I launched near the kayak concession, which did not appear to be open when I arrived. In the water just before 9. Paddled north in Soldier's Hole, a narrow, mangrove lined waterway perfect for inexperienced renters.
About 15 minutes into the paddle, I came upon a group of manatees. Seemed to be engaged in conjugal activity.
A small island, and a few tiny ones, mark the end of Soldier's Hole and the beginning of Mullet Key Bayou.
The bayou is broad, seeing wildlife is more difficult. I've seen dolphins in the Bayou, but not today. Most of Mullet Bayou is a "Combustion Motor Exclusion Zone" with a Minimum Wake channel. Arriving at the mouth of the Bayou, I had several options. Paddle across the narrow channel to Shell Key, a bird sanctuary, and nice place to land and take a walk. Not where birds are nesting, of course. Boats zooming from the boat ramp nixed that idea. The same issue made be decide against paddling through Bunces Pass, into Tampa Bay. That left turning west, around the northwest tip of Mullet Key, into the Gulf of Mexico. What the heck, I'll paddle around the island. Something I did once before, April 2006. It's a challenge, I said Mullet Key was broad, the Gulf, is well, the Gulf. No land until Texas. I had my spray skirt behind the seat, in case things got rough. No need for it, the waves were big, but widely spaced. I just rode up and down past the white sand beach
Approaching the south tip of Mullet Key, I looked towards Egmont Key and wondered where the big ships were. The one came came into view
Fort DeSoto has a 1000 foot long fishing pier on the Gulf side, near the southwest point of Mullet Key. It was full of anglers. I wanted to go under the pier, but would have ran into somebody's line. So, I went around the pier and the point, into very choppy seas. Having the spray skirt behind me, instead of attached didn't do any good. Took on a little water.
Twenty minutes later, spray skirt now on, I passed the 500 foot Bay fishing pier.
Of course, now that the skirt was on, I did not need it as I paddled east along the south end of Mullet Key.
I took a break about 12:15, landing on crushed white shells. Took a pic of the Skyway without worrying about waves rocking me, and the camera.
I came around the south east tip of Mullet Key, cutting across the bay formed by it and Bonne Fortune Key. Here's a map http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/maps/color/amenities/FORTDESOTO.pdf
I had been paddling for four and a half hours with one break, and was surprised how tired my arms felt. I've been out longer. Then I realized, on a river, half my time is downstream Today, I was fighting wind, waves, current and tide the entire time. Paddling back to Soldier's Hole, the wind was in my face.
The last two times I've yaked Fort Desoto, manatees were present not to far from the rental launch area. I looked and waited, but did not see any. There were a lot of paddlers in Soldier's Hole. I landed, got the yak on the car and went for a short bike ride. Maybe four miles. I no longer have an odometer. Stopped at the Fort and took a walk on the .8 mile Historical Trail. The great and snowy egret with the ibis were behind the Park Museum, housed in a replica of one of the old Fort Buildings. Other then the gun batteries, all the buildings are long gone. This post supported a watch tower. Now, an osprey perch.