Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beautiful canoe/kayak launches: Weedon Island, St. Petersburg, Florida

Weedon Island Preserve is a must see on foot and by kayak if you're visiting the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area of southern Florida. The preserve is part peninsula and a lot of islands.

The public canoe/kayak launch at Weedon Island is stunning. You'll find it next to the preserve’s long fishing pier at the end of Weedon Drive Northeast.

The South Trail
There is a basic map posted at the canoe/kayak launch of the numbered self-guided paddle trail. The paddle trail is a four-mile loop that winds through the mangrove forests, along islands and lagoons bordering Tampa Bay.

There is a public restroom next to the fishing pier.

You want to plan about three hours to complete the marked paddle trail and check the daily tide charts beforehand so as not get stuck in low tide.

I'm not a fan at all of paddling through narrow mangrove tunnels and avoid them. I like my kayak and my paddle to run free. There are lots of open areas to paddle here. Paddlers report that the marked trail will take you through some tight spots through mangrove tunnels into larger lagoons. I suppose some people enjoy the shade the tunnels provide from the sun during the hot summer months. If you're claustrophobic, you may want to plan your own navigation trail to stay in the open areas.

There are no alligators at Weedon Island Preserve. Yeah! That's high on my list of reptiles to avoid. Depending on the season you might see manatees. In the heat of summer they prefer deeper water. In winter, they prefer warmer shallows. You may also see mullet (fish) jumping, stingrays, and dolphins.

The paddling trails in Weedon Island Preserve are tide dependent 
This means, you need to paddle during high tide. The kayak friendly dock you can launch from is designed to rise and fall naturally with the tide. Two thumbs up!

You'll need to know the tide charts for the area or ask advice from a knowledgeable outfitter like Sweetwater Kayaks in St. Petersburg, Florida about the best times to paddle.

When we were in Florida in early January, the tides were particularly low in the mangrove trails and lagoons. Sweetwater Kayaks mentioned negative tides, so we scouted the preserve on foot.
Low tide paddle trails
Even with advice, everyone knows to read the tide charts themselves too. And bring a printed out map of the region you're going to paddle and a kayak compass minimum. Maybe a GPS. Marked trail or not, sometimes we wander off, miss a marker, or a marker can go missing. It would be easy to get lost or confused in here. Notice I mention the importance of tides several times over. It's no mistake.

Sweetwater Kayaks has a small kayak rental concession down the road from the canoe/kayak launch on Weedon Island with a basic selection of rec kayaks.
You need to contact them in advance or go by their big Sweetwater Kayaks store nearby on 10000 Gandy Blvd., if you want to rent a kayak or paddleboard, or to arrange for rental of a more performant kayak (some of us are picky and don't take to rec kayaks), or to purchase your own kayak.

Sweetwater Kayaks Rentals page also lists and links to local weather reports and tide charts for the Weedon Island area. There are other places to rent kayaks in southern Florida, but Sweetwater is the only outfitter with a concession on Weedon Island. They also help conservation efforts by organizing volunteers for clean up of the preserve.

The cost of kayak rentals and paddleboard rentals adds up quickly over a few days, and are expensive in southern Florida as well in most places we travel. This is often why we rent bikes for the day instead of kayaks. This is also why we bought our own kayaks and gear back home in Canada, but we can't transport it all unless we do a road trip. Lucky for you if you've got your own awesome gear along with you.

Birder's Paradise
Weedon Island Preserve is a birder's paradise. In January we saw hundreds of White Ibis, and bright pink Roseate Spoonbills in one of the big lagoons from a lookout boardwalk. Our cameras were unable to capture the overwhelming experience of the larger lagoons littered with beautiful birds across the water and in the branches of the mangrove forests.
lagoon at low tide
But we were able to capture a close up photo of a White Ibis feeding close by during low tide next to the lookout.
White Ibis make an odd, if not haunting, deep throated sound. It really resonated in the lagoon during the stillness and otherwise quiet of our January visit. While the wind was up in the Gulf, it was quiet and protected in the preserve.

