Just Florida Things: Epic Beach Crawl 2017: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo, FL
What do you get when a guy who gets seasick and a girl who is mildly to severely afraid of the ocean go on a snorkel trip off a boat with no land in sight for the first time? An adventure, of course!
Our first stop in the Florida Keys! The sun was out, the park wasn’t crowded yet, we were first in line at the reservations desk, and -- “we’re calling for strong swimmers only.” *screeching-halt sound* I looked at Justin, who was already chock-full of Dramamine, with Sea-Bands at the ready. Unfortunately for me, there is no cure for trepidation. We took a lap around the gift shop for me to weigh how closely ‘able to and reasonably fit’ compared to ‘strong.’ By the time we made it back around, we were now definitely not first in line. I could, however, see an elderly gentleman and two children in front of us.
“Well if they can do it, I can,” I said, matter-of-factly.
“Change your mind?” the reservation lady noted, sending us on our way to the next gatekeeper, the cashier.
“We are calling for strong swimmers only,” He repeated. He explained the conditions in more detail. 15-20 foot visibility, 25 mph winds, 1-2 foot waves. 5-20 foot depth. “Are you comfortable with that?”
‘Hang on, buddy, I need to second guess my second opinion,’ I thought. “I don’t really know what that means,” I said. Explanation given: picture yourself floating along with your head and maybe your shoulders out of the water; the waves can swell 1 to 2 feet over the part of you that is bobbling above the water line…
‘Well, I don’t have to get off the boat,’ I reasoned internally. ‘Justin might be hurling at that point anyway and I can just blame him!’ Next to us, the elderly gentleman with his companion and the dad with his two kids had both already come, signed their releases, paid, and gone, all with complete and utter nonchalance. For the next hour, we had ample time to ‘walk off’ my anxieties about our impending peril – through the aquarium, by the man-made beach, to the bathrooms, around the dock, and, eventually, as Justin is not a ‘strong’ walker, I just walked circles around him until it was time to cross the point of no return and get on the boat.
The abundance of life jackets and life rafts on the boat were comforting as we watched the shoreline recede. Soon enough – roughly half an hour later – we had arrived at the spot, with only a couple other boats and buoys in sight to keep us company. The sun was still shining and although the waters were visibly choppy by the reef, near the boat was relatively calm. The water was a beautiful, Caribbean-like cerulean. Justin had made it this far, so any farther was now up to me.
History has shown that the best chance of success in getting me to do something I am afraid of is to load me up with a hefty amount of encouragement and then make me do it first. We are so accustomed to this strategy at this point that when Justin asked if I was going in first, I just said “yeah,” resigned to my fate. ‘Just like a swimming pool,’ I told myself, shoving out thoughts of the time that Justin had to come to my rescue in a wave pool at a water park.
My first thoughts? ‘This isn’t so bad,’ followed immediately by ‘I am an idiot.’ I had leapt into the brilliant blue waters in a full face snorkeling mask without first blowing up my life jacket…
Thankfully, my temporary apprehension was allayed shortly after taking the plunge. We were easily floating at the top of the swells and I was able to quickly enough remedy my mistake. Onward! While there was no option to float languidly in place, with our flippers and life vests, we were able to make headway toward the reef with minimal effort. The bonus was that even if we tired, the waves just pushed us back towards the boat. At several points, Justin reached out and we swam together holding hands. Later he told me he was just trying to make sure we didn’t bump noggins. How romantic.
But also smart. Between constant swimming, manning the go pro, and staying on the lookout for sea life, there was no reason to come up for air unless we accidentally put our head down too far and cut off the supply (thank goodness for the auto-close valves)! At first, near the boat, there wasn’t much to look at. We could see the bottom and some light sea grass, but only tiny fish. The farther we swam, though, we came across lots of tiny outcroppings of coral and several large boulders – ie, the Grecian rocks – and larger coral clusters. We saw a discarded lobster shell, 2 rays (technically, Justin was distracted using the largest toilet in the world and only saw 1), and lots of different, colorful tropical fish.
Eventually, we were satisfied that we had seen enough and perhaps should go back to the boat for a rest, thinking we might go out again after a drink of water. Shockingly, we were on the boat for less than 5 minutes when the captain blew the horn to call every one back. We had snorkeled for almost an hour and a half! Only 3 other people on our boat were still in the water.
Less than half way back, the storm that had been rolling towards us in the distance let loose a frigid rain. Combined with the ocean spray as we raced back, the wind blowing the rain in from all sides chilled us to the core. Although we both looked like sad, wet puppies, my spirits couldn’t be dampened thanks to the amazing time we had had. All remaining trips for the day were cancelled after ours – Lucky!
Have you been to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park? Did you get to see the Christ of the Deep statue? Tell us about your visit in the comments!
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Our Favorite Photos From The Trip:
Top Tips & Notes For Next Time:
About the Epic Beach Crawl:
One random Saturday, Justin and I were discussing our hopes and dreams and landed on the topic of our chosen home state of Florida and how little of it we’ve seen, even after living here for several years. One thing lead to another and the question popped up: “How long would it take to drive around the entire coast of Florida?” According to Google Maps, roughly 24 hours give or take. And thus, the Epic Beach Crawl idea was born. Fortunately, after beginning our research, we came to our senses and realized there is far too much to see and do, especially since our modus operandi is along the lines of long walks on the beach paired with mid-afternoon naps! And so, we have split our Beach Crawl to End All Beach Crawls into Epic Beach Crawl part 1, the Florida Keys, a 10 day adventure we took this summer, to eventually be followed by Epic Beach Crawls 2-infinity, TBD.