Thursday, April 25, 2019

Surfing Dogs of Cocoa Beach: Our Wooly, Wacky Florida Style Easter

Cocoa Beach Surfing Unleashed Dog Surfing Championship promo image
While the image is obviously photoshopped, this even it real. I came. I watched. I made a video.
Image credit to (plus my red text overlays).
As our countdown continued -- Easter Sunday marked 22 days to move date -- I had a conundrum. Did I finally do my first sunrise kayak, with the friendly folks from Space Coast Paddling Society? Or go to the "Surfing Unleashed" Dog Surfing Championship at Cocoa Beach?

cocoa beach florida dogs unleaded surfing competition
Cocoa Beach contests get ready for the "Dog Unleashed" Surf Competition while the crowd gathers to take in the show.
Was it possible to do both? Maybe, but I couldn't count on it; they were each in opposite directions from home. The paddle was South, about a 35 minute drive. Cocoa Beach was North, about a 45 minute drive.

I was going for a long kayak the next day with Space Coast Paddling Society, which required such an early start due to the drive to take out, I needed to drop my kayak off the prior day at the nice folks who were willing to carpool, taking me and "my" kayak.  I was thrilled to not be the driver, nail-biting my way with a 12 1/2 foot kayak strapped poorly to the top of my tiny Prius hatchback, which has no good attachment points underneath on the front.

*The West Melbourne West Marine store where I work part-time generously loaned me their used kayak for my personal use. It's saved me a bundle in rental far more suitable for group kayaks than my dinky inflatable that's really a glorified inner tube with a small skeg that can be paddled. It's fine for puttering or a helluva good forearm workout. 

people and dog watching cocoa beach florida dog surfing championship
This Havanese is the only dog  I saw on Easter
who didn't let her paws touch sand at Cocoa Beach, Florida.
A little over a month ago, I joined a friend at the Cocoa Village art show. There I saw the most indulgent pet owners... The exceedingly hairy duo sharing a child's stroller each sporting goggles took the cake -- something I suspect the owner would've indulged them in as well unless perhaps she was worried about whether they needed to be on a gluten-free diet. There were numerous almost as outrageous pampered pet examples. That includes my neighbor who ate at the local dump but bought his lab chateaubriand from West Melbourne's Whole Foods equivalent, Lucky's. He moved into a house so his dog could have his own swimming pool. 

dog contestant cocoa beach surfing championship
I just got a GoPro and am still sussing out how to use it. I wonder if he gives lessons?
As I was with a relatively new friend, I opted to not take photos. Afterward I mentioned that choice to my friend who said he wouldn't have minded at all. I kicked myself, and made note to seek another opportunity to capture this spectacle.

"Surfing Unleashed" Dog Surfing Championship struck me as the perfect opportunity. There were of course the canine surfers, something I only saw once in Broome, Australia. That dog was just learning.... Besides, how many places could I really expect to see surfing dogs... compete? Nor had we yet stepped foot on the renowned Cocoa Beach, its sandy oasis made famous by Ron Jon and a multitude of surfers.

There were far more opportunities left to still do a sunrise kayak before moving, but the Easter "Surfing Unleashed" Dog Surfing Championship, was a once a year opportunity, and wasn't sure the odds me to being the right place and time in the future. And it was also for a good cause I support as a volunteer dog walker and kitty visitor -- the Brevard County Animal Shelter.

another eccentric watcher of the cocoa beach dog surfing championship
Dog owners weren't the only characters around that day.
Turns out the surfing competition didn't start until noon - later actually, as it didn't start on time. Nonetheless, we did have ample opportunity to drop my kayak off for the next days trip, find parking that didn't require a $20 fee, and get a chance to talk to the racer's owners and see the canine competitors primped and pretty, pre-seawater dousing.

While as a former golden retriever owner, I always have a soft spot for the goldies, they were surpassed by two returning champs, each with a story and full-fledged support teams.  
waldo tibetan terrier dog contestant cocoa beach surfing championship
Waldo, a Tibetan terrier rescue,  and "Mom," looking much nicer "before."
Waldo is a Tibetan terrier, and a rescue dog himself. He's now 10, and his owner said he was retiring.  He was cute as a button, with his fluffy do wearing a lei. You'll have to watch the video to see how he surfs. I will say at the very least, he's got the moves.

