Monday, April 12, 2010

Cockroach Bay, Tampa Bay, Florida - Kayaking with manatees and dolphins

Finally, a blogworthy paddle from a beautiful boat launch in Cockroach Bay, paddling a sweet Romany S with a Werner paddle in open water with views of St. Petersburg across Tampa Bay, and deep enough in high tide to get through miles of mangrove islands, manatees, dolphins, and leaping mullets all along the way, and the photo that makes the post is a guy straddling a little 13 foot Tampico demonstrating wind and water dynamics using a banana for a kayak?


That's Don Thompson of Big D's Kayaking. Who else does that? He calls it "banananimation" but the rest of us paddlers called it a snack after the lesson. Hmmm, maybe I've been edging my boat wrong in a cross wind too? Bananas are convincing teachers.

At the end of the 4-hour paddle Don also showed us how to chop open a watermelon with a Lendal paddle. I thought he was just joking, but he actually made a perfectly clean cut with it. I hid behind the German paddlers, they were my "splatter-guards" just in case. Something to remember if you find yourself alone on a beach one day with a huge watermelon and no knife to cut it with.

And thanks to Don for letting me commandeer his boat! When we arrived at the launch and all the boats were lined up on the beach, the only one I could see was the Nigel Denis Romany S.

Me: "I'd really like to paddle this boat!"

Don: "But this one over here, the Tampico, was the one planned for you."

Me: "I know, but I REALLY want to paddle the Romany S! Can I?"

Don: (Pause) "Well . . . OK."

When Don hopped into the boat planned for me, I realized I'd taken the guide's boat. I felt a little guilty, BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT!! I hope not just for me. Other paddlers wanted to test paddle it too. It handled like a dream and I didn't think skeg once. And he let me paddle it for the entire trip.

Me: "Has anyone else ever taken your boat before?"

Don: "Well, no. You're the first."

Me: "Sorry, maybe we should keep this a secret!"

Two thumbs up from the Baffin Paddler for Big D's Kayaking and the Romany S!

Don is a great guide, supplies good equipment, takes you to a beautiful location, and we all came home happy paddlers full of fresh cut watermelon!

The paddle gods were with me that day.

Directions to Cockroach bay in Tampa Bay, Florida

To get to the Cockroach Bay boat launch in Tampa Bay from the northwest part of the bay, take the 275 south, cross the Skyway Bridge, catch Hwy 41 north until you get to Cockroach Bay Road. On Hwy 41, there is a handy Shell K gas station and market right across from Cockroach Bay Road. Otherwise, you're likely to miss the little road sign in the middle of nowhere.

Cockroach Bay is in the southeastern entrance of Tampa Bay and is a manatee protected area, so go slow with motorized craft. We were told that the average adult manatee has about 15 motorboat scars. Ouch! So please be careful and go slow if you operate a motorized craft in the area.

And we did encounter a few manatees in the Cockroach Bay area. Ever see a manatee? Another place you can find them in Florida is Crystal River. If you do head out to see manatees, it is important not to disturb them as there are protection laws.

The tides in Tampa Bay are minimal, only a couple of feet. You need to watch out for the low tides though, so you don't get stuck in low spots, especially in the mangroves. Paddling in a few inches of water is not fun or safe if the bottom is deep and soft!

Happy paddling!
The BaffinPaddler

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