on the camera was not bright enough to notice the unfocused spots in the brilliant tropical sun.

We wandered among the mangrove trees and the contrasting colors of the channels in the Content Keys. Mangrove seeds hung from the branches, ready to drop off into the water beneath, floating to parts unknown in hopes of starting a new mangrove isle. We paddled about the keys, practicing Static leans, turns and generally messing about in our kayaks among the turquoise channels.




Battling the wind all the way back to our launch point we located the entrance to the small pond. The tide was a little lower than when we had launched and the entrance was almost dry. We had just enough water to get across the pond. We hauled the kayaks up the now completely dry channel, loaded them onto the trailer and returned to our camp at Bahia Honda. Now all that remained was a good dinner and another version of our favorite desert, Key Lime pie.



Arrival at Bahia Honda and circumnavigation

Day trip to Snipe Key

Rest day playing tourist on Islamorada and Bahia Honda Keys

Day trip to Content Keys

Day trip to Looe Key

1/2 Day trip at Bahia Honda

Day trip to Johnston Key

Day trip to Coupon Bight


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