When Karen realized that NASA had scheduled another night launch for Tuesday (August 25) morning, she called me at work to see if I could get off for it. I was fortunate enough not to even have to ask. Boss man just said,”I won’t need you until Wednesday,” as we were leaving work on Friday. We spent Saturday getting ready so we could leave Sunday morning. Part of the preparations included getting reservations for a ferry ride to, and a camp site on, Cumberland
Island. This resulted in the unfortunate definition of ‘leave Sunday morning’ as ‘be out the door by five o’clock’. We made it out on time and got to the ferry with a half hour to spare. Had a nice afternoon and night on the island, then headed out on the first ferry to resume our trip to Merritt Island to watch the launch.
The time was getting close, and things were looking good. The only problem was one storm sitting in the vicinity, and the experts expected it to break up or move off. We headed down to the put-in. The official report still looked good, so we got our equipment, safety lectures and boats, then headed out. For logistical reasons, everyone who could be placed in a two-person kayak was. Karen and I have done well in a canoe together, but the kayak is a whole other story. We eventually got it worked out, mostly, and I was really glad I had a partner by the end of the trip. As we got closer to the viewing area, we became more exposed to the effects of the storm still hovering out past the pad. The Coast Guard Auxiliary was at the end on the canal warning us not to go out of the canal because of heavy chop. Our guide explained that we were just going to wrap around the point and pull up on a beach to watch. We did just that, although we were exposed to the chop long enough for it to feel adventurous. We waited in the beach/lagoon for a while, and NASA scratched the launch shortly thereafter because that storm didn’t look like it was going anywhere. We were offered the choice of going back or turning it into a bio-luminescent trip. I was all set to go back because my shoulder was starting to bother me and the guides statement that we were going to chase fish made no sense to me.
Backtrack- We were not officially on a bio-luminescent tour at the start, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The dinoflagellates tend to put on a strong showing in this area- the water is right and there is very little light pollution. According to our guides, it didn’t get any better than what we were seeing that night. It was very strong, and for some reason it was bluish, as opposed the the usual green. Every paddle stroke and the wake of all the boats were shown in a beautiful blue glow. I can’t begin to describe how cool it was, and I had no idea how cool it would get. -end backtrack
Karen left the decision up to me, as she had been before. She told me it was really neat, and I didn’t think my shoulder wasn’t going to die from a little more kayaking, so I decided to go on. We went on around the point into a more sheltered part of Mosquito Lagoon to ‘chase fish’ and stuff. On the way in I got some glimpses of what was to come, when the odd fish darted out of our way, leaving a glowing wake underwater, or a mullet jumped in the distance, making a bright blue splash. I thought we were chasing fish, but we were just running in to them. Mullet, as it turns out, like to lay up in the shallows at night. It’s harder for predators to maneuver in the shallow water so the mullet feel more secure. We went to an area where it was only a couple of feet deep, and started herding schools of mullet. It was amazing. It was like some submarine was firing dozens of glowing torpedoes. Mullet are prone jumping anyway, and these fish were scared for their lives. With no way to escape down, many tried to escape up. So the subs started firing missiles, as well as torpedoes, blue glowing water arcing in to the air and bright blue splash-downs. We ended up chasing a few schools of fish, and almost everybody had a mullet in their boat at some point. It was a wonderful experience and I recommend it to anyone who can paddle a boat (no experience necessary, but you have to be able to paddle.)
On the way back in, our guide mentioned that if you dipped your hand in the water, it would luminesce as it ran down your arm. He did not mention just how much your arm looks like a Gatorade commercial, but the resemblance is uncanny.
We didn’t get to see the Shuttle launch, but we did see the Shuttle on the pad from the kayak. The Shuttle was noticeably larger from this vantage point than from the best viewing spots pointed out to us by the Titusville locals, so if you go to watch a launch, I’ll tell you that you can’t get a better view without being in the inside. If you’re not down with the paddling, though, try Space View Park. It’s dry, free, and they have live audio of the launch sequence.