The Epic Paddle
by Kealy McNeal
At the end of their camp program, Sanibel Sea School’s Have Paddle, Will Survive Week campers are challenged to paddle six miles from Picnic Island, located in San Carlos Bay, to Fort Myers Beach. After facing a night of storms and mosquitoes while camping on the island, this year’s cohort welcomed the 6 AM sunrise on Friday morning. Despite feeling tired, they were packed and ready to begin the journey by 7:30.
The group made a quick stop at the Sanibel Causeway after the first mile to drop off camping gear and fuel up on doughnuts and coffee. The break felt too short, but with five miles remaining, we needed to push on. My biggest concern as the group leader was crossing the channel under the toll bridge safely. Thankfully, the seven of us were able to stick together as we dodged waves from passing boats and maneuvered through a fast current.
After successfully overcoming that challenge, I felt like I could relax and enjoy the paddle, and we were soon joined by two dolphins. One of the dolphins breached right next to a camper, nearly spooking him off of his board, much to the entertainment of his fellow paddlers. Next, we encountered a few loggerhead sea turtles as they surfaced to breathe. We also spotted a large nurse shark and manatees as we made our way past Bowditch Beach. The exciting sea life sightings were a welcome distraction from our bug bites, exhaustion, and sore muscles.
Much to my delight, we all made it to Dixie Fish Company, our destination in Fort Myers Beach. We loaded our boards and gear into the waiting trailer, then continued straight into the restaurant for a well deserved meal. The campers hardly spoke a word while they devoured their food, a rare moment of silence for this year’s rowdy crew. I think it’s safe to say that we enjoyed the journey, but the destination was also appreciated.
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.