Dave's Yak Tales

Cedar Key Sunset

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Three Sisters Springs

Monday, November 12, 2007, I left work at 1:00 PM and drove to Crystal River, Florida. The west coast Florida town is named for the Crystal River, which flows from Kings Bay into the Gulf of Mexico. Kings Bay has islands, smaller bays, canals and over 30 natural springs. Most of the shoreline is developed. One thing prevents the entire area from being paved over.Manatees. The 72 degree water from the multiude of springs provides a warm water winter refuge for hundreds of manates. The presence of these endangered mammals led to the creation of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in 1983. The Refuge preserves a bit of shoreline and some of Kings Bay's islands from devolpment. From November 15 to March 31, areas where mantatees are known to rest, nurse and feed are off limits to human intrusion. Temperatures have not got too cool yet, but after seeing manatees in Blue Spring on Sunday, I thought I might see some.

div>Driving north on the Turnpike, just before I-75, I saw an omen. A manatee in the sky. Actually, the DirecTV blimp. I arrived in Crystal River. I launch from a small boat ramp off State Highway 19. Signs on the curbs read, "No Trailer Parking" Not having a trailer, I can park next to the water, between two restaurants, a dive shop and other stores. I paddled west past moored boats, pleasure and working. Then south past Pete's Pier, a marina, and then towards a bridge to the east. My destination was Three Sisters Springs. Two tandem kayaks paddled towards me. "Any activity in Three Sisters ?" I asked assuming they had been there. " We saw two manatees". I paddled on, scanning the surface for manatees. I should have been looking directly in front of me. A manatee surfaced almost directly into me, and then another at its side. I paddled past the bridge into a canal, lined with homes. Another canal enters this canal on the north. On November 15, this canal will be closed off, except for homeowners, as a manatee refuge. This canal has springs where manatees congregate. Several passed below my yak. Another herd lolled about at Magnolia Springs, located in a corner of the U shaped canal.If I had taken the picture from the other side of the manatees (the oval shapes on the surface) the background would have been houses.

I reentered the main canal and was soon at the entrance to Three Sisters Springs. The entrance is blocked by concrete posts. Boats can't enter. Yaks, swimmers and manatees can. Three Sisters is hugely popular. Even on a Monday, albeit a Federal Holiday, two boats were anchored outside and about 8 wet-suited snorkelers were in the water. I carefully paddled past them, through the barrier into the boulder strewn run. It is short, and opens into the middle of the three sisters. Two manatees were in the spring, along with half a dozen divers. I paddled to the left and anchored on the edge of the largest of the Sisters. The shore is private land, although undeveloped except for one home. Several signs warn to keep off the land. I took of my PFD, shirt, aquasox and got out of the kayak. I misjudged the depth. The kayak rolled as I reached for the bottom with one leg, and eventually turned over. I trespassed by placing all my gear on the shore, than stood in the water and held up the yak and emptied most of the water through the drain hole on the top of the yak. Then I began to snorkel through the Three Sisters. The people were gone, but so were the two manatees. I snorkeled out of the Run into the Canal. A small Spring is just outside the entrance. On November 15, it will have buoys marking it as a santurary. A manatee was present. I could hear the squeeks of a calf. A boater, waiting for two friends who entered the Sisters as I was exiting said he saw the baby. I still could not see it- but looking at this picture, I think that's a tail below mom, to the left. A second manatee, spotted with barnacles, lay a few yards away, on the other side of the entrance to the Springs. Both were in resting posture, snouts on the bottom. But, being mammals, they must eventually surface I swam in an out of the Springs 3 or 4 times. All the people left. Besides the manatees, I saw freshwater fish like blue gill and bass, Saltwater, snapper and needle fish,

turtles and ahingas. This photo gives perspective on the manatees size. The snapper are 6-8 inches.

I was in the water for about an hour. I got back in the kayak, and realized I had lost one aquasox when I capsized. Perhaps I'll find it my next visit. Maybe take another half day in late Feb- when the sun will be out a little longer, but before Spring break. I would never visit on a winter weekend- I have heard you can almost walk across the Bay on the backs of Snorkelers and scuba divers.

Here is the requisite yak over clear water shot as I left Three Sisters. I retraced my route, pausing to observe the manatees in Magnolia Springs, the paddling through the small canal as a huge manatee passed below. More manatees at the bridge, one moving at good clip. The bulky beasts are very fast when they get going. Near my launch, pelicans and cormorants roosted on every branch of two small tee covered islands. Too dark for a good picture. I loaded the yak and headed home. As usual on this day, I put on some Neil Young as we celebrated our birthdays.

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