Updated 4-9-2012

The above photo was taken while on Salt Creek, a tributary of the Chassahowitzka River.  To see its location take a look for the arrow on the GPS Track of the paddle.

Here are the two Manta Rays ready for a little paddling time.  The green one is mine and the blue one belongs to Ralph, a friend with similar yak taste.  They were put in at Maximo Park in South St. Petersburg and spent about 5-1/2 hours in the water.   I would liked to say that the fish feared us, but it was more like they mocked us.  Fish were caught and thrown back - all trout and all out of season.  Most of the time was spent cruising around Indian Key.  The single bladed paddles are the backups.

There is a nice canoe/kayak washing station by the gazebo in the background.  Bring a bucket or a hose with a reverse fitting (male end) to get the water from the faucet to the kayak.

More info about selecting the Manta Ray is further down on this page.

Maximo Park is located at N27 42' 37.1 W82 41' 03.1  (Exit 16 on I275)

I added my kayak launch site list in the Garmin Mapsource format and in the GPX format.  Waypoint names with an asterisk have kayak washes.  I also added some of the significant kayak dealers on the Pinellas County side.  If you have any additional good launch sites within 100 miles of Tampa Bay please add them and send the file back to me.  Thanks!

For Garmin compatible GPS maps of Ft. DeSoto, Weeden Island, EG Simmons Park, Bishop Harbor and many other local areas go to my Cartography page.


On the beach just South of the Bishop Harbor entrance.

Bishop Harbor map with the beach in the photo (left) where the green + is.

The kayaks visiting Robinson Preserve.  This is the view from the top of the tower.  This is a new preserve that isn't on many of the maps.  In the winter months some of the waterways may be closed off to protect the Bald Eagle nest.

One of the mangrove tunnels at Weedon Island.  There's about a mile of these on the 38 station kayak trail.  It's one of the finest paddles in the area.

RAM Rod, Camera & GPS Holder

After looking at the Scotty rod holder, and it's a fine holder, I realized that it didn't have the versatility that I wanted.  Specifically, to hold a camera and a GPS at the same time and, occasionally, a fishing pole. RAM Mounts offered a way to do this and much more.

The finished mount on the kayak's center console.  The 1.5" ball is for the Rod and camera mount and the 1" ball is for the GPS.  The ball is lower than the gunnels. The black base is made of Starboard from the local West Marine, which I had left over from the eyepiece case project.  It machines with wood tools.  The side cuts were at 10.5 degrees and the edges were rounded over with a router.   The bottom ball has a little epoxy on the threads to help prevent rotation out of the threaded hole.

The top ball came with the rod holder, the bottom one was a stand-alone part.  All of the RAM parts are made very well.  This project will set you back about $150. Don't spray 303 on the RAM mount balls.  They get slippery.

This is a side profile of the rod holder (top) and GPS mount (bottom) in place before the base was mounted on the kayak.  The parts shown here are:

RAP-340 (rod holder & rectangular base),   RAM-230 (1.5" double ball), RAM-201 (6" arm for 1.5" balls), RAM-B-236U (1" ball with 3/8"x16 threaded stud), RAM-B-148-GA12U (Garmin 60CSx mount with suction cup - the suction cup wasn't used here, but handy in the car).  Not shown here: RAM-202AU (1.5" ball to 1/4"x20 camera thread)  The base to hold the two RAM balls needs to be custom for your Kayak.  If you don't want the rod holder the 1.5" ball on the 2"x2.5" base is part RAP-202U-225.


This is the Rod holder and GPS in the kayak (in dry dock).  There's no problem swinging the rod to a more upright position. The three ball and socket joints make it pretty flexible and great for kayak fishing.

This is the camera holder and GPS in the kayak  In use the camera will be better protected.


The Canon A720 in a underwater case makes a great addition.  (I have since upgraded it to a Canon G11 in a similar case)  The bracket is in front of the paddle drip zone so the lens plate doesn't get water droplets on it.  My original beef with the setup was that it took too long to get the camera off of the mount...


I added a Manfrotto RC2 quick release plate between the camera and the RAM mount.  It required a little machining work to get the pieces to fit.  In the end it was worth it.  The camera locks in place and pops out with a flip of the lever.   The plate was mounted with two stainless 1/4"x20 screws tapped into the RAM-202AU.  The 1/4"x20 post on the RAM plate passes cleanly into the 3/8" opening on the RC2 plate and is only used for alignment.  Part of the RAM-202AU had to be ground down with a Dremel to allow for the RC2 latch, which is slightly lower than the rest of the plate in one part.

