Funny how we take so much for granted. Take it away for a while and you have a whole different viewpoint of the value of that simple thing. Things like a hot shower, air conditioning, a bed with clean sheets, and just being able to relax at a table. These were the things I was really enjoying at this checkpoint. The hotel Lisa had gotten was right across the beach from the canoes so unloading and loading them was much easier. My wife doesn’t have a college degree. Her father died when she was fairly young which meant she had to go to work early and her family really did not have the resources to put her and her brother through college. Although she doesn’t have a college degree she does have a PhD in common sense. She saw the chaos my well thought out strategy with my resupply bins was causing and took it upon herself to get the bins organized in a way to make the resupply go easier. Well she hit it out of the park. The way she had organized the bins made this resupply go so much faster and really limited the chaos. I really wished I had solicited her input on this subject before I started the UFC. Would have made the three other resupply stages a whole lot easier. So the night was turning into a good night and it got even better as I listened to the weather. Winds were to be out of the north 10-15 MPH. Great, we will be able to use our sails and get across the last big stressful body of water. The 15 miles from Cedar Key to the islands marking the channel to the Cross Florida Barge Canal concerned me because of how far we would be from land (4-6 miles) and for how long. The water depth is not that great (9-10 feet) but you have no options other than ride it out if a storm catches you in this body of water. We would have pretty good speed and reduce the amount of time we would be exposed. Ahh, the ground work for a good night’s sleep.
I think in every endurance event a participant has a low period where they just have had enough of the event. I think that feeling had been building in me but it came to a peak when the alarm went off. Here I was just couple of days from finishing the UFC and I felt like I just wanted to pack my stuff up and have Lisa drive us home. What did I need to prove? I was having a real mental battle and it didn’t get any easier when I listened to the weather report. I felt like it was a sick joke the NOAA weather guys were playing on me. Winds out of the South/South West at 10-15 Mph. REALLY?!?!? Right in our face just like the majority of this whole stinking event. Oh, and right in our face 5-6 miles off shore which means we will be fighting waves and making a slow speed. This also meant we could be our there all day just trying to make it back to land. Oh, and now envision the worst — we get tired and cannot paddle any more and get blown out to into the Gulf of Mexico. I went outside to see what I could feel and sure enough the winds were out of the south. “The heck with this event! I am done with it!” was all I could think. I went in and got some breakfast and just stewed.
After stewing for a while it came time to wake Rod. I went over and talked to him and expressed my concerns about the wind. Earlier in the UFC, Rod and I had a conversation about the pros and cons of the strategy of sitting on the beach waiting for the weather to get better versus the strategy of just launching and dealing with the weather. We both had agreed that we thought the best strategy was to launch and deal with the weather. That is, unless it was extremely bad. Now I was having big-time second thoughts. What would it hurt for us sitting it out today and waiting until tomorrow to see if the weather gets better? We have a day or two buffer to meet the deadline of completing the UFC. Today, I still don’t know if it was my mental battle that I was dealing with or the concern of the weather that had me wanting to sit on the beach so badly but Rod wasn’t anywhere in that state of mind. Rod listened to the weather report and went outside to feel the wind and felt we should launch. That was not what I wanted to hear. We agreed to go ahead and pack the canoes and before launching reassess the weather. What a mental battle it was to get into my wet paddling clothes, pack the dreamcatcher, on a sandy beach to boot, and know that I would be leaving Lisa again. This is a picture of us that morning. I was putting on a smile so that Lisa didn’t really know what was going on inside of me. This was the lowest point mentally for me of the whole UFC. I didn’t like the St. Mary’s but I was more angry and pissed off versus wanting to quit. I didn’t like fighting the wind through the Everglades but it was more a managing pain versus wanting to quit. I wanted to quit here and yet I was so close to the finish. But I had made an agreement with Rod that if the winds did not increase we would launch. I also felt an obligation to not leave him and have him doing the crossing alone. The thought of not meeting my obligation and letting him down would be far worse than the thought of quitting. So I kissed Lisa good-bye and pushed my canoe into the water. I am so thankful she had a smile on her face and was waving us on versus crying when we launched.
As we paddled around Cedar Key and got out of the lee of Cedar Key, we started to feel the wind and the waves. Yep, we had some but we were making time. If it just wouldn’t get any worse this would be doable. An then — SEA FOG! Not a real dense sea fog but enough to make it seems like we were paddling in an abyss. I don’t know if the sea fog was a good thing or a bad thing. It masked the fact that we were so far from land and mentally made me focus on the GPS and the navigation. After about two hours of paddling, a wonderful thing happened. The wind and the waves died down. There were two times in the UFC that I think Rod started to question whether my navigation was on target and both of those events occurred on this day. We had been paddling for several hours and the fog had lifted so we should have started to see the cooling towers of the nuclear power plant. Rod kept asking me what direction we should see the cooling towers and started to make a few comments that he still couldn’t see anything. He even got to the point of asking me if I thought we were on the right course. Thankfully, off in the distance through the clouds, the cooling towers appeared. They were a long way off but it was great to see them and was a big mental boost for both of us. It would take several hours of paddling to get to the islands that were on the side of the channel into the power plant, but it was a lot easier paddling with that visual goal.
The rest of the day was pretty nice paddling. We were only a couple of miles off the coast line, the winds were light and even shifting to the west. We were making good speed and in fact the winds shifted enough that we were able to use our small front sails. Now we had a new problem confronting us. This part of the coast of Florida has very shallow water out for a long distance from the shore. In addition to this, the shoreline is very marshy so trying to find a campsite is a real challenge. The best strategy is to find a channel and take that channel in to dry land. We decided to target Hernando Beach since the channel was well marked. The concern was navigating through all the shallow water, rocks and oyster beds that are in this area. It was dark and late by the time we got to the approach of Hernando Beach. I was most concerned with getting around the waters around Beacon Rocks and finding a series of channel markers that marks the way through a very shallow section of these waters. Fortunately, the first channel marker to this channel is marked with a white light. As we approached Beacon Rocks, Rod asked, “Bill, do you think you can get us through here?” Hmmmm, loosing confidence…….. “Sure, if the chart is right.” “Bill, is there a better way where the water may not be as shallow and not have rocks?” “Nope, this whole place is shallow, has rocks and oysters beds.” As we cleared Beacon Rocks I saw in the distance a white light that lined up perfectly with the course to the entrance of Hernando Beach. “Rod, see that light? That is the entrance so just paddle to it.” Things were going great but as we paddled closer to the light a strange thing started to happen. Another white light that looked rectangle appeared. Then another white light appeared. Now we have three white lights all in the same area. Hmmmm, this is weird. The course is right but the chart doesn’t show three white lights and I am not sure what that rectangle light is. I don’t know who scared who, but before we knew it we were paddling right up to a thirty foot boat with two fisherman in it. They were anchored right off the entrance to the channel. Kind of funny now, them straining their eyes wondering what these two little white lights close to the water approaching them are and us straining our eyes to see what all these white lights are. I can only imagine what they told their friends when out of the dark they heard, “Hey is that light for the entrance channel marker for Hernando Beach?” This was the second time in the UFC I had asked a fisherman to confirm a navigation question. “Um, yeah that is it.” “Great! Thanks!” I do have to confess I was probably just as relieved as Rod to find that channel.
Our original plan was to take this channel all the way into Hernando Beach but on the way we passed a little piece of land called Coon island. To me, it was a break water for the channel that had sand poured on it but it did have a sand cap about 6 feet wide. That was enough for us to pitch our tents so we decided to call it a day. We were going to spend the night on Coon Island and hope the tide didn’t come in too strong.