GASP! Gufl Area Sea Paddlers

Cedar Key Debacle

Copyright By Deb Hawkins

Gulf Area Sea Paddlers - GASP!

Hi Everyone!

Here's a sort of funny trip report that I wrote up after my most recent trip to my favorite paddling place...

Please, no email about what idiots we are, believe me, we already know...

see ya on the H2O



Deb's Kayak Journal

Trip: Cedar Key to Seahorse Key (almost)
Date: Sunday, May 11, 1997
Who: Deb, Greg, and Marc
Put-In: Beach north of the Public Pier

This spring has been uncommonly cool and dry so far. PERFECT weather for paddling. It has been a while since the three of us have paddled together. We have all been busy with various things and frequently remind each other that those perfectly good boats are just sitting out in the yard waiting for us. We finally got our act together and decided to take a trip over to Cedar Key for a day of paddling. We were even bringing a newbie with us. Amanda has never paddled before but has wanted to try it for as long as she has known Marc. We talked about a paddling trip on Sunday when we all got together on Friday night but didn't actually nail down the details because I had misplaced my tide chart for Cedar Key. We knew where we were going but not when.

I picked up a new tide chart on Saturday morning and saw that the high tides were at 5:30 am and 4:13 pm. It is sometimes difficult to find a place to launch over there at low tide so we planned to head over and be on the water by 11:30 or 12:00. This way we could catch the tide coming in and wouldn't have to worry about getting stuck in the muck.

The three of us agreed to meet at Greg's house at 10:30 and set out from there. I already had two boats on top of my truck because I had paddled a few days earlier and never unloaded them. Marc's plan was to bring the other two boats, pick up Amanda, and at Greg's.

I woke up early and had a bunch of stuff to do before I could leave. I ran to the store and bought fruit and snacks for the trip, stopped at the bank for some money, called my mom to wish her happy Mother's Day, and took my dog for a quick walk. Marc called at around 10:00 to tell me that he hadn't been able to get in touch with Amanda so obviously she wasn't coming with us. He asked me to pick him up on my way to Greg's and I said I'd be over in a few.

I got to his place and loaded his boat on top of the other two. I had given him back his tie-down straps the night before, when we all left Bennigan's, so he could tie his boats down in the morning but they got left in Greg's Blazer (natch). We had to improvise with a couple of pieces of rope I had in my truck box. I didn't feel real good about the way the third boat was loaded so we took the back way to Greg's; that way, I didn't have to go too fast.

We got to Greg's with all three boats still on top of my truck. I got the straps and reinforced the top boat and we headed out. We had to stop for gas, and Greg and Marc were starving so they went in the store for food while I filled up the truck. They walked out with those hot dogs that smell great but have a tendency to revisit you later on. I just laughed to myself thinking about how funny it would be to see them both heaving over the sides of the kayaks.

It took about an hour to get to Cedar Key. When we got to the beach, we unloaded the boats and gear. The wind was blowing about 15 mph out of the southeast. This meant that we had to deal with wind and following seas coming from our rear left quarter. Not much of a problem for Marc and I since we both paddle Sealutions with rudders but kind of iffy for Greg in my extra boat, a yellow Spectrum with no rudder. As we were loading our gear in the boats, Greg asked me if I felt something biting me. I said no and then suddenly realized we were both covered with those annoying little no-see-ums. They are the WORST! There's no point in trying to kill them either. For a minute, I thought I was at Parris Island. We hopped in the boats and I attached my spray skirt. I had thought I had gotten all of them off of me but I quickly realized that not only were they still biting me, they were trapped in the boat underneath the spray skirt and would probably be with me for a while.

We headed out and it really didn't seem that bad but I noticed that Greg was really having to take a lot of corrective strokes to keep his boat headed in the right direction. We modified the direction a little so we were going more or less straight downwind. This added distance to the first leg but was much easier on Greg. We were having a good time surfing some of the larger swells and we encountered a small school of Bottle-Nosed Dolphins. At this point, we were still in the wind shadow somewhat because Cedar Key was blocking some of the wind. After we watched the dolphins for a few minutes, we continued on. We were about a mile and a half from the beach and getting ready to cut across the boat channel. The conditions were getting a little more challenging and within 15 seconds of each other, a particularly big wave almost took Marc over and succeeded in dumping Greg into the water. "Oh Geez"

This is how I recall the 20 or 30 minutes that followed:

I was downwind from them both and didn't see Marc almost lose it but he must have yelled because I turned in time to see Greg's boat get dumped over by the same wave. Immediately, Marc and I turned around and headed back there as Greg came up next to his boat, $130.00 sunglasses still on his face. Both of them had been drinking from styrofoam cups that they bought with their hot dogs and Greg's was now cruising downwind like a spinnaker. Marc yelled for me to "grab that cup Deb" and I looked at him like he'd lost his mind. I looked at Greg and I looked at the cup and decided that Greg was slightly more important. I let the cup go and pulled up next to him and Marc was already there. I grabbed my bilge pump and handed it over to Greg who started pumping the water out. Marc handed his drink to me with instructions to "hold this for a minute." I dumped the drink and started bailing the boat with the cup; not exactly what he'd intended when he handed it to me.

