Wilderness Waterway Pt2 2014

following on from the ‘Lurking ‘Gator”…

I’m thinking as a settle down to a meal of ‘Chicken Tandoori’ and a glass of red wine “might as well relax and enjoy the terror”…

Onward to Broad River Chickee: The question is do I trust my Navigation skills and the book, I opt for safe channel and decide to give the Cabbage Island channel a miss as I don’t want to cut the skin on the new kayak… actually it is just a sense of cowardice at this point. Arrived around 11:00 am and meet Jim, who’s been stuck o’night due to tides as he’s planning on doing the Nightmare!

Harney River Dock
Harney River Dock
Harney River
Harney River
Jim of 'Nightmare'
Jim of ‘Nightmare’
Nightmare
Nightmare

My day has just changed, he’s sure that I’ll have no problems doing it. So I now reload my camp gear back on board and manage to tear the zip key off the rear zip. I’ve about 1m of zip sitting there ready to split open. Thanks to Folbot I’ve a basic repair kit including needle and wax thread. A ‘stitch in time’ with additional tension applied across the top deck fittings I’m ready; we’re doing it NOW! We’re about 20 mins into it when Jim reaches for his canoe paddle… its missing! Besides its value we head back as we’re in accord that a kayaker/canoeist needs a spare paddle for safety.

So after paddling back to the Chickee site and then with the tide 2NM back upriver we haven’t found it. Just a tad let down, we decide that we’ll do the Nightmare the next day regardless. Jim only needs to do about 1/3 of the distance, as he’s doing a backfill trip filling gaps from previous runs and is going to be 10 mile short of 1,000 miles paddling the Everglades. So after his cocktail hour which saw 2 bottles of Red evaporate, we hit the sack. Next morning Jim suggests that have a look around the ‘ground campsite’, I turn take 4 steps and there about 5m away is ~3m of Alligator resting. This is when Jim says that it was there last night, and he didn’t mention it as he wanted me to have a good sleep. Shades of my mate Hutch whose quote is “The only Shark I worry about is the one I can’t see”.
Back into the Nightmare, I’ve caught a few minutes of Video but being head mounted I’m knocking it against o’head branches as the channel twists and turns. We hit Channel marker 21 and Jim raises his arms in celebration – he’s now completed the Nightmare and heads back to Broad Creek. (Jim emailed later and the missing Blade was floating on the River when he headed back upstream from Harney River dock the following day).

I’ve still 2/3 of the run to do. After about 20 minutes I’m thinking that the warnings and ‘beware’ are all overrated as the channel is reasonably wide and easy paddling… then it starts to narrow… back on with the head-mount Video and it is getting narrower and twistier. I’m in Broad Creek and it is not living up to its name. I miss the odd saw marks on a branch and am jammed on a snag needing to manage a reverse 3 point turn. It’s a case of holding onto a branch above me and using my knees to try and lift the kayak back off the snag. As if it wasn’t humid enough, the sweat is pouring off me and I’m now on a receding tide with about 1.5NM to paddle up the creek. Anyway, tension was relieved as the creek opened onto the feeder channel dropping down onto Harney River Chickee. I wanted to shout and have the crowd cheering for me as I started to realize that I’d completed the Nightmare. Instead it was another solo ‘COLD’ night for me. The temperature has been dropping to 2C as a result of the cold front bearing down from the ‘snow-bound’ Northern States.
So during the night I think about the next stop and planned day after. I’ll be against the tide going upriver along Harney and the following a tide turn against running down Shark River.

Shark River Chickee: The following day I was planning on doing the Labyrinth. I’m cold, physically getting tired, have a damaged kayak and left the detailed charts for the Labyrinth. Aside from the Labyrinth the waters over the next few days have been paddled. So with this in mind I leave Shark River and shorten the trip.
Seemingly long day to Sth Joe River Chickee as mentally shortening the trip feels like a bit of a cheat. Safety and the frailty of the rear Zip repair have tipped the scales.
Sth Joe is probably my favorite landing as the dawn here is usually spectacular.

Sth Joe Dawn
Sth Joe Dawn

Two Canoes arrive and this crew have done it hard. They’d met Jim at Broad River, so were on the lookout for me. They’d had to abandon Nightmare and pulled out via one of the creeks running back into the Gulf and paddled back up the coast to a mud landing in the dark. They’re barnacle cut around ankles and calves, tired but full of life. Dolphins and Manatee were heard o’night and woke to the red colours of the dawn.
So its load and paddle aiming to hit the Flamingo Marina by noon. Crossed the southern aspect of Whitewater Bay, done Tarpon Channel into Coot Bay and running down Buttonwood Channel with the odd Tourist Boat passing me.
One eases up behind me, the Skipper asks me to drop off speed so she can pass. “OK by me, but hold off until I’m in your wake” (this keeps me out of the wake and the rebound wake off the canal wall). Easy peasy and this is when I hit my maximum speed on the trip – 10.7knts. About 15 minutes later a ‘pig boat’ she’s built like a short fat wallowing workhorse; eases up alongside me, and as I disappear from his view he hits full throttle! I’m still beside him and a 40cm wake hits me side on! Damn near flipped and as I brace I’m hit by the rebound wash off the canal wall… I thought some very derogatory things about the Skipper, his heritage and family as I’d braced several times. I end pulling myself out from under the Mangrove roots and barely started paddling when I’m hit by the wake of an approaching Fisherman.
Finally arrive, unload the kayak and I’ve stored all and sundry on the landing. I’m off to check in with the Rangers and see if I can get a lift for me and gear to the Campsite. The chap who offers the lift says as we pull up to my gear “that’s the Crac pad” “the what?” I’d dropped my gear where a 4m Crocodile rests during the day… thank goodness it wasn’t around at that time of the day.

FFF Camp site
FFF Camp site


A few days later the bike I’d been loaned suffered a flat tyre about 8km from the Camp grounds. A pick-up passes and turns around. “Looks like you got a flat, would you like a lift to your campsite?” So bike and I are sitting on the tailgate and I’m dropped off. The Ranger’s parting comment was “I’m the Skipper who sent you into the Mangroves and I felt bad about what I did, which is why I picked you up” All was forgiven and that attitude is what is prevalent here – warmth, welcoming and helpful.
Great trip, achieved more than I’d planned and already planning return in 2016 to do it again.

Trip summary here

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