Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Boat Ride


I went to Cedar Key http://www.cedarkey.org/ yesterday...first time in over two years. The ride is lonely, 53 miles of a two-lane highway, through a few very small, one-red-light towns and over a couple of waterways, the Waccasassa River and Otter Creek. Once, just past the Waccasassa bridge, Jim and I saw an overturned camper on the side of the road, rescue vehicles already there. Now, I always associate the two. Most of the drive is bounded by shallow ditches teeming with cattails or water hyacinth and, farther back, planted pines owned by paper companies and hunting clubs. Where the pines have been harvested, a few tall, stately palm trees remain, letting me know I am in Florida.

Jim and I traveled this highway many times, usually with friends or relatives, sometimes to meet others at Cedar Key for a meal at one of the popular seafood restaurants, Frog's Landing, the Captain's Table, the Seabreeze, which is the only one remaining today. They are good, good memories and the water has always drawn me back.

The restaurants have a specialty which I have never seen anywhere else. They call it palm salad and I suppose you could say it is a salad, but it is more like dessert because of the scoop of green ice cream on top that takes up most of the plate. The restaurants advertise the ice cream as dressing. This ice cream was supposed to be a secret recipe and to me, it actually tasted a little like peanut butter. I never found out the secret, but this special "salad" and the view kept bringing us back again and again.

If it was getting dark on our ride back home, we could count on seeing deer beside the road, sometimes crossing, so we had to be very alert and careful and drive a little slower than normal. And, of course, there were possums and coons and armadillos on the roam at dusk, even a turtle or two.

But back to my ride yesterday, I went with a purpose in mind, and it was not eating, although the hand-dipped ice cream niggled my memories. I was focused on a boat ride. I did some web research and found http://www.tidewatertours.com/. Since high tide seemed to be important for the length of the boat trip, I checked and high tide was at 1:00 p.m., perfect. I left home at 9:20 a.m. and arrived at the first bridge into Cedar Key at 10:35 a.m., hardly any traffic but getting hot. I was prepared with sunscreen and a hat and the boat, I saw, had a canopy. I pulled into a vacant spot at the city park area, which was already teeming with swimmers and sun bathers. It was a short walk to the tour boat dock, where several more people were waiting for the first departure at 11 o'clock. I paid my fee and chatted with a friendly couple who were taking their dog, an older female black lab named Shotsy. They had recently moved into a retirement community (Springhill, a little southeast) from California. The husband raved about our cheap prices.

Finally, the boat pulled in and we all boarded. Our captain was a lady named Chris, originally from Montana where she had taught snowboarding and led snow mobile excursions. Warm weather is such a draw to many people. I think she said she had been in Cedar Key for six years. At any rate, she was very knowledgeable and a pleasure to listen to.

Our first stop was just off Atsena Otie Key, the original site of Cedar Key (you can read about it here,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atsena_Otie_Key). Of course, I had read all this history before, but there is nothing like hearing it while lightly rocking in a boat just off the shoreline. Since these waters are protected, birds (and other things) are in abundance. Chris pointed out ibis, egrets, osprey, herons, and the omnipresent pelicans, many young ones showing off. We even saw several frigates, who, Chris said, travel from the tropics to find a mate to take back home. Apparently, Cedar Key is their pick up spot. With a huge wingspan and bright red throats, they were a sight to behold.

Our next stop was off Snake Key (a sign on the island says 23 water moccasins per acre)...no thanks. Chris told us that long ago (hopefully, before the snakes), this island was the getting off point for visitors who needed quarantining for one thing or another. Sorry, but I don't remember much more because my brain stopped working when she mentioned the snakes.

Less than two miles west of Snake Key is the highest point off Florida's Gulf coast (52 feet), Seahorse Key. There is a lighthouse here (actually called a light station, light removed), and the island is a marine laboratory for the University of Florida. Also, it is a bird nesting sanctuary, making a landing possible only at certain times of the year. It was off the shore of Seahorse Key that we had our most delightful experience. Several dolphins, young and mature, gave us a show I will long remember. All the tricks I had long ago paid to see at Sea World, I now watched for free. They entertained us for several minutes, swimming alongside, inches from our boat. Shotsy was in a trance *Smile*.

We made a big loop around the three islands and returned along the back side. Although it was very hot, the sea breeze was nature's fan. At one of the islands, we ventured into a small bay and Chris piloted us through a channel to the other side. It was narrow with mangroves on both sides, about three feet deep at high tide, three inches at low tide, thus, the importance of the tide for our trip. At the exit of this channel, Chris mentioned a new Cedar Key venture of oyster farming in these shallow waters.

On the way back to the dock, we slowed as Chris pointed out some white posts sticking out of the water, the markers for clam farmers. Clam farming has been going on for quite a while, but the oyster farming is new in Cedar key at least. The areas are leased from the State of Florida. Unfortunately, I do not like clams *Frown*.

I had thought that maybe I would stay and eat dinner somewhere, but after we docked and the gulf breeze stopped, it was just too hot to think about food and the lonely drive back home. So food was nixed and as it turned out, I left just in time to miss the daily afternoon thunderstorm. And a short nap was waiting for me at home along with Mopsy *Smile*.

until next time...c

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