September 10th: Destin Marina to Point Washington

joans photo of me leaving destin
Leaving Destin Marina. Photo courtesy of Joan Vienot!

After a wonderfully huge and tasty breakfast, Joan drove me back to the marina so that I could finish the mileage that I was supposed to do the day before. The wind was still up so I decided to hug the coast and carefully work my way to Point Washington. Joan graciously offered for me to stay at her place another night.

Doe standing along the shore of Choctawhatchee Bay.
Doe standing along the shore of Choctawhatchee Bay.

I worked my way down the bay and ended up battling into strong winds and breaking waves. My chart was full of ominous warnings about submerged metal stakes in the bay that could potentially damage any boat that encountered them. Thankfully, I was able to avoid these even though the were not marked.

I cruised past a sunken sailboat and even saw a deer standing on shore. The bay was mostly undeveloped with just a few homes hidden amongst the pines. The wind continued to howl and my progress was agonizingly slow.

Paddling along a marsh...
Paddling along a marsh…
Sunken sailboat...wonder if he hit one of those submerged stakes...
Sunken sailboat…wonder if he hit one of those submerged stakes…

I crossed under another huge bridge and was nearly blown into a large construction barge by the wind . I swear the workers on the barge were taking bets to see if I would make it by without getting flipped by the huge wind driven waves that were rebounding off the bridge and barge.

I made it past without going over and called Joan to let her know where I was. She was worried about my slow progress and had seen the nasty conditions out in the bay.

As I slowly made my way to the public dock near her house, I saw a kayaker in the distance. The boat looked strangely familiar and I realized that it was a fellow watertriber Ken! Ken and I had paddled across the Everglades and Florida Bay in severe storms during the Everglades Challenge race earlier this year. He had been following my progress on my SPOT tracker and paddled out to meet me. He even brought me a cold

Ken!
Ken!
Boats at the Point Washington landing
Boats at the Point Washington landing

 

Gatorade. Sweet! As we paddled towards Joan’s place, he told me about how the local area was featured in the movie the Truman Show. I want to go back and watch the movie again to see if I can pick out all the places in the film. He also mentioned that some of those fighter jets that  I had seen the day before might have been looking for me…wait what?! Ken is an engineer that works with the Airforce and told the F-18 pilots he works with to keep an eye out for me…which is pretty awesome :)

September 9th: Fort Walton to Destin Beach Marina

I got up early and launched before sunrise. I had 35 miles to reach my destination in Point Washington. I was fighting a powerful incoming tide but decided that I needed as much time as possible to reach my destination. In retrospect, I would have been better off leaving much earlier to beat the tide..

Beautiful Destin Pass
Beautiful Destin Pass

 

I battled against the wind and tide and slowly worked my way towards Destin. Along the way I passed a sailboat with a dinghy called “Row vs. Wade”…Hmm. I chatted with a few people who had just cruised from Key West aboard a large cruising sloop and they tried to call the local news about my trip but no luck. As I passed under a large bridge and out into open waters, I was nearly slammed onto a lee shore by a passing powerboat.

I finally reached the beautiful waters of Destin Pass. It was like paddling in a giant swimming pool. There were even giant pool floats and floating jetski rental places out in the middle of the pass. The pass was also full of giant jellyfish. I stopped for lunch at the Big Red Truck ( https://www.facebook.com/harrysbigredtruck ) and had an awesome lunch. Mike who worked there was very friendly and let me charge up my eternally dying phone battery.

The photo took of me as I crossed Choctawhatchee Bay. I am the little speck on the right!
The photo Diane took of me as I crossed Choctawhatchee Bay. I am the little speck on the right!

Instead of heading out the pass, I turned into the giant Choctawhatchee bay and aimed for a massive bridge on the horizon. I had a fantastic paddle to the bridge and grinned as the boat flew across the waves. Every now and then a fighter jet would scream across the sky above my head. I tried stopping at a marina on the other side of the bridge but there was nowhere to safely pull the kayak out of the water.

My day rapidly started going downhill. I aimed for a large point across the water that I knew I had to paddle around in order to reach my contact Joan Vienot in Point Washington. By aiming for the point, I was paddling nearly four miles away from the coast. However, the weather seemed calm and I was used to big open water crossings.

Aiming for the point was a mistake.

Diane's photo 3
Grinning after spending the last 30 minutes clinging to that dock and puking…I was happy to be alive after the terrible crossing.

As I paddled across, the wind began to rapidly build and was hitting me directly on the starboard bow. I paddled as hard as I could but was going backwards and sideways out into the middle of the bay. I began to panic. I was already tired from paddling against the current in the morning and now the waves were beginning to break over my head. I decided to down a bottle of five hour energy to try and give myself the boost I needed to reach the shore. I paddled and paddled but seemed to be making little progress. I even tried to wave down a jet skier to tow me to the shore but he didn’t see me. After what felt like hours, I made it to the point. There were a few houses but nobody around. I saw nothing but seawalls and nowhere to get out . I saw a flash of light on one of the docks and realized that there was somebody taking my photo.

