Saturday, the first paddling day, we awoke to breakfast at dawn under a cloudless sky. We struck camp, loading our gear onto the truck that would meet us at the end of each day, and followed the edge of the Atlantic, with a lunch stop at Sombrero Beach, to that day's destination, Knights Key Campground.
The ocean was fairly calm with somewhat less than a 1 ft. swell, the paddling made easier by a cooling breeze at our back. Silvery schools of small fish leaped in formation out in front of our kayaks, startled either by the boats or by some underwater menace unseen by us.
Knight's Key, the evening stop, is a private RV park at the western end of Marathon, mile marker 47. A few small tent spaces are scattered among the motorized or trailered behemouths, but we spread out on the edge of a football-size field of grass.
Our ill-timed low tide landing, a slog through ankle deep water with sandals sinking to mid-calf in soft gray mud, was topic for energetic discussion and an adventure that will surely grow in proportion with repeated retelling. But warm showers washed away the mud, dinner recharged our batteries and a trip to the camp's tiki bar and our own evening enterainment by singer/songwriter Chris Rehm provided the dessert for our multiple course first full day in the Keys.
Sunday morning we awoke to the same old forecast of sunny skies and light wind. High tide made the launch much easier and a school of dolphin led us toward the open water along the seven-mile bridge between Marathon and Bahia Honda. At times the swells grew to between one and two feet, but no one seemed to be bothered by the slightly rougher ride. On portions of the 3.5 mile trek to Molasses Keys, a couple of mangrove islands less than a half mile out from the bridge, the ocean floor rises to about three feet under our boats, revealing sponges, starfish and a few rays on the sandy bottom.
Lunch at Molasses Keys was ferried out by volunteer Ted Smith who piloted the outboard chase boat accompanying us the entire trip, usually just out of sight, but moments away if ever needed.
We took a leisurely lunch, exploring the small, half acre island. Monica Woll was along with stories about some of the shells and fossilized coral in abundance in the tidepools. A flock of seagulls and one of shore birds kept a wary eye on us from a spit of rock jutting out on the island's far end. One of our number donned a wet suit and snorkling gear to check out the island's underwater perimeter.
Later we pointed our kayaks toward Bahia Honda for the final leg of the day. The ocean swell, encouraged by the afternoon wind, picked up to nearer two feet with some light choppiness. We paddled the length of Bahia Honda to our camp at its western tip. Weekend beachgoers crowded the park's shore, some venturing out in rental sit-upon kayaks for a closer look at our group.
The afternoon was still young as we beached our boats down from the campsite in the shadow what remains of a portion of Flagler's railroad bridge. Several paddlers, soon after, ventured back out to explore offshore. After sunset we dined on roast turkey and learned some things about Everglades restoration during a talk by Tom Genovese from the South Florida Water Management District.
Monday, the last day, some paddlers circumnavigated Bahia Honda, others just explored some of the many bays and inlets on the Gulf of Mexico side. We ate lunch on the one of the beachside pavilions near the park's marina, not overly anxious to leave the life of sand and seas behind.