Part III of Harry Smith's solo paddling adventure from the Lower Ochlockonee River to Dog Island River
PART 3 – SALTWATER EPILOGUE
Day 5 – Saturday, June 9, 2018
Saturday morning was another early start as Capt. Turtles, his friend John and I intended to all paddle across to the tip of Dog Island. We wanted to get out early, before the winds, tide and weekend boat traffic would make the paddle a challenge. At 8 am the three of us started kayaking and about an hour and a half later reached the island. Along the way we saw dolphins breakfasting on schools of baitfish and a sea turtle stuck its head up out of the ocean as it crossed our path. I walked down the beach and collected some shells and swam in the ocean. Looking back towards Lanark and the RV Park we watched a steady stream of power boaters coming down the coast from the public launch in Lanark. They all made a turn at the RV Park and were headed in our direction. By the time we walked back up the beach to our kayaks at least 10 vessels had anchored just off the tip of Dog Island and begun erecting shade tents, coolers, camp chairs and kids while more and more boats continued to head over. So we all decided to stick the crowds and began the paddle back to the mainland just before noon. According to Capt. Turtle’s GPS, the round trip added another 6.9 miles to my total mileage.
After the morning paddle, I hung out and got a shower while Capt. Turtles and his crew went to St. George Island to boogie board out in the surf. There was a television outdoors under the awning on the RV, and I parked my butt in a camp chair with a fan blowing in my direction and watched some Batman vs. Superman on Comcast before dozing off and getting in a good, restful afternoon nap.
Once Capt. Turtles returned in the afternoon, the rest of the evening was spent celebrating his birthday and enjoying a seafood feast of shrimp, grouper, scallops, fries, cheese grits and peanut butter birthday cake. A powerful thunderstorm came up just after dark, but we had already eaten by then and all hung out drinking beers under the RV’s awning late into the evening.
Day 6 – Sunday, June 10, 2018
I woke up early to get packed up and ready for my ride back to Tallahassee. And also to help Capt. Turtles and his crew pack up as they were also heading home later in the afternoon. My ride showed up at quarter past 9 in the morning and we decided to head down to St. George Island and do some kayak angling off the State Park on the island.
I’m not the best angler but I figured why not? I hadn’t caught anything during the previous five days on the water. Maybe today would be different. So we carried our boats down to the beach and surf launched into a pleasant morning breeze and 1-2 foot of chop to give it a go. We paddled out about 300-500 yards off the beach and started drifting with the current and casting. Before we knew it we both were getting bites. I cast a gold spoon and lost it to something toothy enough to cut the line. We looked up and realized we’d drifted quite a ways, so we started paddling back and ended up running through schools of fish. I hooked and landed a ladyfish. So I finally caught a fish on the trip! After releasing it back into the water I noticed a pod of dolphins pass between our boats and realized all the fish jumping round us were being schooled up by the dolphins. Ended up just paddling around from then on, watching the dolphins put my fish catching skills to shame and storms building onshore as the sun and the mercury climbed.
After two or three hours of paddling and fishing we headed back in, loaded the kayaks and headed back for Tallahassee. Along the way we grabbed some delicious grub at Tropical Trader Shrimp Company in Panacea. Sometime later in the afternoon I was back in Tallahassee and the trip was ended. I unpacked, cleaned up and went straight to bed. I slept like a corpse until I reanimated like a paddled out zombie sometime mid-morning on Monday.
I tallied up my trip notes and came up with a total distance of 110 miles traveled in five days, plus 3-4 more hours of paddling and fishing off St. George on Sunday. According to the paddling guide for the lower Ochlockonee River from the dam to the Crooked River was 60 miles, plus around 6 miles I paddled exploring back sloughs and swamps looking for landings and campsites. Add in 28.8 miles of the Crooked River, and another 8 miles (at least 8 miles) paddling out of Carrabelle and up the coast to the RV Park. Then the 6.9 miles to Dog Island. All total that is 109.7 miles in five days.
It felt weird waking up Monday morning back in the civilized world. After six days of kayak camping I’d hit my stride, and though being home was nice, I still wished I was out on the water. If there is one problem with kayak camping, it is that it can’t last forever and eventually all trips end. But I’ll go out again before too long. The kayak and the water is my home, and my time in the city, well, I’m just another tourist on vacation.
Acknowledgements & Thanks
Even though I went out on this adventure solo, no kayaking or camping trip is possible without the help of others. I was lucky to have Harry Smith Outdoors supporting me throughout my adventure. Thanks Harry, Garry and Melissa for everything! I owe you all a huge debt of gratitude for helping gear me up, the drop off at the river and the pick-up at the coast and all the moral and technical support you all provided throughout. And thank you to Glen and Linda at Womack Campground for all your kindness and coffee! And last but not least, a big thanks to Capt. Turtles and crew for the opportunity to help celebrate his birthday this year and giving me a place to crash when I washed up out of the ocean that night!