April 2017

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Wednesday was Bobby's 34th birthday and also the last day of our trip, so we saved the excursion we were looking forward to the most for this day. Shell Island, as I noted in the last post, was created when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the channel between the Grand Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico to allow for the passage of shipping traffic. It is an uninhabited section of the park with absolutely no amenities and accessible only by boat. A shuttle boat runs regularly from St. Andrew's to Shell Island. There are some wooden poles stuck into the water to show where the shuttle boat will ride up onto the sand, but that is it. There are signs posted at St. Andrew's: Shell Island contains no water, shade, or bathrooms. If you want it, you have to bring it over with you.

The NO SHADE worried me the most. We brought over two big bottles of water, and if I needed the bathroom, it would not be the first time peeing in a wild place (or the ocean ... tmi!) by far. Despite properly applying sunscreen the day before, I was becoming tender in places, as was Bobby. So that morning, we stopped at the Ron Jon surf shop and picked up a pair of rash guards with SPF 50+ so that we could spend the day in NO SHADE in comfort.

We had lunch again at Finn's--the third time! The food was delicious and the open at 10. We had the scallop ceviche this time and I had the shrimp crunch wrap ... which, yes, is like the things they make at Taco Bell but about 100 times better! At St. Andrew's we rented a tandem kayak for the day, which was loaded onto the shuttle and across we went.

Shell Island was beautiful and wild. We donned our rash guards and launched our kayak and headed out along the coast on the channel side. I love rowing--there is something immensely satisfying about pulling yourself through the water--but I kept getting a crick in my right bicep that was annoying and sometimes painful. We pulled to shore so I could give it a rest and also to explore the island.

The channel side had a narrow sandy beach--the usual white "sugar sand"--with dunes behind that were covered with a maze of low shrubs.

Shell Island photo IMG_2341_zpsrcott97j.jpg



Shell Island photo IMG_2333_zpsdwpvkysm.jpg



Shell Island Dunes photo IMG_2345_zpsgdt2zeh6.jpg



Behind it was a forest of what appeared to be the ubiquitous longleaf and slash pines.

Shell Island Inland photo IMG_2356_zpss2pfupr8.jpg



Me in my stylish rash guard with skulls and crossbones on the arms and the long denim shorts that I inherited from my mom. And of course the blue bandana that goes always with me to the beach! I wasn't taking chances with the sun!

Dawn at Shell Island photo IMG_2336_zps9xpumsfd.jpg



And Bobby, much the same. We also wore our scuba boots--the height of style!--to further protect our feet from the sun and to let us walk around in the water wherever we wanted without worrying about crabs, sharp rocks, etc.

Bobby at Shell Island photo IMG_2337_zpsje6lsv13.jpg



Looking through the sea oats back to the water.

Shell Island photo IMG_2348_zpspxpdij00.jpg



And our trusty craft! The bright yellow kayak that took us and our backpacks around the island that day.

Our Craft photo IMG_2347_zpswyqt8olq.jpg



My bicep rested, we rowed to the end of the island on the channel side before coming ashore again. Rowing was hot work, so I flopped down on the sand with my feet in the water to cool off, with the ultimate result that my inherited long denim shorts ended up full of sand thanks to the gentle, unceasing efforts of the lapping waves.

Dawn Chillin' with the Kayak photo IMG_2351_zps0vedc4ec.jpg



There were lots of seaweeds here on the water, so we walked along, finding fish and hermit crabs, until we were ready to row back. This was a small pond we found that was full of tadpoles.

Shell Island photo IMG_2361_zpspwsmdmd3.jpg



The trip back we did in one fell swoop and came to shore at the Shell Island jetty, a short ways past where the shuttle comes to shore. We dragged our kayak to shore, reapplied sun screen for the hundredth time, and I lost the stylish long shorts to don snorkel gear and explore the jetty. I went the rest of the afternoon in a rash guard and bikini: bliss. Mask back on: scuba memories again. Once again, there were a multitude of beautiful fish, and we spent some time swimming slowly alongside the rocks. Periodically, I could see spaces in the jetty that passed through to the other side, and every now and then, gushes of freezing cold water would come up from the rocks. Bobby took some pictures with his Go-Pro, safely encased in a dive housing, that I will filch from his Facespace and post later.

