Kayaking the Biscayne Bay triangle: Cape Florida – Fowey Rocks – Soldier Key!

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Paddling the Biscayne Bay 17 mile triangle: Cape Florida – Fowey Rocks – Soldier Key!

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Paddling through a bit of local South Florida history on a Monday afternoon!

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This trip starts with the Mos-quito-meter already pegged at the medium-High level! 😉

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Nestled between the Safety Valve and the Gulf Stream a neat triangular route can be plotted out.

This route connects three main points of historical interest to South Florida paddlers:

Cape Florida, Fowey Rocks lighthouse and Soldier Key – all of which are historically connected!

This isn’t a trip for everybody because it’s a 17 mile loop all in open water subject to wind, waves and strong currents. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before deciding to do a trip like this! However for the adventurous and competent paddler it can be a sweet Biscayne Bay afternoon paddle.

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The kayak launch spot at Bill Baggs St Pk is the first left as you enter the park and near the north end.

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Bill Baggs State Park encompasses Cape Florida today and there is a public kayak launch spot near the north end. Note that it’s at least a 750 foot walk to the water from the parking area, so be sure to bring a dolly when launching here!

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It’s at least 750 ft from the parking area to the water. Unless you have a very lightweight boat like a surfski, a dolly cart is necessary.

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For sure bring a dolly, but Barbies are optional~! 😉

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I decided to do this trip in May, at the end of the breezy spring and just before the stormy summer season.

The forecast was excellent and it was a beautiful sunny afternoon by the time I finally got on the water at 1pm. Navigation was easy by line of sight since all the points can be seen on the horizon. With just enough time to finish before sunset, the entire trip unfolded in 6 hours, only about 4.5 of which were actually spent paddling.

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Launching the Banana Boat into the clear waters of Biscayne Bay.
On open water trips like this I really like to be seen – high visibility “Not-a-dive-flag”!

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The Cape Florida lighthouse is about a mile south of the launch spot.
Beware that there is a major boating channel just south of the point along with strong currents!

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The Cape Florida lighthouse was completed in 1825 shortly after the United States acquired the Florida territory from Spain. However, there were proposals to build a lighthouse there since at least 1773 when Florida was British. It was the first real Florida coastal lighthouse, built to mark the location of the northern end of Florida’s reefs. In 1836 it was attacked and burned by Seminole warriors in an attempt to drive away white settlers. Cape Florida light was re-lit in 1846 but then decommissioned in 1878 when the Fowey Rocks lighthouse replaced it!

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Cape Florida lighthouse on Key Biscayne at Bill Baggs St Park, aerial seagull’s eye view.
CLICK for superwide interactive panorama!

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key biscayne bay miami ocean kayak kayakfari flex maslan panoramic

Another morning paddle on the ocean off Key Biscayne in crystal-clear water, Miami, Florida.
CLICK for superwide interactive panorama!

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The distances involved made for a nice workout and the triangle points provided many photographic opportunities!

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The water is generally very clear here. Note the Stilstville village on the horizon!
CLICK – Kayak Miami: Stiltsville Village upon Biscayne Bay!

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The first leg of this triangle loop would be the longest at 7 miles. Once I cleared Cape Florida, it’s all open water with some deeper channels. Big yachts cruise through these at top speed, which can be unnerving.

I can take comfort in three things:

  1. Staying on course and paddling at a good pace thereby minimizing time spent in any one channel.
  2. Flying my “Not-a-dive-flag” on a 6 foot mast for maximum visibility.
  3. Convincing myself that the captains piloting these yachts are competent professionals, alert and sober!

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It’s about one mile from the kayak launch to the lighthouse at the tip of Cape Florida.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Once out in open water, there’s not much there except for a few channel markers.

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The No. 2 marker shown above delineates the eastern end of the Biscayne (Stiltsville) Channel and the northern boundary of Biscayne National Park.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Final approach to Fowey Rocks lighthouse in Biscayne Bay on a lazy Monday afternoon.

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I purposely picked a Monday to do this trip so there would be less boat traffic to deal with. This also made it easier for me to imagine stepping back in time and getting a feel for what Fowey Rocks must have been like in yesteryear.

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Fowey Rocks lighthouse May 2017.
It’s easy to imagine being here a hundred years ago or more. The overall appearance hasn’t changed that much.

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Two images from the same spot and more than 100 years apart!

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Fowey Rocks light house circa early 1900’s.
Image source: FloridaMemory.com

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Fowey Rocks lighthouse is the northernmost in a string of lighthouses positioned over Florida’s very shallow reefs. It is the sixth in this chain that extends up from Key West. These reefs proved treacherous for mariners and have been responsible for many wrecks. In fact this lighthouse is named after the H.M.S. Fowey which ran aground on the reef in 1748.

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Original U. S. Light House Board drawings for the new Fowey Rocks lighthouse from December 1875!
Image source: Florida State Archives.
CLICK for large version.

