|by Julio Perez
This was the first of the real travel days during the trip. You know those days when regardless of the great scenery, it seems like you just paddled a long time. Mileage and moderate headwinds were some of the reasons but the two open crossings of Ponce de Leon Bay and the bay at the mouth of the Broad and Rodger’s Rivers also contributed to the long day feeling.
The section from Shark Pt. to Highland point shows numerous streams emptying from the interior. Several of these connect to the infamous section of the wilderness waterway simple known as ‘The Nightmare’. Within 2 miles of Highland Beach and destination in sight, we observed an impressive line of birds standing on shallow water. With water depth less than two feet and an approaching low tide we headed NW in hopes of locating a clean line of travel to the beach. Well, that was a fantasy. After about 1.5 hours of snaking around sand bars we arrived at the beach with just a moderate amount of paddling through silt and pelican poop.
Highland Beach is wide enough and long enough for dozens of campsites. There was evidence of the sugarcane plantation that was once been here. Exploration of this area would be very interesting but upon disturbing the grass we were savagely harassed by the mosquitoes and eventually ran for the refuge provided by the wind that we had earlier cursed.
During our stay at Highland Beach, we had two interesting encounters with power boats. As we arrived we noted a typical shallows boat anchored very close to the beach. We stopped and socialized; found out that the friend of the guy lounging on the boat was in the interior searching for a Ford model T engine that he had found in the plantation ruins 10 years prior. After a 15 minute chat the friend was seen walking toward us on the beach. He had obviously been here before because he was cover head to toe in mosquito protection. He was disappointed at having the overgrown trail cover much of the ruins that were once accessible. No Ford. We were offered the first cold drinks of the trip and thoroughly enjoyed them. With the two on board it was clear that they were not going nowhere. The boat was firmly planted on the silty bottom. We offered help to push them off but they wanted to use the horsepower (225) that they had paid for. Anchor up and engine revving, a 10-15 foot roster tail of silt and pelican poop for 10 minutes and they were off.
The second event was less amusing than bizarre. At about 8PM (It had been dark for 2 hours.), a skiff pulled up to shore on the 2 mile beach, one man jumped out and commenced to set up camp 40 yards down the beach from us. He walked by our camp, 3 times between 10PM and 4AM and by daylight (6AM) he was gone. Twilight Zone.
On to Day 4 .......