COVID-19 in the Cedar Keys

Wildlife in the Keys So much to rue, but Karen & I can't complain. We're lucky and fortunate. Covid 19's effects, like social ills, are everywhere, and too often deadly.

By April this year, Cedar Key had closed to all but those from our zip code. It re-opened May fourth, the day after the Sunday of the would've-been 'Cedar Key 35th small boat meet.'

June weekends had never been so busy with visitors, including the Shell Mound site. It seemed everyone in Florida had been waiting to come to the Cedar Keys' fresh air to isolate and to ignore covering their faces. We sailed June 16th, 17th, and 19th, but not Saturday the 20th. We were put off by a couple dozen people -no face coverings- on the Shell Mound's 15 yard wide ramp in the Lower Suwannee NWR. Ten foot 4 inch dinghy Clam Girl stayed on her trailer, and we returned home.

Karen in Clam Girl The next day, Fathers' Day, to use the high tide, we drove to the Shell Mound, but it was packed again with children splashing, fisherman casting lines and bait nets, and waders drinking beer. No boats were launching. No one wore masks. We drove six miles north, instead, and turned into the single lane track of the Refuge's "Scenic Drive." In the mile and a half to the McCormick Creek Boat Launch's generous one vehicle width put-in, we noticed two deer, two raccoons, a turkey, an otter, and a small box turtle.

Hugh in Clam Girl We were three hours ahead of a big summer tide and could've gone up or down wind, or current, from the Shell Mound, but in upper McCormick Creek, a flukey breeze was against us and the strong flood, too. With much sitting and standing paddling, we tacked two long hours into the light southwesterly, a mile downstream to the junction with Barnett Creek. After jamming into the marsh grass for lunch, we ran with the flood back to the ramp in less than 20 minutes.

We sailed June 24th, the 25th, and with her brother, Bill, the 30th, in good tides and weather before they drove north, July 2nd.

Bill Here, this Fourth, the area was full of visitors, and, I heard, most faces were uncovered. I stayed home instead of mingling with hundreds in Town, and I avoided the Shell Mound's maskless kids and parents partying, while I'd have been trying to politely answer questions about Clam Girl. Tide was perfect; consolation was forecast squalls and listless air.

In 2004, I wrote a column about that Fourth of July in Michigan, not getting on the water then either. Fireworks had burst grandly along the St Clair River between Canada and the U.S. In the ice free season, freighters move millions of metric tons of cargo on its 182,000 cubic feet of water per second. I think pleasure boaters would have responded thoughtfully to sheriff and Border Patrol officers in small boats, warning and requesting them to keep clear of massive vessels. Now, would delusions prevail?

A dolphin investigating Clam Girl This July Fourth 2020, by phone in late afternoon - quite conscious of our luck and circumstances - Karen and I clinked glasses. August 17th, after Bill and Karen had driven back, she and I sailed around Hog Island, surveilled by curious dolphins.

August 23rd. For a couple hours we caught a rain free hole in the unsettled weather, as storms Marco and Laura waltzed into the Gulf. Air and water temperature was in the upper 80s; dew point near 80. Wind was light to occasionally zero over rippled or glassy water. In 2 to 4 knot southeasterlies we close reached south of Hog Island and west of McClamory Key. To the hazy southwest we occasionally saw a thin horizontal line of something, maybe nothing. Birds? It resolved to a long swell, less than a foot high, glistening over Derrick Key's vestigial bar.

Bill and Karen on shore August 28, surrounded by squally clouds, we sailed just after 9 AM, first drifting for 10 minutes, the moderate high tide due by 10 AM. A 4-6 southerly let us beat west of Hog Island to another bar with a foot high break from long swells. We fell off east around Hog Island, and stuffed into the marsh's green Black Rush for a snack. One coming cloud startled us with a steer horn shape dangling out of it. Wind increased enough to single reef for the mile run back.

How to cope with changes? Like seamanship, one goes with reality and adapts.

For me, moving around in a dinghy has replaced sailing canoes' virtuosity, which I'd enjoyed seated for decades. Karen sold her Ensign 22, and complains not a whit about Clam Girl's sizzling four plus knots.

Air fills and tingles our sail. Dolphins follow, unaware of C-19. Maybe it's all best considered from a small boat.


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