A few days ago, some fellow travelers who are camping here in Cedar Key asked if I’d chaperon them during a day on the water. They were asking about renting a pontoon boat from Tidewater Tours and spending an entire day exploring the islands. I was trying to give some pointers when someone suggested that I just come along and act as tour guide.
I’m not one to turn down such a opportunity, especially since Cindy and I have been too busy lately to even get out on the water. Something we’re both jonesing for.
The group met down at the Marina while Connie from Tidewater Tours walked me through the specifics of their rental pontoon boat. This would also give me an opportunity to check out how a pontoon boat handles in these waters. Cindy and I have been kicking around the idea of getting a big pontoon to be able to kick back on, but we wondered if they’re everything they’re touted to be. I’ll let ya know at the end of our trip.
Once through the orientation, we loaded up the boat and headed out on the water. Chris and Cherie from the travel website Technomadia would be joining us as would Clarke and Elaine from Our Newell Adventure along with Forrest and Mary and Kyeli and Pace. The boat was full, but there were plenty of seats for everyone to be comfortable. That is the first thing I noticed about the Pontoon. With 8 full sized adults, we still had plenty of room to move around, stretch out and store everyone’s bags they had brought along. We probably could have added a big cooler or even a few more people as there was more than enough room.
I love our little aluminum boat, but it’s limited to 4 adults if you want to stay comfortable and still have room to move around. I love that with a big pontoon, you can pack 8-10 people on and no one’s complaining.
The day was looking like it was going to be a perfect mix of cool breezes with a clear blue sky, so the sun would keep us nice and warm. I think the high today was only supposed to be in the mid 60’s, but everyone had brought a light jacket, so it was really perfect weather to be out enjoying the Cedar Keys.
We did the typical island tour to give everyone their bearings before we pulled up to Seahorse Key so they could see the Light Station that island is famous for. From Seahorse Key we motored over to the white pelicans on their little sandbar they like to hang out on. Everyone got some photos of these beautiful birds before we headed over to Atsenia Otie Key. We tied the pontoon boat up to the pier and walked the nature trail through the islands thick vegetation to the little cemetery on the backside of the island.
This cemetery is from the mid 1800’s and is amazing to me that through all the hurricanes and storms that have passed through the Cedar Keys, it’s still here and in such good condition.
After a nice walk to stretch the legs, we loaded back on the boat and headed through the inner channels to show them a different perspective of Cedar Key. It’s always fun to see the islands from different places, and viewing them from the water is probably the best.
Once we motored through the channels, we came back over to Seahorse Key where I was able to put the nose of the boat right up to the beach, yet keep the motor out in the channel. This allowed everyone to step off the front of the boat without having to get into the chilly water.
The group wandered up and down the white sand beach they had all to themselves. This is something that is hard to do in Florida, but luckily we have so many secluded beaches that you can always find one to have to yourself.
While the group walked the beach, I hung back with the boat to keep it floating. The tide was still going out and I was worried that it would get stuck if I didn’t keep it out in the channel. So far I was very impressed with the pontoon. Other than the fact that this particular rental was a little under-powered, I couldn’t think of one thing I disliked about the ride. Mike and Connie had explained that their other pontoon was in the shop. That other model is brand new and has a big 90hp motor. This boat was a little smaller, but only has a 50hp motor. Not that this was a big deal as the 50hp had gotten us every where we had wanted to go today and I was surprised that we’d been out for multiple hours and had burned very little fuel.
With the sun setting fast, everyone climbed back on the boat and we motored out to open water so we could watch the sun set with hopes to see the infamous Green Flash. While we were motoring away from Seahorse, they were telling me that they had seen some dolphins playing a few hundred yards off the beach. Up to this point, we had been skunked with dolphin sightings. That is a rarity and I was getting disappointed that we might have a day without them playing alongside the boat.
I was headed in the direction they had told me they had seen them break the surface when Chris pointed ahead and said “There they are!”
We had found them and find them we did, but not before I almost sunk the boat. When Chris had pointed them out, I was headed towards them at a good rate of speed. Everyone had moved to the front of the boat when someone yelled that they were right in front of the boat. I pulled the throttle down which always causes the bow of the boat to come off of plane and come down in the water.
That might not have been a big deal if we had been in anything other than a pontoon boat. Or maybe if we had the weight on the back of the boat. But the problem was everyone was standing on the front of the boat, which meant when the bow came down, it actually submerged itself in the water. This caused everyone to scream since the water was quite chilly and I’m sure no one was expecting to be instantly standing in ankle deep water as the boat nose dived and water came rushing onto the deck of the boat.
First lesson of piloting a Pontoon Boat – Keep the weight on the back of the boat when coming off of plane!
Ok, lesson learned…back to the dolphin. There were anywhere from 4 to 8 in the pod that would surface at various times. They were frolicking all around the boat rolling and having fun. There were times they were all around the boat and times they’d swim away only to return a minute later.
All this was going on while the sun was setting to the West. It was hard to pick which direction you wanted to point your camera as the dolphin weren’t always right in front of the setting sun. This was the perfect way to end the day. We never saw the Green Flash, but I never complain as that’s such a rare sight.
On our way back to the marina, as we were coming into the No-Wake Zone right as you come under the bridge, I was able to stand the boat up on its bow again and scare the hell out of everyone. Lesson #2, keep more weight on the back of the boat than you think!
What a great day and super fun time. So glad I was asked to go along with this group of RV’ers.