Fat Pig Jack Russell contestant cocoa beach surfing championship
It's not an illusion -- this Jack Russell has only three legs.
But she can shred!
Fat Pig is the rather unflattering name for the other returning champ. She posed nicely and it was easy to miss that she was missing a leg! When I did notice, I was told she lost it when she was one year old to an alligator! There was nothing fearful about her, and she's certainly managed to do more than most of us humans or four-leggers! She not a dog's dog though, and her owner took care to keep her well away from her canine brethren, surfers or non. Not sure if Fat Pig boasts a web page, but like Team Waldo, his peeps wore t-shirts prominently sporting their support.

easter at cocoa beach florida; dog surf chamionship watchers
This Easter trio was happy to pose at Cocoa Beach Florida.
The people watching, pets in tow, was as good as expected, No buggies though. Other than a Havanese in a bicycle basket, unlike the Cocoa Village art show, these 4 leggers got around on their own accord.  They were surprisingly well behaved, too, especially considering how prolific they were.  I heard scarcely a bark and did not observe any dogfights or people bites. Cocoa Beach recently passed a controversial dogs allowed on the beach ordinance, so it's good to see it working harmoniously.

Want to see who won? Not to mention some impressive doggie down surfing poses in action?

Watch this video

Did I make the right choice?

If I had to choose only one event, then yes, as awesome as the morning was for a kayak paddle, I'm glad I made the choice I did. Knowing how late the surfing competition started, I might have pulled off both, though I would not have had the chance to talk to the surf champ's owners and it would've been tough to get my kayak dropped off on time for the next day's kayak.

The only real regret? Not giving Wayne more time to sleep in. I definitely owe him one for that.

dog barks boos and brews melbourne florida promotional header
Another Brevard Animal Shelter annual fundraiser, Barks Boos and Brews. Image pilfered from
And missing seeing Cocoa's famed "Surfing Santas" and another crazy canine cash cow, Halloween's Barks, Boos and Brews dog costume contest. Hmmm. Does that mean I need to spend another winter here?

Location Location
The "Surfing Unleashed" Dog Surfing Championship was at Lori Wilson Park, 1500 N Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, Florida. It's just one more way Cocoa cements its status as a doggone friendly place.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Kaboom! Florida's Fireworks Loophole

Thanks to Jill Wellington from Pixabay for the fireworks image.
It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's fireworks, to scare fishies and feathered things. For agricultural purposes.  

Thanks, Tristan Bowerbox and Pixabay, for the free use of this image.

Uh huh. Yeah, that sounds kinda fishy to me, too.

Thanks Pixabay, for the free use of this image.

As my countdown to move approaches, I finally stopped off in a fireworks store, as it was across the street from the shipper I plan to use to get my stuff cross-country (more on that in a future post). 
Phantom Fireworks, one of several year-round brick-and-mortar fireworks stores in the Melbourne Florida area.
Nope, I didn't stop off to buy fireworks. I stopped off to satisfy my curiosity.  There's a couple of these place in town. They are open year-round. As opposed to every place else I've lived where there is a very brief blitz of temporary firework stands a week or two up to the 4th of July, then they're gone.  Or - sometimes - they don't appear at all, due to fire concerns.

Here, though, they're a proud, stars-and-stripes, brick-and-mortar institution.
Fireworks BOGO in Florida; 365 days a year.
So I popped inside and asked what gives. I was told about "Brevard County's agricultural exception" allowing fireworks. Apparently, that loophole does stretch beyond Brevard.

One of several jam-packed shelf aisles of fireworks at Phantom Fireworks, Melbourne Florida.
I googled Florida fireworks, and came across this cautionary article, noting that when you buy anything other than sparklers and sign the store's waiver, you're still really breaking the law in most cases. It's just that the stores make sure by your signing the waiver that they don't get sued (watch for another post about lawyers in Florida).
This fireworks release isn't really for your safety,
but so Phantom Fireworks doesn't get sued.

All this reminds me of my favorite Eddie Murphy scene from the 1992 movie, "The Distinguished Gentleman." Yes, the scene is about guns (another Florida mainstream item, which I may also blog about), but it's also about dead birds, kind of.

