When I went to pick up my mail, the accountant at the marina office was more talkative than usual, and somehow got around to telling me about the alleged “blue hole,” accessible by kayaking.
I was skeptical. Why had I never heard of this?
“Is this a real blue hole or some swampy hole in the mangroves?” I asked.
“No, it’s a real blue hole. Disney used it to film a commercial.” He went on to show me the map on his wall and give very specific directions “due south from the red marker” to the mangrove tunnel entrance on a lesser-visited key (island).
Although the paddle was far (much more than I’d gone), we concluded that with the right winds, it was totally “doable.” I added it to the “list of places to explore” but didn’t plan on going anytime soon.
However, upon waking a few days later at 3am and not being able to fall back asleep, I contemplated the paddle and was already telling myself why I couldn’t do it that day.
But, I checked the weather: less than 10mph coming from the north, with winds changing to 13mph from the east later in the afternoon. In other words, a perfectly calm paddle and a nice wind at my back on the way home. The total distance round trip was 17 miles. I started packing up my gear with plenty of water, snacks, sunblock, fully-charged phone, life jacket, GoPro, long-sleeve rash guard (I highly recommend these) bandanna for my head (a hat would have been better), and sunglasses. I left Zappa a note where I was going and set off before sunrise, passing the fishing boats on the way out of the channel.
It was a gorgeous – but quick – sunrise, and the sun beat down as I paddled along the shallow water next to the shoreline. A dorsal fin appeared circling in front of me, as a small bonnet head shark swam in about eight inches of water.
Two hours in, I stopped at the beach long enough to eat some grapefruit, stretch my legs, and finish my morning coffee. I felt great, but the distance was starting to set in and the next stretch was facing the wind. The change of the color in the water was evident: from dark blue to turquoise with sandy patches.
It was a struggle, but I finally found the key I’d been searching for, surrounded by unbelievably gorgeous water. The water of Cow Key Channel was nothing compared to this sparkling gem – and I had it all to myself.
I circled the island several times looking for the “red marker” but to no avail. All the mangrove tunnels I found led nowhere, and I was starting to wonder how long it had been since my source had been out there. After an hour or two of searching, I threw in the towel and went to get some lunch at a nearby waterfront restaurant (the only one anywhere close).
The marina had a watersports stand with kayaks and paddleboard rentals, and the staff member, Jeff, was perhaps the most knowledgeable person I’ve met regarding kayaking in that area.
“Blue hole?” he asked. “No, it’s a hole with muck, a crunchy surface, and a combination of naturally-occurring chemicals. You don’t want to go back there and there’s no route by water. You have to hack your way through the mangroves.”
He was at a loss for why the accountant had insisted it was a blue hole. “That’s a stretch to call it that.”
I also ran into the restaurant owner, who knew the accountant fairly well and I told him the story. He listened intently, equally as confused as “Kayak Jeff.”
“Blue hole? Don’t you know that the accountant is full of shit? He tells some good ones.” The restaurant owner said.
“Well, I do now!” 17 miles later.
I was a little disappointed, but deep down I knew it was too good to be true. Instead, I hung out with “Kayak Jeff,” who gave me some excellent pointers on where to paddle (and camp), so I plan on returning again soon (once my arms stop aching).
The wind picked up on the way back, a saving grace as the sun began to set. I was completely exhausted but proud that I made it there – even if the blue hole didn’t exist.
I called the accountant to tell him of my quest and lack of finding the blue hole.
“Oh, it’s there,” he insisted. “I’ll show you next time. You must have been on the wrong island or something. I’ll take you when I’m back in town. I was just there two weeks ago!”
“You were actually back in the mangroves at the blue hole? You saw it?” I asked.
“Well, no. I water skied past the island……”
NOTE TO BOAT CAMPERS: If you are interested in kayaking in this gorgeous area from the beach (a much shorter paddle than my crazy 17-mile trip) it can be arranged through our kayak partners. Ask Zappa or Amber about it.