Weedon Island is on my list of places to go back and explore more of the land trails and the paddle trails during high tide and warmer temperatures! Florida waters are cold in the winter. During our January visit water temps were 58F in the Gulf of Mexico and in the low 60sF in Tampa Bay. Something to remember even if the air temperatures are in the 70s to 80s Fahrenheit. I did jump into the Gulf for a swim without a wetsuit one day. I jumped right out one minute later.

For more information about paddling the preserve visit: 
Weedon Island Preserve, paddling launch information, Pinellas County
Make note: Visiting the preserve is free. No fees. Dogs are not allowed. Cycling the preserve land trails is not allowed. You'll have to hike it or paddle it.

You can also find lots of reviews of Weedon Island Preserve on Trip Advisor.

The canoe/kayak launch and the adjacent pier at Weedon Island Preserve are fabulous places to enjoy the sunset.
We'll visit more of the Weedon Island Preserve's mystical land trails and boardwalks in an upcoming post. Weedon Island Preserve is a large 3,190-acre natural area located on Tampa Bay. It's an archaeological area with an interesting history, some ghost tales, and it used to have a busy airport in the 1930s . . .

If the mangrove trails are lacking water during low tides, there is always plenty of open water in the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay,
and throughout the interesting tangle of Florida's over-populated intercoastal waterways.
Happy trails.
The BaffinPaddler

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Knowledgeable, nice, well-stocked! Sweetwater Kayaks, St. Petersburg, Florida

This is the place for kayaks in southern Florida. Sweetwater Kayaks! It's their religion. We spent so much time in the "shop" during our visit last week, I was happy they didn't kick us out. I guess they understood, we too have the "love of good kayak's disease".

I don't know what to call the building Sweetwater Kayaks lives in besides awesome. It is too nice, unique, and perhaps historical to be called a store or a warehouse. It's Sweetwater Kayaks on 10000 Gandy Blvd. in St. Petersburg, Florida.

There is such a great choice of high-end kayaks, you get a bit of a rush walking into the store. It has a nice feel.

NDK (Nigel Dennis Kayaks). A good choice of the ever-popular Pilgrim.
Hey wait. An NDK Romany demo kayak? I wish I had time to borrow it for a few days and take it home. I tried a Romany S a few years back on a Tampa Bay Florida trip paddling from Cockroach Bay with Don Thompson from Big D's Kayaking and I'm still hooked. A great kayak, and a knowledgeable, fun guide and instructor.
I got caught up and spent most of my time in the store with the Tiderace sea kayaks. The Tiderace Xcite reminded me so much of my own Maelstrom Vital 166. Suspended from the ceiling with ropes mean the kayaks hang free. You can feel under the hull and imagine the glide on the water. I crawled on my hands and knees on the floor underneath the Tiderace kayaks to have a closer look. The salesperson seemed to take note of my behaviour, but this is normal kayak inspection procedure, right?
Valley kayaks, (of the Valley's and my smaller girl frame, the Avocet fits and suits me best), and North Shore, more British designed kayaks. I've seen the North Shore kayaks popping up on Canadian waters and in Canadian kayaking stores too, but I've yet to try one.
Ocean sit-on-tops, fishing kayaks, and some 3-piece plastic modular craft that don't look like kayaks to us but a stuffed-green alligator mascot seems to like it.
There is a room dedicated to paddle boards. Florida is a hub for paddleboards and paddleboarding. The prices and choices are so much better in the U.S. than in Canada!
Sweetwater Kayaks is an excellent kayaking resource if you want to paddle and kayak shop in southern Florida. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and their website has information about local weather, wind, seas, tides, water temperatures and much more. It is a reference hub for paddlers. It's a paddle village.

