Bufflehead's New Home Water

I've been here in Cedar Key, Florida with its beckoning sailing canoe water since the end of May. But, because of tides and a pressing chore --- getting our home built --- I took three weeks before sailing Bufflehead.

Daytime temperatures have been low to mid 90s with dewpoints in the mid 70s. Heat index has been a hundred plus.

The stuff from Michigan --- lumber and the twenty foot conex container and its six tons of boat shop including a refrigerator --- is a quarter mile from here. Most of it will fit, with our travel trailer I'm living in, under our house's foundation, a twelve foot high concrete platform built in 2008. Refrigeration now is a bag of ice a day.

To check the tides, most evenings I've driven three miles west through the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge to the Shell Mound. It's a half dozen acres of oyster shell midden two dozen feet thick, over 6000 years old at the bottom. On top is Spanish moss living in centuries old live oaks. At the west end is a gravel ramp. My neighbors, clammers, launch here to work clam leases (and at Cedar Key proper, three miles south).

Bufflehead and I pushed off from the Shell Mound in brown, mid 80 degree water on June 17th, about 11:AM. It was sunny, low 90s, WNW 6-11. The Suwannee River's mouth is five miles north so the turbid, nutrient-rich tannic water usually hides the bottom, even if only inches down.

Tall clouds are already along the coast inland. After crunching across the second oyster bar, too, we made the eighth of a mile to the shore of Spanish Bayonet Island, with the intent to circle it clockwise. An osprey powered out of a tree. Mullet jumped; bigger and smaller fish swirled.

In a weak, flappy gybe, I winced at the mess of lines on deck and thought about Kaselehlia, our Drascombe Lugger. Since her, I've not been in a boat long enough, with settled gear, to develop and refine habits and routines. I have much to learn. Out of the lee of the pines and oaks, I glanced up and there was a frigate bird.

At the first stop inside the tip of Spanish Bayonet, the heat seemed to have to have mass. Sweat poured, soaking the bandana under my straw hat, dripping off my nose while I plodded the oyster shell ridge in long overalls and a long sleeved shirt for sun and bugs. The tide was still falling.

Underway, two hundred yards south I checked the current at Derrick Key Gap's green markers #5 and #7. We close reached port tack north --- I kept grinning with the harmony of it all --- between the clam leases west in the Gulf, and the outside of Spanish Bayonet Island to the east.

Stop two was a tucked in cove-beach, in what seemed still part of Spanish Bayonet. I wished I'd remembered Gatorade. In about a half hour the tide bottomed and began rising.

Wind was enough to move us smartly with no anxiety --- warm water, plenty of well placed flotation, stiff boat, snug powerful rig. Happiness, "on the hoof," as they say.

The last stop was again on the open, onshore side, still part of Spanish Bayonet, maybe.

We close reached to an opening before a north-south beach, but I couldn't tell if it went through. After falling off around the beach's north tip, we gybed and broad reached starboard tack into channels behind the islands.

Spanish Bayonet's perimeter is elusive --- call me lost. What fun! Soon I was surprised by a quarter mile wide opening to the Gulf.

Although water was rising, it was shallow enough so four pelicans stood in the middle of a bay, drying belly feathers. I was having too much fun to look at the chart, broad reaching, swooping between oyster beach tips, trying to read the ripples as wind met currents and/or currents rubbed oysters.

Another opening to the Gulf, but narrow and serpentine. Then another with more choices. We close reached higher to check to the west, then gybed and picked the east opening channel.

Since the water was rising and the wind, too, we flew with it. The east choice widened, and a half mile south was the Shell Mound's ramp and pier.

Bufflehead and I ground onto our new home ramp's gravel about 3:PM. For easy put-ins and take-outs, a foot of water above datum should do.

P.S. As of late June 2010, oil in the Gulf had gotten to Panama City.
Cedar Key's main industry is clamming, then fishing and low impact tourism. I fear for our neighbors and their families.

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