Russell Warren

Russ at his "Home" Office
6115 Bayside Key Drive
Tampa, FL 33615-4278
(813) 298-0328

The following article appeared in the
Florida Sea Kayaking Association's Newsletter
published November, 1993 (Volume 5, Issue 4).

Russ at Boca Grand, Gasparilla Island, Florida - 11/1993

by Russell P. Warren

Kayakers couldn't launch from the beach this Sunday -- huge waves and 30 knot gusts!  It was arranged for most of the campers to take a 10:30 AM ferry back to civilization.  We scrambled to complete the one mile muddy portage of kayaks and gear from the campsite across Cayo Costa island to the ferry landing on Pine Island Sound -- slapping mosquitoes.  Campers, gear and kayaks departed to the fishing village of Bokeelia on the north end of Pine Island.

But two kayakers remained "obviously smitten with the Robinson Crusoe virus", as Miriam Bennett wrote in her article last month entitled HALLOWEEN AT CAYO COSTA (Pg. 3, Vol. 5, Issue 3).  This is a sequel to Miriam's story. The two smitten kayakers that remained were Terry Poling and myself.  The reason:  We were trapped on this Gulf coast barrier island located off southwest Florida between Sarasota and Fort Myers.

For me, it started on Friday evening.  I knew a cold front was forecast when I slipped my kayak into Gasparilla Sound about 3 miles north of the notorious Boca Grande Pass near the village of Boca Grande.  When the Pass is behaving, getting to the campsite can be a comfortable 5 mile paddle. But this time it was a little bumpy -- the wind was freshening.  On joining the others who had paddled across Pine Island Sound, I quickly pitched my tent, ate a hot meal and turned in for the night -- mosquitoes were swarming.

The winds increased all day Saturday.  Late on Saturday evening, some were still enjoying the camp fire, when it hit with gusto!  A dash for the tents!  A series of line squalls with explosive gusts to 50 miles per hour thrashed our beach campsite.  Tornadoes were reported in the area.  The storm lasted for hours.  Lightning flashed all around.  A deafening racket bombarded our ears from crashing waves, wind howling through Australian Pines, driving rain and booming thunder.

Sleep was fitful.  Some tents leaked or blew down.  Victims found refuge with other campers.  This Halloween at Cayo Costa was scary -- like a Halloween nightmare!  Not even a raccoon dared prowl for treats.  Nature was dishing out its tricks.

We awoke to wind and cold on Sunday morning.  The Gulf of Mexico foamed with streaks of froth and whitecaps.  Old waves from the southwest and west clashed with wind-driven waves from the northwest.  A full moon intensified tidal currents.  Currents and waves tore at each other making an angry and confused sea.  Boca Grande Pass boiled.

Only one mile separates Cayo Costa Island from Gasparilla Island.  But conditions were just too hostile in the Pass to make the crossing in a kayak.  Even big boats avoided this watery turmoil.

My station wagon was on the other side of this now suicidal Pass.  My only other alternative was to depart with the other kayakers by ferry to Bokeelia; but by road it's sixty miles from Bokeelia to Boca Grande.  It seemed to be too much of an imposition to ask friends or family to reunite me, my kayak and station wagon.

So this was my justification to play hooky from work:  I was stranded on an island!  What else was there to do but wait until wind and waves subsided?

On Sunday morning, departing friends relayed word to our families about our predicament.  I should note that Terry could have returned to Pine Island but sacrificed to stay with me -- for safety, you know.

Being stranded on Cayo Costa is not an unpleasant experience.  We explored, cooked, traded sea stories, talked of adding sail rigs to our kayaks, tested Terry's new para-sail, and just relished the tranquility of an almost deserted, albeit windy, island life.  This unexpected layover gave credence to the advantages of always being prepared -- taking extra provisions.  Our survival cuisine was nutritious and also, well, interesting...

On Monday, the wind dropped to 20 to 25 knots.  It was still gusting to 20 knots Tuesday morning.  Tuesday at noon, we hiked to the north end of the island to assess the condition of the Pass.  We concluded that a further delay in departing could no longer be justified.  The wind and waves were subsiding and the Pass could be crossed.  And just in time -- our food and water were almost exhausted.

With some regret, we packed our kayaks and launched off the beach.  When we reached the Pass, the wind had dropped to 10 knots, but the waves were still confused and there was a moderate tide rip; however, my concern was more about Old Hitler (rumored to be a lurking 18' Hammerhead shark) having me for lunch then using my Baidarka Explorer as a toothpick.

Terry hove to by the north shore of Cayo Costa to be sure I made it across the Pass without incident.  My crossing to Gasparilla Island was challenging and wet but successful. Terry continued on his way to Pine Island.  All too soon our saga was over.  But we dream of the next great adventure -- maybe another excuse to be trapped on an island.

Copyright © 1993-2016
All rights reserved
Russell P. Warren