We’re spending a few weeks in Port Saint Joe (PSJ) Florida, a location that was never on my bucket list of places to go on this earth. Last year we spent a couple days in PSJ. We found a campground we liked, and booked a three week test run. Now we are here. PSJ is very appropriately located on the St. Joseph Bay, shielded by Cape San Blas. It’s not really a port in the way most of us think of such things. There are no big/tall ships, no docks with shipping containers that you would associate with a port. Back in the 1800s, it was a bustling center of commerce, with commodities like cotton. PSJ had a population of around 12,000 at that time. Then in 1841, a ship from Cuba brought a special cargo with it—one of their passengers had yellow fever. From that one person, nearly all the population of PSJ was wiped out. Those who could fled, and the survivors left behind were subsequently wiped out by a hurricane in 1844. In the 1900s, the railroad brought commerce back to PSJ and things boomed along until the 1970s. In 1996 the last commercial vessel left the port, and things have been pretty sleepy ever since. There is a move afoot now to dredge the channels and revitalize PSJ into a shipping port once again.
For now PSJ markets itself to tourists by touting its unique habitat and natural experiences in all the slick brochures. They mention the nesting habitat for turtles, the pristine bay waters and sport fishing. It really is beautiful here with few buildings and small commerce. There are stretches where the landscape looks undisturbed. Most of our fellow campers are fishermen, and they hit the water daily in all manner of boats, from twin Evinrude motor jobs to fishing kayaks. When we paddled the bay, we’d see mullet, goofy fish that leap out of the water; people have told me stories about them leaping into boats. The water is crystal clear and quite shallow. It’s possible to see sea urchins, horseshoe crabs stingrays and all manner of critters as the boat glides through a few feet of water. Head for the deep water and you’re likely to see dolphins and sharks who are much bolder than other fish, who hide out in “holes” to avoid the many anglers cruising the bay. There are serious fishers around here. Every few days someone throws a fish fry when the daily limit piles up.
When winds whip up as they do every day, the water roils and sloshes along the shore. If you paddle with the wind, you feel like an Olympic contender until you have to head back into the wind. The other day I went out to paddle a short distance to one of the lagoons. It was a bit windy, but not too concerning. I had fun watching osprey and saw a bald eagle high up in the sky along with lots of other birds. When I paddled out of the lagoon I was met with a ferocious headwind. I chugged along OK but then gusts would whip up and blow me across the water like a leaf. On the way back I tried to take a picture of a sunken boat. Every time I set my paddle down and picked up the camera, a gust would sweep me back so fast I couldn’t get the picture. Finally I paddled past the boat and when the gust hit I let it push me into range. I got my photo but after evaluating the effort it took I decided more pictures weren’t necessary and labored back to our site. The waves were coming toward the bow of my boat which gave me the optical illusion of speed, but it took me twice the time to paddle back.
Our campground neighbors are varied. On one side a couple had been full-time in their motor home after living in Ecuador for several years. They sold their RV while they were here and are moving permananently to Mexico. They left last week and their rig is presently empty waiting for the new owners to claim it. On the other side is a retired couple, with two dogs, two kayaks and two bicycles. We have a few things in common. They’ve been here several times and clued us in on places to paddle. One of our neighbors is named “Gator.” Gator is a bona fide fish hunter; he always knows where the fish are hiding. He reminded me of a better groomed Duck Dynasty character, as he has a very impressive stash that merged into lush mutton chops. I don’t think he’d be caught
dead lolling around on a beach or pleasure boating, but he is the guy all the other fishing guys want to go out with. Charlie and Madeline from Queens NY were here for about a week. Charlie was skinny and grizzled and a self-proclaimed paddleboard evangelist. He’d tell anyone who cared to listed “I got this paddleboard and I am never going back to a regular boat!” He was out on the bay regardless of weather. He was so wiry that from a distance he looked like one of those dancing skeletons from the Grateful Dead. Every time our paths crossed he would yell at me; “Pam, I want you to get on this paddleboard!” I never did though. Maybe later, Charlie, maybe later.
In a few days we’ll head for our next stop, a few miles east to meet up with friends. I’ll be glad to see them, but I’m also glad that we’ll be in easy range of PSJ. I’m not finished.