In October 2005, I closed my Haulover Canal Trip Report by writing, "the only thing that could make a trip to Haulover better would be to witness a NASA launch from my yak". Since that Report, I have witnessed three Space Shuttle launches from my kayak, including the August 8, 2007 launch of Space Shuttle Endeavor. I have also discovered another fascinating feature of Haulover Canal. More on that later.
You may refer to the October 2005 report for directions, with a few modifications: Instead of launching at Bairs Cove, the best thing is to cross the canal (heading north) and turn left on a dirt road across the entrance to the Manatee Observation Deck. Drive up to the waiter's edge and put your yak in. On Shuttle launch days, the road from Titusville through the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is closed, one must approach from Edgewater, Florida, to the north.
A dolphin patrolled offshore as I slathered on sunscreen and got the kayak off the car. The kayak launch area is on the west (Indian River side) of the Canal. A short paddle, dolphin on a parallel course, took me to Mullet Head Island. Not a lot of birds on a mid-90 August afternoon, or perhaps I am spoiled. Plenty of brown pelicans, cormorants drying their wings, diving osprey, Great Blue Herons wading in the sea grass, and ibis, curved beaks probing the bottom.
After circling the Island, taking care to stay outside the signs that protect this nesting bird sanctuary, I paddled back to the Canal. To, not through the mouth, paddling south across the entrance along the east side of the River, into a cove. Where a manatee surfaced just off the starboard side. The cove then narrows into a channel that leads to the Canal. Nice to avoid the sometimes heavy boat traffic in the Canal itself.
In the Canal, I headed east, stopping at e Bairs Cove to look for manatees. In over twenty visits, I do not ever recall failing to see manatees here. No manatees were seen.
That is because they were out in the Canal. I soon saw three or four, frolicking next to me. I carefully moved away to avoid an accidental dunking More manatees were off the Observation Deck, on the north bank of the Canal, to the delight of the crowd gathered to see them and the Shuttle launch. Which was a ways off, scheduled for 6:36 PM. I had put in at 3:45 PM. No better way to spend time then by paddling.
As on the west end of the Canal, the east end has an alternate exit for the paddler, this on the north side. A break in the bank leads to a protected, shallow bay- which goes north for several miles. Another break leads back to the Canal just before it enters the Mosquito Lagoon. I entered the bay, paddling along the shore when I heard an exhale. A dolphin. Feeding at the entrance. I watched for several minutes, trying to time and aim the camera for when it would surface.
Then I paddled to a spot where I have seen an alligator on past paddles. It was not there. So, back to the canal and into the Lagoon. I tried to make out the launch tower and Shuttle seven miles south of my location. A haze obscured the view, I could not even make out the massive Vehicle Assembly Building.
Back to the Canal, paddling west. The dolphin was still feeding. I watched, with a couple fellow yakers, then moved on. A small Coast Guard vessel motored my way, headed out to make sure no one got too close to the restricted launch area. Suddenly, two manatee fluke rose in front of the slow moving craft, then reappeared at the bow. Later, I asked the crew about it. It had been two manatees. It appeared neither were harmed. There is good reason for the slow speed, minimum wake restrictions in the Canal.
The Canal was now filling with kayaks, some individuals, other groups with guides, headed for the launch. I made another visit to Airs Cove. Again, no manatees there. But, again, they were in the Canal as I made my way back to the Mosquito Lagoon for the launch.
Kayaks outnumbered powerboats at the viewing area. Most of the yaks were beached on the east bank of the Lagoon, south of the Canal. A few were on rock outcrops, the final extension of the Canal. This was my position. A man with a radio said "thirty seconds" , and half a minute later Endeavor rose in a pillar of fire, arched over our heads, rockets rumbling, massive contrail, and with in a few short minutes, disappearing into space -- A spectacular sight.
I began this report by mentioning another fascinating feature of Haulover Canal. That is the nighttime light show. After dark, bio-luminescent creatures create a spectacular below the surface light show during the hot months of the year. Trouble was, sunset was over an hour away, darkness well after that. I decided to paddle some more, and perhaps wait until dark.
Back to the Manatee Observation Deck. Some folks inquired if I had seen any. "Plenty." Unfortunately for the observers, none were in the area now. Perhaps they are at the post launch party, I suggested. I also suggested they check out the Airs Cove area, even though I had not seen any there so far today.
Until now. Two in the Cove. One came to check me out, snout rubbing the side of the yak. I put my hand in the water, its nuzzle rubbed that as well. I patted its back a few times, it then rolled on its side, fluke rising, just as one of the tour groups paddled in. They asked me if there were any manatees. Yes, I replied, wondering how the missed the tail next to me. The group eventually saw the manatees, much to their delight. I left, as two dolphins swam by towards the Lagoon. It was close to 8 PM, sunset at 8:11. I may as well stay until dark.
I beached, got a flashlight, sprayed on some OFF, then reentered the Indian River, paddling north, the sky red. I turned back, crossed the Canal entrance, to the alternate route. One star in the twilight. Back to the Canal, under the bridge. Finally, at 9:00 darkness descended, millions of stars above, and below, each paddle stroke produced a swirl of white light, produced by living organisms, millions of aquatic fireflies. Dipping a hand in, the glow flowed through my open fingers and up my arm. Mullet and other fish below looked like fireworks. Very cool stuff. I splashed arcs of water with my paddle, creating a brief light show. Another light show above. The biggest, reddest shooting star/meteor shot across the northwest sky. Wow.
Back to the bridge, a dolphin swam nearby. Lights from the bridge made the natural water light effect end. Past the bridge, it began again, each stroke beautiful. I heard manatees nearby, then a dolphin. I paddled back towards the dolphin sound, then turned to continue the way I had been headed. Of course, that is when the dolphin roiled the water in hunting mode, I looked back to see its glowing wake.
Haulover Canal. From manatees to manned space flight, birds to bioluminescence, a wonderful place to dip a paddle
Refer to my October 2005 Haulover Canal Trip Report for directions and other information.