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The lighthouse was completed in 1878 and is anchored with nine iron screw piles driven 10 feet down into the reef. The solid construction of Fowey Rocks lighthouse has endured for 139 years. This includes surviving the infamous Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the eastern US seaboard!

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A steamer next to Fowey Rocks light circa 1892.
Image source: FloridaMemory.com

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“Seventeen Cormorants” – available from Kayakfari ART Photography.
Underneath the Fowey Rocks lighthouse in 2017
with Cormorants framing a smaller cruiser yacht.

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“Fowey Rocks” – available from Kayakfari ART Photography.
The base of the Fowey Rocks light house was anchored into a shallow reef with screw piles in 1878!

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South Florida’s coastal reefs have claimed many ships over the centuries and the resultant salvage or “wrecking” as it was called was the state’s first big industry! In an era before instant global communications and satellite navigation, beacons like Fowey Rocks really meant something. The lighthouses mapped out the edges of the reefs on the open sea frontier, in this case the nearby Gulf Stream.

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The Eye of Miami – available from Kayakfari ART Photography.
Old nickname for the Fowey Rocks lighthouse – high contrast style 2017.

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Fire fishing engraving off Fowey Rocks lighthouse circa 1936.
Image source: FloridaMemory.com

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero fresnel lens

The original Fresnel lens from Fowey Rocks lighthouse stands about 12 feet tall.
It is now on display at a U.S. Coast Guard training center in Yorktown, Virginia.

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The original first-order Fresnel lens for the lighthouse was built in Paris in 1876 and was 12 feet tall and weighed close to a ton. The light was lit for the first time on June 15, 1878. Originally the light source was provided by an oil vapor lamp until the lighthouse was electrified in 1931 using four giant light bulbs. While the lighthouse was manned until 1974, the original Fresnel lens served for over 100 years until 1983 when it was replaced by a modern beacon setup.

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Top of Fowey Rocks light – this is where your NOAA weather data (station FWYF1) comes from!

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Do you know where your weather data comes from?

National Data Buoy Center – Station FWYF1 – Fowey Rock, FL

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Closeup of the living quarters of Fowey Rocks lighthouse in 2017.

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Fowey Rocks light needs TLC but features beautiful ornate 19th century craftsmanship.

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Rusting iron framework of the Fowey Rocks lighthouse covered with a topping of bird guano in 2017.

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In October of 2012, ownership of Fowey Rocks Lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to Biscayne National Park and it has been nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Since that time, the Florida Keys Reef Lights Foundation has been active in raising funds to stabilize and preserve Fowey Rocks lighthouse and the other five remaining Keys lighthouses.

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Fowey Rocks light and the surrounding reefs remain a popular destination for Miami’s power boaters, fishermen and divers.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

The Fowey Rocks lighthouse was acquired by the National Park Service in 2012.

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Fowey Rocks and the other five old Keys lighthouses are beautiful designs and standing testaments to the ingenuity and engineering possible in their time. They are an important part of Florida’s history! Since 2015, all the Keys lighthouses have been turned off by the Coast Guard and are looking for new owners. Hopefully they will continue to stand over Florida’s reefs for many years to come. Can you imagine Fowey Rocks lighthouse restored to it’s Victorian era beauty with it’s original Fresnel lens on display, right on the doorsteps of Miami?

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Fowey Rocks lighthouse – parting view of 2017.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Feeling thirsty, so .. “just hand over the cold beer and nobody gets hurt!” 😉

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero satellite

Fowey Rocks lighthouse is situated over the Fowey Rocks reef and about 6 miles SE from the Cape Florida lighthouse.

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The reefs surrounding Fowey Rocks have claimed several ships over the centuries and there are many wrecks to explore underwater! Sadly some have been vandalized and looted by careless and unscrupulous divers.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Leaving the lighthouse behind, starts the next leg of the Biscayne Bay triangle.

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Next begins the shortest leg of this trip from Fowey Rocks to Soldier Key, due west just 4 miles. While a short paddle, this area is near the “safety valve” which transfers tidal water from Biscayne Bay to the Atlantic Ocean through a complex series of shoals. It’s also just a few miles from the western edge of the Gulf Stream and paddling here feels closer to “big water” rather than coastal water, if you know what I mean!

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Out here in open water some good swells can form along with small breaks over the many shoals of the Safety Valve!

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Nearing Soldier Key on Biscayne Bay.

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Soldier Key appears on the first comprehensive English chart made in 1772 by William Gerard De Brahm as “Soldiers Island”. It actually looks like there were two islands, with one being much smaller. Previous names for Soldier Key were “La Parida y su Figulo”, “La Parida y su Hijos”, simply “Parida”, “Laurence Key”, “Little Soldier Key”, and “Oswald Island”. Before that native peoples such as the Tequesta tribe had likely occupied the island as there is evidence of a large shell midden mound on the south end.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero satellite

Satellite view of Soldier Key. While certainly not pristine, it sits just outside of Miami and feels a world apart!

