Florida Rules

At work, on February 23, 1999 they announced the cancellation of the product we had been developing. After 2 ½ years of intense effort, completing the development and selling several units, they announced the end of new feature development. Now, for the first time I can remember, I have time on my hands. Winter is getting old, it has been 5 months since I was in a kayak. My parents spend the winter in sunny Lighthouse Point Florida. Round trip airfare is only $170 so a plan is forming. I decided to visit my parents for the week of March 14. I am really looking forward to a week on the water.


I asked my father to look in the yellow pages for kayak outfitters. In parallel, I searched the Internet for outfitters in the area. Sunday I arrived on time. It was not long before our referrals began to converge on Atlantic Coast Kayak Company. I gave them a call on Sunday afternoon. "Press one for our schedule", my parents have a rotary phone and no answering machine. I stayed on the line and left a message. Monday morning I went to a (touch tone) pay phone and learned their Internet address. I sent E-mail and asked them to call.

I called several other outfitters, and got no answers. Later that day I took a walk with my parents. We saw many "canals" that make channels like streets in a sub division and end up at the intracoastal waterway. I learned that "Fort Lauderdale is called the Venice of America". We visited the beach. It had beautiful white sand, green and blue water and was as calm as Sandy Hook Bay. What a paradise of paddling, yet I can't seem to get a boat.

Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. I finally get a call from Atlantic Coast Kayak Company. I ask what type of Kayak they rent. "We have sit-on-tops and also a few of the Perception eclipse sea-lions."

"Great, I have an eclipse sea lion, that's my boat. Please reserve one for Wednesday morning pick up."

During the planning my father mentioned that he would like to come along with me in a kayak. We discussed several options, and agreed we would rent him a sea-lion as well. We called the outfitter back and asked him to reserve two boats for Wednesday. My father is very fit, especially for his age, but he does have a bad back, and some people think I'm old, so perhaps he actually is. Old is difficult, you never quite seem to get there, so who is to say?

West Lake Park

Wednesday I am up early, trying to move the morning ritual along quickly so we can get to the outfitter on time. We finally arrived shortly after 10 a.m. The rental kayak rack is on the bank of the Cypress Creek which works its way to the intracoastal water way. The plan is clear, rent two sea-lions, put them in the Cypress Creek next to where they are stored and the two of us paddle the rest of the day.

The best-laid plans of mice and men, however, don't always come to pass. My father took a good look at the cockpit of the sea-lion, and having only canoe experience rather than kayak experience., opted for a sit-on-top kayak. We asked the outfitter to suggest a place to paddle. He suggested West Lake Park about 15 miles south. We asked, why we couldn’t just put the boats in the canal right next to where they were sitting? He said: 1) insurance regulations prohibit it, and 2) the dam across the street will make it impossible to go anywhere. I had called the Nature Center at West Lake Park on Monday who said they rent kayaks along a pretty lake with mangrove trees.

A Mangrove Tree

With that, we went with plan two: 1) rent the sea-lion for me from Atlantic Coast Kayak, 2) drive to West Lake Park ,3) rent a sit-on-top kayak for my father, and 4) spend the rest of the day paddling.

We drove another 15 miles to the West Lake Park boat marina. They are closed except on the weekends, but I can launch my Kayak at their floating dock they have. To rent boats we need to go another ½ mile to the Ann Kolb Nature Center. We go there and see that they rent kayaks and canoes.

My father decided to rent a canoe. As we are about to rent the canoe, the rental agent said: "you know you can't launch your kayak here, you can only launch at the marina." We asked if there was a water route that would allow a canoe rented at the nature center to meet up with a kayak launched at the marina. The rental agent said it could not be done. Now our choices are: 1) my father rents a canoe and I stand and watch, or 2) I launch my kayak and my father stands and watches. Thanks to my dad’s generosity, we went with plan two.

So I finally launched the sea-lion from the marina. I followed a channel to the west lake and it was beautiful. The lake shore is lined with groves of mangrove trees. Several cuts in the shore line lead to marked "trails" that are overhung with mangrove trees. Power boats are banned from the lake and I saw only three other boats all day. I spent about three hours paddling through every trail and following the perimeter of the three mile long lake My father hiked around the area and caught up with me about two hours into the paddle. We left and returned the kayak to the outfitters.

The Intracoastal Waterway

Paddling West Lake was very good, but the ocean and intracoastal waterway are both gorgeous. The trip would not be complete until they were navigated. So we were curious about kayaking from the beach. On our way home we stopped off at 16th Avenue beach. It is a stunning public beach with water temperature reported at 76º, and air temperature at 79º It also has a sign saying "no launching of water craft". None-the-less, two blocks to the south, the beach umbrella concession rents Ocean Kayaks for $15 an hour. No trouble launching them, I’m sure.

Further research determined that kayaks can be launched at the south end of Pompano beach, at Atlantic Boulevard and Route A1A. Kayakers must walk along the line between the public lifeguarded beach and the private hotel owned beach. Thursday morning weather surveillance showed cloudy skies, slight chance of rain, wind from the East at 10-15 knots, and choppy seas. Earlier in the week I had seen the ocean perfectly flat. So a decision had to be made, go Thursday in choppy seas or wait for Friday, my last day here, and hope for better weather. I decided to wait until Friday, however, if the weather was bad then, I would miss my last chance.

The gamble paid off big-time! Friday was gorgeous, very calm winds, very calm seas. We got the boat and I was in the water by 10:30 AM. I headed north to the Hillsborough Inlet.

Hillsborough Inlet and Intracoastal Waterway

It was a bit tricky entering the inlet, many boats are going and coming through the narrow channel. Their size, speed and wake are all surprising. Also, the current was coming out to sea quickly. I made it through the inlet, timing my crossing between a flurry of boats. I landed the kayak on a small shaded beach within the inlet and had lunch. Across the waterway a woman paddling a yellow sit-on-top Ocean Kayak approached me on shore. She asked where I was from, and said she was in a kayak club and invited new kayakers to join. Hearing I was from New Jersey, she did not tell me more about the club. She did, however, give me good advice on how to go under the Route A1A draw bridge, with a rapid current against me and many boats waiting for the bridge to open. The route to follow is the extreme right or left, hugging the sea wall the whole way. It went smoothly until I tried to enter the intracoastal waterway. The current was very strong out of the waterway into the inlet where five miles of the intracoastal was emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. I was going backwards for a bit and was somewhat shaken by the three huge boats going under the draw bridge, but I paddled hard and got through the current. I traveled north on the Intracoastal for about a mile. The boats were gorgeous, including some of the largest yachts I have ever seem. Most of them were docked and many of them were cruising north and south. Going against the current was difficult, so when I got to a boat that was bigger than my house, I turned around and made it back under the bridge very easily. I went ashore again on "Barnacle beach" to take a short rest. The Guardian kayaker finished her trip to the beach and paddled toward me on the shore and asked if I made it to the Intracoastal. I thanked her for her advice. I then went easily out the inlet, paddled along the beach and returned to my starting point for a beautiful three hour, six mile long paddle.

Next year I would like to return and take a several day long guided tour of the Everglades.

Lessons Learned

As much as I enjoyed the week, I could have spent more time paddling and less time phoning and waiting if I had paid more attention to the following guidelines:


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