Flamingo Fling (a CABB fun day)
Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010
Everglades National Park, Florida
By John McKnight, JMcKnight76@aol.com
This was a day I will remember the rest of my life. It was simply a fabulous day of sailing in South Florida. Plus the day was filled with intrigue and mystery with the discovery of a fully loaded abandoned canoe on a remote beach at the distant reaches of Everglades National Park.
We arranged to rendezvous at 9:30 at Flamingo which is the southernmost terminus in Everglades National Park. This adventure was a repeat of a trial run I had done last spring to check out the feasibility of doing a group sail to East Cape. East Cape is the southernmost point of land in the continental United States. The Florida Keys are further south from East Cape, but they are just that, keys (islands). East Cape is a pristine, uninhabited beach 10 miles from Flamingo, which is last inkling of civilization at the very tip of mainland Florida. The beach at East Cape stretches north and west for many miles up the coast of Florida. The beach is 50 feet wide and covered with powdery white sand and billions of pristine sun bleached seashells.
Our adventure started at Flamingo which is at the end of the road in Everglades National Park. Flamingo has a visitor's center, a campground, and a marina. It took us an hour and a half to drive from my home in south Miami-Dade to Flamingo. Josh Rosenbaum was sailing with me this day. We parked the van and trailer at the marina and rigged my Hobie 20. Jofre Rosero was there with his Prindle 19. Gina Hopen came with her Hobie Island Adventure trimaran (HIAT). Gary Marcinkoski and his son Dylan were there with their RIB motorboat instead of their venerable Hobie 18.
I had never seen a HIAT before. It is a small kayak length trimaran which incorporates three methods of propulsion. You can use any one or conceivably all three methods at once, to propel yourself through the water. First, it has a sail which furls around an un-stayed roller furling mast. Second, it can be powered by an ingenious set of foot peddles which are mechanically connected to two flippers which paddle you through the water. And finally the trimaran can be paddled with a conventional double ended kayak paddle. It was interesting to note that there were two other fellows, who were not part of our group, who also had HIATs and were preparing to launch their craft from the same ramp we were using. What are the chances of seeing three of these crafty craft at one time when I had never even heard of them before? I figure it must be the start of another craze in water craft.
We all had our boats rigged and ready to sail by 10:30. I was eager to get going so we could make the trip to East Cape and back before it got dark. We had a short briefing on our objective for the day, and we all set our marine radios to channel 72 for inter-boat communication while we were underway. The adventure began when we all pushed off from the ramp and headed out the narrow mangrove shrouded opening from the marina. Once we cleared the mangrove wind shadow, the winds picked up, and we were sailing on a broad reach heading west. We gave Gina a head start because we knew the 20 foot cats would be faster than her trimaran. The winds were out of the northeast at about 8 mph. We were scooting across the flats at a good clip. It is very shallow just outside the marina unless you stay in the marked channel. We were cutting the corner so we had to run with the daggerboards up and the rudders kicked back. We quickly caught up with Gina. The water eventually got deeper, and we were able to put the rudders down and boogie across the flat water of Florida Bay. It was a magnificent sail. The temperature was in the low 70s and the cool breeze on our faces was incredibly refreshing. The sun was shining brightly, and I felt in harmony with our surrounding. We were totally engulfed in nature. I knew it was going to be a fantastic day.
