Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kayaking, Snorkeling, and Scalloping

I went snorkeling for scallops this weekend in Port St. Joe and the weather was perfect for it! Our group found the perfect spot to launch kayaks from, St. Joseph Bay Aquatic & Buffer Preserve Kayak & Canoe Launch. Parking was no problem. By sheer coincidence we managed to launch while the tide was in. I usually check the tides, but it completely slipped my mind on this trip.

The most remarkable thing about the kayak launch were the thousands of small fiddler crabs covering the path down to it. I thought my eyes might be playing tricks on me at first; the path looked like it was moving and I could hear clicking noises. As I got closer the chaos continued and I discovered a carpet of fiddler crabs scurrying away from my approach. I've never seen so many in my life!

We put in our kayaks after a brief conversation with another gentleman launching a kayak and then started paddling out into deeper water. Toward the end of scallop season the scallops start heading away from shore and out a bit deeper. Our target was 6-8 feet of water where we'd heard people had been pulling the bigger scallops from. The bigger the scallop, the less scallops you have to clean to get your limit, the limit being 1 pint (cleaned) per person or 2 gallons whole.

I'm not the world's strongest swimmer and I had a bit of trepidation about anchoring in water where I can't touch the bottom. It's hard enough to get in a kayak when it's in the shallows, let alone try to re-enter it when it's in deep water. My kayak is a sit-in, and what I affectionately refer to as a bobber. It's not a low-profile kayak that's made for easy in-and-out access. I'm telling you this because in writing this is called foreshadowing. This paragraph will be important later in the story.

After a few minutes we found a good spot to anchor and hopped in. I have learned from experience that it is much easier to put fins on while in the boat rather than in the water, so I rather awkwardly slithered over the side of the boat almost swamping my little bobber in the process. I put my mask and snorkel on, grabbed a dive bag and my new Canon PowerShot D10 Waterproof Camera and off I went in search of scallops and whatever else might swim my way.

My boyfriend, Kris, was a big help pointing things out for me to take pictures of. He used to be a diver at an aquarium when he was back in high school. He found a Queen Conch for me, a couple of adorable starfish, sand dollars, and a puffer fish. I followed the puffer fish around for quite some time taking pictures, only later to discover that, due to operator error, I hadn't taken a single one. :(

We'd probably been in the water about two or three hours, and as I was happily swimming back to my kayak with a bag full of scallops weighing me down, Kris yells out loud enough for me to hear, “There's a shark in the water.”

Clearly I didn't hear correctly and stopped swimming, “What?”

“The guy in that boat over there,” he says, pointing past me to one of several boats anchored nearby, “is telling everyone to get out of the water because they've spotted a shark.”

I swirled around and looked. Suddenly the other boats were a lot closer than I'd like them to be, but then again, I supposed yelling distance is a good distance. I closed the ten or twelve feet to my kayak in what I'd consider to be a new swimming speed record and somehow managed to not only hurl my dive bag full of scallops onto the closest kayak, but through sheer force of will managed to levitate up and out of the water to delicately plop myself into my kayak.

In truth, I flopped up and onto my kayak like a tired salmon fighting its way upstream. Then I hear Kris tell his friend Stuart, “See, I told you she could get back in her kayak in deep water.”

Normally I'd have some witty and clever comeback, but my next question was, “Where's the shark?” He points to the boat closest to us, maybe half a football field length away. “Alrighty then,” I said. “I'm not getting back into the water.”

I made sure all my arms and legs were onboard my bobber and waited. Our three kayaks were tethered together while we chatted and waited. Kris adjusted the bag of scallops, and as he was dropping it back into the water it grazed my foot (now out of the dive fin and dangling above the water outside of my bobber) and two toes started to bleed. Blood. Great. There's a shark somewhere nearby and my foot is bleeding. Perfect. Can you sense my excitement?

Having an acute sense of survival, I decided that I will not only wait until my foot stops bleeding, but I'm going to have some lunch while I wait for Mr. Shark to get tired of hanging around before I even think about reentering the water.

About an hour later we paddled to a spot just past the boat that signaled the warning and were able to get more details about the shark as we passed them. While they were cleaning scallops a six foot bull shark swam up and circled the boat a few times before disappearing. That's good enough for me. Bull sharks are aggressive and I was glad I stayed in my bobber. Better safe than sorry.

We anchored one last time and did a bit more diving, but it was hitting mid afternoon so we started cleaning scallops (I stayed in my bobber) so we could load up and head back to the hotel. We collected more than the limit and had to put a bunch back. That's okay though, that just means it was a great season for scallops.

Paddling back in was a bit different. When we had first put our kayaks in, I was very perplexed that I hadn't seen the large island that I saw when I looked at the map on Google. Apparently the satellite image had been taken at low tide because the island revealed itself as I was trying to paddle over it. Mystery solved! Luckily my bobber rides high in the water and I only needed a few inches of clearance to paddle. Whew!

We got back to the “fiddler crab” kayak launch, loaded up shop, headed to the hotel, checked in and got cleaned up. Then it was off to “Jo Mama's” for the best brick-oven pizza I've ever tasted. Port St. Joe has a real hometown feel to it, complete with an unhurried, quiet ambiance. You won't find towering condominiums here. This is a destination for people who really want to relax and just enjoy “being.”

All-in-all it was a great trip. We'll definitely be back next year. :)

Scallop photos @ Flickr.


  1. Have you ever made it to the Pagan Shop there? They advertise everywhere and I have yet to go to Port St Joe on my own. I am to cheap to travel where I need a hotel. If there is not a pagan to spend the night with I stay home or take a tent.

  2. Nope, I didn't know there was a pagan shop there. I'll have to check it out on the next trip. We may actually camp at the state park on our next trip since it's right on the water. I'd love to paddle across Indian Pass to St. Vincent Island as well. There's so much to do there!