A visit to north Florida provided a great opportunity to break a long spell of work with a day paddling. Having convinced a group of colleagues that this would be a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon and booked the trip, we then had a week when the weather was most untypical of Florida - single digit temperatures, a bitterly cold wind and lashing cold rain were the themes - in fact for most of the week Scotland was warmer than Florida!
The forecasts all agreed that the weekend would see much better weather, and so it proved. Saturday was a fine, pleasantly warm day - perfect for a paddle. We met Joe and Matt from First Coast Outfitters at the Dutton Island Nature Preserve and got sorted out with boats and kit along with the other folks booked on the tour.
Soon we were out on the water and away from the attentions of "no see um" insects, midge-like pests which bite, but fortunately without the ferocity and lasting marks of the Scottish Midge! At this time of year the water was surprisingly "bracing" despite the warm sun.
I've done this tour previously and it proved to be just as enjoyable as I'd remembered. Our flotilla made a colourful sight in the bright sunshine as we paddled out......
...into the Intracoastal Waterway, the 3000 mile man-made channel along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the US eastern seaboard.
We made our way along a channel leading around Dutton Island, passing under the bridge carrying the small access road to the nature preserve - which required some contortions from the taller members of the group!
The intricate series of channels behind the island are interesting to paddle with plenty of wildlife too. We saw Ospreys, Great Grey Heron, Black Vultures, Egrets and several species of wildfowl.
The channels were often narrow but sometimes widened out to give spacious views - the huge radio mast was a useful navigational reference point!
Taking a break from paddling involved simply reversing the boat into the Spartina Grass lining the edges of the channels :-)
All too soon we were back out onto the ICW and heading back to the boat launch from where we'd set out. It had been a great afternoon with good company, lovely weather and an interesting route; a perfectly paced and informative trip. If you're in the area and want to experience paddling this special environment, First Coast Outfitters are really recommended.
Of course, after all this outdoor activity, we felt that the only way to round off the day would be to refuel with pizza and a glass or two of wine at Al's Pizza in nearby Atlantic Beach - not really a sea kayaking restaurant, but highly rated all the same!