Sea Base 2009 – Island-Bound

Day two for Troop 353’s intrepid adventures at the BSA’s Florida Sea Base started early, with flag-raising, breakfast and a last equipment inspection. For some of us, it meant that a lot of the stuff we’d carted to Summerland Key would not be making it out to Munson Island. Of the two crews, the one led by Blaine was particularly stringent in the gear department. A couple of t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a bathing suit, sunscreen, sandals, a broad hat, and a water bottle were the basics. No towels, no soap, no rain gear, and no electronics of any kind outside of a camera. I managed to get a small camp pillow, a novel, reading light, a lightweight hammock and my pocket journal into the dry bag before we shoved off. Heather’s crew had a slightly more liberal allowance, but we all packed down into a single mid-sized dry bag each, plus a netted bag for our fins and snorkels.

At mid-morning, we set off in the Polynesian-style war canoes – two simple fiberglass hulls tied together with three wooden planks. Each island mate did the steering, while each crew of six provided the muscle – and oh those muscles did ache 5.5 long nautical miles later, with one brief swimming break on a sandbar.

After what seemed like hours of paddling in the 90-degree heat, we pulled up on moorings off the shore of Big Munson Island, our home for the next five days. Big Munson has no running water and no electricity – just 100 acres of high hardwood hammock fringed in lush mangroves, beribboned on its south coast with thin strands of sand strewn with rotting sargassum. The crews were charged with getting their personal gear and drinking water for the week, along with a big plastic box of food supplies up on shore – a bit of labor that required wading through waste-high water. We quickly learned the “Munson shuffle” – dragging your feet (always covered with dive booties) across the sea floor as you walked to, er, alert and discourage the stinging and biting wildlife below. Over the next few days, we got quite used to wading long distances in water that varied from ankle to neck – and to staying wet most of the time.

Then we moved into campsites – tents on the ground, a picnic table and canvas rain fly, a fire pit, wooden “sink,” gray-water waste hole, and raised wooden “chuck box” to lock away the food from the varmints. Each campsite was only a few yards from the water’s edge, and the beach faced south into the Straits of Florida only 90 or so miles from Cuba. A quick word about the crews. Blaine’s was led by crew leader Tim D. and included newly-minted Eagle scout Conor M., along with Simon R. and his dad Ben, and Kelsey W. and his dad, Tom. Heather’s crew was captained by Nick O. and included his dad Mike, along with Brad M. and his dad Tom and Matt S. and his dad Ralph, who planned the trip for the troop and did a fantastic job.

The rest of day one was spent cooking dinner, getting settled, exploring the surroundings – including some Key Deer spotting – and attending an introductory session (featuring songs and skits!) with the island mates and Munson commissioners.

Next: Kayaks and the monsoon.

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