What a joy it was to be so close to nature gliding atop the sea on a kayak tour with Florida Bay Outfitters. The native beauty of the Florida Keys is best seen from the water and the route our tour took highlighted the very best sights. From chirping sea birds to mangrove lore, the trip was inspirational, educational, and a true delight.
From the moment I arrived at Florida Bay Outfitters Kayak & Canoe Center, I found the staff to be friendly, helpful, very knowledgeable, and good fun. The trip to Key Largo is an easy drive from many South Florida locations along one of the most scenic highways in the state. As a first time kayaker, our guide, Jan Schipper, and his assistant took special care to fit me with the right boat. They customized the rudder pedals to my height and provided everything I would need for a safe and comfortable excursion. I was given a dry bag for my camera, a life vest, paddle float, bilge pump, and a chilled water bottle which also served as a great trip souvenir. I was impressed by the volume of rental boats at my disposal.
PICTURE: Kayaks and Canoes are available for rent or purchase. A full line of accessories is also stocked.
Prior to leaving land we went to “Paddling School” under the shady palms. Our instructor spent 30 minutes teaching us the basic skills to paddle, maneuver, and remain safe within our boats. Even those not so new to the sport were provided with practical tips to help improve their technique. Jan is a wonderful instructor; sharp, patient, and entertaining as well.
PICTURE: Learning the basics for a safe trip.
Floating on the sea was glorious. As we practiced our paddling and got comfortable moving through the clear bay water, the sun shone down to illuminate the ocean floor. The underwater landscape looked surreal. I enjoyed watching the fish dart through their familiar vegetation.
Our first stretch was an open water crossing which allowed time to enjoy the passing sailboats and small yachts along with weekend fishing vessels in the distance. Soon arriving at a mangrove cluster, our guide helped us to understand the trees’ impact on the fragile ecosystem of Florida Bay. His expertise provided fascinating tidbits about the local flora and gave a new appreciation for this endangered species.
PICTURE: Within the mangrove canopy.
My favorite part came next when we entered the mangrove canopy. The silence between the walls of trees, broken only slightly by the sounds of distant motorboat traffic, was pleasant enough to forget about the outside world and live for a moment among the chirping birds and buzzing insects. The mesh of the intertwined mangrove roots provided an endless visual masterpiece. Below the ocean’s surface, the intricate patterns continued and the clarity of the water lead my eyes down below the surface. I was able to spot juvenile fish who use the roots’ protection for survival. Being enclosed within these natural tunnels was magnificent, and best enjoyed from a kayak’s vantage point. Some tours offered by Florida Bay Outfitters also include snorkeling opportunities to further explore the seascape.
PICTURE: Water view from Dead Man’s Key
The route lead on to Dead Man’s Key, which actually houses the ashes of at least one lost soul. The local lore of the island varies, depending on who tells the story, but I hope the tortured men who found their final resting place here enjoyed the surroundings as much as our group. We took a break to cool off from the fiery sun and hours of paddling. The water felt as refreshing as it had appeared having supported out boats and bodies over the four miles we had come. The key was small, so exploring it was a quick process. The dry scrub plants are now the primary inhabitants.
Our return trip took a windier trail and the steering lessons Jan had provided were indispensable. Although it wasn’t a strenuous trip, there were points when my muscles felt good from use. I enjoyed the sensation of propelling myself and my kayak through the water by utilizing my entire torso and gliding along the sea’s surface. I learned, during this portion of the trip, how many other types of trips Florida Bay Outfitters offer. From multi-day vacations to school groups to corporate team building workshops, I was impressed with the knowledge and diversity of their staff and programs. I was happy to learn their website has all the details so I could browse later at my leisure
When our half day journey returned to land we were greeted with more smiles and a friendly welcome. I was jealous that the Paradise Paddlers kayak club, affiliated with Florida Bay Outfitters, were able to enjoy these types of trips on a regular basis. When I kayak again, it will definitely be with this charming group; Frank, Monica, Bob, and Jan are the best!
PICTURE: Lenette in front of Dead Man’s Key
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