Friday, November 28, 2014

Big Foot Paddleboards

  The final post in the Florida series; this one about a local business.
Mark on a Big Foot Paddleboard
   We weren't the only ones attracted to the warm calm waters of Florida.  Pretty much everywhere we went we met others with or on paddleboards.  One person we met was Josh Hensley, designer of Big Foot Custom Fiberglass Paddleboards

  We were immediately attracted to the bright designs and comfortable seats on his boards.  The seats lift up, revealing a compartment for storing treasures.  The compartment has sealed bulkheads around it.

  The boats vary in width, Josh preferred a narrow width board, but he made wider boards for many of his clients.  Those were the ones we tested.

  The boards were comfortable and stable; it was easy to transition to standing on them.  Rather than having one long fin, (which could get caught and cause a face-plant) Big Foot Boards have a shallow keel.  This makes the board track better, and a bit tougher to turn.
Josh shows the keel
  I could see where these boards would be idea for someone who wanted the easy access a paddleboard provides, with some extra features for increased stability.
Designs on some child sized boards

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida


Weeki Wachee Springs starts at a big Florida State Park famous for mermaids.  Behind the state park, Paddling Adventure rents kayaks to folks to ride the spring waters down to Rodgers Park.  In 2012, we just that.  On the way down stream we met several canoes and kayaks headed upstream.  And that seemed like much more fun, working against the steady  1.5 knot current, then riding the cool waters back to the start.

  So this year we started at Rodgers Park, about 4 miles down from the beginning, and began paddling upstream.

  We started early, because the air was cooler and so we wouldn't have to dodge downstream kayaks.

  The paddle began pleasantly enough, we paddled by an array of canals providing water-access to various neighborhoods.  Along the main river, folks sat out enjoying leisurely Sunday morning coffees while overlooking the river.  If they were annoyed to see paddlers disturbing their breakfasts, they were gracious enough to keep it to themselves.

   But as we reached the edge of the development, where the wider stream capable of hosting motorboats faded into the more natural river we had to work harder.  The current was strong, and the stream narrow.  The edges, where the current should be less, were blocked from our use, either by low branches, or shallow water, which couldn't accommodate our 9 inch fins.

  By about two miles up, beating against the stream had lost its luster, so we turned around and flew back.
Headed downstream, the river is a 3-4 feet deep, not the few inches it appears in this photo
   I did feel that we might not have had the right boats for this adventure.  To keep up our gains against the current we did wind up needing to sit/kneel a good bit of the time.  We wound up doing about 4 miles in total, which is pretty standard for a paddleboard venture, but I knew with kayaks we'd have made it further.
   On the plus side, our boats were very light and we were able to store them inside our van.  Although they weren't ideal for this water, we were able to be on the Weeki Wachee before it was too hot, and before the river was filled with canoes and kayaks headed both directions; and I did feel like I'd put enough effort out to deserve a swift ride downstream.
Fishing boat with 2 dogs.  This was followed closely by 2 canoes, with 2 dogs each. 
Links:
Rodgers Park:  http://www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec/Parks/Park_detail.asp?Key=22
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park http://www.weekiwachee.com/
Paddling Adventure :  http://www.paddlingadventures.com/

Summary:  Launch: 8:45 AM from Rodgers Park, finish 10:30AM   4.2 miles.  Launch from Rodgers Park, fee to use, toilets, picnic area and swimming available.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chassahowitzka River, Florida


  Chassahowitzka River runs five miles to the sea.  Fed by several tributaries, in Google Earth it looks rather like a haunted tree., or an inflamed coronary system. 
  We  startied up by the big yellow pin, which marks Chassahowitzka River Camp, and spent most of our morning exploring the minor tributaries, including an especially narrow one known as the Crack.
"Chassahowitzka"  translates as "place of the hanging pumpkins" which is an interesting visual to imagine, but not a sight we happened upon.
  I'd called the camp the night before, and the answering machine informed me the store was open from 8AM-5PM.  We were there shortly after 8, and a bit behind several fishermen.
  We headed upstream first, to a collection of springs known as the seven sisters.  The water was not very deep around the springs.  I've read that several of the springs are connected by caves.  A rather grim little sign off to the side commemorates those who failed to navigate the caves safely.
   This picture isn't great, but it shows how close to the surface and tempting one of the caves is.
  After exploring those springs we headed downstream, keeping mostly to the right.
  This is a view as we headed by an island.
  A number of birds graced the area, there were several osprey, a few eagles, some wood storks and tri-colored heron.   This raccoon was the only mammal we spotted.  He looks like he might be bowing.
  The furthest downriver we went was the mouth of Potter Spring Creek.  On the Google Earth picture above, that's the tributary that nearly touches the top.  At the end a tiny creek disappeared into the woods.
  We followed the clear running water further and further, until at last we came to Potter spring, a small spring with just enough space to spin the boats, and plenty of mosquitoes.    This labeled map shows the location of the spring off to the side.
   Then it was back to the main channel, where more boats were headed out to explore.

