|by Julio Perez and Hank McComas
This was an exciting day for us. Turning from the coast into the interior and exploring the real Everglades. Tonight would also be my first night in a chickee. This would also be a short day; about 15 miles including scenic detours.
Once again we enjoyed a bright nearly cloudless morning. We packed up on the north facing beach of Mormon Key with the tide at half flood. Many of the keys in this section of the Evergaldes are covered with large triton shells as was this one. We hurried our preparations as we wanted to catch as much of the favorabe tide up the Chatham river as we could.
We began later than usual and lazed up the Chatham River with the tide, stopping to look at the Watson’s Place ground site. Hank had previously mentioned that these ground sites could be very unpleasant because of the mosquitoes and he was right. The "well" here that had been mentioned by other campers was a breeding pool for mosquitoes, nothing more. So the water we were carrying was what we would have for the rest of the trip.
From Watson’s Place we continued NE about 1.5 miles and joined the Wilderness Waterway. We followed the marked route SE through Chevellier, Canon, Tarpon, Alligator and Dad’s Bays to arrive at the smaller Plate Creek Bay. The large red mangroves had closed around us. The impressive stands of the bright green foliage guarded both banks of the waterway, dropping their roots from high up to create new land that would eventually fill these passages.
Our camp for tonight would illustrate the difficulties of accessing a chickee from a fully loaded kayak. With the deck four feet over the water and no ladder the only way to access the chickee is to somehow pull yourself up to standing, tie off the boat so you don’t kick it away and climb up. Now you jut need to get your gear out of the boat then the boat up. Loading the boats and launching in the morning proved to be as much a challenge.
The chickee was next to mangrove so we burned mosquito coils to reduce their numbers and had a comfortable afternoon and good night sleep on a solid deck. All chickees incude a porta potty and one or two platforms to pitch a tent. Most, like Plate Creek are set tight against the mangroves so they are not as mosquito free as they could be if they were set out in the middle of the water where the native Seminoles placed their chickees. But the mangroves afford some protection from damage by strong winds so I suppose the Park Service will continue to place them near the mosquito havens in the mangroves.
While the platforms present no problems for those in motorboats and even those in canoes, getting up out of a closed kayak and onto the deck as much as a foot above your head can be tricky. For the last person up, a length of rope at the ready can be of assistance in steadying the kayak while pulling yourself up onto the deck. Standard support techniques used in open water can be used to get the all but the last person up on the platform.
On to Day 6 .....
We settled into our new home as the sun slipped quietly down behind the mangroves. Instead of a bright sunset as we had on Highland Beach, a purple reflaction off the water in front of the chickee made a memorable end to this day.