Posts Tagged ‘Pine Island’

We sing a hymn at my church, “Blue Boat Home” by Peter Mayer. Even a landlubber like me can’t resist rolling with the rhythm. Some of the words are:

                                The wide universe is the ocean I travel                                                                              And the earth is my blue boat home.

Of course, this refers to the Earth in her voyage through the heavens, but whenever I hear the song, I think of another blue boat home, the Mirage. Last January, I was privileged to spend a week on board, cruising Pine Island Sound near Ft. Myers, kayaking through the mangroves, viewing birds and other wildlife. A white boat trimmed in blue, on blue water under blue sky, Mirage is a magnificent sight. Viewed from the port side, she resembles a substantial yacht. Seen from other angles, your head snaps back for a second look. “Did I see that right?” Hence, the name Mirage. She is unique, custom built by John Bartlett and operated by Kayak Voyagers out of Alva, Fla. There is no other like her.

Kayak voyage 165

The Mirage is seventy feet long and twenty six feet wide. Her main hull, called the “vaka”, is only eight feet wide. This is joined to the outrigger, the “aka”, by two arches called the “ana”. Mirage is not a luxury yacht. She is a mother ship for a small fleet of sea going kayaks. On our trip, there were only four of us aboard but she can comfortably accommodate twice that many.

In “Taking Pictures from a Kayak” I wrote about one aspect of my adventure. This post will be one of a series I have been working on as I digest the meaning of the experience.

Much more than a pleasure trip, it was the breaking of a mold for me. I was a late-comer to open water. My childhood was spent in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and I never laid eyes on a body of water larger than a lake until I was fourteen. Then my family migrated to Florida. I caught my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean as we drove over a high bridge in Savannah. That night, we stopped on a Florida beach after dark, my first intimate contact with salt water. I was unprepared for the sheer power of the ocean. Roaring like a lion, it surged forward, receded with a sigh, then attacked again. By the headlights of our car, I could see only those lion paws clawing the sand and the black depths of the sea and the sky. No way would I commit my body to that behemoth!

Of course, living in Florida brought better acquaintance with beaches, and with lakes, canoes, and sail boats. Then work and family responsibilities kept me from the water for many years. I did not touch a kayak until after I retired.

On my first kayaking adventure, I tagged along with my daughter Amber and her friends to the SuwanneeRiver. I did not tell anyone I’d never been on a kayak before. I hoped I could fake my way through the experience, and I did. As we launched, I considered strategy. Those young people could paddle all day without breaking a sweat, but could I? I suggested we paddle upstream, so that the return trip would not be too difficult if we were tired, and everyone went along with it. I was pleased with myself at day’s end.

But when the opportunity arose for a week-long kayak voyage in South Florida, I had second thoughts. And third thoughts. Was I up to it physically? I had obligations on my schedule. Could I be gone from home that long? These concerns only masked my trepidation over trying something entirely new, engaging in an activity for which I had few skills, spending a week with people I had yet to meet.

I took a deep breath, cleared my calendar, and broke the mold. I committed myself to the adventure.

On the appointed day, I drove half the length of the peninsula to the Ft.Myers area. Many years had passed since I’d visited southwest Florida and I expected to see the countryside covered with concrete. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of farm land, mostly cattle ranches and orange groves, which survive, and the wilderness areas that have been preserved.

I enjoyed the scenery so much I took a wrong turn in Punta Gorda, heading north toward Tampa instead of south. As a result, night had fallen by the time I reached Pine Island. Although the island is only fifteen miles long, the road seemed to stretch forever in the dark. Finally, I crossed the small bridge to Bokeelia Island. Out in the bay, I could see the lights of the Mirage. I parked by the dock and called Elke. What did we do before cell phones? Soon, I heard the put-put of the dinghy and Elke pulled up to the dock. We loaded my stuff and cruised over to the Mirage.

I knew I would have my own cabin and head. I pictured a hallway in the hull with cabins opening from it, but the hull is too narrow and that would have been wasted space. To my surprise, my cabin was accessed by a hatch on the deck and a steep set of stairs almost like a ladder.

Keith had gone to the airport to meet Jun, our other passenger. When he called from shore, Elke picked them up in the dinghy. After introductions, Elke rustled up a nice supper, which we enjoyed in the open air dining area. In the morning after breakfast, we embarked on our first paddle, around Back Bay.

In the week that followed, we explored mangrove islands and swamps, wildlife refuges, and an Indian mound. We viewed untold numbers of birds, visited manatees, collected shells, and took lots of pictures. The days brought not only good times, but lessons in self sufficiency and interdependence, ecology and sustainability. Stay tuned for the next installment.

For more about the Mirage, visit http://kayakvoyagers.com.

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