    The Crack appears in many descriptions of the river;  again it's a narrow channel which leads to a spring.
 The Crack is so shallow and twisty that near the top we had to get out of our kayaks and tow them behind.  A the top of the Crack is a good sized swimming hole, but it already had a number of picnickers in attendance, so we moved on.
   Back at the main channel, it was apparent that all the other boaters were out.  Groups of kayaks streamed by, boats raced down the river, there was even an inflatable paddleboard.   My favorite was this paddler who seemed unaware that a predator was close behind.
  With everyone else on the river, it was time for us to head ashore.  The Chassahowitzka had been a fun river, a briny environment where crabs were frequently spotted.  The waters, especially in the tributaries, were often shallow, so I was glad we weren't on our paddleboards looking to find a path for the nine inch fins.  The many creeks give lots of places to investigate, I felt like a jungle explorer.

Links:
Chassahowitzka River Camp
A nicely labeled map of the river :  http://www.chassahowitzka.net/rmap.htm
Chassahowitzka River Wikipedia

Summary:  Launch and rental from the Chassahowitzka River Camp at about 8:30, finish about 11:30.  Bathrooms are available at the store  Low was earlier in the morning.  We wound up paddling about 8 miles. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Withlacoochee River to Rainbow River, Dunnellon, Florida

  "Withlacoochee"  means either "crooked" or "big-little" river; "big-little" describing the river as a series of streams and lakes.  There are two Withlacooche River's in Florida, the north one, which begins in Georgia and joins the Suwanee River, and Withlacoochee South.  Withlacoochee South begins at Green Swamp, near Polk City and moves north and west for 141 miles before entering the Gulf of Mexico by Yankeetown.   The river passes through several preserves.  Expedition paddlers should be aware of the 76 mile long paddling trail along the river.  A whole series of charts is available here. There's also a 46 miles long paved trail which borders part of the river.

 We didn't do the entire paddle trail, (I don't suppose that's any real surprise) instead we just did a short shady section.  Unfortunately, the section we did was just beyond where the trail ends, so we used a screen shot from Google Maps to guide us.
Map:  Goldendale is the green dot, Centennial is just west of 41, and we turned around at 484, by the canoe logo. 

  Even though we were doing a short section, we chose to rent longer kayaks for the trip.  We rented from Aardvark Kayaks in Crystal River, the same Aardvark Kayaks, owned by Matt who guided us through Ozello in a prior visit.  It was a last minute decision, so most of his fleet was out, but he had some nice Eddylines for us to use: a Fathom, and a Raven.  Yes, they were more boat than the water required, but they were a fun paddle.
The launch at Goldendale
     We began at Goldendale Boat Ramp,a few miles west of the last ramp shown on the Florida trails map.
  It was a quiet, peaceful ramp, the road lined by live oak draped in Spanish moss, which even at 10AM cast shadows over the launch area.


    And it was a quiet shady paddle.  We spent some time in the wider center canal but, to avoid bass boats and find more shade, we often chose to paddle the tiny side canals.  Turtles and herons were sprinkled along the shoreline, but there was also this:

  It's a paper wasp; Polistes annularis.  Like other paper wasps, it likes to build nests over water, to minimize sunlight on the nest.  Though this wasp is found as far north as New York, and west to Texas, unlike the paper wasps I'm familiar with, it doesn't build the insulating overcoats.   But it does cluster many nests in the same area.  And what I saw along the Withlacoochee was small nest after small nest, one per tree, each a few feet off the water, just waiting for a shade seeking paddler to hit.  So you've been warned...

    We took a break at Centennial Park in Dunnellon, plainly the launch site of choice.  While we rested, kayaks and motor boats came in, and their replacements launched, while one motor boat rumbled over and over in the vain hope that this time the engine would catch.
  
Look there are air boats too!  I'm headed downstream and Centennial's ramp is just on the other side of the bridge.
  From Centennial Park is was a short distance to Rainbow river, where the clear spring waters joined the tea colored Withlacoochee.

    As I had while paddleboarding  two days earlier,  I could again see turtles and fish swimming beneath me.

  This cormorant was standing guard on the cedar as we went upstream (within 6 feet of it), and was still there when we headed back.  We nicknamed it the "toll collector".

