Biscayne National Park Report
(Convoy Point)

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Report By:  gbailey    Date: 3/1/2007 
Rating:Trip Rating     Photos: See 20 photos     Map & Directions: View

Paddle from Convoy Point across the southern end of Biscayne Bay out to Ellott Key.

My Report:

by Greg Bailey

After an early morning start, we arrived in Homestead, Florida close to 11:30 am. Plenty of time to grab a sandwich before heading to Convoy Point, from where we would begin our paddling adventure across the southern end of Biscayne Bay out to Elliott, Adams and Boca Chita Keys. These Keys are the northern most keys associated with the Florida Keys. Convoy Point had a prime view of the waters into which we’d paddle, with just a faint, far distant blur thought to be Elliott Key. Elliott Key was approximately 8-9 miles off the coast, almost due east, and the winds were forecasted to be near 20 mph today. With the winds in our face we’d have to work hard to get out, yet that wind direction was also favorable in terms of boat stability.

A lot of activity was focused there at the Visitors Center; windsurfers, power boaters, sun seekers and even a small group of Catholic Nuns. They were amused at the sight of us loading our gear into the little bitty boats, and seemed to have a constant smile on their faces. The wind surfers were quite delighted with the windy conditions, and with the lack of waves, due no doubt to the shallow waters surrounding the point. We later discovered that Convoy Point is one of South Florida’s favorite wind surfing locations.

After filing our float plan with the Park Staff inside the Visitors Center, we were finally in the water around 1pm. Paddling straight into the streaming, foam filled waters, we soon approached deeper water with larger waves making it a wet ride, but the water was warm and very clear. Franklin and I were paddling his Aleut Sea II, a performance tandem sea kayak loaded with lots of gear, and practically every other wave was breaching the bow and hitting me! Some of the 2 footers were hitting me in the chest with such regularity, that I was thankful for a dry fitting spray skirt and baseball cap. The long bib on the cap kept the waters out of my face for the most part. Everyone else was doing okay in spite of the winds, but we all realized that eventually as we neared the Keys we’d move into the lee and find diminished waves and winds, hopefully. Biscayne National Park’s waters were very clear and green, with the bottom visible the entire time as we slugged our way out.

It was around 4:30 or 5 pm when we finally arrived at Elliott Key, having traveled 10.7 miles in almost 4 hours! The lengthy duration was due partly to the fact that we had one paddler with us who was unable to make adequate headway and was falling way behind everyone else. Franklin and I circled around several times, while holding up everyone else, to see how he was doing. At his current pace it would have taken him 7-8 hours to make the distance, and he finally turned around after one fast moving rain quall and headed back to shore. I suspect we added another hour to our outgoing duration due to those backward sweeps, but everyone else was strong, eager and patiently waiting when we caught up with them each time. At Elliott Key, we found a circular concrete boat harbor, Ranger station and a short supplies pier waiting for us. A nice sandy beach was located on the north end of the boat harbor, with rocks and coral on the south end, which unfortunately is where we landed. Except for us kayakers, two sailboats and two Park Rangers, the place seemed to be deserted. But then again, it was Thursday, March 22, and most people had other places to be. Elliott Key was to be our base camp for the next three nights and days, and we had a very nice grassy area to set up the tents. In addition, the showers were close at hand, underneath the two-story Educational Center complex that the Rangers operate for youth groups of the area. After a long day and difficult paddle out, we retired for the night, looking forward to seeing more of the beautiful waters and blue skies.

Our planned route for Friday was to venture south, towards Adams Key. That was ground zero for Hurricane Andrew, back in 1992, and we expected to see signs even today of the damage to the mangroves and broken coral scattered about. As we pulled away from the beach we finally had the winds to our back. I reminded everyone to enjoy the trip as we paddled parallel to Elliott Key south, since we’d have to reverse course later in the day and paddle back against the wind! So we took it quite easy, enjoying the super clear and beautiful waters.

Elliott Key didn’t have any beaches, just rocky points occasionally jutting out from the mangroves, yet it was very remote feeling as we paddled along the shore, easily pushed along by the 15 mph winds.

We didn’t see many other boaters until the weekend, and that was quite surprising, with us being only 30 miles south of Miami.

Arriving at Adams Key, we felt the outgoing tidal pull through the cut leading out to the Atlantic, so we pulled out on a grassy point and had lunch at the Adams Key day park. The waters swirling through the pass was lime green and very clear.