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In the 1870s Solider Key served as a project base for construction of the Fowey Rocks lighthouse. Later it would host the Soldier Key Club and caretakers before becoming a part of Biscayne National Park in 1980.

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Low altitude aerial view of Soldier Key on a sunny afternoon in May 2017.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

The Banana Boat at Soldier Key on Biscayne Bay.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

The Key Largo limestone rocky shoreline of Soldier Key on a dropping tide.

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Soldier Key is by no means pristine and receives many boating visitors, as evidenced by all the broken beer bottles on the shoreline unfortunately. However as I had it all to myself on a Monday afternoon, it felt a world apart from Miami. It really is the first and northern-most island of the Florida Keys chain that’s just outside the world of millions of Miami people. It’s Key Largo limestone rock geology is also distinct from nearby Key Biscayne to the north.

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Looking due north at Key Biscayne, Cape Florida lighthouse and Miami Beach from Soldier Key.

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Super telephoto view of the Cape Florida lighthouse more than 5 miles away.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Pelicans flying over the downtown Miami skyline and vicinity with closer Stiltsville homes and Key Biscayne.

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Peering through the haze at the constructs of the world of people a dozen or so miles away!

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Supertelephoto view of a section of the Miami megalopolis 13 miles away through the afternoon haze.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero stiltsville

The Miami Springs Powerboat Club Stiltsville home almost 4 miles away across the bay.
CLICK – Kayak Miami: Stiltsville Village upon Biscayne Bay!

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The iconic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables as seen from 12.5 miles away on Soldier Key.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero 1000mm

Supertele closeup of the Marlins Park stadium 13 miles distant.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero 1000mm

Flats fisherman poling across Biscayne Bay about half a mile away.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Scene from a previous group paddle to Soldier Key in 2010 with the Miami Kayak Club.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Club 1910 Cape Florida paddle biscayne bay

A woman poses next to a large growth of red mangroves on Soldier Key, circa 1910.
Image source: http://dpanther.fiu.edu/sobek

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Club 1910 Cape Florida paddle biscayne bay

Soldier Key Club, circa 1910.
Image source: http://dpanther.fiu.edu/sobek

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Soldier Key has seen a lot of human use through the decades.
When this date was carved into wet concrete, there were several buildings on the island with the boat slip protected by the jetties that we still see today.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne hurricane andrew 1992

Aerial photo of Soldier Key still had buildings on it before Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Image source: www.usgs.gov

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne hurricane andrew 1992

Soldier Key one week after being inundated with the 16ft storm surge of Hurricane Andrew in 1992!
Existing structures were either leveled or severely damaged.
Image source: www.usgs.gov

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Since Hurricane Andrew, Soldier Key has been left alone and left to revert to a more natural state.

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Aerial view looking due west over the decrepit old jetty and boat slip.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Just past the end of the pier lies a submerged rectangular form, probably the remnants of a houseboat barge that reportedly sank there?

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Huge chunks of an old seawall or dock along the Soldier Key shoreline.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Later afternoon shadow on the tidal flats.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

It’s like this and like that .. tip-toeing over those limestone rocks at Soldier Key.

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Read more about Keys Geology!

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

The Banana Boat rests on a bed of ancient limestone rocks at Soldier Key.

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

Soldier Key has been left behind and thus begins the third and final leg of the Biscayne Bay triangle!

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Paddling the third leg of this triangle back to Key Biscayne in the late afternoon was a real treat. There was some current to be sure, but as I was going perpendicular to most of the outgoing tide, it didn’t slow me down much. I covered the 6 miles in about 1 hour and 20 min at a comfortable pace.

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Paddling just east of Stiltsville in the glorious late afternoon sun.
CLICK – Kayak Miami: Stiltsville Village upon Biscayne Bay!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this extended afternoon paddle on Biscayne Bay!

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero

“Kiss the Sky” – available from Kayakfari ART Photography.
Beauty in the skies over Biscayne Bay – BLESS!

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Note that this is about a 17 mile round trip paddle – ALL in open water, with NO possibility of getting out anywhere except for Soldier Key. Plan accordingly and paddle within your limitations and the weather conditions!!

Be absolutely sure you know what you are getting into before considering doing this kind of a trip!

Safety first means planning and research first!!

Always have plenty of fresh water to stay hydrated!

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Flex Maslan Kayak Miami photography kayakfari fowey rocks lighthouse Soldier Key Cape Florida paddle biscayne sombrero satellite

Cape Florida – Fowey Rocks – Soldier Key: 17 miles of paddling the Biscayne Bay triangle!

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Be safe and enjoy your time on the water!

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! Blessings

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© 2017 Flex Maslan / kayakfari.com / awakenthegrass.com. All original photographs, artworks and music in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Flex Maslan, unless otherwise noted. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited.

All rights reserved!

DISCLAIMER:: The maps and images on this site are not intended for navigation, I am not a guide; use any and all information at your own risk! Your mileage may vary .. so use good judgement before venturing out!

With that said..
Blessings friends!

:)