   Sand Hill Cranes occupied an island in Rainbow River.
Two out of three cranes
 We didn't go far along Rainbow River,  just to another kayak launch, at SR484, before turning back.
  A cool discovery on the return trip was this neat little alligator sunning itself on a mat of grass.
   A closer look determined that it wasn't just one little gator, but a few more.  We then realized there was probably a mother gator somewhere nearby, and continued on our way before the little guys could start clicking in distress.
How many siblings can you spot?
    All in all an entertaining paddle; lots of varying wildlife, plenty of shade.  Another adventure displaying the great variety in paddling options in the Crystal River area.

   Links:

Withlacoochee River Florida - Wikipedia
Withlacoochee River (south)  Paddling Trail Charts
Polistes annularis wikipedia 

Summary:  Launch at Goldendale Launch, parking for for about 10 cars, no facilities.  Stop at the launch at Centennial Park, Dunellon.  Toilets, water, picnic table and more parking available.   9.6 miles by our GPS, unsure which canals we used. 

Meanwhile in Maine:  Our power was restored late Wednesday by a hard working crew.   I thought we might get a paddle in, but it was just in time for a couple of cold rainy days.   We've trimmed and moved fallen branches from the yard, the road and the path to the water, and when we're done with that we're usually achy enough for the day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sunrise on King's Bay


Absolutely the best thing about having the paddleboards with us was being able to go for early morning or late evening paddles.  We were able to do one or the other most days we were in Crystal River.

  On past trips to King's Bay, a highlight has been Three Sister's Springs.  We didn't get there at all this trip.  Mornings and evenings coincided with low tides, and the access to Three Sister's is rocky, the sort of situation which results in face-plants.

  Instead we wandered about, visiting Hunter Springs, Christmas Island and Buzzard Island.  Never too fast, we just strolled about looking at the water and shore.  As King's Bay has fresh water springs, but connects by Crystal River to the gulf it gets a wide variety of animals.  We often saw  skates, crabs, mullet, ducks, cormorants, anhingas, pelicans, ibis, grackles, buzzards and manatee.  I've got a few pictures to share:
Some ibis showing off
A young night heron(?) by Buzzard Island
Anhingas and Cormorants decorate a tree by Christmas Island
A young manatee passes by
    The light of the "magic" hours enhanced everything in the bay:
Scallopers at dawn
Palm Trees on Buzzards Island (a National Wildlife Reserve)
A variety of house styles along the waterfront
Fishing boats at sunset
   And no matter how early we were on the water, dive and snorkel teams were already out.  I think the manatee encounter boats began their morning trips at 7AM, we'd usually wait until 7:15-7:30 for better light.
All in all the perfect way to start or end any day.

Postscript: sitting here by the fire listening to the wireless modem beep its way to powerlessness makes these pictures all the more delightful. It was a surprise to see 14 inches of slush on Sunday, less of a surprise that many trees toppled, including some onto our power lines. Fortunately the weather is not too cold, the wood stove is warm and there's plenty of snow to melt!
 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Rainbow River K.P. Hole to Rainbow Springs State Park

Mark paddling downstream, development to his right, park to his left
   Rainbow River is absolutely gorgeous; clear, filled with big fish and turtles, bordered (to one side anyway) by a state park.  From May to September it's a popular tubing site, groups of tubes up to ten feet in diameter float downstream.  And even, in October on a weekday, we didn't have it to ourselves.  There was a group of school children snorkeling, a group learning to scuba diver, a private group in a canoe snorkeling, assorted canoes,  kayaks, jet skis and pontoon boats, even another paddleboarder.
K.P. swim area and boat fleet
   We launched from a county park, K.P. Hole.  K.P. stands for Knights of Pythias, a fellowship which was the original owner of the park.  Technically we were launching from the ramp beside the park, but the fee had to be paid at the park, and we walked across park property to launch the boards.
We had to purchase a band to launch, and even the band reminds us of the ban on disposable containers.
   In an effort to preserve Rainbow River, no disposable containers are allowed on the water.  Snacks need to be taken out of their plastic packing and stored in Tupperware,  water can't be in a disposable bottle, but in a genuine water bottle. The ban works pretty well, there was not a lot of trash, but a few cans were spotted.
Resting as I go.  I'm not sure what the water depth is here, but it averages 6-15 feet.

A school of fish swimming past
  We headed upstream and up-current to Rainbow Springs State Park.   The current averages less than a knot.  When looking for a break from wind and current, Mark would kneel, but I preferred sitting flat on the board.  We paddled with some effort about a mile and a half upstream, and easily paddled the same distance back down. 
Turtles sunning on a bank

Three boats full of kids on a snorkeling field trip (Don't you wish you'd had trips like that?)  A kayak headed upstream.
   Rainbow Springs is a first magnitude spring, pumping  over 400 million gallons of crystal clear water into the river every day.

