|by Julio Perez and Hank McComas
Anticipating a long day, we had a good breakfast and prepared enough travel food to allow for paddling with few breaks. The plan was to continue north to the area near Alligator Pt. then head NW to avoid the shallow water between the keys and coast.
The morning sun rose into a clear sky. A light breeze blew off the shore. The mosquitos were there, but were not too bad. With a half tide we would not have much trouble leaving from the very shallow beach. A long line of egrets stood along the edge of the sand to both the north and the south of our camp, keeping a 100 foot safety distance from the strange visitors to their usually deserted fishing grounds. The pelicans and ibis that had made their way to the southern end of the beach were now dispersing to their respective hunting grounds. The pelicans headed out to deeper water along the coast while the ibis flew back into the interior to try their luck in the saw grass.
Paddling along the edge of the beach, the water was so shallow that we barely cleared the bottom. Our paddles scraped the bottom with every stroke. We passed by the picturesque campsite under some sable palms several hundred yards north of where we had camped. We didn't want to camp there because the mosquitos in the still interior were much worse than out on the open beach. It was very pretty, especially in the bright morning light.
The winds this morning remained light, blowing off the land. Puffy white clouds began to form as the day warmed. They drifted off the humid interior and on into the Gulf of Mexico where they dissipated. The shallows along the shore looked to be prime bone fish territory at the right tide. The sun glinted of the sand making a hypnotic pattern on the bottom. We stopped on a shallow bar to have lunch. There were no others in sight, not even any fishing boats.
We had also anticipated that the headwinds would continue but throughout the day winds were mild allowing us good progress and by the time we were closing on Alligator Pt. we had 10-15 mph winds pushing us toward the deeper water. The wind waves enticed us to surf a bit but with the boats loaded down like prize hogs it was not to be. The scattered islands between Seminole Pt. and Mormon Key were a nice change from the open bay crossing that we had recently completed. The shallows made approaching the islands a slow to impossible process. But the attempt was rewarded by idyllic scenes reminiscent of Gilligan’s Is.
On the way to Mormon Key we passed by New Turkey Key, another island that allows camping. This camp site was very pleasant with a nice high steep sided beach and deep water right off the shore. With a good breeze from the east, it would have been a great place to stop, but our permit was for Mormon Key and we could see another set of kayaks headed south, presumably for this campsite. So if you are staying in this area, pick New Turkey Key for your camp.
We rounded the point that allowed us to see the beach on Mormon Key at about 3:30PM. The landing was over a rough shore with many clam and conch shells. The beach is about 100 yards long and ends on mangrove on one side and coral on the other. The coral was sprinkled with remnants of an old processing plant and the numerous large Conch shells suggested what might have been the product 30-40 years ago.
Setting up camp was a leisurely process since we had the luxury of an early arrival. The site we chose for the tent showed evidence of recent raccoon visits so we took thorough precautions to safeguard our food and water. The sunset was not spectacular but we followed our tradition of sunset photography using the mangroves as foreground. As predicted the little vampires found us at dusk and chased us into the tent.
On to Day 5.........