The back of the ball mount was countersunk for the nuts that hold the bottom of the 1.5" ball.  I wanted as few holes in the kayak as possible.  The idea was that I could replace the plate with a different configuration, if needed, and reuse the same holes and backing plate.  A small amount of silicon glue (RTV) was uses around each of the holes on the kayak to act as a gasket and keep out any water that might work between the base and kayak.

I used a 1/4" piece of UHMW (hard plastic often used for table saw fences) for a backing plate.  The stainless hardware is #10, 1.5" x 24 pan head machine bolts.  The nuts have nylon inserts to prevent them from coming loose.  I didn't use any Loctite out of concerns that a wayward droplet would melt the kayak's plastic.  It was a little scary to see how easy the drill went through the kayak's skin.  Judging from the transparency of it, this appears to be one of the thinner areas of the Manta Ray's plastic.

A Note On The Camera Choice

There are quite a few water resistant cameras available.  Almost all of them are small and light.  Most take average quality photos in bright light and are waterproof as long as they don't get splashed too hard.  They also sink if dropped in the water.

My goal was to start with great optics and work backwards towards waterproofing.  While a DSLR would meet this goal, it was too bulky and difficult to waterproof, especially with a big lens.  The point and shoot that best fit was a Canon G11.  It had great optics and good low light sensitivity.  Other than it wasn't waterproof and sank like a rock, it was about perfect.  Fortunately, Canon offers a small underwater case (WP-DC34) that's rated for 130' down and offers access to almost all of the camera's controls.  As a bonus, the camera floats when it's in the case.  It would be nice if it shot HD video (the new G12 does), but the 640x480 videos that it shoots are excellent quality and usually too big to email. 

I generally use the camera in 'P'rogram mode so that I have control over the flash and that wonderful exposure adjustment dial on the top, which is great for bringing out the feathers on white birds that would otherwise be overexposed.

The drawbacks of the Canon case are:  It is bigger than the camera alone, one of the rotating dials cannot be accessed (It can be simulated via buttons, although it's a little awkward) and the camera strap must be removed before the camera fits in the case. For SCUBA use there isn't a wired flash synch option like the Ikelite cases offer.

I usually take a small, white towel with me to cover the camera housing while I'm paddling.  The underwater case with a black camera body in it acts like a good greenhouse.  It also creates a positive pressure in the case attempting to push the o-ring out, which is not what the designers intended.  The towel keeps the inside of the case much cooler than not using it.  It's also great for removing droplets from the lens port.  Occasionally the camera actually gets used underwater while kayaking...
Right: This is a foot long Plecostomus found in the Hillsborough River.  The camera was held over the side of the kayak as I drifted next to him (her?).  These fish don't move much so a few passes were possible. 

The fish was in about three feet of water.  The color was corrected in Photoshop.


An owl above the Hillsborough River.   The Canon G-11 in the waterproof camera case limited the audio.

Kayaking on the Hillsborough River.

Kayak Ping Pong Ball Night Running Lights

The kayak uses a night running light made from PVC, a cheap RayOVac pen light and ping pong ball diffusers.  It stays lit for over 15 hours on a single AA battery, is waterproof and fits in the rod holder.  Not bad for about $10. 

For the details on how it's made click on the photo of the lights or here.


The second Manta Ray and a place to keep them

I liked the 14' Manta Ray so much that I picked up a second one.  I had a number of friends that wanted to go paddling and I could never seem to get my hands on a second kayak when it was needed.  The challenge was storing and transporting them.  For storing I decided to build a rack under the deck roof.  This would keep the boats out of the direct sun and rain and still allow me to wash them.  The rack was made out of pressure treated 2x6 lumber that was removed from an old deck.  The easy hose access and motion activated lights make night clean-up a snap.  Even though I have a fence around the yard I'm using a 8' Python lock through the scupper holes for extra security.    The second Manta Ray has a generic life vest and a Aqua-Bound paddle (with a similar surface area and shape as my Werner Shuna) to go with it.  The idea was to keep the paddling speed equal between both boats.

The two kayaks on their rack at home.  The wide angle lens distorted the boats slightly.

The Kayak Trailer

Click on the photo to see the finished trailer with all of the pads and the diagonal stabilizing bar added.  This is my kayak and Ralph's at Bishop Harbor on the maiden voyage of the trailer.

I had a 16' aluminum boat and trailer that I rarely used.  After dropping the boat off with family in Homosassa the trailer underwent a transformation into a kayak trailer. The uprights were fabricated at a welding shop, along with a new axle, larger wheels and new lights.  In the end, all that was left was the frame and even that had the joints rewelded.