A few folks were attempting to fish from the dock but the swift waters made it a bit difficult. After lunch and a lazy break on the green grasses of the park, we were back into our cockpits and paddling through a maze of smaller keys, marveling at the water colors. Realizing we still had a two hour + paddle back to base camp, we came around a mangrove point and aimed our bows directly into the wind. Looking north the sight was impressive (or depressive – depending on one’s perspective): white caps and green waters as far as we could see! No really big waves were expected though, since we were still somewhat in the lee from the prevailing east, northeast winds. Franklin pointed the tandem’s bow toward a point directly ahead, probably 3-4 miles in a straight shot, while John and Mabel cut closer to shore to avoid some of the direct wind. Gus followed behind me and Franklin. After a steady hour of paddling we made it back to Billy’s Point, where we all re-grouped and stretched our legs. There was no beach around so we just waded into the shallow waters on the point, not far from a dive boat that had come close to shore to snorkel among the coral and grasses. In the shallow waters was lots of broken brain coral, no doubt a lasting reminder of the wrath of hurricane Andrew, which came ashore here in 1992 with 165 mph winds and gusts to 212 mph. (At 0440 EDT on August 24, Andrew struck Elliott Key with sustained winds of 165 mph and a pressure of 926 mbar. The hurricane continued to strengthen up to and slightly after landfall, and 25 minutes after its first Florida landfall Andrew hit near Homestead with a slightly lower pressure and the same winds. Hurricane Andrew weakened as the eye continued further inland, and after crossing southern Florida in four hours, the eye emerged into the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 135 mph). The red and black mangroves are still recovering, with scattered bare and gray areas throughout the shoreline. It is still quite beautiful and unless one was aware of the path of Hurricane Andrew, or knew the area prior to impact, you would never notice the remaining signs, now almost 15 years into its recovery.
With another 4 miles to go we started up again and rounded Billy’s point to face the winds once again, although this time we had a true distant mark to sight. A large American flag was seen in the distance, lit by the bright sunshine and held straight by the winds. The shoreline between the two points was irregular and made for interesting paddling, with the constant possibility of sea turtles and rays keeping everyone’s eyes focused on the waters.

Once we arrived back at Elliott’s Key, some of us decided to pull ashore by the pier, but I think the soft beach on the northern end was the best place to come in.
Either place required a short walk to get back to the tents, but we could safely leave the boats by the beach for the night and make for easier future launches. Having spent most of the day on the water, we were quite hungry, so dinner plans were executed quickly and efficiently. With a few passing rain showers and more threatening, we moved our stoves and chairs underneath the Ranger’s Educational Center and continued one of our most important evening rituals – dinner (sometimes referred to as supper). We met a few locals also trying to stay dry and John kept them entertained by reviewing some of his best photos for the trip thus far. Wanting to see the ocean side of the key, after dinner we made the short walk, ½ mile or so, and could see the stronger winds and white caps offshore. Franklin stood atop a picnic table to take wind speed readings, with the highest gust near 30 and sustained winds around 17 mph. The gusts were so strong that at times his shorts would fall nearly to his knees!

Arriving back at the camp, we met some other locals, this time the four legged type, with long tails and rings around their eyes. The raccoons were to be the main event, story line for the night. According to Gus, at one time during the night, a raccoon was discovered pulling food (loaf of bread actually), through a hole in his new tent! It had torn the small hole in one corner and extended one of its hands through to grab a fist-full of plastic, and commenced to playing tug-o-war with Gus! Gus came out running full speed for the villain to be, but was unable to catch him. Running across the grass like a Jaguar linebacker and towards the woods where the ‘coon scampered, Gus was throwing everything he could get his hands on. That was one lucky raccoon, based on the look of Gus’s face and his high-spirited language that filled the late evening air. Upon returning back to the tent site, Gus began to gather more ammunition, selecting a variety of stone and stick sizes, preparing for the certain-to-be, return engagement. Once peace was restored we attempted to build a small fire in one of the elevated grill boxes, but the winds were too strong and ashes blew too far and too often. After putting out the fire and sitting down to reflect on our first full day of paddling, for the first time we looked up to realize the sky was now clear and full of stars. With no city or camp lights to interfere with the darkness, it was a great way to end the evening and get some rest for another day on the water.

The next morning, Saturday, started out bright and sunny with perfect temperatures in the mid to low 70s. Not bad for early March, particularly with two-thirds of the country experiencing a winter storm. Our plans were to paddle north toward Boca Chita Key, where we hoped to find an illegally built lighthouse and another series of cuts and passes through some of the smaller keys. Along the way we passed Sands Key and its cut to the ocean, and it was quite large and beautiful. PIC

A lot of sand and shallow water was present, and it took us 30 minutes or so to get past it. Several boats had rafted together with flowing. loud music and drink, with one boater planting their charcoal grill out into the very shallow water (atop a small rack, just above the water). Just before arriving at Boca Chita Key, the Miami skyline appeared closer than ever, however it was still approximately 25 miles to the north. It was a bit hard to believe how close we really were to that densely populated metro-plex, yet we were able to enjoy the incredible sea kayaking, sharing the waters with a very limited number of people this time of year.
Arriving at Boca Chita Key, after a 6-7 mile paddle, the first thing that caught my eye was the lighthouse.