Almost immediately, a fisherman changed course and came over to make sure everything was OK. We thanked him but there wasn't much he could do that we weren't already doing, although I appreciated the backup just in case.

Things were going well until Greg put a little too much weight on Marc's boat. We had only pumped out about half of the water at this point. Marc went over and came up between his boat and Greg's, and now there were two people in the water along with paddles, an extra life jacket, a bottle of sunscreen, and a couple of water bottles. We store our boats outside and it isn't uncommon for frogs, lizards, and bugs to take up residence inside them. Every once in a while, we will find a frog or something still in there while we are paddling so it wasn't a big surprise when I looked over at Greg and saw a tiny tree frog sitting on his shoulder. It obviously was not thrilled about our situation either because it was trying to get to higher ground. It made it all the way up to Greg's right ear before it flipped back into the water. I reached for it and put in on the front deck of my boat but it jumped into the water and swam away. I grabbed both of their paddles and the miscellaneous gear bobbing in the water and stuck what I could under the bungies. By this time, Greg had been in the water about 10 minutes. Marc, who was having a hard time not laughing, suggested that Greg get in the Sealution since it is easier to get in and out of and held almost no water. Greg climbed in and we pumped a bunch more water out of the Spectrum. Once the Spectrum was almost empty, Greg climbed over from the Sealution into the Spectrum. We both then paddled to the upwind side of Marc's boat which turned out to be not such a good idea since now we were being pounded by waves and each one pushed us into Marc's head. He jumped back into his boat with no trouble, we redistributed all the gear that I had lashed down on my deck and did a quick survey of what was missing. I came out better than either of them. I lost a water bottle which was full and went straight to the bottom, I'm almost certain. Marc lost his giant cup of tea, Greg lost his Coke, and we couldn't immediately account for the brand new bottle of Bain de Soliel sun screen.

At this point, we still had every intention of making it out to Sea Horse Key. Marc shot out ahead of us and was quickly several hundred yards out in front. I stuck kind of close to Greg for the next few minutes and I think I heard him say "Oh my Christ" or something. I looked over and could see that something had ticked him off. I asked him about it and he said never mind. I assumed that he had lost his waterproof camera because I could see that his good camera, which was in a drybag prior to the capsize/debacle, was still lashed under the bungies. I scanned the horizon looking for the "Styrofoam Spinnaker" because I figured if I could see the direction the cup went, I could follow it and maybe find the camera.

I quit paddling for a few minutes but never saw the cup again. I guess it's well on it's way to the Yucatan by now. I realized that I was getting pretty far from Greg so I turned and headed back to him. When I caught up with him he said he'd had enough and was turning around. I couldn't blame him. His boat was not really cut out for the conditions we were in and the swim he took was a not-so-subtle warning that we really should head back to calmer water.

I finally dragged out of him what had made him so angry. It turns out, he hadn't lost anything. He had stuck a roll of exposed film in his pocket and forgotten it when he took the last picture and reloaded his camera. We looked back at Marc and he was still paddling away from us and was almost to Sea Horse Key. There was no way to yell to him because he was at least 3/4 of mile away and I wasn't about to leave Greg although I knew he was fine. I was worried about the water still in his boat and the wind which was picking up considerably.

There is a small island called Atsena Otie Key that is only a half mile from the beach we launched from. The island was straight upwind from us and I knew if we could get close to it, we would be in calmer water and less wind. We could dump Greg's boat, wait for Marc, get our collective sh*t together and shoot across the channel to our beach. I estimated that we had about a mile of paddling before we were in calm water. I looked back at Marc who must have realized that we were giving up on Sea Horse Key because he turned around and was paddling hell for leather back to us.

Marc caught up to us just as we reached the lee side of Atsena Otie Key. He was still laughing about what happened. By this time, I had relaxed too. I don't always see the humor in a situation like that until everyone is back on the beach. Marc thought I was annoyed with him because I wasn't laughing at all when they were in the water. I was far from mad but I did think it was more serious than it really was. We were in the boat channel and I was mostly concerned about getting run over before we could get everyone back in the boats. I have to admit, I was kind of tense, but I never felt like we were in any real trouble.

We pulled up on the beach at Atsena Otie Key and ate lunch. Marc was still searching for the sunscreen and we determined that it somehow made the journey from his deck to the inside of Greg's boat during the capsize. It had migrated all the way to the front of the boat and was wedged between the hull and the floatation bag. Greg tried to reach it by crawling face first into the cockpit but his shoulders were too wide to get all the way into the boat. I got some (hopefully) great pictures of his legs sticking out of the boat while the rest of his body was stuffed in the kayak. He gave up and Marc, who is narrower gave it a try. He managed to reach it while I continued snapping pictures. We were all dying of thirst since all of us had lost what we had planned to drink. Greg still had a bottle of water and we shared it with lunch. We rested for a few more minutes, then headed back out on the water. We made the crossing back to the beach in about 10 minutes and loaded up, stopped at the little store for more stuff to drink, and headed home.

What We Learned:

  1. Lash everything down
  2. Stuff that can't get wet goes in a drybag
  3. Film and saltwater don't mix
  4. It's not funny until everyone is back in the boat


"Deb, you need to chill out..."


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