Our first full day on Munson Island began with intermittent sun and warm temperatures – but it wouldn’t end that way. After breakfast, the crews walked over the the island’s northern side, facing the Keys, and small bay in the middle. We jumped into two-man ocean kayaks and set off on several miles of inland exploration among the mangroves. It was great fun to try and run the dense maze of tiny streams and low-lying growth, and make it back out in the ocean before paddling back – just in time, too, as the skies darkened, lightning flashed and thunder roared.
For the next few hours, we tried to lay low in camp as the first tropical storm of the season hit the Florida mainland, just swatting us with its tail – enough for a couple of inches of rain of three or four hours and some violent thunder cells that rolled through one right the other. Tents flooded. Scouts got wet. We cooked lunch anyway, and waited it out.
In the later afternoon, the weather dropped to a drizzle and led by our mates, we headed out to explore the island and learn a bit about the plant and animal life of Big Munson. During our stay, the time we spent outside of the water’s realm was passed in the thin shade of a tropical hardwood canopy – or “hammock” in the local parlance. The trees were low and scrubby, a bit like the coastal forests of south Jersey and eastern Maryland in scale, but with different species: gumbo limbo, mahogany, and the infamous poisonwood trees.
A relative of the poison oak, poisonwood, we were told many times, packs ten times the stinging wallop of poison ivy and can be inflicted not just on contact but by rain dripping from his five-leaved branches. Of course, there were several just outside our tents; yet we managed to avoid the scourge.
The hike around the island took us to an inland tidal pool, and through some of the low hammock forest, along with a good bit of the shoreline and a huge pile of conch shells. Some of the guys found some floats and debris to decorate the campsites. Then it was back to the soggy camps for dinner and clean-up.
But the day wasn’t done. After dinner, we grabbed fishing poles and handlines and waded out to the twin floating docks, bobbing in neck-deep water several hundred yards offshore. The activity? A little evening shark fishing. Yeah, we threw some “chum” – boxes of fish pieces and blood – into the water around the docks to attract the sharks, then set out some handlines to catch a little more bait. We baited the books on the big boat poles and waited. Meanwhile, thunderstorms just off the coast lit the sky and rolled past us, as we bobbed on the docks.
After about an hour with only hints at a bite – and with a couple of storms bearing down on us – we jumped into the chum-slick water (only a moment’s pause to consider we were now the bait), and slogged back, dragging ourselves to shore for the night. A long, tiring and very wet day – indeed, some of us had to bail our tents out before curling up to sleep.
Next: Bounty of the sea