Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where and when to launch your boat on Biscayne Bay

I spend my summers on Biscayne Bay, foregoing the Everglades camping until November. Because of my work demands, early May is about the time I begin to visit the bay frequently and continue this through August. In the summer, timing is everything in order to make these day trips worthwhile for photography. I get on the water as close to sunrise as possible and get off the water typically before noon. Early morning is the time to be out here, for several reasons:

1. The mangrove shoreline (where the wading birds are located) receives the morning light. From a boat, you have access to the golden front light.
2. Afternoon summer storms. You can count on them like clockwork. Mostly, these storms come in from the west-southwest and you must be very observant of cloud formations.
3. Prevailing east-southeast winds, which typically increase as the day progresses. Calm waters are the norm during early morning hours.
4. Heat and humidity. I am always puzzled when coming off the water and watching people getting on the water around 11 am or noon. By 9-10 am, the sun is intense, the humidity is oppressing.
5. Catching the sunrise over the bay as you load your boat and prepare to launch. I often bring my tripod and wide angle lens to capture some of these sunrise scenes.
6. Fewer people around.

There are 3 launch sites that I choose from. The most southern site is Blackpoint marina. Paddle craft have their own launch site, on the west side of the jetty. Continue driving past the entrance to the marina and eventually the road dead ends. Before the dead end is a small opening in the mangroves where you can launch. You access the bay from a small creek that runs parallel with the jetty before opening up into the Blackpoint lagoon area. Large powerboats can be seen through the mangroves on the other side of the jetty as they head out through the channel into the bay. Paddlers never have to contend with these boats. There is a gate that closes after sunset and before sunrise.

Deering Estate is another launch site, quite popular for paddlers. Maybe it is the convenient location of this site that makes it so popular, but whoever designed it was not thinking about paddlers. This launch site is gated and opens at sunrise, closes at sunset. It is a popular spot for families and fishermen to hang out on the water's edge on the weekends. There is a launch area made with large bags of sand on the canal side, but you can also bypass the canal and launch from the grassy area on the east side. There are a couple open areas along the canal that can also be accessed if you don't mind stepping up and down some steep drop offs while carrying your boat to and from the water. This is the closest launch site to several bird rookeries and Chicken Key and it offers one of the best sunrise views

The most northern access site is Matheson Hammock. There are two separate launching areas for paddlers. While Blackpoint and Deering launch sites are free, this one costs $6 ($5 on weekdays), but still a good deal. Once past the gate drive to the right and continue on to the bridge. Just before the bridge is a driveway on the right leading to a canal. Here you find one of the launch sites. For those very windy days, this is a good place to launch because you can take the canal to a creek that eventually leads out to the bay. The other launch site is on the bay. To get to it, continue over the bridge and go to the end where there is a large circular drive. At the highest of tides, especially with a strong east wind, water can get up onto the road and the grassy area where you park can get muddy. But other than that, this is a very convenient access site. there are a couple picnic tables in the area, so often you will see people having picnics and enjoying the bay.

Disclaimer: I sometimes get out on the bay alone, but often I am with at least one other person. I am very comfortable launching alone in the pre-sunrise darkness from Deering, somewhat less comfortable from Matheson (because it is more remote) and have never launched alone from Blackpoint (very remote and near the jetty that is frequented by fishermen on foot or bicycle). Most often, I am the only person present (especially on a weekday before 7 am). This is an urban area and any of these launch sites are easily accessed by car or foot. So be mindful of your environment if you do come to one of these sites by yourself.

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