After snorkeling, we hiked up the beach to the Gulf side, which was lovely, but we didn't stay long. We went back to our trusty craft on the channel side; I did some reading, and Bobby grabbed a nap. And, believe it or not, it was time already to catch the last shuttle back across the channel.

The line was very long, and Bobby spotted a patch of beach in the shade of a palm tree. So there is, you see, shade on Shell Island; it is just in very short supply. We spread out our towels and waited there until the last shuttle, figuring to let the people with kids and places to be take the first boats back. We were in the shade of a palm tree, gazing out on perfect blue water; we were in no hurry.

We had about an hour on the beach at St. Andrew's after returning; we'd already made up our mind to bump back our dinner reservation in order to follow the sun's schedule, as usual. Bobby did some more snorkeling, and I chilled in the shade on the beach with a book. On our way out, we stopped back at Gator Lake for one last turn through its trails as the sun set.

Gator Lake photo IMG_2366_zpsyrs1movr.jpg



Gator Lake photo IMG_2364_zpsdk9meobm.jpg



We didn't see any gators this time, but we did get a photo of the gator warning sign to complement the moose warning sign from New Hampshire.

Gator Caution at Gator Lake photo IMG_2365_zpsewqlf3g3.jpg



Dinner that night was at the Salt Water Grill, which was a nice enough place that sprucing up in the St. Andrew's bathroom wasn't going to cut it, and we actually needed to go back to the hotel to do things like comb our hair and shower. Bobby and I live like wild people on vacation most of the time. I don't know why I'm about to type this, but I rely a lot on bandanas for my hair (which gets really wild in the sea air), and we both rely a lot on the pool when we're too lazy to shower. We have to eat at nice places periodically just to keep ourselves properly clean and civilized.

The Salt Water Grill had an enormous Atlantic reef tank very similar to the one at the National Aquarium: big enough that, just like NAiB, I suspect they employed a diver to clean it. Our table wasn't quite ready, and the hostess apologized profusely for that, but we quite enjoyed watching the fish while we waited. Everything that was wrong about the service the previous night was right this night: The courses were properly timed and our server was attentive but not obtrusive. I had something to drink called the Shell Island Tea that was basically a bunch of different alcohol in a tall glass (that I got to keep!) with a splash of Coke. I couldn't even taste the Coke. The drink was delicious and not sweet. The alcohol got me feeling nice pretty fast, though. We shared the lobster spring rolls and each had a cup of lobster bisque that was probably my favorite part of the meal. Good and tipsy by then, I remarked that whomever invented soup deserved a statue somewhere prominent because "Soup is wonderful. It's like someone took a drink and made it into a food." Bobby and I laughed hard over this. Ah, the wonders of alcohol to make silly things funny!

I had the chef's feature for my entree, which was a tough decision. It was chili- and fennel-encrusted red snapper, served with grilled asparagus and a creamy crab risotto. Ah, it was lovely. Bobby had the redfish étouffée, which he loved. We were way too stuffed for dessert after all of that.

Back at the hotel, we took our usual dip in the hot tub. We were alone this time, and it was lonely, so we didn't stay long before we were yawning and ready for bed. I expected to be sore from rowing the next morning but, surprisingly, wasn't; the weights at the gym must be working.

Thursday was our departure day. We had to wake up way too early to bid farewell to our view of the emerald sea, just deepening into its color in the morning light. The drive to the airport was short; the flight home uneventful. As we walked down the tunnel into the airport at BWI, drafts of air were coming through the cracks. It was cold.

Our day on Shell Island was sunny with barely a cloud in the sky and 85F/30C. When we returned home, it was 41F/5C, overcast, and raining one of those light, clinging rains. What a disappointment. While we were gone, though, at least the daffodils started coming up and the forsythia blooming and the first blush of buds on the trees.

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