Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter Paddling, Part 2

I posted recently about our family's trip to Florida and getting out for a paddle on the ocean while there (see Winter Paddling, Part 1 here). The next day, I got out on the water again, this time with the rest of the family.

Based on a recommendation on LinkedIn, I booked a tour for my family through A Day Away Kayak Tours operating out of Titusville. We chose the "Mondo Combo Refuge tour", a tour in Indian River Lagoon at the Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge that starts off in the afternoon and goes into the evening. The tour promises wildlife & bioluminescence. Offering a sampling of a few items, it sounded like a good fit for the family.

It took us longer to get to the launch than I anticipated, due to being more accustomed to open prairie driving, finding a giant geocache(store), a protracted pee break at McDonald's, and a stop to allow a sailboat pass under a draw bridge. When we arrived at the launch we were a bit late but our guide didn't seem too bothered (we had touched base via phone en route). It turns out we were the only ones on the tour - we were getting a private tour!

Almost to the launch, waiting for a sailboat to pass under the draw bridge. 

At our launch near Haulover Canal. We paddled tandem open-cockpit kayaks, one adult and one kid per kayak. I usually prefer something a little more sleek. 

Pre-paddle family portrait. The boat behind would just have come through Haulover Canal and under the drawbridge pictured earlier.

Kid 1

Kid 2

Strange plant life (mangroves) growing out of the brackish water.

A fellow on shore was throwing a net to catch bait fish.

Hauling in his catch.

My wife was VERY cool to the idea of encountering alligators while paddling. She got used to it pretty quickly with the reassurance of our guide, Tim. Kid 2, however, was not so happy. 

Checking out an alligator from a few feet away.


Woodpecker holes in the palm tree stumps.

You can see me on the right taking advantage of the high performance characteristics of the Pamlico 135T by carving a beautiful edged turn. Of course that's a joke. The thing doesn't really carve an edged turn at all. 

This must be where our herons come to spend their winter. Like all the birds we saw in Florida, they were much less afraid of us than they seem to be at home. 

Sunset approaching in the lagoon and watching for manatees.

We saw the ripples and nostrils that were the evidence of a couple of very large beasts below us. Two manatees swam below our kayaks then surfaced some about 30' away. Although we couldn't see much of them due to the murky water of the lagoon, it was a very neat experience.

Another heron.

Sunset over Indian River Lagoon.

Tim certainly had a relaxed approach.

Family portrait on Indian River Lagoon.

Just after sunset we saw two dolphins, a mother and calf. The light is too poor to get a good photo, but we really enjoyed seeing the pair swimming nearby. The adult seemed to be shepherding the calf. 

Just a sliver of a moon. My wife noted that it seems the wrong way 'round down here. 

Soon to be heading in search of glowing jellyfish.

Waiting for it to become dark enough for the bioluminescent comb jellyfish to appear. There are no photos of that because, like my previous attempts to photograph bioluminescence with a point & shoot camera, it didn't work.

Highlights of the paddle were definitely seeing the wildlife while on the water. We saw an alligator up close, heard wild pigs in the bush, saw the nostrils and upwelling from the tails of a couple of manatees, saw the dorsal fins and backs of a couple of dolphins, saw osprey, vultures, herons, and kingfishers, saw many jumping fish, heard the strange sounds of red drum fish in the dark, and  held glowing comb jellyfish with their undulating lights.

Partial GPS track of our paddle. In total, we paddled only about 7 km during 3 hours or so on the water. The straight line is where I had the GPS off for a while. 

Close up look at a part of the paddle that Tim referred to as "the Maze", where we saw the alligator and the manatees. From the water level, things seem quite natural. From the satellite views it seems clear that the area is heavily modified by humans.

A broader look at the area we paddled (purple squiggles at center). Cape Canaveral is at the lower right, Titusville is to the left, Cocoa Beach would be farther south. 

Our guide, Tim Raley happens to have an online persona as "Primitive Tim". Check out his blog at and his youtube channel at Here's a video he posted a few days after our tour; I wonder if it's the same 'gator? (I'm sure it isn't.)

Also check out his related blog post: