Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Paddling Blue Spring State Park

I'm baa-aaack....!

I am home from my trip to (mostly) sunny Florida and excited to have something to write about!  I have a hard time posting if there hasn't been much going on, and I apologize for the long absences.  But I had a great week in the salty south with my girlfriends and have lots of great photos to share.  But first, a little pre-amble to our trip.

I have been paddling a kayak for about six years.  I grew up with a rowboat and a canoe, so a self-propelled watercraft was right up my alley.  While I enjoy the freedom and ease of paddling in the kayak, I was never entirely comfortable physically.  You are pretty much stuck in one position--there's not much room to re-arrange and you certainly can't stand up in the thing.  My 'yak was only 9.5 feet long and didn't have much room for storage--except behind the seat, where it was nearly impossible to get at anything.  So when I was out shooting, my gear had to go between my knees, making it even more impossible to move.

The storage issue also posed another problem.  If we wanted to backcountry camp with the boats, we were never going to get all of our gear into three 10 foot kayaks.  We had decided our trip to Florida was going to include a night in the Canaveral National Seashore, but we were at a loss as to how to move our gear.  A canoe seemed to be the answer, so I got online one day to see what was for sale and how much we were looking at spending.

What we ended up buying--after selling my 'yak and a bunch of gently-used stuff on Craig's List--is a 12 foot Sportspal canoe, manufactured right here in Adrian, Michigan by Meyer.  We actually drove down to their facility to pick up the boat as we couldn't find a retailer closer than Cleveland who had any in stock.  This boat was designed for hunters and fishermen--at nearly four feet wide it is extremely stable.  In addition, the boat, made out of aircraft-grade aluminum, is lined with 1/2 inch thick foam, and has sponsons on the outside that are two inches thick and perhaps four inches wide.  All of this makes the boat nearly impossible to tip, and it will not sink if it becomes swamped with water--although several reviews I read said that it is very possible to fall out!  I can stand up and move around in it, and it has enough room for our gear.  Also, it weighs only 48 pounds, so I can carry it myself if I need to.

Mine is olive green, but you get the idea. Mine also came with seats and two paddles

So we called ahead and reserved a campsite at Canaveral, but once we got down to Florida I got a little nervous about paddling this canoe for the first time out in the fairly open waters of the Mosquito Lagoon.  We decided then to take our first full day and go up to Blue Spring State Park, one of our favorite places in central Florida, to put the boat in the water so I could get a feel for how it paddles, and to see if I could handle it alone in the wind.

Our course is marked in red.

We put in at the boat launch and paddled across the main river to a little oxbow that seemed a bit more sheltered and away from most of the power boats (see map above).  It was quite breezy, with gusts to 20 mph or better.  Right away I could see I was going to have a lot more trouble with the wind in the canoe than I'd ever had in the kayak.  But for now we were on the lee side of the oxbow, and I puttered around there getting a feel for the boat.

The bow of the canoe, with Lori and Lisa in the background.

Me trying to shoot some coots.  Photo by Lisa with her iPhone.

At the corner of the oxbow we came across a large flock of White Ibis, probably 30 to 40 birds, resting and preening.  I struggled to get shots of them as even the slightest breeze wanted to spin me in circles.

What amazing blue eyes they have!

After flopping around and trying to come at them from a different angle they finally got fed up with me and flew off into the trees.  I felt bad for disturbing them.

With a much higher profile I caught a lot more wind, and as we rounded the bend and paddled into the wind I had to paddle backwards.  With no ballast in the front of the boat I became the fulcrum, and I would spin until I was parallel with the wind.  Going backwards was my only option if I wanted to move against the wind.  I'm glad there was no one else around to watch me struggle.  I could see that this was going to be a great workout!

We paddled around the oxbow then drifted back with the wind.  An Anhinga was perched on a dead branch drying out in the sun, and I managed to get a few photos without scaring it away.  Across the oxbow on the north-facing bank there was a thick mat of floating vegetation and much bird activity.  But there were also some active alligators, and I couldn't keep myself from being blown into it while I was shooting, so I had to pass.  I was beginning to realize that if there was much wind involved, there would not be much shooting, especially if I was alone in the canoe.


Once we reached the main channel of the river we decided to head upstream and check out the lagoon, hoping to find some place where we could park the boats more or less out of the wind and have some lunch.

American Coot

Next: Osprey fish the lagoon


  1. Thanks for sharing your Florida trip! (How could a year have passed so quickly?) Great photos, Marie -- saw quite a few ready for the drawing board. Think your new boat will work out great -- three cheers for Made in the USA!

  2. Thanks Kittie! I agree I think this boat will suit my needs much better. I was glad to be able to get it out and learn my limitations as well as the boat's limitations. There will be times when I'll have to miss getting some great shots in order to be safe.