The photo show the maiden voyage of the trailer.  The foam padding (Wal-Mart toy pool noodles) wasn't on the top rails yet.  Proper kayak pads have replace the foam noodles.  Later a diagonal stabilizing bar was added to the front support. (click on the photo to see the finished setup).  A 8' or 15' Python lock is used to secure the boats on the trailer, depending on how many boats are loaded.  In theory, it could handle up to eight kayaks if they are placed sideways two on a rail.  The plan was not to have more than four on it at a time.  It zipped along at 70 mph without a problem. 

If I'm going solo the yak still rides on top of the truck.

Kayak Cart #1 - Wood

The cart was designed so that the dowels fit into the scupper holes of the Manta Ray.  Fortunately, all of the scupper hole pairs are the same distance apart.  If it's needed for a different kayak the dowels come out and a strap can be used.  The dowel ends were triple dipped in 'Plasti Dip', which was purchased at the local Home Depot.  It's a cross between rubber and plastic normally used to coat tool handles.  Black was the only color they carried.  I rounded over the top ends of the dowels before coating.  The 2' long, 1/2" threaded rod used for the axel was coated with Top Cote to deter rust and then covered with a small piece of PVC.  The blue pad was cut from a Wal-Mart camping mat.  The wood is Pine and was lying around the garage and was glued up with Titebond III and later protected with a few coats thinned Urethane.  

The scupper poles have been revised since the above photos were taken and they are about 4" longer that what is shown here.  This allows them to take full advantage of the scupper holes.  The photos below show how they fit when on the cart now.  Be VERY careful not to use the scupper holes under the seat.  They do not go all the way through and you don't want them to.

To get the 'V' angle right for the top I cut the plywood so that it bent in the middle (almost all of the way through).  Then, with the kayak upside down, placed wax paper on the bottom, placed the board on the waxed paper so it bent to match the V of the bottom.  With a little weight on each end 5 minute epoxy was put into the open groove of the plywood.  When it hardened the top maintained it's V shape.  This has the added advantage of leaving a smooth, one-piece top.  The corners were rounded with a jig saw later.  The only hardware needed so-far was for the axel, which cuts should down on rust issues.

I still need to add a kickstand.

Kayak Cart #2 - PVC

The first kayak cart (above right) worked well but had two shortcomings.  First, it was difficult to use with other kayaks, especially those without scupper holes.  Second, I had to be careful not to hit anything that would cause excessive stress on the scupper holes.  A friend built a PVC cart that used 1-1/2" PVC tubes.  It works but was a bit big and heavy.  I ran across a set of plans for a PVC cart that use 1" tubes.  I already had the wheels and spent about $45 for the rest of the parts.  I used the thicker walled, schedule 80, PVC to make sure that it would support the kayak's 75 pound weight.  A sliding miter saw was used to quickly cut the tubing and I had a finished cart in about three hours (above left).  The wheels are bigger than what the plans call for and they work quite well over sand.   A rubbery shelf liner was tie wrapped around the top pipe to prevent the kayak from slipping against the bare PVC.   The first test with the new cart hauled three different kayaks down and back up a steep bank with out any problems.  PVC cleaner was used to get the lettering off of the tubes prior to cutting. This will likely be my preferred cart in the future.

It also needs a kickstand to make it level easier when the kayak is places on it during one person loading...


Here's the kickstand.  The secret is to cut the top off of the T adapter about 1/4" above the center mark so that it has to snap around the 1" pipe.  The edges were rounded over slightly with a file to allow it to slide over the 1" easier.   I used a 1" to 3/4" T fitting with about 6" length of 3/4" schedule 80 tubing.  The rubber foot is intended for chair legs and fits perfectly.  Like all good kickstands it folds up to get out of the way (in either direction) and is short enough to miss the axel.  A small, nearly flat dab of silicon glue (RTV) was applied to the inside of the T fitting so it would grab the 1" tube better.

Seat Cushion

To add a little extra padding to the seat I used a Wal-Mart camping mat (about $10) and cut a piece to fit under the seat.  This is the same padding used on the kayak cart.   To get the size right I placed a large piece of paper under the existing seat and traced the outline, cut out the paper and used it to mark the blue foam.  An x-acto or utility knife cuts it nicely.  Just remember to remove it before any road trips.

On a recent trip I spent more than 5 hours in the seat without getting up or feeling sore.  The padding was a success!  (beginning in 2010 Native Watercraft began offering a thicker seat pad for the Manta Ray's seats and do not need additional padding.)


Below is a little of the selection history


October 28, 2007

The great kayak hunt is officially on.  Along with a couple of friends I braved the uncharted territory of a few local kayak dealers.  This was only after reading a pile of reviews and comparing the specs of a dozen or so contenders.

