‘Dabbling’ on the Withlacoochee River
Point being, that my purpose in the area was primarily a visit with Uncle Lester ‘Buddy’ Hilliard on his 90th birthday – so my approach to the Withlacoochee river was as a transient, a place to simply go spend a few hours and reflect on this awesome patriarch of our families character. On this day I would ‘dabble’ on the small section of Withlacoochee river between the Gulf and Hwy 98, at Yankeetown.
There are two Withlacoochee rivers in Florida, this is the lower which is about 141 miles long and actually flows South to North. Certainly I would like to paddle more of those miles, but this visit being what it was – well, any time on water was welcomed.
Just a few blocks from Uncle Buddy sits the Coast Guard station at Yankeetown, where his brother and my other Uncle Bob served a number of years – across from the station is a small public boat ramp. This is where I put-in and always the center of the cheapest of entertainment – this date it was no different.
The gentleman backed his truck partially into the water, then stepped out and into the trailered boat where he directed his wife to back the truck and boat further into the water – which she obliged. With the truck angled awkwardly she continued back, the man began screaming at her to stop, yet she continued. At the time I was beside the truck loading traveller for the day- with the rear wheel disappearing beneath the water I had to get her attention and signal her to stop! She stepped out and the obscenities between the two began – her defense was that the radio was on too loud in the truck for her to hear! Her husband quickly replied “well stupid, turn the damn thing down, you’re in there!” – it was comical stuff, I love those boat ramps.
In paddling so near the Gulf the tide would be a factor, I had checked for times the day before – high tide was at 1030a and I was right on time. I figured that I could paddle upstream to the Hwy-98 bridge before returning with the outgoing tide – it was a good plan and worked well. As I moved further onto the river, the tide was at its peak yet an outward current remained., after paddling other rivers – the current wouldn’t be a factor.
Where the current was noticeable, the humidity was the largest ‘beast’ – it was July heat and August thick. As a native Floridian (with time in an attic bedroom) I understood this weather and pushed onward, if you like being in this environment – its all just ‘part of it.’
The sun was baring straight down leaving little shade along the banks, – I took advantage of what little I could find. No doubt that fall and spring have become my favorite paddle periods, but even with the sweltering temperature of the day – it felt good to be once again exploring a river setting.
Of course it wasn’t long before I realized my long-sleeved fishing shirt was back in the truck, ideal for cooling on such a day. With that shirt drenched, there is an edge in hydration – today it would be short sleeves and lotion, yuk – a few more freckles.
With Gulf access there were some larger boats along the way, Mr Wood was a good first-stop – finding a spot of shade between the bow and shore of this @60′ fishing boat, I put my feet-up and calibrated.
This was a neat area where a small fleet rested, mechanics were working to prepare several for the next venture – I wondered how the tide figured into their access when entering or leaving this river to the Gulf – I wondered too if they could make it in at low-tide.
Sitting in shade along the way a gentleman read the paper on his dock, we chatted – he was 80 and had recently lost his wife – a 90 y/o cougar, nice guy. There was no hurry to my paddle and Hwy-98 was still a few miles away. In a bit was a power sub-station with a long-abandoned and neglected sailboat across from it – there were several abandoned vessels along this stretch of river, a couple visible just below the water line.
I was beginning to think less about the heat and finding more to enjoy about the river, noticing several small inlets and coves of interest I continued with my normal paddling objective, farthest point first – then explore on the return.
Against the current and with a relaxed pace the hwy-98 bridge came in two hours, drenched with sweat I was eager to cool-off.
At the bridge there was a boat ramp with No Swimming signs, – didn’t take but a moment to make a splash…..signs, like opinions……
Soaking wet I then paddled over and sat in an eddy under the bridge, there were no trolls tormenting me here (like Natchez). It was a worthwhile pause in some much-appreciated shade.
..tide going out, feet-up
Old boats are as good to ‘gander’ at as natural shoreline, its all character and tells a story – along this part of the Withlacoochee there were numerous boats of character – old cruisers and work boats alike, stories lost.
Generally an area and town of older fish-camp style homes, many remodeled or rebuilt in their own way, some were pretty neat, all held a touch of intrigue.
There were parrots about, and owls which were active during the day, I was hoping to get a picture of the owls – but hearing their music and seeing the parrots was good enough.
Easing past this lot I couldn’t help but to notice the box-car axle and wheels on shore, reminding me once again of Uncle Buddy. After service in France during WW2, Buddy retired after 40 years a conductor for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in Florida.
On the return I did explore the coves along the way, none very great in distance – but each interesting in their own way.
plus a little time to sit in the shade
A ‘C-Dory admirer,’ I had to paddle past this one twice – over the past couple of years I have crossed the path of a number of like-minded folks on the lakes, in a ‘dory.’
Yankeetown water tower with sunken fishing vessel in foreground.
Rope swings, so they do swim in this water.
Two hours back to the ramp from Hwy-98, just a 4.5 hour ‘dab’ on the Withlacoochee current. It was special time to contemplate an Uncle, a family, and another few moments of our short lives (“…mist droplets in the ocean of time”).
Life is full of little circles, I look forward to the return.