It stood guard at the western point of the key, and a large, round and protected boat basin was the center of activity. We pulled our kayaks out onto a soft grassy shore on the north side and after securing them well, went for a stroll to check out the scene. It was obvious that this place was a power and sail boat paradise, much like an oasis in the desert. No reservations required, no rush to leave, with electrical hookups and washrooms nearby, I could see why it is highly rated by the transient boater crowd. Most everyone we talked to was friendly, particularly the sailing couple from Canada. They appeared to be enjoying every minute of the day and they tend to repeat the experience this time every year to avoid the Canadian winter. The lighthouse was indeed built illegally, by a private individual, and was forced to be extinguished by the Federal Government. It was built without permission from the government and was constructed with local coral, which also was a no-no. Nevertheless, it has to be one of the most beautiful lighthouses I have every seen, not the typical black and white candy striped pattern seen along the eastern seaboard, but with a coral and stone finish that looked incredibly strong, perfectly matched for the type of weather conditions common here during the tropical season. It was a bit disappointing to find that the entrance to the interior and stairs was now closed. During my research for the trip, I had read that we could in fact enter and climb to the 65 foot high panoramic overlook, which supposedly holds an incredible view of both the bay and ocean sides of Biscayne National Park.

On our way back Mabel and I switched boats, with me paddling her Epic 18 while she and Franklin held down both ends of the Aleut Sea II. With a comfortable following wind we enjoyed the trip back even more, realizing that we were probably seeing out last evening from offshore.

Sunday morning’s sunrise was the last for us on the Key, and after a leisure breakfast we slowly began the process of camp breakdown. Carting our gear across the grass for the last time, we loaded our boats again, this time on the sandy beach with a few weekenders curiously standing by. Pushing off from the beach we took one last look at Elliott Key before setting the GPS coordinates and visual sights on the mainland. Rear, quartering seas and moderate winds made for an easy trip back. Again the waters were never more than 6-8 feet deep and clear to the bottom at most times. Not having to break through headwinds this time we were able to see more of the ocean grasses along the way, with most of the bottom covered.

Two hours and 9.3 miles later, we were finished, and landed once again at Convoy Point on the mainland, amid the weekend crowd of windsurfers.
Several of the windsurfers in fact were there 4 days earlier when we first departed and it was nice to see them again, as they were glad to hear we had a good trip (I suspect that some of them had spent most of the past 4 days at Convoy, enjoying the winds while they could).

In summary, Biscayne National Park is a great place to sea kayak. The waters are very clear and shallow, yet open waters mean you’ll probably have winds to contend with on most trips.

We’ll be back here again, soon!

Participants and boats used:
Franklin Dickinson Valley Aleut Sea II (tandem)
Greg Bailey ditto
Mabel Magarinos Epic 18
John McNeil Legend
Gus Bianchi Prijon Kodiak

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Location Data:

Fees/Costs $: n/a

Photos from Convoy Point:    (Click image to view full size)

Getting Ready Restricted
Getting Ready
Biscayne Docks Restricted
Biscayne Docks
Biscayne Put-in Restricted
Biscayne Put-in
Elliott Key Campsite Restricted
Elliott Key Campsite
Beautiful Waters Restricted
Beautiful Waters
Mabels Red Epic 18 Restricted
Mabels Red Epic 18
Johns Blue Legend Restricted
Johns Blue Legend

John in his blue Legend spotted a large ray and a sea turtle as we cruised easily along.

Elliott Key Mangrove Restricted
Elliott Key Mangrove

Elliott Key didn’t have any beaches, just rocky points occasionally jutting out from the mangroves, yet it was very remote feeling.

Paddling Biscayne Restricted
Paddling Biscayne
Adams Key Restricted
Adams Key

Arriving at Adams Key, we felt the outgoing tidal pull through the cut leading out to the Atlantic.

Lime Green and Clear Restricted
Lime Green and Clear
More Paddling Restricted
More Paddling
Back at Elliott Restricted
Back at Elliott

The soft beach on the northern end was the best place to come in.

Franklin Wind Wiz Restricted
Franklin Wind Wiz

Franklin stood atop a picnic table to take wind speed readings, with the highest gust near 30 and sustained winds around 17 mph.

Wind Wizard Restricted
Wind Wizard
Perfect Skies/Water Restricted
Perfect Skies/Water

Paddle north toward Boca Chita Key.

Boca Chita Restricted
Boca Chita

The first thing that caught my eye was the lighthouse.

Coral Lighthouse Restricted
Coral Lighthouse

The lighthouse was built without permission from the government and was constructed with local coral, which also was a no-no.

Paddling to Convoy Restricted
Paddling to Convoy

Rear, quartering seas and moderate winds made for an easy trip back.

Near Convoy Point Restricted
Near Convoy Point

Nearing Convoy Point on the mainland.

Special Interests and Comments:

Special InterestsBiscayne National Park

Post Date: 2/28/2009

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