I eagerly paddled over and met Diane who had taken my photo. She offered me some cold lemonade while I held onto the dock. I felt horrible and clung to the dock and threw up. No more five hour energy for me. Eventually I began to cool down and feel better as I chatted with Diane. She said I was pale and shaking when I had pulled up  to the dock but looked better after resting. The sun was beginning to sink and I knew that I did not have the energy to make it to Joan’s place. I called her and she offered to meet me at the nearby Destin marina with her kayak trailer.

Diane took this photo of me as I paddled off into the sunset towards the Destin marina.
Diane took this photo of me as I paddled off into the sunset towards the Destin marina.

As I paddled to the marina, a group of people partying on a dock offered me beer and cookies but I had to politely decline 😛 I was incredibly relieved to see Joan waiting for me at the marina. We loaded the kayak and she drove me to her house. I got a hot shower and a huge home cooked meal.

I was overwhelmed be her kindness. We had never met in person before. My friend Richard had contacted Joan’s friend who in turn contacted Joan. After a phone conversation and some facebook messages, she agreed to let me stay with her. She was one of many trail angels that I would encounter during my journey.

Joan is an incredible artist!!! Check out her blog at:

http://joanvienot.com/

September 8th: Big Sabine to Fort Walton

Clouds building up..
Clouds building up..
Those puffy clouds turned into this approaching storm.
Those puffy clouds turned into this approaching storm.
The storm finally arrives.
The storm finally arrives.
Don't let my crummy photo fool you. Juana's pagodas is awesome. It is located right next to the public boat ramp in Navarre.
Don’t let my crummy photo fool you. Juana’s pagodas is awesome. It is located right next to the public boat ramp in Navarre.
Military tower...looked like something from war of the worlds. I believe it was designed to deal with the Cuban missile crisis.
Military tower…looked like something from war of the worlds. I believe it was designed to deal with the Cuban missile crisis.
Look closely...see the enormous barge taking up the whole back of the picture?
Look closely…see the enormous barge taking up the whole back of the picture?
Fort Walton Spoil Island sunset
Fort Walton Spoil Island sunset

I left early from Big Sabine and eased into a 25 mile paddle to a spoil island in Fort Walton. The water was still and the heat was unbearable. I got to the point where I could only take a few paddle strokes before stopping to drink. I crawled past miles of sand dunes shimmering in the morning heat and watched small puffy clouds billow up into towering thunderheads. I wished that a gentle rain might cool me off. I got my wish…but at a price. The thunderheads released a downpour of ice cold rain and revived me. Unfortunately, my wonderful rainstorm began to produce huge bolts of lightning which struck the water off in the distance. This was an incredibly dangerous situation so I raced off the water and made it to a small restaurant in the town of Navarre.

The restaurant, Juana’s Pagodas (http://www.juanaspagodas.com/), turned out to be the prefect haven from the storm. I’m not sure if it is listed in the newer edition of the circumnavigational trail guide, but it should be. There was a soft sandy beach to pull the boat up on and the people there were incredibly friendly and accommodating. I stumbled into the restaurant dripping wet, slightly dazed and very dehydrated. The waitress immediately sat me down at a table with a power outlet so I could charge my phone and brought me an ice cold tea…and another tea…and another. I probably drank about two gallons of tea and my glass was never empty. The food was great and I was able thankful for the break. The storm outside worsened and I was worried that I would not be able make my campsite. The manager offered to let me weather out the storm at the restaurant and even said I could pitch my tent there if it got too late. I had a great chat with the people at the restaurant and watched as the storm finally cleared. As I was getting ready to leave, the waitress topped off my empty 3-liter bottle with ice cold filtered water. Awesome!

Feeling happy and rested, I had a wonderful evening cruise down to Fort Walton. I watched dolphins and sharks hunting in the channels and passed miles of pine forests lining the shore. I passed the end of a runway and a huge military cargo plane took off right over my head, making the boat shudder in the water. As I approached camp, I watched a small motor boat zoom up to the beach. A dog jumped off the boat and the man on board backed the boat out into the channel. He gunned the engine at full throttle while shouting across the water. The dog ran across the island and then jumped into the water and swam across the next island. He ran across a second island before jumping into the water to swim back to the boat. Apparently, this was the dog’s evening exercise routine :)

The sunset was beautiful and a full moon rose over camp. It was so bright that I didn’t even need my headlamp. I tied the boat off to the tent in case one of the huge barges going by created a huge wake. Fortunately, it turned out to be a peaceful evening.

plane taking off

 

September 7th: East Perdido to Big Sabine

Long hot paddle down Santa Rosa Sound.
Long hot paddle down Santa Rosa Sound.
Storm rolling into camp at Big Sabine.
Storm rolling into camp at Big Sabine.
Big Sabine Sunset
Big Sabine Sunset
Lots of sting rays cruising the beach in the morning.
Lots of sting rays cruising the beach in the morning.
Moonrise over the sand dunes at Big Sabine.
Moonrise over the sand dunes at Big Sabine.

