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The St. Johns River The Intracoastal and Beyond
Buttonwood Trail

There are lots of airboat trails criss-crossing the marsh. There are many places in the marsh that you cannot get to at all unless you have an airboat. There are flowers and trees and animals and a million sights that can be seen no other way.

An airboat travels best on just a couple of inches of water. If you are in a large, open area you can go all over the place - so long as you don't hit something in the water and go ass-over-teakettle. All it takes is a clump of grass or cypress knee to knock you out of whack, so frequently traveled routes end up following the same safe path and establishing trails.

There are well established trails through the cypress, across large grass prairies and even through tall bushes. Here is one that is an airboat sized tunnel through Myrtle and Willow trees.

Airboat trail thru trees
Looking back at the prop wash hitting the trail - The top of the prop cage is visible in the bottom of the picture.

A trail like this needs to be traveled frequently to keep it at all passable. The grass will overgrow the trail and the bushes will grow together if not beat back regularly. There is just enough water to keep an airboat moving and the greenery is constantly trying to close the gap from every direction.

<<< SideNote: This trail is pretty old and has a mucky bottom. We came around a bend one day and there was an otter smack in the middle of the trail just a few yards away from us! There wasn't a lot we could do - we were moving along at a good speed, there was no place to go to avoid him - and airboats lack brakes. He looked at us like a deer caught in the headlights and dove headfirst into the shallow water. We went right over top of him, but the boat passing over just pushed him into the soft mucky bottom. As I looked back I saw him sitting up in the middle of the trail again glaring at us and, no doubt, taking down our rudder number. >>>

Airboat trail in wintertime
The trail in wintertime.

There are hazards in a trail like this. You must stay strictly to the path, there is no place to pull over. Tree branches grow out and try to catch your prop cage, and if you hit the edge of the trail the thick growth of grass will knock you aside - probably into a tree branch. You want to keep a steady speed up because the water is deep enough to move an airboat over top of, but not to float at rest. You would not have the ability to pull out quickly if another boat came - which is another of the hazards.

You can't see another boat coming towards you until it's right on top of you - or see a stopped boat in the trail until you are right on top of it. You can't hear another boat over the sound of your own engine, and the dense growth prevents you from seeing warning signs like birds taking flight or plants moving. There is no room for anyone to pull aside and airboats don't have brakes. Like I said, there are hazards.

Banana Spider
Banana Spider. Actual Size. Eechhh.

As if all this wasn't enough, you also get the spiders. During the night spiders string their webs back and forth across the trail. We are talking about a lot of spiders. Large ones. If you are the first boat to go down that trail that day you get to make a path through the spiderwebs (spiders included, no extra charge).

Here's what you do: Break off a tree branch with a lot of little twigs coming off it. Hold it out forward and above head height so that as you go down the trail the webs and spiders (most of them) are caught on the twigs. If you have a passenger they can hold the stick, but if you are driving alone it means you have to steer the boat carefully down the trail with one hand, while holding the stick out with the other. This leaves you no hands to brush spiders off your head so I recommend wearing a hat, too.

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