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Paddling a flooded river on the other side of the state

December 14, 2011
By Mel the Guide - Your Yak or Mine , Pine Island Eagle

Welcome to sunny Florida - well most of the time. From time to time we get a little rain. (More about that in a bit.) As I write this, adventures have taken me to the east coast once again, looking for some of the last remaining little known natural rivers. I wound up in the town of Sebastian on the Indian River. Sebastian is a small town located between Vero and Melbourne. The Sebastian inlet is known for its great fishing, like giant reds and snook.

I had planned to do the Indian and a river called the St. Sebastian, south, or lower prong as the locals call it.

As I made my way around the town checking out the rivers, I was lucky enough to come across a very nice fellow by the name of Steve Philipson, owner operator of About Kayaks, and about storage. Steve has a nice set up at 25 Airport Drive, West, in Sebastian. He has a storage facility, and a natural nursery of native plants. He tells me he will be adding a fresh produce stand soon. Steve has on site a large selection of about 20 kayaks, sit on and sit in. There is also a small shop for your kayak needs.

I meet Steve a few days before our paddle so we could figure out how much time I needed to do it.

This is a self-guided tour. Steve drops you off with all your gear and you paddle down stream just following the river. When you come upon the riverside church, you give Steve a call and he meets you 10 minutes later on the next bend at the Dale Wimbrow Park.

The trip is about 5 to 6 miles with all the twist and turns, at about 2 knots down stream. Now, this is the only kind of kayaking my lovely wife Adele likes to do. You see, you get in your kayak and the hardest thing you have to do is steer. About Kayaks is open all year, seven days a week, and if you want an early departure time, Steve will be there for you. The price for rentals is only $34.95 for a single, and $49.95 for a two-person kayak, also he will shuttle you if you have your own kayaks or canoes.

So that was the plan, a week of kayaking, fishing and bicycling, around and on the Indian River and a day trip on the slow moving St. Sebastian with the wife. Sounds great, right? Well that did not happen. Instead we were greeted with three days of solid wind and rain. I am not talking about a mid-day sprinkle. I tell you it rained for three days straight. Heavy downpours and 50 to 60 mph gusts of wind. The wind was so strong that the rain was coming down sideways. The weatherman said that short of a hurricane, they had not had that much rain in 17 years. The tides were up very high and so were the rivers. The streets were blocked off because the drains could not handle the large volume of water. The parts of the coast we were in lost power. It was somewhat funny because my wife and I were out eating dinner at Woody's Barbecue for our anniversary and the lights went off. How romantic, dinner by candlelight. It rather brought new meaning to a "dark meat special."

Some sailboats were beached, well others were torn from there moorings and shoved up under the docks. The restaurants (of which there were too many to do in a week) on the piers were closed because the waves were shaking the pilings, and the wind was breaking windows and doors.

After the downpours, the sun came out and it was a beautiful place to be. My wife and I had our bikes and got a chance to ride along the river.

The week is half over and I still had not been in the yak. I went to the launch site on the south prong and the water was up about four feet higher than its norm.

The river usually runs about 2 knots, but now I was as close to ragging white water as I want to get. I knew if I were to take the wife it would not be a good day. Nevertheless, I came to do the river.

A good friend of mine, Dr. Doug Kaplan and his wife Elaine, were down from New Jersey visiting their winter home near Boca Raton. We talked on the phone, and I asked if he would like to come on up and do lunch and a paddle. He said he would like that and did not mind the two-plus-hour drive.

I called Steve from About Kayak and set up the trip for the next day at 1 p.m. Doug's wife Elaine and my wife Adele stayed at the time-share oyster point; well, Doug and I were off to see Steve. He helped us get the kayaks and gear off our truck and on to his, we were finally off to the launch site.

When we got the kayaks set up on the walkway we had lots of water up on the boardwalk. We used it like a cattle shoot. We pushed out, out onto the main stream. The water was swift to say the least.

Now I don't know if you kayak on a lot of streams and rivers, but most have the trees and branches trimmed back enough so you can get down stream under them.

However, when you add four feet of water to a little stream, it puts all the high trees in your face. The first 1?2 mile of the trip was a bear. Pushed sideways over, under around downed trees. The river was so high that we were being pushed places the main river had spread out to, and not the main stream, off to the sides, and down little coves. Then we came to the widening of the river.

Now this is what we came to see. The river gets to be about 50 feet across from bank to bank. The downstream now slows down to a slow drift. The floras fauna was fantastic. We saw many bob lily's. They grow to be about 18 to 24 inches above the water line - beautiful white flowers that thrive in full sun and partial shade. The plant is also known as the sting lily, southern swamp lily, both come in red and white. We saw many types of ferns.

According to fossil records, ferns and fern-like plants appeared on earth 408 to 438 million years ago, and are the oldest living plants on earth. Along with the ferns are lichens or fungus. Moss, Spanish moss, and stag horn ferns.

Vines, Brazilian pepper, poison oak, sumac and don't for get poison ivy. All of which you have to be careful of not running into as they sure can make you itch.

Then much to my delight, there were many kinds, and sizes, of ephiphytes, also known as tillindsia, or as I call them, air plants. You see they don't require soil to grow, only moderate light and a good rain shower now and then. And they sure had that.

All and all it was a good trip. It took us about two hours but we were moving pretty fast at the start. I am sure if you give Steve a call at About Kayaks at 772-589 -3469, he can tell you about the water flow that day and set you up for a three-hour trip down one of the prettiest riverways we have paddled. Sebastian is a great place to stay if you have a few days off and want some good paddling, fishing and restaurants on the other coast.

We are back in Matlacha. The sun is out and I have a tour set up to take a family from Switzerland out. It should be a good one as the manatees are all over the back bay. We even had a few dolphins right out our front door at the base camp. Life is good.

Thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide from Gulf Coast Kayak in Matlacha in Southwest Florida. For information on tours and rentals, call 941-661-8229 or 239-283-1125.



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