    At the top of Rainbow River sits Rainbow Springs State Park, another former privately owned tourist attraction.  It used to have a zoo and gardens.  The zoo is gone, but the garden waterfalls remain and serve as the backdrop for many weddings.  Each time we've visited the park a wedding has been in progress. There is a separate charge to land in Rainbow Springs Park, so we didn't land, but went back the next day to get some underwater shots from near the head spring.


Links:
Rainbow Springs Wikipedia
Rainbow Springs State Park
K.P. Hole County Park

Summary:  Launch K.P. Hole, I think we paid $3 each, but the site says a fee of $5 to enter.  Flush toilets and changing rooms are available.  1.5 miles upstream to Rainbow Springs State Park, must pay entry fee to dock.  Unlimited miles downstream.  Kayak and canoe rentals are available at both KP Hole and Rainbow Springs State Park. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Silver Springs State Park - Florida

   Silver Springs State Park is home to glass bottom boats, which do 30 or 90 minute tours of the area, including a group of springs considered to be one of Florida's largest first magnitude springs.  It got its start as a steamboat destination. In the 1860's Hubbard Hart purchased a steamboat which he used to bring tourists from Paloka to Silver Springs.  The steamboat offered a 24 hour trip, but was safer and faster than the roads.  Hart was key in developing Silver Springs, attracting a railroad depot there for connecting trips and building a hotel at the springs.  Considered one of Florida's first tourist attractions, the park has offered glass bottom boats rides since the late 1870's. 
    Like many early attractions, it is now a state park.  Over the years Silver Springs was used as the backdrop for early Tarzan movies, and also appeared in Creature from the Black Lagoon, among other films. The park has many other components; a camping area, an outdoor stage, a reconstructed village (open on weekends only) the boat tours and smaller museums.  Also off to the side is a canoe/kayak rental and launch.  The launch (and the boat tours) are an additional fee to the park entrance.
 


   The launch is in a corner of the parking lot, away from the main entrance.  It leads on to a small channel, like that shown above.  (This picture was taking coming back along a connecting channel.)  Spanish moss dripping from live oak, adds a certain serenity to the trip.
    Because we were there when the park opened, the boats were not yet at their docking stations, and we could glide over the various springs, admiring the depths and water life.
    Another picture showing how still and quiet the park was, and how clear the water is.
   We paddled by a variety of springs, some are known for their depth, or for their use in movies or TV scenes; one has a boat sunk into it, others are known for attracting turtles.
  In the 1930's the park offered "jungle cruises."  In an effort to enhance the experience, Colonel Tooey placed some rhesus monkeys on an island.  According to the woman at the entrance gate, Colonel Tooey had been told monkeys did not swim, and would be confined there.  By the next morning the monkeys were gone and now can be found from the Carolinas to the Keys.  There are still several troops on the ground, each with their own personality.  We didn't happen to spy any, but I did learn that anhingas have a cry very similar to squirrels, and sort of like a monkey.
   We did see lots of turtles and fish though.

   And several birds, including these ibis.
   We were a little worried either that the current from the springs would be fairly strong, or that the back channel behind the springs would be too shallow for the nine inch fins of our paddleboards, but neither was the case.
   The back channel was also filled with interesting sights and a fair number of animals.  At one point, Mark heard a splash and saw a three foot long alligator, fish in mouth, take off in the river.  The alligator swam by my boat, a dark shadow moving quickly.  We didn't manage to capture it on film, but let's pretend Mark is observing the alligator above.
   The back channel also passes by another sunken boat, a reconstructed "cracker" village, fort and steamboat landing, so there was plenty to entertain us on our journey back.
    The loop we did was just under two miles, pretty short, but considering we got to travel over several springs (in many parks the more active springs are roped off for swimming),  see all sorts of scenery and wildlife, plus enjoy a shady paddle, it felt like a great deal.  Those seeking longer paddles can head down Silver Springs River.  Though you may not be able to get all the way to Palotka anymore, you can certainly paddle a number of miles. 

Links:
Wikipedia Silver Springs Park
Map of Florida Springs
Florida State Parks information about Silver Springs

Summary:  Entrance to the park $8, launch fee $4 per boat, kayak and canoe rental's available.  Portapotty by boat ramp, flush toilets in the park.  Glass bottom boat tours are an additional fee.  Displays, and food available in the park.  The park sometimes shuts early for concert events.  Two mile loop with gentle current, longer trips available down the river.