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Taking a Kayak tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers

By Staff | Oct 30, 2009

As most of us know there is a first time for everything.

And for me that first time came last Friday when I embarked on a two-hour kayaking adventure with the Tarpon Bay Explorers.

And for any of you folks who do not know, the Tarpon Bay Explorers is the official concession company for the U.S. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. The nearly seven-year-old company features guided kayaking, fishing, boat and tram tours.

For the past several years I have written stories and printed event news about the Tarpon Bay Explorers and nature-related activities happening on the islands.

But even with all of the stories and accounts from other people about being out on the water and experiencing the area’s wildlife, it’s not the same until you actually go out there and there and try it for yourself.

So on Friday morning I set out to do just that.

At first I was a bit hesitant to go because I have never kayaked on my own. In every occasion that I went kayaking I jumped in the back and acted as some extra muscle – which I was more than happy to do. Kayaking this way allowed me to enjoy the scenery and get a nice workout without having to be in control and worry about navigating in the right direction.

But those halcyon days ended on Friday when I had to face my navigating fears.

Thoughts of cruising into trees and other solid objects flitted through my mind as did capsizing the boat and getting lost in the bay and floating for eons.

But my fears sailed away as soon as perky, Tarpon Bay Explorer guide Stephanie Ray got myself and about a half a dozen others settled for our tour.

I took hold of my paddle and shoved off on my first solo kayaking journey.

No guts no glory right?

As soon as we hit the smooth waters, Ray began to point out different species of birds soaring by. White pelicans – back for their annual snowbird vacation – glided above our heads. The snow white flocks scanned the sun-lit waters for breakfast or possibly early lunch.

Paddling was a bit rough for me in the beginning. I watched as my fellow tour-mates paddled effortlessly along the calm bay. One tour-mate Jim Buchanan from Scotland even had his 4 1/2 year-old son Alfie helping kayak with a pint-sized paddle.

But a combination of effort and encouragement from Ray and fellow tour mates helped me overcome my paddling flubs.

Ray corralled us together during different parts of the tour to explain the wildlife and ecosystem out on the bay.

She pointed out different species of fowl and wildlife as they made emerged from the water and the sky.

We all got pretty excited upon seeing flashes of silver pop up from the water. Ray said the silvery flashes are mullet coming up for more oxygen.

At some point in the tour she pointed to a slick black bird bobbing out of the water – AKA double breasted cormorant. We learned about the beak structure of an anhinga and the value of the mangroves. It’s like having a crash course in biology, ecology and zoology without the test or boring lecture.

Ray is one of those eager, happy tour guides who never seems to tire of answering questions – probably ones she heard many times.

“It’s always different there’s always surprises every day,” she said.

Her enthusiasm is contagious.

Pretty soon we were all looking for different species of wildlife to share with each other.

Ray guided us into a watery trail that snaked around mangroves. Entering the mangrove area is like merging into another world. The gentle silence around the cascading water trees lulls you into a seemingly supernatural calmness. Crabs call the mangroves home. I learned this in a rather hands-on way – literally. I happened to be paddling back when I veered my kayak a bit too much to the right and made contact with a mangrove. As my hand grabbed a branch, a tiny crab eyed me in what appeared to be a quizzical way. His expression – a sort of scrunched up look – seemed to say “what’s up with your navigating skills?”.

As I neared the shore, and felt the sun against my tired arms I smiled. I accomplished my first solo kayak tour. Not only did I survive nor maim anyone else with my challenged paddling and navigating skills but I learned much about the rich area and made some new friends along the way.

Buchanan and his little boy came back around the same time I did. He grinned about his adventure on the waters.

“It’s a really personal way of getting to experience the mangroves,” he said.

Ray encourages people – especially first-time kayakers to learn about nature hands-on.

“It’s kind of of a neat way to explore “Ding”, she said.

And folks let me tell you if I can get my uncoordinated self out there and back in one piece you can too. Hope to see you out there soon.

The Tarpon Bay Explorers holds daily tours. To make a reservation, call 472-8900.