Friday, November 29, 2013

Updates from King's Bay, Crystal River, Florida

 After our experiment at Wekiwa Springs, we decided to head to Crystal River where a keen demand for rental kayaks results in better boats being available.  Specifically, we went to King's Bay, where manatees, wildlife, and fish compete with people who love to kayak, boat, paddleboard, swim, scuba and dive with manatees, wildlife, and fish.

  In the morning we rented  from Crystal River Kayak.  They offer several types of sit-insides, sit-on-tops and canoes for rent.  We used the Delta 14's, which are a nice size for the bay.  

   Before renting we were required to watch a Florida Fish and Wildlife video about interacting with manatees.  It encouraged passive observation, and documented all sorts of inappropriate interactions.

  There are several seasonal manatee protection areas in Kings Bay; near Buzzard Island, Banana Island and Warden Key, as well as some spring areas.  It has been clarified that seasons are dictated by Gulf of Mexico water temperature and not specific calendar dates.

  King's Bay, has inlets, canals and springs and an abundance of wildlife, which makes every paddle there interesting.  The undeveloped islands are all sanctuaries, but there is the manatee observation platform, as well as parks and launches along the shoreline where you can land.  And though much of the shore is developed, there are undeveloped sections.
a wood stork wandering through the marsh

  I love Three Sister's Springs, though the recent addition of a boardwalk around it does make it a little less magical.
heading into Three Sisters Springs
  Only one non-bridged island has a residence on it; Christmas Island.  The house was built in 1960 of bricks taken from an old railroad station in Lakeland.   I'm not sure how much use the house has, but it serves as a terrific bird sanctuary.

Dock at Christmas Island
  We saw many, many black vultures in many,  many places:  acting as a welcome to this tour location.
     working with cormorants to festoon a wonderful Christmas-shaped-tree.
      We also saw manatee,

     other birds (Coots, ibis, osprey, gulls, wood storks) and  fish in abundance.

  A new sighting this year was a skate, who unfortunately did not pose for a photo..

  In the afternoon we rented paddle boards from Bird's Underwater.   These were rotomolded plastic boards, with separate narrow fins.  On a quiet day, King's Bay is an enjoyable place for paddleboards, primarily because the water is calm enough to enjoy the board and, the water's clear enough, with enough creatures in it, that we benefited from the improved view.
Mark snapped a picture of the Traverse paddleboard, from Emotion Kayaks

A pamplet showing the manatee sactuaries (off limits areas) in the bay
A paddle blog with links to launches from selected areas in Ohio, Florida, Tennessee Pennsylvania, etc  kayak2u
Our 2012 Paddle, ( includes kayak rental links and google map.)    A 2010 Paddle
A 1985 article about Christmas Island being available to rent

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka, Florida

The nicest part of Wekiwa Springs is the spring.  Most springs I've seen in Florida bubble up from a deep round basin.  Wekiwa Springs comes from a crevice, about four feet wide, twenty feet long which sits in  four feet of water.  You can stand at the edge, or more likely swim, as the surfaces are algae covered and quite slippery,  staring into the deep abyss as crystal clear 72 degree (F) water rushes by you.  Forty-two million gallons a day run from the spring.
   In the pool by the spring, you can snorkel about, watching turtles and fish.
    It's nice that the spring is so lovely, because the kayaks there are wretched.  I don't say this lightly.  I don't expect there to be anything but recreation kayaks for these small rivers.  I'm not only willing to paddle recreation kayaks, (in the right waters)  I own one, a Keowee Aquaterra.  It's a wonderful little boat, ideal for poking into coves, especially with a toddler in the front seat.  It's also useful for those who want a really stable boat.
   Sit on tops are a different story.  The sort of sit-on-tops that rental places offer are mostly heavy rafts, good as a sunning and swimming platform but not much more.  Wekiwa Springs concessions offers both uncomfortable sit-on-tops and lousy sit-insides.
   Their sit-inside kayak is an Old Town Otter without foot pedals.  With no place to brace my feet I had two choices, brace awkwardly at the knee and feel my feet go numb, or slump backwards and paddle in the lounging position.
Knees locked against the side I'm plowing along, but not really rotating well
    Not helping was their four pound kayak paddle, a metal shaft surrounded in rubber with plastic blades at the end.  It might be ideal for fending off the errant Burmese Python, but much less effective for paddling.
   The river itself was nice enough, with the requisite turtles, ergets and herons.  But it was scarcely compensation for dealing with the gear.   It was a busy river, we could look enviously at the youth group whose leaders were comfortably ensconced in Wilderness Systems Pungos, and be entertained by the other paddlers from the park, who, wisely had elected to rent canoes.
    A pair of canoes paddled past us when we stopped to take pictures.  Careening from side to side, they didn't manage to overturn, but were obviously having an adventure..
   Another trio, all in one canoe, was preparing for an upcoming 72 hour race.  They were vague on the details of the race, but very enthusiastic.  They were using real kayak paddles, which they must have brought from home.  The woman in the center proudly announced this was her first attempt at paddling.
   We also met a paddleboarder who does the trip from Wekiva Island (another launch) to Rock Springs regularly, and thinks of it as one of his favorite runs. (He uses his own board.)
   We didn't go very far; Sandy Huff in Paddler's Guide to the Sunshine State, calls the Wekiwa River one of the prettiest in the state, she suggests if you can paddle just one waterway in the state to make it this one.  That may be, but I wouldn't use these boats.
Paddle board bottoms
    A few days later we returned to Wekiwa to play with the paddle boards.  The paddleboards are tough plastic Yolo Yaks  with molded plastic fins/skegs back and front.  They were fun in the pond and did OK on the river.  No one makes a four pound paddleboard paddle yet, so the paddles were pretty decent.

    One thing to watch for on the down stream runs was submerged logs.  Those can put a sudden stop to a board and entertain fellow paddlers.  But on a warm day, it's all good.