New Smyrna Beach Report

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Report By:  gbailey    Date: 12/6/2003 
Rating:Trip Rating     Photos: None     Map & Directions: View

Paddle from Edgewater's Maynard Park to Ponce de Leon inlet

My Report:

by Greg Bailey

At 5:30 am the wind in Jacksonville is blowing 15-20 mph and I can see my misty breath. But today we were venturing south to New Smyrna Beach, and it is always warmer in the south, right? Yes, always! When I arrive at our planned meeting site at I-95 and highway 210, I see Bill sitting all alone. It was too early to think about last minute cancellations but I knew the weather would turn some away, and rightly so if oneís skill or confidence level didnít mesh with the expected paddling conditions. In short order Franklin, Steve, Larry and Cynthia arrived and we began to double load the boats while trying to keep warm. Pam called to say she was enroute and was planning to meet us at the put-in.

At precisely 8:01, we hopped on I-95 southbound, three vehicles and six kayaks, hot on the tail of a fast moving cold front. To the south we could see the frontal clouds, while back to the north were mostly blue skies. Exit 249A (80 miles) arrived just over an hour later so we quickly pulled into the first McDonaldís we saw for some hot coffee. Back out on highway 44 and then US1 south, we took a four block driving tour of beautiful South Riverside drive before arriving at Maynard May park right on time. There to meet us was Rick from Daytona Beach, Cherie from Santa Cruz, California and Pam from Jacksonville.

Everyone obviously took note of the conditions and were gearing up appropriately. Larry was completely covered from head to toe in the latest, greatest stuff available on the Internet, Rick was looking comfortable in his full wet suit, while Bill was content in his shorts and bare feet. Most of us were dressed and equipped somewhere in between Larry and Bill. Cherie too was quite skilled in cool weather/water paddling since the Pacific waters near her home never warm above the high 50s!

After a short pre-paddle meeting, the nine of us launched into the relatively warm waters (low 70s) and proceeded to cross to the east side of the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW), shown on some maps as the North River. We paddled to the southern tip of a two mile long unnamed island and eased along itís leeward shore, heading north. Lots of red mangroves protected this island, along with the occasional spat of oysters and sandy bank. We could feel the gentle current pulling us north, as lots of brown pelicans, ospreys and seagulls stalked their prey from high above. The warm waters still held plenty of baitfish and wading birds and cormorants were kept busy as well. We could see several small creeks or passageways on our right (east), heading into the marshes, however, there was only one such path that could lead one all the way through and back out to the ICW. That would have to be for another dayís adventure though, since our local expert, Rick indicated that even at high tide it is sometimes impossible to get through. Soon we had switched back to the main river and were passing underneath the tall highway 44 bridge. Just prior to passing the bridge we had our first casualty. Franklin declared that he was too warm in his wet suit and had to stop and take it off. A crowd gathered as he proceeded to remove almost everything (briefs, I think it was) and once again a terrific photo opportunity had passed us by, since no one brought a camera. Back on the water again and paddling against a 10-15 mph head wind, it was decided that we should perform a quick downwind loop so everyone could experience paddling with the following seas. Typically it feels quite different and is more difficult and unnerving to contend with strong wind and waves that you canít easily see, coming over the stern directly or quartering. The three minute loop was done flawlessly and everyone seemed ready to continue our quest. We dodged a few shallow sandbars near the bridge pilings, and then made a sharp right turn to stay in the lee of Chicken Island. However, we must have turned too quickly, since every so often we would look back and no one appeared to be following. Chicken Island was a small, thickly forested island, with an interesting mix of palms, mangroves and even a little patch of Australian pines. A single sabal palm protruded high from the middle of the willowy pines. After rounding the east end of Chicken Island we could look back and see the others progressing slowly on the other side, looking a little confused about where we had gone. We waited a few moments to regroup before making another turn north and passing underneath the north causeway bridge. I was thinking that we would be turning directly into the winds so I wanted everyone to understand that and to be ready. Sure enough, the strongest winds of the morning were waiting for us, and it must have been a steady 20 mph blow. The most intense moment came at the base of the bridge, where it seemed the bridge structure itself was acting to compress and intensify the winds even more. It was time to pull my hat down tighter , adjust the Velcro straps on my paddling jacket and bear down for a grinding bit of work. The windblown, two-foot whitecaps were getting us a little wet, but it wasnít too bad since they were hitting us directly head-on. For about 10 minutes we had to battle those conditions through a narrow part of the channel, where the wind was combating the outgoing tide and standing the choppy waves up in a vertical fashion. We stopped in the shallows of a nearby island to regroup again and everyone seemed to be holding their own, so we continued. Easing just out of the main channel reduced the wave heights considerably and the winds appeared to have subsided a little too. As we followed the western side of the ICW heading north, the winds were ranging from 10 to 15 mph, so everyone had a nice workout, with some folks breaking a sweat during the process! Paddling in such choppy seas in December is more pleasant than in January or February, since the waters still feel warm on the hands when a larger wave top would come ripping by.

