Sail or Kayak in St. Augustine
Dolphins, rays and manatees are the main attractions.
Head over to the southwest side of the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine and chances are you’ll meet Zach McKenna. He’s hard to miss; the owner of St. Augustine Eco Tours (st.augustineecotours.com) has morphed his Schwinn adult tricycle into a kayak-mobile. Paddles stick out from the handlebars, and the kayak is chock-full of bumper stickers. More often, though, you’ll find him on the water. Through kayaking and sailing tours, he takes guests into the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR), more than 73,000 acres of protected salt marsh, mangrove tidal wetlands and oyster beds.
During each excursion there’s always something utterly incredible to witness, like a bottlenose dolphin with a newborn calf, an eagle ray with a wingspan as wide as a car, or manatees wrestling in the shallows.
If you opt for the 2-hour sailing jaunt, you’ll board the ultra stable 27-foot Stiletto catamaran, which has comfy seats at the stern and a trampoline up front for soaking up some sun. And if the conditions are right, McKenna will let you take control of the sails. In fact, it’s a gentle place to learn, so you can get the hang of it fairly quickly.
After spending more than two decades exploring the Florida coast, McKenna, an interpretive naturalist, has amassed an arsenal of experience and information. He even uses a hydrophone, an underwater mic, so guests can hear what’s going on below the surface—sounds like toadfish courting and pistol shrimp popping.
And, if you’re interested, he can explain how bottlenose dolphins display humanlike behavior with their calves or how an eagle ray propels itself out of the water or the organized fishing methods of the visiting white pelicans.
Says McKenna: “Nothing puts me more at ease and gets me more excited than the smell of the salt marsh, seasonal variability and the endless possibilities as I float among millions of life forms. Sticky salt air and the sound of sometimes nothing at all make a paddle, sail or exploratory cruise my form of therapy.”
Afterward, continue the fun with a beachcomber tour, especially great for families. You’ll spend time in the less explored areas of the salt marsh and island hammocks where fiddler crabs, marine worms, shells, algae and jellyfish make their homes.