Picnic Island Campout


Ron Hoddinott

Even though the winds were supposed to howl, and the skys open up sometime during the weekend, a good number of Squadron boats made the trek to the picturesque island south of Pine Island's St. James City . Bill Fite and I went aboard his SeaPearl 21, MoonShadow, as one of our shakedown and data gathering trips in preparation for the Everglades Challenge, which we will attempt on March 1st. We thought we were going a day early on Friday, but by the time we'd launched at the Monroe Canal Marina in St. James City there were already three Squadron boats at Picnic Island. Dale Niemann had trailered down to the island with us, and we both were greeting by Stin Linkert in his Potter 19 coming back to the marina for something he'd forgotten as we powered down the canal to Pine Island Sound. It was only a mile or so to Picnic Island from the mouth of the canal and when we got there we found Art Gregory and Brenda Bell in Kiva, Art's Peep Hen, and Paul Myers in Brogan, his SeaPearl 21. They were both in the sand bar cove on the northwest side of the island.


Bill and I had MoonShadow well reefed, and the winds were already quite brisk, the skys overcast and gloomy, and the forecast worst. What is it about our timing and Pine Island this year? We haven't been able to get it right in 2007. However, we hope that will change in 2008! Our first cruise to Pine Island Sound will be March 21st - 23rd. That's Friday through Sunday, and we sure hope to have better weather this time!


Bill had loaded the SeaPearl with camping gear, and EC gear until there wasn't much room left for passengers. We'll go lighter and simpler for the actual race in March. We pulled up on an oozy beach and unloaded a ton of gear. Ground cover, tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, cooking gear, stove, and backpacks. It looked like we were going to be starting a settlement on the small island! The weather was getting blustery, and threatening to rain, so we didn't waste any time getting the tent up as a shelter. As I recall, it did rain for a while in the late afternoon right around dinner time. We didn't do any more sailing, but made use of our time between showers to cook, clean up and get the tent ready for a cold night. I'd forgotten how much work it is to make and break a tent camp from a boat. It's almost not worth the effort if you're only staying for one night, but Bill and I hadn't yet worked out how we planned to sleep the two of us on a narrow SeaPearl 21. Dale Niemann also set up a Marmot one man tent which looked quite good. I think he must be more used to backpacking and small tents. Stin slept aboard Lily P, and Paul Myers slept aboard Brogan, and we kept wishing we had figured out a way to sleep aboard. Art and Brenda probably made the smartest decision and went home before the storm broke.


It rained pretty hard a few times during the night, but the morning dawned bright, clear, and windy! We broke down our camping gear and stuffed it inside our bags. Getting it all back in the boats took another hour or so. Bill had three big inflatable beach rollers and a foot pump with which we hope to be able to launch MoonShadow from above the high tide mark at the start of the Everglades Challenge on March 1st.

Job one after breakfast was trying to lift the bow of the SeaPearl with one of the inflatable rollers. We slid it under the bow on the beach (uninflated), hooked up the foot pump, and got to it. I was wondering if it would explode before it was able to get the bow up, but it did raise the bow, just as if there was a jack under it. The plan is to do this with four rollers each one raising the boat off the sand until we can simply roll it down to the water on March 1st on the East Beach of Ft. DeSoto.

After that little test, we went sailing, or rather motoring to gather some important waypoints for our GPS units. Dale, Stin, and Paul all went out sailing. They were having a great time. We were pounding into the waves directily into the wind, but did find a critical marker in the intercoastal which will be a waypoint for our trip to Key Largo. We then headed for the bridge on the west side of the Sanibel Causeway. It has a vertical clearance of 26 feet, so we wanted to enter it's location as an actual position as well for the race. On the way there, a skiff powered up along side of us. It was Terry and Ruth Nagel out to visit with us in a most appropriate craft for the weather. Their 25 HP engine could get them out of the way of a storm in a hurry. Terry gave me a hand made medalion that he had programmed a machine that he used to make. Since both of our boats are named Whisper, he made two - one for him, and one for me. Thanks Terry!

After clearing the west span of the bridge, and turning back to Picnic Island, we finally shut down the engine, and rolled out some sail. It was still quite windy, so we didn't put up full sail. Looking across the water we spotted Stin's Potter 19 and Lively, Dale's Core Sound 17 playing around, and way off in the distance, Paul Myer's boat Brogan and another SeaPearl 21, which turned out to be Richard Anderson's boat SeaNile. We headed back for the south side of Picnic determined to pull up on the lee side to get out of the direct force of the wind. As we arrived at the beach, we spotted Dave Barnicoat in his dark blue Potter 19 Red Tag. Shortly behind him was Rick Egger's MacGregor 26s, Mental Floss. with Jack O'Brian aboard.

Dave had promised to bring his 40 year old Guild guitar, and he did. So I picked out a song or two sitting on the beach with Dave, Bill, and Ruth. Meanwhile a group of powerboaters were setting up on the island where we'd camped the previous night. It looked like they were planning quite a party, so Bill and I decided to head for the ramps before the wind got any stronger. A strong cold front was scheduled to sweep down that night and blow everything before it. The hardy sailors in the Potter and MacGregor stayed but had quite a ride home the next day.