When Paul Sedwick's cousin, a longtime Everglades National
Park Ranger, died of pancreatic cancer in the fall in Ashland,
Ore., the 55-year-old Internet engineer from St. Petersburg decided to honor Steve Robinson.
"We spent a lot of time together as kids, sailing all over the place," Sedwick said of his cousin, who was 57. "He taught me how to appreciate nature. I wanted to go on an adventure that would have made him proud."
So Sedwick borrowed his cousin's decades-old fiberglass canoe, an 18-foot Wenona, and rigged it with an outrigger and a sail. Then he loaded up everything except "the kitchen sink," and he set out March 22 from Flamingo to conquer the Wilderness Waterway to the Everglades City area and back.
"I had planned to be gone for 14 days," he said. "But you know, when you are dealing with the outdoors, nothing goes as planned."
Sedwick christened the craft Robinson Calusa, after his cousin, and the pre-Columbian Indian tribe that once ruled southwest Florida. His 11-day, 161-mile solo journey was a fitting tribute to "Ranger Steve," an "environmentalist, naturalist, organic cousin, Calusa spirit and lifelong friend."
Here are edited excerpts from Sedwick's online journal, which can be read in its entirety at paulsedwick.com/everglades.
This is the Everglades National Park south entrance. What the … thought I saw a Skunk Ape in the rearview mirror. … Eyes playing tricks already? Put up my brave chin and move on. … Skunk Ape country — am I ready?
Still raining, I finally reach the first chickee. A small power boat is berthed in front with three fishermen. … I sailed in a circle shivering in the cold rain while they loaded and moved out. Does this place stink! … These nice fishermen cleaned fish all over the platform and left the slimy, scaly mess!
I have not seen or heard a person or a boat since yesterday and loving it. … As I turn the corner from the Shark River, wind and tide are against me. Testing every conceivable angle of attack using my sharpest sailing tactics I give up in near exhaustion. … Really can't remember the last time I had been this tired.
I awake to unimaginable hoards of no-see-um's, midges, flying teeth, whatever you want to call them. … No amount of DEET will deter these tiny bloodsuckers.
I struggled for an hour and a half and made under 1 mile against this wind and current. … I'm turning around and heading for the Gulf of Mexico. The wind takes me away at 2 knots without paddle or sail. I pull the sail out and — wham! — 6 knots!
Up a few times during the night tending to raccoons intent on getting into my water. … I tie a milk crate over the opening but the rascals squeezed in enough to bite a hole in the top of a water container.
The wind is totally gone within the hour so I furl up the sail and paddle. Within another hour, I have a west wind (sea breeze) and am sailing at 5 knots. I ask Steve to please ask the wind gods to steady off, and the wind speed holds true. Thank you, Steve.
Working into the wind is very tiring. I cannot take breaks more than a few seconds or I lose a lot of ground. Aching all over. … I can see the islands surrounding Flamingo so my spirits are up. These are the islands that Steve frequented from his Flamingo home. I'm exhausted, spent, but sad to be at the end of this once-in-a-lifetime incredible voyage.
One hundred and sixty-one miles later, I am a changed soul. Steve meant a lot to me, I had to do this final adventure for us! I can now move on knowing Jiminy Cricket will be sitting atop my shoulder on future expeditions as well.