|by Julio Perez and Hank McComas
This was a short day of leisurely paddling through mangrove islands. We followed the Wilderness Waterway south to a double chickee at the Rodger’s River.
We paddled through a series of bays - Lostman Five Bay, Two Island Bay, Onion Key Bay, Third Bay, Big Lostman's Bay and finally Rodger's River Bay. We became temporarily misdirected in Third Bay when I failed to turn sharp enough when first entering the bay. We paddled about a 1/4 mile off into the wrong cove in the mangroves. When we id not find the channel through the mangroves that we expected, a short retracement soon put us back on the right path marked by simple channel markers. These markers are not the usual large navigational buoys. They are harded to see, but then they don't distract from the wilderness feeling that big garish markers might. Many are put close to shore where you have to look carefully in the right place in order to see them.
The adventure of the day – finding the chickee. Up to this point the charts had been very accurate in the location of sites. But on this day we spent an hour trying to find the chickee. Both the map illustration and the Lat/Long coordinates were about a half mile off the actual location ( futher east in Rodgers River Bay ). We eventually found it and were very happy to have a clean double chickee, away from the mangroves and in a pleasant breeze.
Any thoughts of a nice cooling swim were quickly gone when "Big Al" the 13 foot alligator arrived shortly after we pulled up onto the chickee. Clearly used to being fed by ignorant campers at the chickee, he took the occupation of the chickee as a call to supper. He came to the back of the chickee near the outhouse. Letting out a stream of bubbles from the nostrils perched on the top of his big round snout, he slowly descended out of sight into the dark of the tannin stained waters. Every twenty minutes or so I would see him repeat this behavior as he rose to take a breath, then descend to wait for possible goodies "falling" off the chickee.
We cleaned up after dinner as dark descended on the chickee. Because of a light wind and the distance of this chickee from the mangroves, there were not too many mosquitos, so we braved the darkness. We were careful cleaning our pots over the side, making sure to not dip them in the same spot twice, and then only very briefly. I joked with Julio that we should call "Big Al" with our flashlights, and Julio began shining his down into the water. In less than a minute "Big Al" appeared, but once again did not stay long enough for us to get our cameras into action. Clearly he had never been far away the whole time we were here. It made us resolve to be particularly careful when we got into our boats the next morning.
On to Day 7 ......