Though I do admit, I am half tempted to buy some fireworks and set them off as a goodbye celebration my last night here before moving. I just have to decide whether the expense and risk is worth the final hurrah. Just one final appropriate kaboom to the Space Coast, an area that uses 3-2-1 area code because it's the countdown for rocket launching does seem appropriate. Whaddaya think?
Not sure how I feel about making fireworks legal throughout the USA.
Nor do I get why I'd want to win "Grounds for Divorce" or what it has to do with it.
Let me know if you enjoy these little slices of Florida Space Coast culture as I a have a few more up my sleeve before leaving.

Location Location
Space Coast Florida, until May 12th, 2019.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Florida Foodinista - Getting in My Final Licks

meal ready to eat in Long Doggers Cafe Palm Bay Florida
Shrimp and grits from the local Long Doggers in Palm Bay. 
Amidst a plethora of chain restaurants, supermarkets and big box stores, Space Coast Florida can claim some local culinary treasures.  Given my impending departure from the Sunshine State for who knows how long, I decided it was high time to treat myself to this area's unique eats and tell the tale.

No photo description available.
Countdown - less than one month to moving! Image pilfered from
While not strictly Floridian, I ate my first shrimp and grits in Marathon, Florida, served up for brunch by the talented Patty Hamilton aboard her spacious catamaran sailboat with several other couples. Best of all, Patty let me help her cook them. They were phenomenal -- not just IMHO  -- everyone who indulged whole-heartedly agreed!

Patty joked about the grits being a heart attack about to happen. Thus, while I know how to make them incredible, I would not consider  using that many irresistible artery-hardening ingredients  -- specifically mass quantities of butter and cream --  much less keeping them around, taunting me to put them to good use.

Eating them out, however enables me to minimize the damage and by design enforce some portion control while I  la-la-la ignore what makes them soooo velvety-smooth-melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.

A generous gift certificate gave me first taste of shrimp and grits locally, at The Nomad Cafe. It needed to be generous - as while the serving was generous and the Cafe prides itself on sustainable, locally-sourced food (one of the few restaurants awarded with Surfrider Foundation's Ocean-Friendly Restaurants designation), at $24.99 they weren't cheap. A pretty high price for low-country cuisine.

Yet they were superb. To steal Nomad's description, they were "Creole Shrimp 'n Grits,spicy sausage, creole tomato ragout of local vegetables." My tongue stood up a took notice and the vibrant flavors danced across its pleased surface, and while I arrived quite hungry, I left quite full of grits and nothing else but one drink.
reddish colored grits topped with shrimp and sprouts in a gray bowl
The Nomad Cafe grits. Spectacular. Inspired. Not traditional. Located in "downtown" Melbourne Florida.
Good as they were, I would not describe them as classic, but in a class of their own. In that sense, though, they were not the real deal.

Okay, maybe I'm just justifying my excuse to eat shrimp and grits again. It had been about five years since I last indulged, when my best friend and fellow foodie Anna visited me in Jacksonville, Florida.  I ordered up them up on our jaunt into St. Mary's, just over the border into Georgia. Ahem, yeah, I am making excuses for my indulgence!

shrimp grits st. mary's georgia
Classic shrimp and grits in St. Mary's Georgia.
Regardless, I polled NextDoor to ask where to find the best classic shrimp and grits nearby. My helpful neighbors responded with great enthusiasm.  I picked one of the closest spots, Long Doggers, which was recommended more than once. Long Doggers is a Brevard County institution, spun up by a couple local surf-bums who exploit the surf-theme in both decor with open-air seating and surf kitch. They've done well; there's six Long Doggers in the county.

After a walk at Viera Wetlands for their annual festival, I was hungry and figured I'd pre-burned at least a fraction of the calories I was about to ingest.

Long Doggers delivered. They were not Patty Hamilton good, but at $12.99 plus tax and tip, they satisfied. The shrimp was spicy. The serving, with classic cheesy, buttery, creamy grits, was enough were enough to fill me up but not weigh we down.

"That must not have been a very big serving," Wayne commented when he saw my Long Doggers shrimp and grits photo. "It was a big bowl," I told him.