On the way out of Sweetwater Kayaks, there was a video of Dubside (an expert and inspiring legend of Greenland rolling and rope gymnastics) playing and rolling in the the surf with a GP (Greenland paddle). It's so hard to leave the store. Temptations are everywhere.

Sweetwater Kayaks puts on an annual sea kayak symposium in February. This year it's February 22-March 1, 2015. If you can make it, enjoy!

I visited Sweetwater Kayaks in 2010 on my first Florida trip when they had moved into a smaller, waterfront location during recessionary times. A location they affectionately refer to now as "The Shack." Let's see if I can dredge up a photo of the old location? Here it is. It was a pretty nice little waterfront shack near Weedon Island Preserve.
We met Russell Farrow of Sweetwater Kayaks on that first trip to southern Florida in April 2010. Russell saw us taking pictures of each other on-site. He said, "Do you want me to take a picture of you two together?"
Thanks Russell. I'm happy to see Sweetwater Kayaks is more than alive and well!

Here's a link to that 2010 post.
Sweetwater Kayaks, St. Pete's, Florida, April 2010

That interesting and awesome shower curtain with the sea shells still lives in the Sweetwater Kayaks store.
But, what did I find this time in the intriguing Sweetwater Kayaks restroom? What's the story behind this interesting orange jug faucet? Closing the tap will challenge you to find its sweet spot!
Go ponder. And go visit. You're sure to find something of interest.

Kayaking has a spirit of wonder and knowledge.
Happy paddles!
The BaffinPaddler

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Paddler winter cross-training: What burns more calories?

Today I was wielding a sledge hammer to break up thick ice in the driveway and walkway of our home in Canada. A few days ago, I was visiting the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Cold and warm fluctuates. Florida isn't always warm. Canada is not always cold.

I began thinking about different aspects of cross-training to keep yourself in shape for what you really like to do. Some of the things we do in our daily life could be considered back-breaking chores, necessity, pure pleasure, planning ahead for future activities, or cross-training.

We don't paddle every day. But we do need to stay in shape mentally and physically every day to the best of our abilities. Weather permitting is not an option. We have to deal with weather and conditions winter, spring, summer, and fall! Paradise on either end of the warm or cold spectrum can quickly change.

As I slugged ice and slush in Canada today I thought about having a good perspective about winter and what could count for excellent cross-training for kayaking and the calorie count we expend during a variety of other activites. We wanna look good in our gear!

What burns more calories over two hours of effort?

1. Paddleboarding with sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. (Think of your heart rate here.)
2. Breaking up thick ice in your driveway with a sledge hammer.
3. Running with sandpipers on the beach. (My fav.)
4. 303ing your awesome fleet of kayaks. (You can't do this in winter in cold parts of the world unless your fleet lives inside a heated facility.)
5. Cycling on the beach with no hands. (I don't think anyone can do this for 2 hours so it's technically off the list.)

For myself, and each person is different, I think paddleboarding with sharks and breaking up thick ice in the driveway with a sledge hammer probably come out about equal for calories burned. Running on the beach with sandpipers and taking the time to 303 our sea kayaks to protect them from the sun probably burns about the same amount of calories with less stress.

Happy paddles wherever you are.
Enjoy your cross-training and calorie count.
The BaffinPaddler

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Paddle Year from the BaffinPaddler

May the new kayaking year see you always paddling with your properly fitting PFD and a smile on your face. . .

under many a rainbow . . .
although, that may mean rain first. Remember to bring the cockpit cover for the drive home!
And, may the new kayaking year bring many spots on the horizon that are your kayaking buddies.
Now back to reality in Canada.
It's time to head for water that isn't frozen and a sun that shines with heat.

It isn't all bad though with the right gear and lots of it! You need a camera that doesn't freeze at -20C/-4F. Although fingers are another matter.
Happy trails in the new year.

I wish you the best, today, tomorrow, and forever.
The BaffinPaddler