Wild space and outer space coexist at the Canaveral National Seashore and adjacent Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north of Cape Canaveral. The Mosquito Lagoon lies between a narrow barrier island with 24 miles of primitive beach, and another, slightly wider strip of land separating the Lagoon from the Indian River. Dotted with islands, the Lagoon offers plenty of paddling pleasures.
Sunday, July 31, 2005, I entered the North District of the Seashore, paying the $5 entry fee. A boat ramp is located just south of the gate. Shortly after 9 am, the lot looked full of boats and trailers. Paddlers can launch here if they want, and park in a lot across the road. For those who wish to avoid powerboats, there is a designated canoe/kayak launch site a mile or so down the main road, then on the only other road at the Seashore. This small lot, 10 spaces or so, was also full. A local group, the Mosquito Lagoon Paddlers was putting in. Nice folks. Offered me bug spray as the Lagoon was living up to its name. I had come prepared. I took the kayak off the car, and then drove 2/10 of a mile to the next lot. This lot has a waterless outhouse, the launch lot does not. Bring plenty of water. Other than at the visitor center, located near the boat ramp, there is no running water at the Seashore. The launch is a narrow dirt area framed by bushes. I was in the water at 9:30.
The water was flat as I paddled north, between the barrier island and several small islands in the Lagoon. My destination, Shipyard Island. A marked canoe trail begins across from the boat ramp. Maps are available at the Visitor Center. I entered Shipyard from the southeast, not at the start of the Trail, eventually hitting the Trail at marker 8. Since my last visit in May, large red arrows have been added to the Trail. These come in handy as Shipyard Island has a checkerboard of canals and channels, fun to explore, but it can be confusing. Following the narrow waterway northwest through the Island, hundreds of fiddler crabs scuttled across the mudflats exposed by the outgoing tide. Herons and egrets foraged for food, while above, osprey sought prey. I ran aground a couple times, but was able to push my way to deeper water. The Trail ends short of the north end of the Island, to follow it you turn around and take another channel back to the start. I continued to the northwest end of the island. Just before open water, the channel became extremely shallow, sharp oyster shells protruding above the surface. I got out and dragged the yak the last few feet. Anglers tried their luck in the shallow bay. I paddled north, then east around the tip of Shipyard. Out of the National Seashore, homes line the east shore of the Lagoon. I was looking for JB's Fish Camp, a popular bar/restaurant/boat launch. I could not recall seeing all these houses while sitting on JB's deck, my memory was a natural view. This was my first attempt to visit by sea. Then I saw an island. Aha, it must be behind here. It was. I beached, near a rack of rental kayaks. Went into the restaurant, only to be told it did not open for twenty minutes, 11:30. Not wanting to wait, I filled my water bottle and shoved off.
Heading south, I was soon back in National Seashore part of the Lagoon. Shipyard Island on my right, I paddled past the boat ramp towards Turtle Mound. This Timucan Indian shell mound towers 35 feet above the landscape. A bench and two picnic tables are on shore just south of the Mound. I landed, and walked the boardwalk to the top of the Mound, carefully avoiding webs made by 2 inch long yellow spiders. The view is spectacular, ocean, lagoon, distant high-rise condos to the north, to the south, no buildings to mar the vista. Back down, had a sandwich and a beer. Alcohol, as long as it is in cans, is legal here. Picked up a can and bottle left my some yahoo and disposed them properly. Legs stretched and belly full, I set off again.
Soon after I was in the water, I saw a concentric swirl, then a manatee's snout break the surface. I lingered, watching it for a while as it placidly swam north, occasionally coming up for air. Eventually I lost sight as it stayed below several minutes. I moved on, towards the Visitor Center dock. This is an observation dock, to high to land. Riprap lined the shore. Where can I beach? Saw a narrow flat area. Landed. Thick bushes, but a path led out. Went into the cool Center, spoke to a friendly guide, and topped off my bottle again. I had another bottle, frozen in a cooler, but I knowing this was my last chance for water, I wanted to top off the tank. July in Florida, you tend to lose a bit of water, my T-shirt was soaked, and not from falling in the Lagoon.
On my way again, I passed my put-in, the adjacent fishing pier, and Eldora State House, a refurbished 19th century home, the last vestige of a late 19th century community. The two story white building makes a good landmark. It is open to visitors. Past Eldora, I spotted two large brown shapes in the water ahead. Manatees? I increased pace to find out. Yes, 2 manatees were much more active than the one near Turtle Mound, flukes rising out of the water, then snouts. More manatees in the area, perhaps five. I drifted. The manatees approached me. One rolled over on its back. Two others rubbed snots. They came closer. One had a deep propeller scar across its back, another, two scars. I could have reached out and touched them. I did not, knowing it is illegal to harass manatees. Touching can be considered harassment. I have the feeling these manatees have been petted, and even fed by people ignorant of how to treat wildlife. They docilely looked at me, then would close their nostrils, go under my yak and come out on the other side. This continued for several minutes. The manatees and I drifted apart, but they came back for more "play". Neat stuff.
Having the manatee thrill, I wanted to see another aquatic mammal, dolphins. I continued south, in deeper water where
I might find some. I also went in shallow water, past small, unnamed islands, spotting egret, herons and ibises. I circled a larger island, heading back north to the launch. Thinking I was going to get shut out on dolphins, I came to an area where I saw what could have been a dorsal in the distance when I paddled north. I scanned the area. Saw two apparent dorsal fins. I paddled toward them, they were dolphins. Perhaps 5 were in the area. I watched them, tried to follow at a distance, but they did not linger. Paddled on, seeing yet another manatee, fluke rising from the surface.
Back to the launch site, I got out at 2:30, 5 hours on the water with three brief stops. The day was not over. Swam in the Atlantic surf, biked the park road, ocean on the left, lagoon on the right. I walked two nature trails. Quickly, even with spray the mosquitoes were bad and more big spiders with beautiful webs across the path. Saw a raccoon and yet another manatee near the fishing dock. Left the Seashore and drove to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Having seen two symbols of wild Florida, manatee and dolphin, I had to find the other icon, the alligator. Driving through the Refuge, I saw an eagle. Riding my bike on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, I saw three alligators, along with herons, egrets, ibis, ducks, moorhens, osprey and Florida scrub jays.
Manatees, dolphins, and alligators - I'd say it was a good day. My goal is to see them all on the same day from my kayak. I think it is just a matter of time.
Plenty in New Smyrna Beach, even more to the north, Daytona Beach.
A1A south from New Smyrna Beach to Seashore entrance.
Canaveral National Seashore
308 Julia St
Titusville, FL 32796