It's hard to believe that the first time I ate grits, making the sojourn from California to Florida as a twelve-year-old, I declared my dislike for them, describing them as buttered cream-of-wheat with sand added. It probably didn't help that despite the elegance of the a classic Georgian restaurant, surrounded by massive oak draped in Spanish moss, that I was disgusted to notice cockroaches clambering over the coffee cup tray. It was an unpleasant early introduction to the bug-infested South.
Taste changes with time. This is what grits tasted like to me the first time I tried them as a kid -- sand!                 (Without conjuring up lovely beach images like this one in the Bahamas Jumentos)
Tried another shrimp and grits on multiple neighbor's recommendations -- Seafood Station across from Nomad in downtown Melbourne off A1A.  It's one of three; the other is in the same center as the Walmart near me in Palm Bay/West Melbourne, their newest is in IndiaAtlantic. Seafood Station touts its low-country Florida boil. Their crab legs, which were not what I was there for, were definitely drool-worthy.

 However, I was on a mission, and stayed true to it. I ordered a side of grits and a side of shrimp; together they were $12.99. There was still plenty.
Seafood Station is the turquoise building in the background, off Harbour Boulevard
at the fringe of downtown Melbourne.
Like Long Doggers Palm Bay, downtown Seafood Station offers the pleasure of al fresco dining in a climate that lends itself to it, but both do so perched alongside six lanes of car traffic. Seafood Station is more the exhaust exposed of the two, though their rustic faded picnic tables, plastic baskets and paper underlay and speedy service lends itself better to watching the world roar past.

Seafood Station's shrimp and grits. It's more garlicky than spicy
Seafood Station's grits are coarse, were even a little lumpy. They swam in garlicky, parsley accented drawn butter, topped with my choice of shrimp. I chose Florida Keys pink shrimp, still in their shell and very fresh- tasting. Unlike Long Diggers, the shrimp were not not spicy, though you could douse them or the grits in the Louisiana hot sauce if desired.

For me, these grits came with an "Aha." Mabe like James Bond's "Shaken, not stirred" martini preference, mine is "Blended, not topped" when it comes to butter. I like my grits smooth. That means the cheese and butter and if they use it, cream, mixed in before serving. And I like my shrimp spicy.

Seafood Station's self serve. Those plain brown paper towels are much needed, as are the fresh wipes, I needed two.
And while I don't mind getting down and dirty with my food, I made the mistake of accepting a phone call. Not wise with a meal that requires full contact eating and messy fingers. I'm much more willing to do that with crab, out, than shrimp.

But my real "Aha" was talking to someone else about my quest for good grits. I admitted I like mine soooo much better with "a touch" of butter and and cheese -- and -- while I'd never add it at home -- cream.  "Yeah," he said. "it's not the grits you like, it's the fat." Maybe he's right.  Maybe that's why I don't like Seafood Station's drawn butter topping -- there's no mistaking how much is there.

So if you're a coarse grits, low-country purist, Seafood Station's probably the ticket. Though they should be lump-free. And don't take any phone calls while eating. But to me, they do harken back that childhood memory of Cream of Wheat with sand.

And if it's all about the decadence and you're more into spice and cheese and who knows what all else is wrapped in a silky fokd, then Long Dogger is more your speed.
Do you want a post on another local low-brow Brevard institution, Steak and Shake? 
And do I dare indulge and share again on another must-try locally adopted classic, chicken and waffles?
Location Location
Palm Bay,Florida, home for me until May 12, 2019.
Turkey Creek Sanctuary Palm Bay F;orida
Canoe deck,  at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. My favorite go-to place in Palm Bay for and evening walk near home.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Cruising Friends and High Places

For me, what makes cruising the most awesome isn't all the amazing places we've seen (though they are pretty awesome). It's the people we've met, especially the other cruisers who've quickly become lifelong friends. I imagine the cruising community is a bit like the old wagon train days, where we circle together for not only for protection, part of what makes us human even as we "get away from it all" is the desire and even need to bond. Those bonds run deep.

As our paths diverge, we never know if or when or where we'll meet again.  

When we do reconnect in person, it is a joyous occasion. We are birds of a feather, whose fancies of flight don't quite fit with the other flocks.

We break bread together, swap stories of shared reminiscences, subsequent adventures ahead.  We ponder the ways of the world and our own personal triumphs and challenges, often the families who brought us to a home that no longer feels like a home.  We belong to our boats, the water, the world.

