Twenty-one years ago, then-Miami New Times writer Sean Rowe pushed his 17-foot canoe into Biscayne Bay, jumped in -- and immediately capsized. Rowe dried himself off, jumped back in, and so began a four-day journey navigating Miami-Dade via 30-miles of seldom used drainage canals. Rowe eventually passed through seven cities, lugged the 70-pound canoe across busy intersections, and survived an attack by bandits.
On Monday, local writer Terence Cantarella will try to recreate the feat. Why, exactly?
"This should be something that anybody with a paddle and a loose screw can do," Cantarella says. "If all goes well, I'll come out the other side of this sunburnt, starving, exhausted and with some kind of infection."
He'll launch into a canal near NE 79th St. and Biscayne Boulevard head around the city in a huge circle roughly to the southwest.
Riptide caught up with Cantarella by email to talk about the project, Rowe's inspiration and why exactly a 35-year-old with zero canoeing experience decided to take on a project like this:
Riptide: Where did you get the idea for this project? Were you familiar beforehand with Sean Rowe's similar trek two decades ago or did you come across it during your research?
Terence Canterella: A few years ago I became interested in the canals and thought a multi-day excursion would make for a good story. The murkiness and the fact that you never see anyone on the canals was enough of an intrigue for me. As soon as I started researching, however, I came across Sean's story. His piece was beautifully written and brilliantly told. I was bummed that he had beaten me to the story and I also felt like there was no way I would be able to outdo him. So I just put the idea out of my head.
A few months ago, though, I came across Chuck Strouse's post about Sean's death. I went back and read Sean's canal story, as well as a bunch of other stuff he wrote, and discovered what an amazing writer he was. I guess I decided, at that point, that if the only guy to have ever attempted this journey is no longer with us, then maybe it's o.k. for someone else to give it a shot. Miami has changed in 20 years. Maybe life along the waterways has, too. Maybe it hasn't. I don't know. I think it's worth checking out again.
What do you hope to accomplish with the trip? What do you think you can learn about Miami by traveling its waterways that you couldn't learn from driving or biking, for instance?
The canals fell out of use after giant salinity dams were erected in the middle of the last century. It meant you could no longer travel through most of the canal system in a boat bigger than what you can carry around the dams. Those dams were erected to prevent saltwater intrusion from Biscayne Bay into the ground/drinking water. The question is: Is there an alternative to the dams? Is there a way to block saltwater intrusion without restricting access to the waterways? Is it possible to build some kind of loop-around? Is it feasible? Is there enough width and depth throughout the canal system to even make it worthwhile? I have to see the canals first-hand before I can know if those questions are even reasonable.
Are you sure your whole route is navigable?
Pretty sure. One thing I have that Sean didn't have in 1991 is Google Earth. I know that I will have to portage around the dams and at least two culverts. There are still plenty of unknowns, though. I haven't really scoped the whole thing out thoroughly. Unpredictability is at the heart of every good adventure, after all. So if you see a guy running across an intersection with a canoe on his head, please have mercy.
Any idea if anyone has tried anything similar recently?
I'm sure plenty of people did it before WWII (before the dams went up). But, as far as I know, Sean Rowe is the only one to have done it since then.
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What's your background and skill level as a canoeist?
Zero. But if you can drive in Miami, you can row a canoe. The skill set is the same.
I think if I were an avid canoeist or weekend outdoorsman, the story wouldn't be interesting. This should be something that anybody with a paddle and a loose screw can do. If all goes well, I'll come out the other side of this sunburnt, starving, exhausted and with some kind of infection.