December 29


The challenge is on. With paddling through Naples I had to put in a long day to get to a place to camp. After an early fog I got out at a decent time. I weaved my way through the back channels before hitting Wiggins Pass to cut out to the ocean.  Both sides of the pass were packed with people and boats. I could see where the channel met the ocean and the water was rough. The last thing I wanted to do was flip over, not just because of the danger, but because of all the people watching. I pulled ashore and scouted out the best line to take.  It was on the opposite side close to shore. I was going to have to drag my boat across a small sand bar but it was the best bet. I went for it and made it under the close supervision of some silent spectators. Then it was a long way down the coast passing thousands of beach goers and tall buildings. It was relatively calm out past the break. The maps had suggested staying at a hotel halfway through but with it being a weekend and holiday week I figured it was full or way out of my price range. Plus I was just getting back from time off and was willing to put in the miles. When I cut back into the channel it was tricky again. I caught a wave and rode it for a while until I paddled past a large yacht. It had to easily be a million dollar boat. The people were actually having a Congo line with one hand and drinks in the other. They invited me up to join them. I could tell they weren’t serious. If I was still drinking I would have made sure they knew that I had paddled across the country and I would have been leading that Congo line in no time. I just kept going and turned off down another channel towards where I could camp. A steady flow of boats were coming towards me heading back to Naples as the sun went down. I could see two boats tied together ahead and others going slow past them. One of the boats yelled at me “slow down, it’s the cops up there”. I said I was gonna make a run for it and head to Cuba. He was joking about my speed but not about the cops. My heart sped up even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Old habits. I was concerned that I didn’t have the proper lighting to be paddling at night. When I got closer I could see they were busy. They had the driver of the other boat over on the police boat. And he had one of their life jackets on. Spending enough time on the water I know that’s the international sign for “you're busted". I am assuming that he was getting a DUI. I just kept going as quickly as I could. I made sure to let all the rest of the boats know that the cops were ahead to not speed. The boats slowly stopped coming and the sky turned black. I could tell that I was pretty far away from anything by the lack of lights.  A light caught the corner of my eye from a ways back. It looked like a boat but with way too many lights. If it was a boat it would have caught up to me but it was just hanging out behind me. I was getting very curious as to what it was. I would paddle a few strokes then hold off to let it catch up. When I got close enough that I could make out what it was, I thought I was going crazy. It was a reindeer pulling a sleigh. Well it was Christmas lights of a reindeer on the front of a boat. After I shook the confusion, it made perfect sense. I had always wondered as a kid if Santa took a vacation after working so hard to make and deliver presents and now I knew the answer. He was headed to Marco Island. I sat in amazement as he paddled by. I only had a few more miles to the beach that allowed camping but I still couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I pulled up on the point of the deserted beach to camp under a wide sky of stars. I could see a circle of chairs but no people. It was a little odd but I figured they were just left there. After I got set up I walked the beach and saw their tents. I figured they were already in bed. I thought 8 was early to go to bed but who am I to judge. When I got in my tent trying to be quiet I saw a fire kick up and people. I went over to just let them know I was camped over there and to apologize for camping so close but I had run out of island. They said they were over on another boat having dinner. They invited me over and we hung out for quite a while. One of the guys was a private pilot and the other a coast guard member and their girlfriends. They were childhood friends and back in town for the holidays. We had a big fire and they invited me over for breakfast in the morning. It was a long day of paddling and as great as it would be to have the island all to my self tonight, I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to share it with.