Chris and Chris of Scintilla at Frazer Island, Australia, finally giving me a chance to return the favor of the drinks
they bought Wayne and me in Vanuatu.
Our friends Chris(tina) and Chris(toher) of Scintilla are the cruising friends thus far we've seen the most since we sold our sailboat Journey in Australia.  They graciously hosted us in Australia aboard their boat, on our very first night of boatlessness. We were happy to host them in our apartment in Pacific Northwest. We met in Florida several times. Sometimes we've only had time for a meal, in some halfway point on our separate travels. Other times we again were graciously hosted aboard the good ship Scintilla.

Given all that, I was delighted to help out when they admitted a little help on their mast would be welcome. WIth Chris(tina)'s iPad footage and my stills, you can get a sense of what scaling a mast is like if you've watched the video embedded in this post and why I was more than happy to do it.

I firmly believe our paths will continue to cross as we continue on our journeys across the earth and through life. We look forward to that.
Zoom-in view of Chris and Chris (aka C2) and Wayne aboard C2's boat, Scintilla
taken looking down from their mast in Fort Meyers, FL.

Location Location

We are in "Space Coast" on Florida's Atlantic side for another month or so; then move back aboard our boat in Portland Oregon. However, I scaled Scintilla's mast in Gulf Harbor Marina, Fort Meyers, the Gulf side of Florida, N 26° 32.140' / W 081° 56.280' .

Monday, March 25, 2019

Epic SuperMoon Paddle

Heron silently takes flight over Crane Creek as dusk descends into darkness.
MeetUp. Messed up. My bad. Fortunately my rough start was not an indication of how the rest of the evening would unfold for the last "supermoon" until February 2019. ....

Pelicans roosting on the island off Front Street Park, Melbourne Florida.
Our paddle was scheduled for 7 pm at Front Street Park. I arrived about 20 minutes prior, still dressed in my work garb, with my kayaking stuff scattered hither and yon in various and sundry places in my kayak-topped Prius. I set to rectifying that.... Presto chango into the restroom. Donned my headlamp for later use. Organized my waterproof sack with my camera, an extra clothing layer if needed, my camera and my wallet for safekeeping. Grabbed my life jacket (ak PFD or personal floatation device). 

But I still didn't see Tom's prominent truck with its tall kayak racks. Tom's the usual organizer of Space Coast Paddling Society's MeetUp events, and offers to rent kayaks for those of us who want them, which I didn't need this time.

Sheryl, smiles as we round the Indian River Lagoon stretch between Front Street Park and Crane Creek's entrance.
I messaged Sheryl. somewhat of a "regular" Space Coast kayaker with her husband Dave with a "Where are you?" She called, and I managed to drive further from where everyone else was waiting, rather than closer. Duh! If only I had simply stopped looking and driven exactly down to where we all launched together for the previous Space Coast full moon kayak. Enough of us brought our own kayaks that night Tom's iconic "tower" was unnecessary - hence my difficulty in looking for something that was not there. 

Ande mugs for the camera as we pause in the Indian River Lagoon.
She and her partner Dorrie paddled in their nifty folding Oru Kayaks.
Within a few minutes, despite me, the seven of us ("regulars" Tom, Sheryl, Dave myself [we all paddled together to watch a rocket launch a week before], and three new to our group women paddlers) were off, entering Indian River Lagoon. 

As luck would have it, our timing couldn't have been better.

Two days before, much water fell from the skies, nearly nonstop, one of the rainiest stretches we've had since arriving on the Space Coast six months prior. Technically, the Super Moon was full the night before, though it was cool, windy and too cloudy to light our passage.  We knew the moon would still look just as full to us this night, and we'd be able to see it!

Dave and Tom chatting on the Indian River Lagoon before we push off.
We practically glowed in the near luminescent light.
The rain wiped the skies clean. A few days past the vernal equinox, the new Spring air was warm, in the 70s with little humidity. A soft dusk was settling in, with peach and periwinkle brushing the edges of the horizon.  The water was flat and reflective, unruffled by the light breeze. Perfect conditions for gliding along in kayaks.

