Black Friday was a beautiful day, with mostly flat waters in the gulf. No time for Christmas shopping today! We left River Haven Marina in Steinhatchee, and followed our plotted course through the gulf. It was the perfect day to make another crossing with only a slight breeze, and sunshine galore. We cruised 104.6 miles in just over 5 hours at an average speed of 20.88 mph to the Crystal River. The channel is narrow through the river, and about 8 miles up to Pete’s Pier, where we got a slip.
After tying up we started chatting with a group on a boat at the gas dock. We were questioning them about the manatees, and as they were locals had loads of information. Finally they suggested we jump in their boat, and we went for a 2-1/2 cruise with them until sunset. We got to see our first manatees – WOW oh WOW! They are so amazing, huger than you can believe, and so docile!
That evening we walked to Cody’s Roadhouse for some good chow, then to the grocery store for some eggs, and back to the boat.
The next morning was windy, but we decided to rent kayaks, so we could go up river to Three Sisters Park where the manatees congregate. We cannot get under the bridges with our cruiser. It was so amazing!! The river is fresh-water, and has many springs which keep the river very clear and the temperature at a constant 72 degrees. This is why the manatees congregate here. Their body temperature cannot fluctuate very much. They have to go out into the gulf to binge on vegetation, then come back to the river to warm up and digest.
We saw about 30 manatees, one huge mama with her baby. The baby was very curious and was almost nose-to-nose with Jim! We got to pet a few. Most were sleeping, but need to come up for air every 15 minutes or so. Their whiskered snouts come up and you hear them exhale, then inhale, and slowly they sink back to the bottom. We were in about 5 to 6 feet of perfectly clear water, and at one point I had 8 of them all around me and underneath my kayak. Their size takes your breath away! I can see why they are sometimes referred to as ‘sea cows’, although they are more closely related to the elephant.
Most have scars on their backs and on their paddle-shaped tails from props on power boats. Some have barnacles on their backs; one had a remora, a skinny white parasitic fish that usually attaches to sharks. The manatees seem to enjoy having their backs rubbed, as this helps remove the unwanted ‘attachments’.
That experience has been one of the highlights of the trip so far. And many people who have to cross the Big Bend miss this beautiful place with the manatees. After our excursion up the river we took a 2 mile walk, then back to the boat for Thanksgiving dinner left-overs. We charted the last stint of the ‘Big Bend’, and plotted it in the GPS.
I slept in on Sunday morning, while Jim took a walk, read the newspaper, pumped out the head, showered, and conversed with the locals. It was a lazy day, and we decided to spend one more night in this beautiful haven. We left the marina, and anchored out among many sailboats. Jim caught a fish (although we’re not sure what kind it is), and lost one that got away with his lure.
We’re going to grill tonight and set off tomorrow for Caladesi State Park. It is on an island between Tarpon Springs and Clearwater. At that point we will be done with the Big Bend and back on the intercoastal waterway!