Our goal, East Cape, was 10 miles toward the west. I asked Josh to take a look at our GPS......we were doing 7.8 mph. We were able to point straight to our destination because of the favorable wind angle. I thought this would be a quick trip. We could see the other two Hobie trimarans off in the distance sailing in tandem. They had left about ½ hour before our group, and they were heading in the same direction that we were. Gary and Dylan were shadowing us with their motorboat. It was comforting to know they were there in case of a breakdown. Jofre's Prindle 19 and my Hobie 20 were almost perfectly matched in speed, and we sailed in unison for many miles. At one point we decided to double back and check on Gina's progress. We sailed back to her position and chatted with her for a few minutes before continuing toward the west. Once again we could see the other two trimarans in the distance, and we slowly reeled them in with our faster speed. We caught them and talked with them for a few minutes as we slowed to match their speed. They were using their sails and also their peddle powered flippers to propel their craft. They were loaded down with overnight camping gear and food because they were going out on a three day trip. We pressed on toward East Cape. At one point the wind totally died for about 15 minutes, and then it filled in 180 degrees from where it had been. It clocked to the southwest, and then we were beating into a headwind. About this time we got a call on the radio from Gina. She was concerned with her lack of progress and thought it best if she turned around and started heading back to Flamingo. She had been sailing for about 2 hours and was still only about halfway to the cape. That was a good decision on her part. Jofre and I were just about at the cape when we got the call from Gina. We discovered an incredibly strong current as we approached the tip of the cape. We had to tack and tack upwind against the current to make the very tip of the cape, but we finally made it.
As we approached the cape, we had seen a green fiberglass canoe pulled way up on the beach. We went ashore a short distance from the canoe. We ate lunch on the deserted beach and chatted about our adventure so far. We walked up and down the beach and examined specimens of seashells and assorted flotsam. We snapped some pictures, and enjoyed the serene panoramic vistas in all directions. We were the only ones on this expansive beach. After lunch Dylan and I walked down the beach to check out the seemingly abandoned canoe. I had expected to see some activity around the canoe......... but we saw no one. I thought this was very strange that the canoe owners were not within sight. The canoe was fully loaded with camping gear. There were also PFDs and three paddles in the boat as well. We could see the groove in the sand were the canoe had been pulled up on the beach. That looked fresh. There were very few foot prints around the boat, but there were lots for raccoon tracks. I started to feel like we were on one of those CSI shows. We were looking for clues to solve this mystery of the missing canoers. There seemed to be no place for the occupants to be. Behind the canoe was dense vegetation and ponds of brackish water, a very inhospitable environment at best. I took pictures of the Southwest Airline luggage tags on the camping gear bags. I also took pictures of an ID tag on one of the bags to have as a record. The ID card indicated one of the canoers was a professional photographer. Gary called the Coast Guard in Key West on his cell phone and notified them of the abandon canoe we had found. We figured we had done our good deed for the day.
We had to get going. It was already two o'clock and we still had a two hour sail back to Flamingo. The sail back was absolutely magnificent. Jofre and I sailed our boats in close formation all the way back. We took pictures of each other's boats. It was downwind run all the way, and we jibed back and forth across Florida Bay. I saw a huge turtle with his head out of the water checking us out. He dove for the safety of the bottom as we zipped by him. I was a bit disappointed because we had not seen the many dolphin and jumping fish we had seen on the last trip in the spring. We made very good time and arrived back at Flamingo by 3:30, we still had almost two hour until dark. We packed up our boats and took a few more snapshots as the sun faded into the west. The sunset had that spectacular golden glow. It had been an awesome day, and everyone was thrilled to participate in this outing. Memories were made that day.
Post Script: A few days later I was still wondering what the story was with the abandoned canoe. I decided to try and call the number that was listed on the ID tag on the bag in the canoe. I got a hold of Jeremiah, the professional photographer. He explained that they had left their canoe on the beach that day and gone back out fishing with a friend who had a motor boat. That explained everything. It seems very logical now, but at the time, we couldn't come up with that possible scenario. I was glad to know they were all right.
I took some pictures of this outing. If you would like to see them, they are on the CABB Facebook page. You can look at them even if you are not a Facebook user. You are also welcome to join the CABB Facebook page if you would like. You will find it listed as Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay-Florida. But if you just want to view the pictures they can be reached through this link. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=252785&l=495aecdcd3&id=133406503177
Commodore, Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay (CABB)
CABB Forum: http://www.catsailor.com/forums/postlist.php?Cat=&Board=CABB