Manatees swirled gently around us, teasing us with breaths from the surface too short to snap photos. Dolphin fins broke the surface near a pelican-covered roosting spot.  The moon was still nowhere to be seen, so we were in no hurry. Eventually we rounded the corner past Chart House, and entered Crane Creek.  A handsome heron a stone's throw from the restaurant posed for Sheryl and her iPad before gracefully taking flight. Then off to our left, we were rejoined by more dolphins.... 

Sunset over Crane Creek, Melbourne Florida.
The skies turned turned tangerine, the creek edge silhouetted by spiky palm fronds and and sprawling leafy oak branches.

Again we paused. becoming one with the evening, the moonrise yet to come. A shared sense of wonder and contentment flowed among us, connecting us as much as we were to the waters upon which we paddled on that enchanted eve.

Dorrie watching for more manatees and dolphins just off Front Street Park. Melbourne Florida.
Companionably. we got to know our newbies, Hilary and Ande and "like the fish" Dorrie and headed up the creek. Dave filled me in on one of his favorite stories -- a sweetly romantic tale about how he and Sheryl got together after not seeing each other for twenty years. When we quieted, the cicadas rattling song crescendoed in a wave of sound, joined by the wash of our paddles, dipping and releasing as we made our way onward.

Darkness settled in.Our eyes adjusted to the dimness, (mostly!) taking care to duck from the encroaching trees and shrubs. There was still enough light to paddle. As Crane Creek meandered, we missed the moonrise from behind the treescape.  

Instead, we appreciated the glorious clarity of this starry Florida night sky. Fanning out from Orion's belt, we took in the bright reddish star Betelgeuse, making our best guess at finding Taurus and Aries and the planets Mars and Uranus with the help a night sky mobile app.

Tom and Hilary chatting on Crane Creek, rudely illuminated by my flash.
Eventually, it was time to make our way back. Returning to the broad entry of Crane Creek approaching Indian RIver Lagoon, at last we saw the moon.

Moonlight over Indian River Lagoon marker 5 by Front Street Park.
Cynically, Tom quipped, "Is it a marketing thing? I've never heard of so many 'super moons' in my life until recently and we've had three in a row this year." Tom may be onto something... the phrase "supermoon" wasn't even coined until 1979. While there are typically about three "supermoons" a year ("increased size" due to closer proximity in their rotation), it does seem to get a lot more press. As well, our perception of the moon's size is a bit of an illusion.  Maybe here on "The Space Coast" it's natural that we make a bigger deal of the celestial, especially since it's often warm and clear enough to enjoy it. 

I mused aloud to Tom... "Was a good salt flats area?  Broome Australia unabashedly promoted their "Staircase to the Moon" where the moon clambered its way across the flats." Perhaps we could copy -- errr -- claim our very own "Staircase to the Moon" here on The Space Coast. It might even be better as the skies were too cloudy for me to see the Broome "Staircase to the Moon" when I was there. If so. I would hope that Space Coast could resist following suit on Oz's annoying overpricing of "pearl meat" aka oysters in Broome.

Train trestle on the way into Crane Creek.
My camera was too slow to capture the train racing past in the darkness on our way back.
Just before leaving Crane Creek, as a final soundscape salute, a train roared across the trestle bridge above us.  Again, we paused and took it all in.

"That. Was. Magical!" I declared as we neared the end of our paddle. "Have you ever encountered that much wildlife in a single paddle?" I asked Tom.

"It was ok," he deadpanned, then admitted he didn't recall seeing that much variety in one spot in such a short span of time before. I couldn't see him smiling in the darkness, yet knew he was.

This antenna at Front Street Park makes for an easy return marker. It's all lit up at night.
We helped each other get our kayaks ready for the road, including a dis-assembly demo of Ande and Dorie's fascinating origami-inspired Oru kayaks.  They're  about 12' long, made of a plasticized version of corrugated cardboard, weigh roughly 25 pounds and compact into a very carry-able valise-like carrying case.

While we munched the honey containing energy balls I brought for post-paddle, recipe courtesy of another newfound Florida friend, Dave,  a former beekeeper, waxed about bees.  

