Friday, July 25, 2014

Circumnavigating Cudjoe Key

The highlight of my day yesterday was getting out on the water and skimming at 23 miles per hour across seas as flat as glass. Perfect.
Robert and I had made a date to get out on a boating trip but the afternoon did not start out well. Not well at all with strong winds heavy rain and black clouds.
But it didn't last and we arranged to rendezvous in the middle of Cudjoe Bay between our homes.
The bay is a wide body of water but quite shallow across the mouth to the south. Robert...
...and Salty Dog...
...had previously taken Dolly on a picnic to our target island north of Cudjoe Key so he had the return route figured. We now wanted to find a southern route out of Cudjoe Bay, across the shallows, and back into Summerland Bay to the east.
My representation of the trip is a bit crude(!) but the thin red line is, more or less the line we followed, a half hour out and a half hour back more or less if you go straight there and back.
We did not go straight anywhere as I drifted off hoping to find a shortcut between Cudjoe and the little mangrove clump south of it called Gopher Key on the chart. Fat chance. Robert sat back on the off chance I had more luck than sense but eventually we gave up trying to cross water six inches deep and got back to the business of making progress.
Robert said he had discovered the only available short cut by following a law enforcement boat one day, so we lined up the number eleven marker at our backs and aimed for a small island on the horizon with a roof in the middle... And found our deep water. Which around here means maybe four feet. Plenty for our little skiffs and their 25 horsepower outboards.
Robert led the way in his late father's 1983 boat and motor and I followed in my rather more modern, lighter and less mechanically noisy Dusky skiff.
There really is something about messing about in boats, especially small ones that brings out the boy in a man. There are minimal regulations for boating, life jackets and flares, a paddle a dive flag and an anchor and all of that is a mixture of rules and common sense. After that you are on your own. No licenses for old farts like us, just experience and good manners and a touch of youthful adventurous spirits. Swallows and Amazons Forever!
We had motors and the Keys to play in, unlike the Swallows and Amazons who were a fifth our age and sailed around England (and Holland, and the Far East) in their adventures. We had to keep an eye out for the convenient landmark called Fat Albert, tethered to the north end of Cudjoe Key.
The US Air a force had announced the end of the anti-smuggling blimp but at last word the Federal weather people at NOAA were going to take it over. Maybe that was a blind and it's a CIA project now...Who knows...We were busy aiming for neighboring Tarpon Belly Key, one of the few islands among all these mangroves that actually is made of dirt and rock.
Dirt and rock is the sum of it at Tarpon Belly, no luxurious sandy beaches so boaters need footwear to get ashore here comfortably as the pebbly shoreline is hell on bare feet.
School's out so even on a Thursday we were not alone. Our boats were undoubtedly the smallest and least crowded among the three or four others there.
Tarpon Belly is cut up by canals...
...and thanks to its dry land component was once used as a base for shrimp farming.
As to why that failed laconic Robert had a one word suggestion why: "Uneconomic."
Robert remembers coming out here and camping back...when...um... One of the wars...the hostage crisis! In 1979 then, the historian in me guessed, remembering my first motorcycle trip to North Africa back then. Robert remembered being twenty at the time, a sparkle in his eye, camping in a mosquito-proof shed built on this cement pad, complete with bunks and netting. All gone now.
The young anglers had caught nothing but a stingray which Robert said he had been forced to try once when caught out at night with no food. Inedible was his verdict.
The cement wreckage was part of the infrastructure of the shrimp farm and Robert says there are the remains of an old truck in the mangroves, remembering an acquaintance who had actually driven the vehicle on the island decades ago when the business was operating.
Salty Dog found a tennis ball.
Robert had a couple of candy bars so we smeared ourselves with melted chocolate in the 85 degree heat, like a couple of truants, standing in the shade of the casuarina trees pondering the wisdom of not being equipped for a swim and not looking forward to a trip home in soaking shorts. Where were our wives when we needed them?
The views through the trees are quite beguiling in this remote place.

Casting off our little boats from the rocky beach was easy.
Robert pointed out the landmarks, we got our bearings and got up on a plane heading west, directly off the beach.
The water was lovely and flat, like skimming across glass.
All shades of blue.
And lots of puffy clouds. This is my kind of boating, no waves, no drama, not at all cold.
We found our bubba sticks and managed to keep out of excessively shallow waters...
Robert showing me the way, from one...
...to the next. I was noting landmarks and directions as I have only approached Tarpon Belly from the west when I lived on Ramrod Key.

Droning across the flats at 23mph according to the speedometer app on my phone. I had a Verizon signal the entire trip which was nice.
Waterfront homes on Sugarloaf Key, facing east:
Highway One on Bow Channel which is where I frequently like to walk Cheyenne on the old Flagler bridge, now for pedestrians and bicycles (and Labradors). It was too hot to take Cheyenne exploring by  boat though now I know the route I think I will take her for a walk on Tarpon Belly later in the year.

The waters tend to not appear very deep they are so clear:
We parted ways in Cudjoe Bay again and I sped across the water back to my canal.
To wake my dog, fast asleep in the air conditioning.
I sent my wife in California pictures and she was suitably jealous so all in all it was a splendid outing. Thank you Robert.
More to come no doubt, as Robert has my boat running perfectly. Great stuff! This is why we live in the Lower Keys!