Sunset at Tiger Key
Kayaking the 10,000 Islands and the Everglades National Park
William G. McArthur, 2/28-3/4, 2011

    Darren Caffery of the Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association (JSSKA ) and Pam Malec, an Outer Banks outfitter organized a camping/kayaking trip in the Everglades following the 2009 and 2010 trips to the same general area. Since my wife and I were planning to be in Naples for our fifth winter season, and since the launching site for the trip was only 45 minutes away from our Rock Creek RV Resort, I jumped at the opportunity to sign on once again. This year we were living in our new park model home in Naples and in our new townhouse in Lewes, Delaware, having moved from NJ during the summer. When we (over)loaded the XTerra for the trip to Florida, we had to bring all of the camping gear with us. The new roof rack system on the XTerra helped with getting my kayak up on the roof. Our group consisted of Darren and Pam and me along with Paula Martel, Mike Goodman, Joe McBride, Bill Harrison, Tom Kelley, and John, Pam's assistant.  

Monday, February 28
    My wife Cathy and I got up at 5:00 AM and left at 6:00 AM to go to the launching ramp at the National Park in Everglades City. I had paddled on different occasions with four of the other eight travelers. I had an easy job fitting everything into my kayak on launch day. Our group launched at 9:08 AM and paddled 8 miles against the current in 3 hours and 41 minutes to reach our destination at Tiger Key in the 10,000 Islands. It was sunny and warm and a beautiful day on the water (pics: 1,2,3). As soon as we landed at Tiger, we set up our tents. I selected a spot next to Darren and Tom and Bill. I was only slightly slower than the other campers in getting set up. I scattered raccoon repellent behind our 3 tents. We all ate lunch. The afternoon was quite warm, so Darren and Tom went for a swim. I walked to the other side of Tiger Key and tried some fishing. After spending a nice afternoon on the beach, we cooked our meals before sunset. Pam told us that the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday was for heavy easterly winds that would be in our faces the whole trip back to Everglades City. She predicted, that with the current going the other way, there would be 5-6 foot standing waves in some of the channels. With loaded kayaks it would not be a pleasant experience. She asked us what we wanted to do. We discussed the matter and decided to go in, via the former village of Fakahatchee, and do daytrips for the rest of the week. We had a good campfire, thanks to John, and enjoyed telling stories. The stars overhead were truly awesome. I heard raccoons chattering during the night.

Tuesday, March 1    

    I got up at 6:00 AM, just before sunrise, and got my breakfast of brewed coffee and instant oatmeal. The tide was coming in as we broke camp and packed our kayaks. We launched at 10:39 AM and paddled a total of 11.9 miles (pics: 1,2,3) with a lunch stop at Fakahatchee. It was a beautiful day with a warm wind. I saw a big loggerhead turtle stick his head up near where I was paddling. I used to see those all of the time on the Delaware Bay years ago, but not so much any more. We landed at the National Park Headquarters during early afternoon. We were heading across the street to a vacant lot among the villas and cabins of Glades Haven. Mike was kind enough to haul my kayak and gear over there. We set up camp and then headed for showers or the swimming pool. Joe was celebrating his 60th birthday and treated himself to a cabin for the night. Paula was preparing herself for an ultramarathon kayak paddle on Saturday/Sunday, so she got a motel room. We all headed to the Camelia Grille for their wonderful food and rustic ambience. I had a delicious bowl of black bean soup and a wonderful grouper dinner. We had a torrential downpour while we were eating inside. Afterward, we headed back to camp. I checked my tent and it was bone dry. We headed over to the Rock Bottom Bar where I stayed for a short time before retiring with my book, "Totch", about the 10,000 Islands and Everglades City. The wind chimes at a neighboring villa and two rain showers punctuated the night.

Wednesday, March 2
    I got up at 6:00 AM again and prepared and ate breakfast. We decided to take a day trip which looped through Halfway Creek and part of Turner River. We launched at 9:00 AM and paddled through some settlements and mangroves before stopping for lunch on Turner River. The trip was about 10.4 miles. We landed back at the boat ramp in Glades Haven and loaded the kayaks again. I headed back to our camp and then Darren and I went to Smallwood's Store in Chokoloskie, where I bought a copy of "The Phony Hermit." Later, after showers and swimming in the pool, we had a happy hour and "leftovers" buffet at our camp (pics: 1,2). We saw a nice sunset and then headed to the Rock Bottom Bar. I stayed for a while and then headed back to my tent.

Thursday, March 3
    I got up at 5:40 AM and organized my stuff before emerging from the tent at 6:00 AM to cook and eat breakfast. It was a nice morning, but very windy. We broke camp and headed for Rookery Bay. At the Visitors Center, the clerk on duty didn't know anything except "It costs $5 to look around." She was ignorant and rude and shouldn't have been dealing with the public. We drove to the kayak launch area and unloaded our kayaks. The rest of the group was doing a day paddle at the bay, but I was heading back home to Rock Creek. The east wind was howling down the bay creating some big cresting waves. I said my goodbyes and headed down the bay at 10:00 AM with a good following sea. My GPS came in handy to show me how to exit at the bottom of the bay and not get sidetracked by one of the many mangrove creeks in the area. Once I exited the bay, I pulled over at a small beach for a lunch break. I just sat in the kayak to eat. Then, I made my way back to Rock Creek by hiding from the east wind as much as possible. The trip was 11.3 miles and 4 hours. Once my kayak was on the ramp at Rock Creek, I made several trips to our house carrying dry bags and all of the other gear. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up and organizing gear before letting go of the trip and moving on with my life.    

Conclusion: It was a great trip with a great tour guide. I am very grateful to Darren and Pam for setting up this trip and allowing me to take part in it. My only regret is that I brought way too much water. I hope that there is a 2012 version of this trip. I'm ready to go (and will bring less water). I put together a video of my photos, a couple of Darren's photos, and some previous photos of the waters from Rookery Bay to Rock Creek. Paula and another paddler completed the 70 mile ultramarathon paddle on Saturday/Sunday in spite of a nasty headwind.

What I Brought
    I used the writeup of the 2010 trip to help me in planning what to bring on the trip. Here is a list of the items I brought with some comments.