Before long we came to a spot where the ICW turned northwest, away from our intended traveling path. As Cherie and I pulled up for a rest, a single sea turtle surfaced about 10 feet ahead of me, then quickly scrambled away, as the first dolphin of the day surfaced nearby. At this point our group now had a choice to make: we could stop, relax and eat lunch here and not continue any further, or paddle approximately 30-45 minutes more to our final destination Ė the big red lighthouse that guards the inlet. After a few moments of discussion and contemplation, we all decided to continue. With slack water estimated to occur at 1 PM, we had only about 30 more minutes to paddle north toward the inlet. As Rick indicated later, the Ponce is rated either #1 or #2 for difficulty of passage, in the state of Florida, with currents sometimes approaching 7-8 mph. Our tripís starting time was determined with that in mind, so we would not have to test its reputation upon our arrival. As it turned out, we made the final leg faster than I expected, with less wind fronting us as well. Nearing the inlet we could feel the last gentle tug of the outgoing current but with a minimal ferrying angle, we pulled ashore just after 1 PM. Total time to this point: 2 hours and 45 minutes. Our selected spot was quite interesting: sparkling white sands everywhere with the tall red lighthouse standing 100 yards or so behind us and the inletís north shore jetties visible off to the east. Every few seconds an ocean swell would surge violently over the jettiesí top, some waves appearing to be 6-8 feet in height. The sun shone brightly in our faces and with the winds shielded completely, I could have easily spent the rest of the day there. Our solitude was soon broken when two open-ocean race boats came roaring around the corner, headed toward the breaking surf that rolled across the inlet. At the last moment they quickly banked and turned around, apparently deciding against testing their fate today.

After a lazy 45 minutes for lunch and basking in the warm sun, we decided it was about time to return south. With the shorter days this time of year, I wanted to have no less than three hours for the return, expecting also that the pace would probably be a little slower. As expected, the winds were now behind us and the current essentially still slack, and we were making steady progress on our return. However, our pace was frequently interrupted for dolphin watching, as every 5 minutes or so someone would spot a small group feeding or passing by. We may have seen two dozen all told, which is more than we see during most trips. Our return plan had called for us to take a slightly different path, and to follow a cut through some of the canals that lead past vacation homes and the local high school. Unfortunately, I misdirected the group to turn into the wrong waterway. Fortunately Rick was paying attention and politely informed me and the group that although it was a very scenic trail to paddle, it would be close to two miles in and then two miles back out, the same way, if we continued! So we wisely reversed course, to exit and head a little further south to the find the proper course. While executing the turn, an osprey stood guard overhead, showing off its balancing skills atop the mast of a nearby flag pole, a fish in one talon and its wings slightly flexed for balancing in the wind. It watched us intensely, shifting its head repeatedly from side to side, as we each passed underneath.

The correct passage took us past the New Smyrna Beach high school and underneath a small bridge, where the incoming tideís push was now evident. A moment later and we were back out into the ICW and approaching the Highway 44 bridge again. Paddling south with the wind to our backs it was easy going, with a straight stretch of water leading us back to the takeout. Along the way we took a slight detour to paddle by the Smyrna Yacht Club, slip underneath itís tiny roadway bridge and glide past some its finer sailboats. We reached the take-out right at 4 PM with the soon to be setting sun already falling behind some of the tall oaks along the waterfront. Our return effort had taken precisely 2 hours and was obviously much more enjoyable than the outgoing portion of the trip. No pain, no gain may have been the theme for the day. In order to enjoy the leisurely 2 hour downhill return, we had to make it up the hill first.

Overall a very interesting place to visit and paddle, even with the sometimes challenging conditions that everyone had to overcome on this day.

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Location Data:

Distance (miles): 18
Fees/Costs $: n/a

Special Interests and Comments:

Special InterestsPonce de Leon Inlet

Post Date: 2/28/2009

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