"C'mon, Dave, we're all freezing!" urged, Sheryl.  Goosebumped and shivering (temps dropped into Florida-"chilling-cold" 60s at 10-something pm), we gave our goodbyes. Tomorrow awaited with another all-too-early weekday work morning.  All good things must eventually come to an end, though moments like these, nestle in our memory banks for many happy returns.

Thanks Space Coast Paddling Society, and especially Tom, Sheryl and Dave.
Moonlight over Indian River Lagoon and my kayak loaner from West Marine, Melbourne.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge Florida

The road untraveled called.... we were Vero Beach bound to catch up with friends, and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was a top rated hike in the area, awarded a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. Also intriguing, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was the very first National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to Theodore Roosevelt 116 years prior, as a place to protect egrets and other fancy feathered birds from plumage hunters.

The island trail mostly parallels mangroves, which you can sometimes peer though, though mostly their dense growth blocks as well as preserves the views of a thriving ecosystem.   
This section of Pelican Island trail gave a good view of the mangrove and the Indian River Lagoon beyond it.
The orange leaves stand in bright contrast to a near monochromatically green landscape.
The trails are more roads, broad and straight with some very gentle curves. Enthusiastic visitors reported seeing pelicans and a rich array of other bird life and even otters were sighted.  We, however, we not so lucky.

A welcome sunny array of flowers on a mostly gray day.
Boardwalk to Joe's Overlook, Pelican Island.
Problem is, Maritime Hammock, which we bypassed to check out Pelican Island spoiled us. 
Lush fern arches. Mangroves. Marshes. Alligators. Indian River Lagoon views. Meandering trails. All that and a bobcat less than 50 feet from us and a pair of tortoises loving it up in their burrow. Lucky timing and the general flora and fauna at Maritime Hammock set a high bar to beat.  Comparatively, Pelican Island was a little disappointing for us.
View from Joe's Overlook, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Granted, we recognize some of what makes one page magical and anther a bit, well, meh, is luck-of-the-draw timing.

We spent a sunny afternoon at Maritime Hammock and it exceeded our wildest expectations.

Placid blue heron at Pelican Island. Notice the white tuft below the head on the neck?
We visited Pelican Island on a gray afternoon but with higher expectations. The day we visited the light was flat, though we were grateful we didn't get rained on. We saw a few cars, but passed no one on the trail. In the quiet, we heard glimmers on animals we did not see. We passed surprisingly serene herons who watched us pass without taking flight, and even spared us the usual grumpy heron croak. Cicadas serenaded us; their sound conjures up fond memories from our early Caribbean cruising days.

One of several of the same type snake we saw together at Pelican Island.
Closer view of the snake (via zoom lens), which was happy to hang back and did not threaten us at all.
Our hike's highlight was seeing seven slender small snakes all in one spot. Mating season, perhaps?  

Noticed these vibrant scarlet-magenta flowers were also prolific along Highway 1.
While there wasn't a great variety of trees and shrubs compared to other places we've hiked, we did see some unusual flowers, a fair amount of butterflies and dragonflies large and small.

More flowers to brighten the otherwise dull day...
These look like bee balm or monarda; grew similar flowers in my garden in the Pacific Northwest.
Next time we head toward Vero seeking to stretch our legs seeking new sights, we'll likely opt for two smaller spots, Round Island Beach Park, South of Pelican Island North of Vero,  and perhaps opening our wallets* to visit the highly rated McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero Beach.

*$12/person in the high season, $10/person in the low season. 

What will happen when this strangler fig succeeds in chocking out this palm?
We are grateful that Pelican Island exists, protecting the Indian River Lagoon, and paving the way for other protected areas in the region and across the country. And we appreciated our leisurely, 3-mile, hour and a half walk there, even if we didn't get all that lucky on the wildlife lottery.

Closer view of the fig's unhealthy embrace.
And the most welcome sight of all was our inspiration for the trip in the first place - seeing our cruising buddies, Ron and Dee, who we hadn't seen for five years. We got to know each other in Jacksonville Florida's Ortega Landing, and had the pleasure of cruising together in the Bahamas. They're still cruising (and were passing "our way" for new sails from Mack Sails of Stuart Florida), with no near-term plans to stop. 

Inspiring cruisers and all-around nice folks, Ron and Dee Claus... at Vero Municipal Marina dinghy dock.
We look forward to seeing where we'll meet again!