Saturday, December 6, 2014

Kayaking With The Manatees

We’ve been wanting to go kayaking with manatees for a long time. When Nick & Terry Russell did this a few years ago (click here to read Nick’s blog post), we put it on our bucket list. Today we drove to Crystal River and had a plan to do just that. Becky Hazen went with us; she rented a kayak and we used our Sea Eagle inflatable tandem kayak (FastTrack 385).


As you can probably see in the picture, Don was having trouble getting situated and comfortable in the kayak. The hip pain he experienced during our last paddle (in NH) was returning, and the intensity was several times worse. We only went a short way (as it turns out, in the wrong direction, so we had to return to the launch point anyway) when he decided he just couldn’t handle the pain and would have to sit out today.

Because Becky was with us, Don generously said “You ‘girls’ go have fun and take lots of pictures.”


So I had the chance to paddle our kayak alone, and I was very happy with how well it handled. I’m pretty sure our kayak is the same model that Terry Russell has, and she likes it just as well. In fact, we bought the kayak based on Nick & Terry’s recommendation of Sea Eagle and the terrific dealers Tim & Crystal Ryerson at InflatableBoats4Less. Our buying experience last year with Tim & Crystal was so positive, we love to recommend them to others also.


Becky & I finally figured out the map and got moving in the right direction around Pete’s Pier Marina, an important landmark (or rather, watermark?) to become familiar with in this area.


We spotted a boat that might be better for Don to pilot.


There were some really nice boats here.


No doubt that Don would really prefer this sailboat, though.


The reason there are so many manatees in this area in the colder months is that they need warmer water to survive. A manatee can die in water as cool as 68 degrees F. This body of water, King’s Bay, has a number of warm springs, where the water is 72 degrees F, attracting the manatees to come into the bay from the colder waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The only problem is that there is no food for the manatees in the warmer waters, so they just come in to warm up and rest, using as little energy as possible. Because the manatee is an endangered species, strict laws have been enacted to protect them, and areas have been set aside that are closed to boaters and swimmers.

We had been warned by the outfitter that the area around 3 Sisters Springs could get crowded. We found lots of tour boats, kayakers and divers around every bend.


There were also several people on paddleboards, who could move through the water faster than the kayaks.


The first protected area where manatees were resting seemed calm, and we could just see the tops of several animals above the water level, with an occasional nose coming to the surface for air. Boats, swimmers and divers are not allowed to enter the protected areas, marked by the orange/white buoys.


I saw a nose coming toward me outside this area, and one of the divers said the manatee was going under my kayak. I slowly turned to the left and I saw the back come up to the surface. How exciting!


The manatee seemed to be playing with something under my boat, according to one of the divers. It might have been the cord for the removable skeg.


What a treat!



Becky’s camera is much better than mine, and she got this great shot of a manatee near her kayak. Notice there’s a shadow from her paddle.


It was a fun day, with sightings of lots of birds as well as manatees. Now we need to figure out a way for Don to sit more comfortably in the kayak so he can share the experience.