On the Wilderness Trail: Darwin to Willy Willy


Day 3:  I was up by 5:00 am, with everything packed and ready to go by coffee time at 6:30.  It was at least a two cup morning.  I had already packed my camp chair, so I stood there clutching my warm cup of dark brown nectar, staring at the fog that obscured our view of Chevellier Bay.  Breakfast came and went, along with the washing and storing of cups and dishes.  We were on the water before 8:00 am.  

Our route today took us southeast from Darwin’s place, across Cannon Bay, Tarpon Bay, Alligator Bay, Plate Creek Bay, and Two Islands Bay, to Onion Key Bay, where we took a shortcut off the Wilderness Trail, rejoining it at the entrance to Big Lostman’s Bay.  Crossing Big Lostman’s Bay we looked for the entrance to Rock Creek.  It was not easy to find, but Joel, using his map, local knowledge, and dead reckoning, took us directly across Lostman’s Bay to the mouth of Rock Creek.  I guess that’s why we hired a guide.  

Not far up Rock Creek was Willy Willy, a large open site surrounded on by trees and, except for a dock, almost invisible from the water.  There was no apparent place to pull out our kayaks, but Joel remembered a hidden access point through a narrow twenty foot long tunnel of overhanging trees and tripping vines that led to a gently sloping takeout.  Only one boat at a time was able to go ashore here.  Five went ashore this way.  Three paddlers decided to leave their boats in the water, tied to the dock.  We had covered almost seventeen miles.  

We had started the day under overcast skies, paddling in a light fog.  Paddling in fog can be dangerous if there are powerboats around.  But it was not a problem on that morning.  I actually enjoy paddling in light fog.  There is a ghostly quality to it.  Here and there daylight tries to poke through illuminating a tree, a bird in flight, or another kayak for an instant before it’s gone.  The water was calm, and as we paddled through bay after bay, the fog lifted and the sky cleared to show light clouds painted against against a vividly blue background.  These bays are little more than wide spots in the waterway.  They occur one after the other, connected by often short narrow channels.  


As we entered Plate Creek Bay, we spotted the Plate Creek Chickee.  Several of our group hadn’t ever seen a chickee, so we paddled closer for a good look.  This was a new chickee, a replacement for the original that had been destroyed in by hurricane Irma in 2018.  It had the typical raised platform, roofed and open on four sides, with a big blue Porta-potti on an extension.   A ladder fastened to the platform allowed an agile paddler to stand in their boat and climb up onto the platform.  Karol and Rebecca decided to try.  Those of us who stayed in our boats called out all kinds of advice and encouragement, and taking bets as to who would fall into the waterway first.  In the end they didn’t need the advice and didn’t go for a swim either.  Once on the deck, they posed for pictures.  Then came what I suspect was the real reason for their climb.  They each used the outhouse before getting back in their boats.  

After leaving the Chickee, Joel found a shallow place where we could all get out of our kayaks to have lunch standing in the water.  Joel was a wizard at mixing up a tuna, salmon, or chicken salad concoction.  He handed us each a tortilla into which we spooned the salad and added cheese or avocado, folding it into a burrito.  (This was Joel’s only concession to the carnivores on the trip.)  This was the first, but there were other days when we ate ankle deep in water when we could not find dry land to beach on.

We paddled by Lostman’s Five Campsite.  This could have been an overnight stop for us but, thankfully, Joel bypassed the place, believing it too small to accommodate our large group.  I went ashore to check it out.  A relatively long dock flowed into a dank swamp like area, where it connected to two platforms about twenty feet square.  These platforms stood about a foot above the visibly wet ground below them.  They were surrounded by an oppressive crowd of encroaching trees and bushes.  I was glad to get back in my boat and leave.  The name, Lostman’s Five is said to come from five stowaways discovered by a boat captain who put them ashore near here.  They were never seen again, yet the name persists.

Our evening camp, Willy Willy, had a similar story.  It was said to be the place that a mean spirited renegade Seminole named Willy Willy, who was banished from his tribe, had  lived out his life alone.  As we set up camp, the story of the banished Seminole came to mind as I watched Phil move to the far side of our camping area to pitch his tent.

The rest of us set up camp on the other side of the site, feeling a little guilty about Phil’s banishment.  Once this was done, camp chairs came out along with the wine bladders.  My beverage of choice that evening was Gatoraid, as it was too late for coffee.  

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Dinner didn’t happen till after dark.  Once again, headlamps bobbed creating crazy patterns on the surrounding trees as we looked down at our plates and up as we spooned dinner into our mouths.  When the dishes were clean, bruce and Farley went out on the dock and turned off their headlamps to see a multitude of stars in the pitch black night sky.  Soon the dock was crowded with stargazing paddlers, but I elected to stay ashore.  My balance isn’t great, especially when I can’t lock my eyes on something solid as a reference point.  I thought that my chances of taking a tumble off that crowded dock into the trees or a floating kayak, was pretty high.  So I retreated to my tent to read.  It wasn’t long before the others followed.

Day 3 video summary

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 © Don Yackel 2020