Saturday, March 24, 2012

On Suwannee Sound

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
   So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way             
                             -- Joni Mitchell

Saturday March 24th SandyBottom and SOS launched at 6:00am from their campsite at Fowler's Bluff boat ramp well-rested and in good time to catch the outgoing tide and ride it out the Suwanne River into Suwanne Sound.  From there, they expected to paddle the remaining 18nm to Cedar Key.  Great plan, but adventures have surprises.

SB and SOS reported that the flow rate out the Suwannee was disappointingly slow; not even as fast as the favorable current that had helped them reaching Fowler's Bluff.   (Perhaps the wind had something to do with that?)

The weather did not cooperate either.  On reaching Suwannee Sound they battled a head wind and large chop breaking over the bow and hitting SB.  They had to paddle at 100% effort to make 1-2 knot forward progress.   The rain came and then thunder and lightning.  

Storms moving SW to NE

Tired and needing a break, they pulled ashore on/near Spanish Bayonet Island. After pitching their tent, they checked the weather forecast via VHF and cellphone and decided to the red blobs on the radar, like a string of pearls hitting them one by on, might be continuing for awhile. Ultimately they decided to hold there and wait to re-launch in the early morning, as the weather forecast "promised" favorable NW winds by/before sunrise. Too tired to prepare food (not even a half can of peaches), they reported the first thing on their agenda was sleep. Perhaps a hot meal later.  

While pitching the tent, SB and SOS sent this cellphone photo of their shelter from the storms.

Tent pitched for sheltering at Spanish Bayonet Island
(photo by SOS)

The island is just a mound of shells that the local inhabitants call home.

Local resident on shell mound island.  "Horseshoe crabs everywhere."
(photo by SOS)

The day's progress ended a mere 5nm (as the crow flies) from the goal (Cedar Key).  Still, they covered a lot of distance from 6am to noon.

Saturday:  from Fowlers Bluff to Spanish Bayonet Island on Suwannee Sound

5 nautical miles across Suwannee Sound were hard-earned in 3 hours

Leaving Fowlers Bluff Campsite at 6:00 am Saturday
Landing to shelter from the storms at 12:14 pm Saturday
NOAA Chart of Suwannee River,  Suwanee Sound, and Cedar Key area

On the WaterTribe Forum,  SharkChow wrote a summary for Saturday morning, March 24. 

"Here's something to ask Sandy Bottom and SOS when they reach the finish line. Were you hoping to arrive at Cedar Key before the cold front came through? Is that the reason you guys ripped down the Suwannee like a pair of crazed -- er... watertribers.

The reason i say this is because it looked to me like they were on that track -- headed in exactly the right place to turn and get into Cedar Key as fast as possible.  That plan apparently changed just after  noon Saturday. We can't know exactly what is going on out there but it looks like the local weather conditions blowing up in advance of that cold front are pretty horrendous.

When they exited the sheltered Suwannee they would have been paddling into a 10 to 15 kt SW headwind. And that's not the least of it. The south pass would take them across a series of oyster bars with breaking waves at or near low tide.  ....  

There are reports from the region that the wind was blowing from the south at 29  and gusting to 35. That would explain their position on that northfacing beach. Or maybe that is the only beach they could reach. The problem is that the winds are forecast to continue at 30 to 35 into tonight.

And it may not just be wind. There are also scattered showers and T-storms. I don't know what is happening out there but looking at the weather data suggests it COULD be really ugly. Or maybe not. Maybe they just stopped for a nap.

There is good news. The wind will shift, but probably not until Sunday. The wind shoudl drop down to about 10 from the WSW around 10 p.m. The wind is expected to shift at day break from the west and then start blowing from the NW at about 10 a.m..  If these are their conditions, they may just camp on that island for the night and arrive at Cedar Key Sunday morning. It is something to watch. I want to stress that there is nothing in their track that suggests they were in any peril.

Of course, I don't know what is really going on. They will tell the real story when they get off the water. What i do know is that they are in a very difficult place  to navigate given the wind conditions. Trying to get out of there in darkness would make the whole thing even more challenging. But if there is anyone in the Watertribe who could make this look easy there names are -- SandyBottom and SOS.

MEANWHILE, back on the Suwannee....

At about 4:30 p.m., Mosquito Magnet was approaching Suwannee River State Park and is about 130 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and moving at a steady pace.

Riverslayer and Whale have passed under the I-75 bridges and are about 160 miles from the Gulf, and  about 30 miles behind Mosquito Magnet.

The windy conditions on the Gulf should have little impact  on the paddlers still in the mid-Suwannee. Their main conscern will be that the further south they go on the river the harder it is to find a decent spot to camp for a few hours. The wide sand banks of the upper suwannee  become rarer and rarer. But there are still a few.

The good news for everyone is that once this cold front goes through this evening and tonight, the wind will start blowing from the NW and North. Great news for Sandy Bottom and SOS. Sunday, Monday, and part of Tuesday there will be favorable winds. Then toward mid-week the wind will shift again, but the speeds  don't look significant enough to cause any problems for any of these guys.

But, as I've said before, stay tuned."

Sharkchow (a.k.a.Warren Richey) is author of "Without a Paddle", published by St. Martins Press. It is an account of his participation in the first Ultimate Florida Challenge in 2006.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Congratulations to all of you. Dawn, it had to be a great joy for you and Alan to share the trip and victory together. Best wishes, and a safe trip home. jim