As you all know the weather in the Everglades can shift quickly. Our plan went pretty well, only an hour late after driving 14 hours, buying 2 kayaks along the way at 0300. The permit was pulled at Everglades city, and everyone loaded up for the drive to Flamingo. Stopped by Wal-mart in Florida city for water and last minute stuff. We were paddling up the buttonwood canal by 3:45 pm.
Things looked good until we got into Whitewater bay just before sunset. The wind was still up, but we all made it across to the little islands, regrouped and found our headlamps. We weren't planning on a night paddle. One of us was assigned to keep us on a 270 heading. The winds died down, the dolphins were fishing, and we did pretty well until we fell into the sucker hole on the North side of the Joe river about 1/2 mile from where we were supposed to turn North. It took another 15-20 minutes to find the real Joe river again and we were on our way.
The rest of the night was pretty easy getting into the South Joe river chickee at about 9:25pm. Too tired to cook dinner, we grabbed some snacks, pitched the tents, and got some sleep.
The next day was a pretty unevent full trip up to the Joe river chickee. However one thing was amiss, The NW winds from the previous day had shifted N, instead of WNW or W. Time to check the weather. The forcast was for two more back to back cold fronts in the next week. Resulting in a forcasted 15-20 mph winds from the North for the next week, with gusts to 25mph. 3-5 foot waves on the Gulf. We all agreed that we could carry on to Everglades City, but more than half of our group didn't want to get up real early to beat the winds.
So, plan B, paddle back to Flamingo, figure out how to get our vehicle from Everglades city, and spend a day in Key West.
You guys know what happens next. The N winds from the previous day were now ENE at 10-15 gusting to 20. 1-2 foot waves on WW bay. We left Joe river at 07:45 and pulled into Flamingo at 7:35pm, completely spent. We only swamped one kayak, check the hatch seals when buying a used boat.
It took us 26 hours to get our vehicle back from Everglades city. 1.5 hours to get our stuff unpacked from our boats and repacked into our van. We spent 2 nights in Flamingo, then headed for Key West.
Some of you might throw the sissy flag, but watching the fishing boats rock and roll in Florida bay confirmed to us that we made the right choice. Great veteran's day parade and some Key Lime Pie and we were headed back home.
In hindsight, we had 2 12-13 foot boats in our group that had trouble tracking straight in the wind. We had 2 new to us boats that didn't have skirts or hatch seals. We managed to completely swamp one of them in 1-2 foot waves, mostly 1's. I don't think we were outfitted properly for any thing close to 3-5 footers. We spent a week away from home, $150 each, didn't sleep indoors, and had a great adventure. The only thing we didn't do was make it to Everglades City.
Let the Flames begin.
I'm an experienced paddler and outdoors-person. I tried to stick to a plan and cover too much ground in a short amount of time (due to my job). I planned to do the entire trip in 8 days but realistically 10 days was probably more realistic.
My big complaint with a through paddle and everglades backcountry in general, is that you are basically stuck to an itinerary once you leave EC or Flamingo. In my case, some of the spots I planned on using were already occupied which meant changing my desired track.
If bad weather comes, and you are say heading to the outside because the interior was full, you are kind of screwed. I think next time, I would just break my plan and head to the safest option even if it meant asking someone to share a chickee for the night.
Also, I also treated it more like a fishing "vacation." and less of a mission from point A to point B. Next time I would pack more water, less wine and fishing gear, and just take in the scenery. From my backpacking experience, I think you sort of have to be on a mission and cover some serious ground daily. Sometimes you simply don't have time to take that little detour to do some snook fishing and just make it to the next campground and set up camp/eat/sleep.
If you were on permit the spots you were planning to land on ought not to have been in use. I am confused on that point. Perhaps you meant sites you weren't permitted on.
I have gone off track a few times because of bad wind and ground site room hasn't been an issue (for me party of 1). Admittedly I have not tried to horn in on a chickee. And Plate Creek is a LOT littler than it used to be.
We have armchair quarterbacked our trip to death. We agree that we made the right decision. We did consider going off permit, would have been bad, Veteren's Day weekend, all the Chickees were full of fishermen. We still think that we should have pulled a different permit, based more on the weather. My Dad isn't going back without a 16-17 foot kayak. Glad to know that we aren't alone in the learned a lesson the hardway crew.
I think that I might have a desease. On the way back from these trips, I think that I am done, never going back. Then I find myself noticing the guide book on the shelf, looking at my kayak in the yard covered in ice. Then I start checking on here and other sites looking for your stories. Next, I actually get the guide book and maps out, wishing that I didn't have obligations to hold me back. Everyone that went in November apparently has the same desease. So, in a few years, we will be back.