Our visit to Gulf County this weekend begins with an Eco Tour of St. Joseph Bay and its watery environs bright and early Saturday morning. It will be the boys’ first time in kayaks; their first time on a small boat of any kind, actually.
I can think of no better way to initiate them into Florida’s life aquatic than to trust in the experience and knowledge of Debbie and Dan VanVleet of Happy Ours Kayak & Canoe Outpost in Port St. Joe.
Because we weren’t sure what to expect from our tour, I called Happy Ours this week and got Debbie on the phone. She told me that Happy Ours, which opened on Jan. 1, 2000, has been around longer than any outfitter in Gulf County. She also told me that they are the only service with a dedicated launch directly into St. Joseph Bay, and they have accommodated parties of more than five dozen guests
Saturday morning, it will just be me, Beth, Jay and Chris. Dan gets most of the kid tours, Debbie said; his background as an educator comes in handy during such trips, and the kids seem to gravitate to him.
“I’m not going to give too much away, because there are surprises,” Debbie said. “The games we play with the kids, and spontaneity we provide – that makes it memorable.”
The clear, shallow water of St. Joseph Bay sounds delightful. We hope to come face-to-face with fish and other wildlife, but part of the appeal is the unpredictability.
“There is a lot of hands on,” Debbie said. “We don’t just talk, we get out and touch. It’s not staged, because the bay is different all the time. It’s fun to see what it offers that day and that moment.”
I’m pretty sure Jay and Chris will enthusiastically embrace the adventure. Pretty sure. There is always a chance one or both of them might get a bit squirrelly about doing something new.
If so, the VanVleets know what to do.
“We talk to them about their fears,” Debbie said, “and sometimes make them less scary.
“The kids love it, because there are no waves to knock you down. We pick depths you’re comfortable at. There’s a huge area just to walk along and pick things up, and to learn and to explore on their own. They feel comfortable doing that.”
We’ll be out for about four hours, and you can follow along starting at 9 a.m. on Twitter and Instagram. This is the kind of thing I dreamed about when Beth and I exchanged our marriage vows 11 years ago today – learning new things together, making memories, having fun as a family.
And here are a few tips Debbie and Dan passed along to us for our kayak tour of St. Joseph Bay:
- Apply water-resistant sunscreen an hour before arrival.
- Bring an extra towel to drape over your legs for extra protection.
- Hats and sunglasses are permitted.
- Wear a synthetic material long-sleeve shirt to protect your arms.
- Wear water shoes, rather than flip-flops. (Happy Ours provides water shoes for rent if you don’t have your own.)
- Freeze your water bottles overnight to keep them nice and cold throughout the trip.
- Bring non-refrigerated snacks to eat.
- Wear a watch to keep up with the time; Happy Ours is on Eastern Time, while northern Gulf County and Mexico Beach are on Central time. A mobile phone might pick up either Eastern or Central.
- Arrive at least 15 minutes early to sign the waiver and settle payment before departure.