The Haulover Canal, linking the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon on the east coast of Florida was dredged in the late 19th century. Mariners no longer had to take a natural channel part of the way and then haul over land. Today Haulover Canal provides boaters of all types access to the Indian River on the west, Mosquito Lagoon to the east.
I put in on the side of a dirt road leading to the Bairs Cove Boat Ramp, located just south of the Florida State Road 3 Drawbridge over the Canal. As I put in, I heard a noise. That's an odd bird, I thought. Pushing away from the bank, I saw what was making the sound. Not a bird. A manatee. My first time hearing manatee vocals. I paddled west, observing 2 or 3 more manatees along the south bank of the Canal. These were silent.
Prior to reaching the end of the canal, I entered a side channel, perhaps the original natural route. This makes for a pleasant paddle away from traffic in Canal. Boat traffic was light this Wednesday afternoon, and all boats must travel at minimum wake due to the manatees. I exited the channel and entered the Indian River, destination, Mullet Island, a half mile away.
Mullet Island, like many islands in the River and Lagoon, is a spoil island, created when the Intracostal Waterway was dredged. This manmade island is a bird sanctuary, signs demand boaters stay well offshore. I circumnavigated the Island. Nothing on the east side. Then I paddled around the southwest part of the island and, protected from the wind out of the northeast, were dozens of pelicans in the trees, Great Blue Herons poised at the waters edge, great egrets roosting, vultures in the highest trees, and seven rosette spoonbills adding color to the scene.
I continued northeast, to a cove just past the canal. Spotted several manatees, and then returned to the canal. Proceeded under the drawbridge, as a tug pushing a barge steamed towards me. Another manatee. The Canal is tree lined. If not for the straight as an arrow path, it looks quite natural. As on the Indian River side, a natural channel gives an alternate route into the Lagoon, just before the Canal ends. This channel leads into a bay, protected from the bigger water of the Lagoon by a chain of spoil islands. I explored a bit, circling one island and entering the choppy Lagoon for a brief period. Back into the sheltered bay, I reentered the canal and paddled east into the Lagoon, looking for something to the south. And there they were - NASA launch pads. I did not try, the waves were a foot to a foot and a half. It was fun riding them back into the Canal.
In the Canal fishermen, both human and avian, tried their luck. I saw quite a few ospreys with fish in their talons. Nearing the bridge, another familiar sight. An alligator, head only above the surface. It went completely under as I drew near. The Haulover Canal is in the middle of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. I often see gators in other parts of the Refuge, which is full of small ponds and waterways. Seeing one in the more open water of the Canal was a treat. It also got me thinking I had a chance at the Florida Trifecta. That is, the three large lung breathing, water dwelling icons of wild Florida. I hoped to see a dolphin to complete the Trifecta.
Under the Bridge, past the ramp, I saw two more manatees at the entrance to the natural channel. I watched, and pointed them out to two kayak fishermen. I also told them about the alligator, and they said it may have been the same one that had been following them earlier in the day. Looking for a meal, perhaps? The manatees entered the channel, I took the Canal out into the Indian River, thinking the deeper water would be more likely to contain dolphins. Perhaps I would see the manatees again.
In the River, I headed southeast towards a bay. Large shapes ahead. I paddled towards them. Manatees. I kayaked closer, and then lost sight as they went under. I drifted, thinking the probably were the two I had just seen at the channel, when one decided to resurface, right under my kayak. It is an experience to get lifted out of the water, then come back down as the manatee realizes it has hit an obstacle, and quickly goes down, creating a yak rocking wake. The second one, seeing the first, also suddenly went under, its one ton body adding to the water displacement near little me. Pretty neat. Another reason to wear a life jacket.
The manatees and I went our separate ways. I went into a deep bay, beaching on an island. Getting back in the yak, I saw another alligator. Again the head was all I could see, from that I would guess a seven footer, as was the earlier one.
It was getting late, I did not get in the water until after 2:00 PM. Time to head back. Maybe another day for the Trifecta. But then, there it was. A dolphin gracefully slicing through the water. I took a parallel course as we both seemed to be heading to the Canal. Near the natural channel I watched it swim about, able to hear its breathing. I then entered the channel, which was full of leaping fish and a Blue Heron, looking over its choices for dinner. Back into the Canal, I saw a fast moving wake. The dolphin. It changed direction, and a school of small silver fish began desperately leaping in front of the onrushing predator, trying to avoid being dinner. Another dolphin joined the hunt. I knew the first dolphin was the one I saw earlier, it had a distinctive white mark, maybe a scar, on its dorsal fin.
An excellent three hour plus paddle. I saw still more manatees on the way back to my launch point, making well over 10 for the day. Two alligators, two dolphins, plus countless fish and birds. Speaking of launch, the only thing that could make a visit to Haulover better would be to witness a NASA launch from my yak.
Wide concrete ramp, pier. Asphalt parking for 20 or so vehicles, additional dirt parking, or park on side of dirt road. No water, no toilet.
Interstate 95 Exit #220 in Titusville. East on Garden Street/HWY 406. The way to the Wildlife Refuge is well marked. Cross the Bridge over the Indian River, head left at the sign directing you to Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. Past Blackpoint to State Road 3, left, 2 miles to Bairs Cove Ramp, this is well marked.