Saturday, August 25, 2012

Florida So Far

Y’all might have noticed that I haven’t produced any fresh blog posts in a few weeks. The reason for that is that I’ve been busy moving to Florida and starting my new job as a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

So far, so good. The move was a logistical challenge, but with careful planning on the part of my fiancĂ© Rhonda and help from our friends and families it went pretty smoothly.  We rented a 22’ Penske truck and towed my minivan behind it, while Rhonda and her mom drove behind in Rhonda’s car. Here’s the caravan crossing the Hudson River in NY.

Penske Move

We made two overnight stops; one at my sister’s house in North Carolina, and another at my cousin’s house in Daytona Beach. It was good getting to see the family.

Four days after we left Boston we arrived at our new home in Bonita Springs. It’s a cute little rental house with a screened-in porch and lanai, and a windsurf storage shed in the backyard. Rhonda’s mom stayed for a few days and was a huge help getting us unpacked and settled in.

Rhonda Beverly Beach

The same day that she went home to New England we gained a new family member- a rescue part-bulldog mutt named Grace.

Grace Car Ride Home

Grace is about 8 years old and has a very sweet and mellow personality. We still miss Buri, but it’s real nice to have a dog around again.

Grace Bed

Grace Bed Mirror 1

Getting started as a professor has been an exciting challenge. This is my new office at FGCU (now much more cluttered.) Check out the nice view from the window!

New FGCU Office

Office View

I feel like the job is a good fit for me. The other professors are helpful and sociable. It’s definitely what you would call a “collegial” work environment.  My first week of teaching went smoothly, although I’m learning as I go since I've never taught before. They gave me a pretty easy courseload to start with. I’m teaching one Marine Ecology class with 32 students, and two sections of a Seagrass Ecology discussion course- one with 2 graduate students and the other with 18 undergrads. The Marine Ecology class takes the most preparation time, because I have to plan about an hour of lecture, plus fill another hour and 15 minutes with other learning activities for the kids because I can’t lecture for more than an hour and they can’t pay attention for more than an hour. In both my classes we’re reading a lot of scientific articles, which is nice in a way because it keeps me up to date on the scientific literature that I should be following for my own research.

So far I haven’t done any new marine biology research in Florida (not counting wading around in some seagrass beds when fishing and paddleboarding), but I’m looking forward to starting seagrass monitoring soon. With that in mind, I’ve been sitting in on a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) class that meets on Thursday nights at FGCU. Seagrass ecologists often use the GIS mapping software to keep track of changes in seagrass coverage, which they can then relate to trends in water quality and stuff like that. I’m hoping to get government funding for my seagrass monitoring, so I want to be as GIS savvy as possible when I make my bid.

The wind and waves scene here on the Gulf Coast of Florida is VERY different than it was in New England. There’s less wind, and there are no real waves to speak of. More often than not, the Gulf of Mexico is flat as a lake. Literally. Riding waves there on a paddleboard is tough, because the only time the waves approach a rideable size is when it’s choppy with an onshore breeze. Rhonda and I HAVE had some fun SUP sessions, but only on flat water, like on the mangrove-lined Imperial River near our house.

Imperial River Boat Launch

Imperial River SUP 1

We knew we were in tropical paradise when we saw red hibiscus blossoms drifting lazily along the smooth surface of the water.

Floating Hibiscus

I picked up a cheap old windsurfing longboard that we re-styled as a flat water SUP so we can both go at once. One of us uses that and the other uses the Angulo Surfa 10’4”. There are tons of SUP shops in the area, like CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, so I didn’t have any trouble finding a store where I could buy a second paddle.

Beater Board

I think there’s a lot of potential for windsurfing around here, though I’m a long way from getting my launch sites and equipment dialed. The first time I put up a sail here was at Punta Rassa near the Sanibel causeway. I was out SUP-fishing the seagrass flats with some fellow new professors. (One math dude, and another theater dude.) At first we were catching lots of Speckled Seatrout- almost one on every cast. But then the fishing slowed down and some squally wind came up, so I rigged a 6.8 and put it on the old longboard. The thing was a beast, but it actually planed, in a loggish sort of way. I’m saving up now for an Exocet WindSUP, which I think is going to be the perfect board for around here.

Finding the best water access points for different wind directions and different wave / chop conditions has been challenging. Most of the beach parking areas also make you pay by the hour or day, which I find super annoying. So far our best windsurfing beach find has been “Dog Beach” between Bonita Beach and Lover’s Key State Park. There’s a short walk through the mangroves that gets you to a sandbar on the edge of a shallow lagoon. 

Rhonda Dog Beach

It was the perfect spot for Rhonda to have her best windsurfing session ever, with a 4.2 sail on the Angulo SUP with a jury-rigged dagger-fin.

Rhonda Dog beach windsurf 1

It was a nice spot for me, too, since the lagoon opens up through an inlet to the Gulf of Mexico, where an outgoing tide can jack up the onshore-wind waves. I got some fun rides there on the old 80s longboard, though my fin hit a sandbar once or twice, so I’ll have to be careful if I’m ever riding there on a nicer board.

Today we’re starting to feel some breeze from the approach of Hurricane Issac. The wind is NE (side-offshore), so I’ve been scratching my head about where the best ocean-side launch might be. I’m going to give it a try at Wiggins Pass, a relatively short 8.1 mile drive from my house. There’s a point and an inlet at the N end of the park there, which I think will give me a bit better wind exposure and hopefully enable me to get out on my 106 liter shortboard. Tomorrow and Monday might be unsailably windy and rainy, but there’s a medium-sized lake on the N side of the FGCU campus where the kids do swimming, sailing, SUP, and wakeboarding. I think it might be a good, safe spot in an E or NE wind. As long as the alligators don’t get me.

FGCU Lake Launch.