On Thursday, Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association member, Tom Kelly and I gave up our rental tandem and went back to paddling our own individual kayaks. We launched from Fort DeSoto County Park, just outside of St Petersburg for our second day of paddling in the Gulf of Mexico.
We got a bit of a late start but finally launched at the canoe & kayak outpost on the paddling trail at about 11:30 am. Conditions in the area were much sunnier than the previous day of paddling with little wind. Air temperatures were the same as the previous day reaching the mid 80's but it seemed much hotter because the sun was shining bright.
We began to sweat shortly after beginning to paddle. Our trip out of the mangroves of the canoe trail into the Mullet Key Bayou was uneventful and we didn't see any manatee on this trip. We paddled a nice steady pace out of the bayou, into Bunces Pass and finally into the crystal clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf was again very calm. After we entered the Gulf we headed northward along the pristine shoreline and finally landed on one of the beautiful white sand beaches. The beaches had a few more people on them today but nothing like the crowd at the Jersey Shore.
After rehydrating a bit, I began to chart our course to Egmont Key which is a small uninhabitated island with a working light and remnants of an old fort.
As I charted our course to the island, Tom combed the crowd of the beach in search of a lighter or matches since he forgot his. We wouldn't be able to continue our trek to the island until he had a smoke.
Luckily he returned with a lit cigarette and after he finished, we launched back into the gulf. Because of the calm conditions and little wind, we decided to paddle a straight line course to the island from the north beach on Fort DeSoto. It was a 3.6 mile trek of open water which required crossing a major shipping channel in which some of the worlds largest ships use to enter Tampa Bay. Notes of caution in Nigel Foster's Guide to Sea Kayaking in Southern Florida report that the channel is 80-90 ft deep and currents can be very swift at the tidal rush. On the beach, a park ranger cautioned us we may see some bull sharks, however I never really looked too hard for those and wasn't disappointed when we didn't see any. We also didn't see any dolphin.
The open water paddle was awesome. There were some nice rolling swells on our way. Unfortunately, we also paddled near a small residual patch of a red tide that had recently affected the area. The patch of bacteria had dead puffer fish and large sea worms in them and left a putrid odor as we paddled near it. As we neared the channel marker, we saw a freighter in the distance and decided to wait and let it pass before we crossed. We relaxed and just bobbed up and down in the swells as we waited for the large boat to pass. It threw no wake as it passed and after it was out of our path, we continued our trek across the 1.5 mile channel to Egmont Key.
We reached the white sand beach at the southwest end of Egmont Key. There was one powerboater on the island with his family and they were swimming and combing the beach. While beachcombing, we observed quite a few more dead fish in the shoreline. One of the dead fish was a huge grouper which looked like probably reached over 100 lbs before it started to decay. After a short swim and taking a few pictures of the ruins of the fort, we decided to get back on the water before the ebbing tide would create difficult conditions in the channel. I would have been nice to stay on the island a bit longer but waiting would have required us to paddle in the swifter period of the tidal rush.
The crossing to our takeout was about 2 miles of open water. For our return trip we paddled west, aiming for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and counting on the outgoing tide to correct our course somewhat as we made our way into the Tampa Bay. When we approached the channel, we could feel the resistance of the beginning of the outgoing tidal current in the channel as we struggled to maintain a 2.5 mile per hour pace. The tide was against us, and although we had a mild wind behind us to help push us through the opposing current, it did nothing to keep us cool. I soaked my hat periodically and wrists in the water to keep cool because it was HOT.
We made the crossing of the shipping channel with no large tankers or freighters in our path and when we finally entered Tampa Bay, we paddled closer along the shoreline of the east beaches of Fort DeSoto. The sun was still shining over us however in the distance to the west we could see some heavy storms dumping rain. Luckily, these dark clouds and streaks of lightning moved north and away from us.
At around 3:30 pm, we finally reached our beach destination at the bay pier where we landed safely after 9.3 miles of paddling. Ironically, within literally minutes of our landing, the wind significantly increased and as we unloaded our kayaks on the beach, the entire visible portion of Tampa Bay became filled with large whitecaps.
Although I don't mind playing around in choppy whitecaps for short periods, I was glad we didn't have to paddle for two miles in them!
It was another great day on the water and another chapter in the Kayak Chronicles.
Fort Desoto Park is easily accessible by Interstate 275 to Route 93 then to Route 682 onto the island and into the park. Map Link