A Night on Picnic Island

Campers spent the week preparing for an epic overnight paddling trip.

Campers spent the week preparing for an epic overnight paddling trip.

by Kealy McNeal

Picnic Island is a 7.4 acre island in San Carlos Bay, and where I recently camped out with six teenagers.  Our overnight trip to the uninhabited island is one of the highlights of a weeklong paddleboarding camp. A series of day trips throughout the week help us build the confidence to paddle to Picnic Island with our camping gear, sleep under the stars, then turn around the next morning and cover six more miles to Fort Myers Beach.  

Launching from the Sanibel Causeway, we endured 10-15 mph winds on our way across San Carlos Bay to Picnic Island. The paddle was challenging and exhausting for all of us – nearly two hours later we finally reached our destination. As soon as we landed on the north side of the island, we started setting up camp. We traded our beds for boards that night, and prepared to sleep in a small, breezy clearing to avoid mosquitoes. Before bed, we devoured food around a campfire and watched an ominous storm front slowly creep over Sanibel. The slow speed of the storm left us plenty of time to prep our gear for the incoming rain, but also meant the rain would last a few hours. Although cold and uncomfortable, the campers remained in high spirits, exploring the island by flashlight and wading in the bay. Close to 1:00 in the morning, I dumped the standing water from my board and tried to get some rest. 

Eventually, I did fall asleep, although I was frequently interrupted by biting insects and giggles from the campers, who were trying to pull an all-nighter. In the morning, the sun greeted us and we struggled to pack up after a very restless night. Soon we were back on our boards en route to lunch at Doc Ford’s on Fort Myers Beach. We were accompanied by a small bonnethead shark for a good portion of our trek, who seemed very curious about us. I want to congratulate all of our campers for pushing themselves both mentally and physically to complete the journey. While it was not the coziest camping excursion, it was an experience that I will certainly remember for a long time.

Ocean Tribe Outfitters is a branch of Sanibel Sea School that helps the local paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribeoutfitters.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.