Key Skill: Channel Crossing
Ten- to 20-knot winds can quickly roil calm seas, turning the Gulf into a frothy, perilous waterway. Use these tips to navigate the open stretches between keys safely.
1) Assess If winds are faster than 20 knots or you see whitecaps, hug the shore.
2) Time it High tide holds the best conditions (slower currents, fewer exposed shoals and mud flats). Time your crossing’s midpoint with exact high tide.
3) Plot a ferry angle (the angle you’ll paddle to compensate for wind or current drift). On your map, draw a straight line from your present position to your intended destination. Then, draw a parallel line one inch long for each knot of traveling speed (average is three knots). At the distant end of that line, draw a perpendicular line to represent wind speed and direction (one inch per knot). Close the triangle to find your “ferry angle.” (A)
strong>4) Line it up Pick two points on the distant shore (one in the foreground, like a bend along the shore, one farther back, like a tall tree) that are on your ferry angle. Stay on track by always keeping these points in line as you paddle. (B)
The raccoons inhabiting these
mangrove-knotted keys might as well be pirates. “Some of them have gotten pretty smart over the years,” says Joel Beckwith, a guide with 30 years’ experience in south Florida. Think those round rubber hatch covers will do it? Think again. “They can open those faster than me,” Beckwith says. Secure food in boat holds, then bungee or duct-tape them shut. Even unattended drinking water is fair game, so use hard-sided containers or stow water and food together, but leave nothing out, or else. “They’ll get in your wallet and steal your Social Security card,” jokes ranger Joe Sterchele.
West Indian Manatee
Everglades National Park is perhaps the best place on earth to see one of the 3,000 to 4,000 West Indian manatees remaining in the wild. Sea cows, which can grow up to 13 feet long and weigh 1,800 pounds, tend to congregate at river mouths, like the Chatham, where they have access to fresh water for drinking and salt water for grazing on sea grass. Look for the “manatee trail,” which is the line of sand and mud they kick up during their foraging.
Dubiously known as “Swamp Bandit” and “King of the Everglades,” John Ashley rained murder, robbery, and moonshine on southern Florida until 1924, when he and his gang died violently at the hands of the local sheriff. Though a judge ruled the assassinations justifiable homicide, they were widely criticized as being frontier justice. Crimes are rare in the wilderness, so hikers are usually left to police themselves. Discuss: Is there such a thing as trail justice? Should there be?