Kayak enthusiasts on St. Johns River trek
Two kayak enthusiasts were scheduled to begin a 310-mile journey on the St. Johns River last week to help bring awareness to the longest river in Florida.
Ryan Cantey, who moved to Matlacha more than a year ago with his girlfriend, was originally looking to settle in Fort Myers before he discovered a waterfront home that he instantly fell in love with. The 24-year-old now works at Center Bait and Tackle.
Cantey began paddling a little over 10 years ago as a means to go fishing when he lived in Jacksonville, which later turned into a way to go kayak camping.
Cantey met Matt Keene, 26, a Melbourne resident, while he was paddling in the Sunshine Expedition, which is a 1,600 paddle around the state of Florida. Cantey said after they met through a friend, Keene introduced him to the idea of long distance trips in a kayak.
He decided to tackle his first long distance kayak journey in April when he paddled 235 miles on the Suwannee River.
Cantey said he enjoys those long trips because time moves at a different pace on the water. He said you do not feel rushed, but rather free.
Discussions between the two proved that they were both interested in doing long distance trips, which sparked the idea to travel 310 miles on St. Johns River.
He said the idea was proposed because they felt the river is overlooked. Cantey said they want to bring the river into the spotlight to show people what they are missing out on.
“It is Florida’s longest river and provides many recreational opportunities that a lot of people sometimes forget,” he said.
The main mission of the trip is to raise awareness of Florida’s long distance paddling opportunities, along with issues that are surrounding the St. Johns River and its protection, which the St. Johns Riverkeeper citizen based advocacy group has done.
“The St. Johns Riverkeeper has been successful in being a citizen-based advocate that looks out for the best interest of the river and ultimately its inhabitants,” he said.
Their mission is to “work on behalf of the community for clean and healthy waters in the St. Johns River, its tributaries and its wetlands.”
“Growing up in Jacksonville I saw some of the same issues such as harmful algae blooms on the St. Johns River that the Caloosahatchee River has today,” Cantey said. “I am hoping that the exposure that we get will in turn wake up some of the residents here.”
Both of the guys built their own kayaks from scratch, which they will use on their journey. Cantey said they ordered assembly kits from Chesapeake Light Craft that came equipped with lightweight plywood that was pre-cut. He said the assembly took three or four months to complete.
“It was hard at times, I wanted to walk away and take a breather,” he said about the assembly, adding that, “It was very rewarding, I can’t say enough of how rewarding it was to complete something like that.”
The two gentlemen began their journey on Dec. 7 at 7 a.m. sharp from Blue Cypress Lake. Cantey said they will travel between 16-20 miles a day until they reach their destination of May Port in Jacksonville.
They will stay in shelters that are maintained by St. Johns River Water Management District, along with campgrounds and remote places along the way.
Cantey said although they will be completely self-sufficient with supplies they need for their trip, they will have to stop in towns every few days to replenish.
“We carry our own food, water, solo tents, sleeping bags and clothes for all conditions,” he said. “I’ll probably bring a fishing pole with me as well, it would be hard not to.”
Although the trip can be done in as little as a week, Cantey said they want to take their time so they can soak in the river.
“If it takes three weeks so be it,” he said, adding that they would like to be done with their journey by Jan. 1.
Cantey will document their journey through the website www.marsh2mayport.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marsh2mayport. Individuals can follow their journey through both of the sites.
Cantey said that he was absolutely hit by the bug of long distance kayaking and hopes his next trip will be the Mississippi River.
“We hope this inspires other people to do the same,” he said. “It is a real eye opener that you can even do such a thing.”