Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kayaking St. Joe Bay, Florida

Debbie of Happy Ours Kayak & Canoe Outpost sharing a chart of St. Joe Bay before Mrs. FC and I paddled out into the clear waters of the bay. I found Happy Ours just by doing a Google search our first evening in Port St. Joe.

I am so glad I did.

Debbie is a certified Master Naturalist with the state of Florida. On top of that, she's been doing this a while and really knows and loves the bay. She was so knowledgeable and fun to talk with, that we actually started paddling about a half hour after we were technically ready to start.

You can follow the link above for all the details, but here's the cost scoop on our little adventure.

  • A tandem kayak rented for 4 hours = $45.

  • A few incidental rental items like a pair of boat shoes and a waterproof watch = $4

  • Total bill with taxes included, about $54.

I spend that much when I hit the movies these days and THAT fun is virtual ... except for the excellent movie popcorn of course.

Debbie's prices are very reasonable and the helpful service was excellent.

If it hadn't of been so, I would tell you, believe me.

Give her a try, you will not be disappointed.

St. Joe Bay is kept crystal clear by a rare combination of being almost totally enclosed by Cape San Blas and the absence of any major freshwater input via rivers. Add in the fact that it is very shallow and you get a unique experience of viewing the wonderful dwellers of the sea bottom.

Debbie recommended paddling straight out from Happy Ours towards Black's Island as that course would pass over shallow flats and deeper holes where fish congregate.

We took her advice and it was just as she said ... schools of mullet, killifish, and what looked like Spanish mackerel passed by continuously as we paddled.

Since you can see everything on the bottom as you paddle or drift, all the creatures from our wading fun of the day before made an appearance, plus some new ones.

The Keys? The Bahamas? No, ... North Florida!

Here is an egg case of the Lightning Whelk. I actually found one whelk in the act of laying the egg case.

Even though I have seen a bazillion whelk egg cases in my life, THAT was a first for me.

I think that illustrates one of the very special things about St. Joe Bay. The vast, quiet, shallow waters allow you to not just SEE a critter, but to see them in action. The silent approach of a kayak or a slow, quiet wade opens up a world where horseshoe crabs continue their grazing and courtship behaviors, whelks lay eggs, spider crabs compete for mates, and stingrays fly by, not in a frightened rush, but with purpose.

It was pretty much heaven.

Okay, it would have been heaven if the water had been just a little warmer. We were there at the tail end of winter and the water was just chilly enough (by Floridian standards) to keep my head above water.
Floridiots like me tend to be weenies about water temps that northerners would plunge in to with glee.

It has to be fantastic snorkeling after the water warms a wee bit.

Here's a lightning whelk creeping across the shallow bottom. This one actually crawled up on to my extended hand ... I have a video of that somewhere to show you.

Soon come.

This is a very cropped shot of a flock of Buffleheads who no doubt found plenty to eat in the teeming waters of St. Joe Bay.
What a beautiful duck!

Ignore my still winter white legs and focus on the dry bag. You can rent one from Debbie, but we had our own which we used constantly on this trip.
You definitely want one in a kayak if you are bringing anything you intend to keep dry.
I have used this Seattle Sports H2 Zero bag for a couple of years now and love it.

Nothing inside it has ever gotten wet and it's big enough to toss in beach towels, extra clothes, cameras, lunch, ... everything except a Labrador Retriever.

If you are taking along hundreds of dollars worth of camera gear, you definitely want them to survive the trip, so don't forget this vital piece of equipment.
If you do, you can always rent a dry bag from Debbie at Happy Ours of course.

When our 4 hours was up, we emerged from the bay with a wonderful, fun, unique experience under our belts. Debbie came out to check in our rentals and we walked out to the truck to the soothing sounds of her chickens clucking and her donkey braying for attention.
I'm sure she must pinch herself daily to be living and working in such a beautiful spot.
Below is a little video compilation I created showing a tiny bit of our 4 hours of bay bliss.
Enjoy it, but go experience the real thing if you can!!

Post Script: GoPro Camera Review

Regular readers of PF know I recently acquired a GoPro wearable video camera. This trip was the first time that I used the camera underwater.
I was curious to see how it would do, especially after reading online that it had focusing issues underwater due to the domed lens cover on the underwater case.

I found this to be pretty accurate, the focus is definitely softer underwater. There are some fixes for this out on the internet and all involve a flat surface over the lens.
The rumor is that GoPro is working on a fix, so I think I will wait to see what they offer before taking the plunge to fix this flaw.
Otherwise, I am totally having a blast with this neat little camera.


Sayre said...

It's just as well that a labrador retriever won't fit - they'd just asoon be wet anyway!

This looks like a lovely trip, FC! I've been to Cape San Blas before, but never quite over to Port St. Joe. Must check it out!

threecollie said...

I don't know how you manage to keep surpassing yourself but somehow you do. What marvelous clear water, wonderful creatures and a really well done video. Thanks!

Dani said...

I love Florida. There is no place quite like her.

jean said...

The whole post was informative and the film was great. The best was you giving the thumbs up! Where is Bear? You didn't leave him home did you? Poor Bear.

Shawn said...

What a nice looking place to kayak. We've been wanting to go visit St. Joe Bay. I'm amazed by how clear the water is. Thanks for sharing!

Miz S said...

I'm yearning for a trip to St Joe's. It looks so peaceful and uncrowded. Is it usually like that? Spring break starts on April 18th for me.

Anonymous said...

I've been to St. Joe's Bay, never seen it this clear, always looks a bit murky in July, when I used to go. I wasn't into kayaking then, but sure makes me want to do a trip and take my kayak or rent one from this lady. The video was awesome too. Tammy in Al.

Misti said...

That does look like heaven and makes me wish I had explored more of north Florida before we left!

SophieMae said...

AbFab! This is the longest I've sat still online in months! All the times I've been over that way, I never did really check out the bay. Major DUH! Definitely gonna do so next time.

Are you still over there? I just thought about a place you might like to see... every time I'm there, I think of you. It's called Stinky Creek (real name, I'm told, is Newport Spring) - you know why when you get there - and there's a rope swing hanging from a big ol' tree. (Well, it was still there last time I was, anyhow). You turn off 98 around Ouzts, on Old Plank Road. I'm thinking maybe a mile or two up. Just roll down your windows and follow your nose. 8-]

Thunder said...

Wow that water is crystal clear! I may need to get some snorkling gear put together again!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Whoa. I needed a little Florida. Thank you. What a beautiful swimmer you found. I hope that big female horseshoe crab manages to grow a new carapace. It's all about resilience for me this week...the laptop took a direct hit in the face last Thursday with a glass of water so I'm rediscovering the Luddite life. Guess I'll do my taxes. Thanks for the little vidcation.

R.Powers said...

I know it was a long post and a long video, but dang ... what a place!
Thanks for the comments and for sitting through the video.
At least it wasn't as long as Gone With The Wind.


Octohawk said...

It sounds like Debbie has my future life.. Or the one I hope to have.