Yesterday's paddle on the Lower Suwannee had ended with a bright sky. Today was heavily overcast with some rain clouds around. I paddled out the small creek with a strong tidal current wisking me past large beds of sharp oysters. I winced as I was swept over a shallow looking bed of the little razor blades, hoping that the half tide was deep enough to get me over the unseen and now unavoidable hazard. I backpaddled to make the passage a little slower but I am not sure if it would have done any good. Fortunately I cleared the bar without grinding or grounding, and I headed for what I hoped would be deeper water.
I spent the previous night bivouacked in my van in back of a polling place south of Cross City. I was rolling down CR 351 as the sun rose. Turning south onto CR 357 I was soon driving down the lonely road through the marsh. The only marks of civilization were a few gates announcing the private nature of the hunting clubs that claimed rights to this otherwise unused area. I located a small dirt road on the right with a boat ramp launch sign to Fishbone launch ramp. At the end of the road was a small observation platform looking over the marsh and a beach for launching trailered small boats. I unstrapped the kayak from the roof amid an assault by no-see-ums and loaded up water and lunch for a day paddle down to Shired Island.
Once out to the mouth of the creek, the water became even shallower. I knew that much of the Big Bend portion of Florida's Nature Coast is very shallow. I suspect that much of what I was now just going over might be dry at low tide. The effects of bottom drag were very apparent on the speed at which my barely wet paddle could drive the kayak. I headed out to the open gulf where I hoped I would find deeper water. It was at least a mile over and around various shallow bars and oyster reefs before I found water greater than 2 feet in depth. When I finally reached decent paddling depth I turned south toward Shired Island and Big Pine Key. A dark cloud was dumping some rain down there.
I wandered around the beach, entertaining myself with investigating things that had washed up on the beach. I was waiting for the tide to come back in so I could investigate the creeks and paddle into Shired Island. I went over to check out the oyster bars along the creek on the north side of the island. There was a nice little beach with deep water ( 8 feet just off the beach) and some sand that had blown up under the trees. It was a great spot for a camp site except for a sign reminding one that camping on these islands is illegal.
I paddled past Shired Island and headed for a long white beach on the next solid land down from there, Big Pine Key. I pulled up to a wide beach that sported a number of small patches of oysters exposed in the nearly complete ebb of the tide. I had to walk the boat in the last 50 meters or so because there was no water. The bottom was hard sand probably from all the oysters in the region. I carried the boat up to the beach to a position that the water would not reach for several hours and began to explore the beach. Fog rolled in from the Gulf. It condensed on the palms, sea grape and pine trees that lined the shore, and then fell like rain drops under the crown of foliage. It was raining under the trees and not out in the open - the opposite of the usual case.
The oysters were in loose clusters growing one on top of another. They were small with very thin shells, unlike the very robust shells of the native oyster of the Chesapeake Bay. I pulled several off of a cluster. I didn't have my oyster knife with me, but whacking the edge of the oysters together left a small slit in the shells through which I could insert the blade of my pocket knife to open the oyster. Soon I had grabbed the thick end of a palm frond and was whacking away at the edges on other oysters and doing them in one at a time with my 2 inch blade. Opening these salty little oysters was a breeze compared to the heavy shells of the oyster of Maryland and Virginia. I ate about 3 dozen of the little goodies before returning to the kayak to wash them down with some water.
By now the tide had come in some and I paddled a ways up the creek on the north end that I had walked along earlier. I did not get very far however as I was soon intimidated by the beds of oysters and the current that enticed my kayak to a slicing on the sharp edges of the barely covered shells. I paddled out of the creek and back out to deeper water. I headed north again and paddled into the beach at Shired Island where the small campground facility is located. The water here is not potable so you need to bring whatever you will need for drinking from the town about 20 miles away. There is an outside shower and primitive bathrooms, barbecue facilities and tables under gazebos. The beach allows for tenting. The launching beach is certainly "right at your door step" if you camp here. Bring insect repellant as the no-see-ums were bad here.