SUP and Sail in Tampa Bay in August? But why? The weather swings between dead calm and squalls, making both sailors and paddlers cranky. But we needed to test our Sanibel 18 sailboat—KneeDeep 1, newly rebuilt after two years languishing in the yard. So off we went, boat and board, to Terra Ceia, Florida at the south end of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Our mission: prepare KneeDeep l to be our floating home for upcoming sailing and paddling trips. On our SUP and Sail trips, Kevin sails, I paddle my SUP, and we meet at a designated anchorage at the end of the day. A good test of our navigation skills as well as our relationship. With an 14″ draft, KneeDeep l is ideal for navigating the shoals of southwest Florida and the Everglades. But if our larger sailboat, an O’Day 222, is a floating tent with a vestibule, KneeDeep l is a floating bivy. A floating bivy that will shelter us for West Coast Trail Sailing Squadron trips and, more important, house Kevin during the Everglades Challenge in March while I’m paddling.
Terra Ceia and the south end of Tampa Bay was new to me, so I consulted Florida Paddling Trail Association‘s (FPTA) website which suggested several routes. Additionally, the Manatee County Paddling Guide offered routes as well as information about local history and the ecosystem. Brooke Longeval also shared a route around Rattlesnake Key and Emerson Point. In the end, I created my own routes, but these resources gave me a start.
Over the four days, I paddled to Emerson Point and around Rattlesnake Key, under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and partly across Tampa Bay towards the large American flag on Mullet Key, the start of the Everglades Challenge. The afternoon storms limited my range—I never wanted to be too far offshore when the inevitable storms blew up. And after a 52-mile training paddle the previous weekend, I needed to ease my way back into my Paddle Monster workouts. But I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the paddling this area offers.
In past years, Kevin and I have done multiday SUP and sail trips to southwest Florida, the Ten Thousand Islands, and the Everglades. Each trip has been a learning experience, both for Kevin on the boat and me on my board, and we debrief after each trip. What have we learned? What went wrong, or could have but fortunately didn’t? Our expedition sea kayak training has given us skills in open water, navigation, and marine communication as well as lessons in self-reliance. The latter is especially important because we are alone on our individual crafts, often miles apart. In particular, during the Everglades Challenge when I will be paddling and camping from my board, and Kevin will single-hand the sailboat.
Terra Ceia is a small community in Manatee County surrounded by nature preserves, including the Terra Ceia Preserve State Park and the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve. Many of the areas I paddled were shallow grassy flats that provided habitat for juvenile fish, baby sharks, rays, and manatees. One day I ate lunch surrounded by a pod of manatees, and another morning I watched baby sharks stalk their breakfast, tiny fins thrashing left and right.
I hadn’t realized how significant this area was to Native American history. Terra Ceia and Emerson both house ceremonial mounds in which archaeologists have discovered multiple periods of Native American culture. The Madira Bickel Mound State Archaeological Site is accessible by both road and water, the backside anyway.
After paddling and sailing under the August sun, Kevin and I met most afternoons for a float.
Sailors and paddlers are never happy—either too much wind or too little. One afternoon, we floated and commented on the beautiful cloudscapes. But in the beauty lurks danger. I wondered if we weren’t tempting fate. Of course, we were.
The inevitable happened—a storm blew up over Bradenton, and Kevin rode it out on the boat while I, safe at the house, followed the storm’s progress on my phone. A stark reminder of how fast Florida’s weather can change.
Over adult beverages that evening, we pronounced our shake-out cruise a success. Kevin determined what KneeDeep l needed, and I explored the south end of Tampa Bay. Our next step: preparing KneeDeep l for multiday trips into the remote and shallow waters of the Everglades. We’ve done these trips on our larger boat, but how will this smaller boat fare in rough conditions? Let the training begin. March and the Everglades Challenge will be here before we know it!