This was the day that Andy headed back home and I was officially on my own for the next week. I was incredibly sad to see Andy go. He has helped me in so many ways.

I was a nervous wreck when I paddled off and watched Andy disappear off into the horizon. However, as I eased into the steady rhythm of paddling, I felt better and better. I cruised down Santa Rosa sound over mirror calm water. The heat was brutal and I stopped at a jet ski rental place to get some ice cold drinks.

When I arrived at Big Sabine, a huge storm was brewing off in the distance. I hastily set up camp and was treated to a spectacular and terrifying lightning show. I found out later that this storm had produced hail and that the lightning burned down several homes. The wind was howling across the water and my tent strained against the stakes. I was thankful for the deep stakes that Andy had given me the day before for just this kind of situation. It finally drifted off to sleep and awoke to calm morning.

This photo was taken at night. The lightning illuminated the entire sky.
This photo was taken at night. The lightning illuminated the entire sky.

September 6th: Big Lagoon to East Perdido Key

Signed the circumnavigational trail's logbook at the beginning of my trip.
Signed the circumnavigational trail’s logbook at the beginning of my trip.
barge at big lagoon
Giant Barge passing the Observation Tower at Big Lagoon State Park. I will have to deal with many of these huge barges during my trip.

Launch day! It was a bit…chaotic.

Decals on my gorgeous Epic 18x Sport kayak in the Expedition layup.
Decals on my gorgeous Epic 18x Sport kayak in the Expedition layup. Thank you Epic for giving me such a fantastic boat!

Andy and I got up early and got ready to head to the launch. As I was getting into the car, my sunglasses broke. Crap! Andy drove me to the nearest CVS, where I was able to pick up two cheap pairs of sunglasses. Andy bought me a pool noodle to use as rollers to get the heavily loaded kayak up the beach.

We made it to the kayak launch area and began loading the boats. I had practiced loading but had added a few more dry bags of stuff. I ended up having to leave some of my stuff behind. The heat was brutal and I was frustrated that I could not get the boat loaded. Finally, we crammed everything in. I put the decals on my beautiful kayak which I have named ‘Lotus’. The kayak was sponsored to me by Epic and I was excited to have a new boat to take me around the state.

Loading enough food and gear for a three month expedition.
Loading enough food and gear for a three month expedition.

I hastily signed the Florida Saltwater Circumnavigational trail log book and we launched around midday. We paddled to the West to the Alabama border so that I could officially paddle from

Launching from Big Lagoon State park! First stop Alabama then headed for Georgia!
Launching from Big Lagoon State park! First stop Alabama then headed for Georgia!

state border to border. We then turned back East and headed for East Perdido Key. As I crossed back into Florida, I watched in horror as my charts from the beginning of the trip to Tampa slid overboard and sank into the deep channel. I wish I could say I handled it gracefully, but I was pretty upset with myself. I should have had the charts tied on better. Andy was once again my knight shining neoprene. He paddled back to his car and drove and picked up some charts for the local area. I had  lost all my notes but at least I was able to navigate. After a short paddle, we made it to the beautiful East Perdido Key campsite and camped amongst the dunes. I was finally able to chill and try and get myself ready for the following day’s solo paddle.

First sunset of the trip! Taken at Perdido Key.
First sunset of the trip! Taken at Perdido Key.
Welcome to Florida! I plan to paddle from state border to state border. This is the spot where my charts went overboard. If you find them, I'd like them back :)
Welcome to Florida! I plan to paddle from state border to state border. This is the spot where my charts went overboard. If you find them, I’d like them back :)
Crab at East Perdido campsite. He was crawled all over our stuff and then tried to hide under my tent.
Crab at East Perdido campsite. He  crawled all over our stuff and then tried to hide under my tent.
Andy walking the miles of beautiful deserted beaches on East Perdido Key.
Andy walking the miles of beautiful deserted beaches on East Perdido Key.

September 5th: Pre-Launch

September 5th: Andy and I made the long drive up from Tampa to Big Lagoon State Park. I was so nervous that I was sick to my stomach. A few tears were shed as I contemplated the enormity of what lay ahead of me. 1500 miles of paddling and three months away from my friends and family. Once we reached the park, my fear was replaced by excitement. Andy and I climbed the observation tower where I got my first glimpse of the waters I’d be paddling. The coast looked wild and beautiful. On our way to the campground, we encountered a poisonous cotton mouth snake cruising the road.  Of course, I had to get a picture with it :)

That night, we went to the famous Florabama restaurant.  It was a crowded beach bar the looked like a strange cross between Skipper’s in Tampa and the Lani Kai in Fort Myers. The bar scene doesn’t do much for me so I wandered out onto the moonlit beach and watched the waves coming in.  Andy and I then had some pizza and headed back to camp.

Cotton Mouth at Big Lagoon
Cotton Mouth at Big Lagoon
Florabma