It began the way any good rom com begins. Half a bottle of wine in the Hydro Flask, headlamps at the ready, kayak in the water, pants nowhere to be seen. (Because I was in a bikini. This is not that kind of movie, guys.)
We loaded up the dry bag and pushed our two-seater kayak into the water just as the edge of the sun began to brush the tops of the tallest buildings on Siesta Key. The water was calm, the breeze barely blowing enough to rustle my hair.
Jared and I paddled out from Turtle Beach, into the intercoastal, for our* first sunset/full-ish moon paddle. Que romantico, I know, I know. I really know how to spoil a guy.
Aside from a few times when one of us stopped paddling and the other didn’t strangle them mostly because we all know who the first suspect would be there, it was completely smooth sailing. We watched the sun set lower and lower, giggling about how we were literally paddling off together into the sunset.
It was dusk by the time we reached the beach at Midnight Pass, and we had the place to ourselves. We watched the last of the light slip into the ocean as the stars began to come out, one by one. Quite a few stars came out, actually, despite the cloudy sky. Lots of stars, but absolutely no moon.
(That’s not ominous at all.)
We poured the wine and joked about how we’d go skinny dipping (no we wouldn’t) except for the fact that the horror movie rules clearly state that one of us would have to get eaten by a shark. And we had ice cream to eat at home, so getting eaten by a shark was really pretty much out of the question.
When we got back in the kayak, the sky had faded entirely to black, but our eyes were adjusted to the dark at that point. Plus, the ambient lights from the Key gave us enough to see the channels through the mangroves, so we left our headlamps turned off and began our leisurely paddle home.
We’d gone through some shallow sections on the long route out, and knew we were likely to hit a few areas with just a foot or two of water on the path home, so we were on the lookout for any spots that appeared to be too shallow to cross.
We were not prepared for something enormous to come rising out of the water a foot from our boat.
“What the …?!?” Jared yelled as I stared at the water swirling, then SMACK! Something hit the water — hard — sending wake that shook the kayak. Before we had a chance to react, it happened again, nearly in the same spot. Water roiling for just a moment, and SMACK!
I’m pretty proud to say that I at least waited until the second one before I let a bloodcurdling scream go. (Sorry, everyone on Siesta Key.)
“Go! Let’s go! GET OUT OF HERE!” I shrieked at Jared from the back of the kayak. I wasn’t sure what had just happened, but I damn sure wasn’t going to let Jaws catch me without a fight. And let me tell you, you really don’t know just how fast you can make a kayak go until you think you’re paddling for your life.**
After considerable research*** it appears we probably were “attacked” by … a manatee. Maybe two of them (or possibly a ray, but given the size of the thing coming out of the water at us, we’re leaning toward giant fucking manatee). Most likely, we surprised a mother and baby (omg I am so sorry Mrs. Manatee — I would never do that on purpose!) and they were just using the only defenses they had available — those tremendous flat tails, which they slapped down on the water like a whale. Speaking of which, I always thought I’d be one of those people who’d be really cool about it if I were kayaking and a whale came up right next to me, but … yeah. Probably not. Good to know.
I think in the horror movie, we would arrive home harrowed but triumphant before falling into one another’s arms. In reality, there was a lot more of me saying, “But WHAT EVEN JUST HAPPENED?!?” over and over again until Jared showed me this video.
*It should be noted that this was not my first kayak rodeo — I’d made this same nocturnal, nautical voyage with a group of friends a few months before, and had paddled the same route in daylight (more or less) a few other times. Jared had actually been out on most of it, too. This is all related.
**Jared would like me to point out that he did not fear for his life and actually wanted to go back and look, but was respectful of my wishes and state of abject terror. I would like to point out that when we got about a football field’s distance away and he told me it was okay, his voice cracked.
***We searched “manatee kayak attack” on the YouTubes.