I was looking for a Sit-On-Top in the 13-15' range.  At least I had a starting point.

After comparing hull design, deck configuration, hatch placement and storage the leader was the Native Watercraft Manta Ray 14 (14' 7").  Second place was the Wilderness System's Tarpon 140 and a distant third was the Redfish 14. 

The Manta has better leg room, better hatch placement (6" center hatch was forward of the water bottle holder and easier to get to), bungee covered hatches and a nice paddle rest built into the sides.  The two 6" hatches on the Manta have a hard plastic liner instead of the usual nylon sacks and the deck has a few small built-in trays for small items. My only complaint is the center small hatch is about " to short to hold my GPS.

In a nutshell, the Manta Ray appears to be better thought out.  At over 14' it is a reasonably long boat and a bit heavy at 68 pounds.  Tossing it up on the truck's rails - more than 6' above ground level - may be a pain after paddling all day.

Ocean kayaks were out of the running as soon as I sat in one.  I didn't like the molded-in footrests -they were uncomfortable and the ridges made it difficult to kneel and get to the front of the boat.  A flat bottom and foot pegs appeared to be a better combination, at least sitting on a boat in a showroom.

Each of these models offers an 'angler edition' which consist of an adjustable rod holder on the front console and two flush rod holders behind the seat.  I'm not much of a fisherman, but a Scotty or Ram rod holder mount would offer flexibility to mount a GPS or depth finder.  The two flush mount rod holders could be used to hold a running light for night trips and, maybe, the occasional fishing pole

November 3, 2007 Gandy Bridge approach

There were about a dozen different kayaks to try.  It was fun feeling the handling differences between the sit-on-tops and sit insides.  The Sweetwater staff was helpful at pointing out some of the differences and offering tips for each type.


Ralph and I went to Sweetwater Kayaks on their kayak demo day.  (Locally, Osprey Bay is now the Native Watercraft dealer)  We each tried about 5 different kayaks, including the Manta 14, Redfish 14 and a few sit insides.  The sit insides were mainly for speed comparisons.  Additionally, we tried out a couple of different paddles.

The Manta has a faster start from a dead stop than the Redfish did.  The Redfish turned easier, but didn't track a straight line as well as the Manta.  The Redfish was a little more susceptible to the wind also. Two of the three sit insides kayaks that I tried moved a little better than both sit on tops.  One sit inside was a bathtub that didn't so anything well.  Okay, it was stable.

In the end I went for the Manta Ray 14 in Sand (light khaki color).  It's having a couple of flush rod holders mounted on it, but otherwise stock.   I need to build a rack to store it in the next couple of days.  Ralph ordered a blue Manta 14.  I later added a anchor trolley buy have not felt the need for a rudder,  There were a few fast flowing, twisty rivers that a rudder would have been nice to have but I don't paddle them often.

The only place that I had any sticker shock was while looking at the carbon-fiber paddles.   I ended up with a 220cm fiberglass Werner Shuna, which seemed to be a fair balance between light weight, adjustable feathering and price. The blade surface area, 610 sq. cm, was also a little larger than some of the others, which I liked. 

This was a 13' and it was a nice boat, just not right fore me.  I wanted a little more deck space for toys  - at least a water bottle holder :)

November 12, 2007 - It's home

It fit pretty well on the truck.  Bow first offers a ridge on the kayak in front of the rear crossbar.

The Manta is at its new home, although on a temporary stand.  It's normally flipped over so the bottom doesn't deform.  The RAM mount is not installed yet.

December 24, 2007 - A few test paddles under my belt

After having the kayak out some here's my unofficial speed results (using Garmin 60CS GPS):

On a calm river (Homosassa) it was pretty easy to maintain 3.1 MPH.  Anything above 4 MPH becomes work after a short period (at least for someone new to this). 

On the bay with a small chop and loaded with fishing gear I maintained 2.6 MPH and peaked at 4.7 MPH  during a 'sprint' across the channel.  

In calm waters with no wind or current the maximum that I have been able to get the boat is 5.2 MPH and that was for a VERY short time.  Multiple  friends using the second Manta Ray were limited to about the same speed.  All speeds were gathered using multiple Garmin GPSs. 

In summary, 3MPH is comfortable.  4MPH is a workout.  5MPH is peak speed and is unmaintainable.  

The Manta Ray tracked nicely in a 15+ MPH wind and didn't go off course when the wind was coming at a angle.  

The faster the boat is going the harder it is to turn,  this is especially important to remember on a quick flowing river.

Don't spray 303 on the RAM mount balls.  They get slippery.


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