Something Old and Something New
By Jim Favors
If Lisa and I had a formal, written mission statement that defined our cruising goals it could read like many well-written, mumbo jumbo, corporate, or individual lifestyle, statements but we’re just not that complicated. Our cruising objectives are, and always have been, very simple – we aspire to explore areas as yet unknown to us while occasionally returning to areas which merit further inspection. Whether we’re talking ports of call, anchorages, visiting with old friends or making new ones, I guess the theme to our cruising lifestyle could simply read, “Something Old and Something New.”
While the familiarity of “known” destinations tends to bring a feeling of comfort and calm, having previously learned the ins and outs beforehand, this is what also makes them somewhat predictable, not always what a boater bent on adventure relishes; although at times familiarity surely is welcomed and has its place. On the other hand, approaching new surroundings or experiences can have an uncanny ability to open up one’s mind and heart to accept the unknown with great curiosity and wonder, adding excitement to the mix and more opportunities to add to the “done side” of the bucket list.
While sitting at Marina Jack, in Sarasota, I calculated we had only 90 miles, a distance we’ve done many times in a day, to cruise from Sarasota to the Ft Myers area. Because we had a full week remaining to explore this stretch, we weren’t in a big hurry. We could take our time when we wanted, leave an anchorage, or marina late in the day and/or stop early to enjoy our new surroundings. With that in mind we lingered at dock in Sarasota until the last possible departure time; as we motored out of the harbor we heard on the VHF radio that an approaching boat was already being directed into the marina and our newly vacated slip. Not wanting to press on down the GIWW very far we ventured out into the waterway, but left it off to our port side within a half-mile. With Bird Key on our port, Siesta Key to our starboard and Big Sarasota Pass on our bow we plied our way to an anchorage nestled in between Lido and Otter Key, a mere four miles from downtown Sarasota. Something New.
While out in our dinghy, exploring the canals around Lido Key we were surprised by these rather beautiful flowers just beginning to bud.
One might think this type of short trip is not so adventuresome but I would beg to differ. As we entered the sliver of waterway separating the two Keys, I wondered if we would we be far enough in to be protected from the wake and tidal current of Big Sarasota Pass; would we find a suitable spot to drop the hook and be protected from the wind? These “unknowns” and the thrill of the introduction to something new is an almost indescribable feeling that unfortunately comes only once, with a new introduction; kind of like meeting your mate for the first time. We like to explore, so we accept the variables and uncertainty that comes with every new setting or situation; it keeps us on our toes and recharges our souls. In the end, Lido Key gave us a wind protected mangrove covered backdrop on the east side and civilized residential housing to the west, the perfect spot to explore the side canals around St. Armands Key by dinghy soon after we got settled.
We always enjoy meeting fellow boaters, like Fred and Lorraine who met up with us at Pop’s.
The next day was a busy one for us; we would end up putting 34 miles behind us as we cruised towards an anchorage at Englewood Beach, in Lemon Bay, just north of Stump Pass. The Englewood Beach anchorage is something old to us however our stop, earlier in the day, at Pop’s Sunset Grill for lunch was a brand new experience. Situated in Nokomis, right on the GIWW, Pop’s offers free dockage for visiting diners. It was also at Pop’s we had a pre-arranged meeting with Fred and Lorraine, on Cruzan On, fellow MTOA members. We gave them a quick tour of Kismet and settled down on the back deck to learn all about their boating exploits.
Pop’s sits about a half mile north of the Venice inlet, close enough to make docking at the restaurant a potential challenge and entertaining (for onlookers) event. I learned a long time ago that in order to negotiate a proper dock landing with strong currents present, it’s almost always best to point your bow into the opposing current, similar to landing an airplane into the wind. Shortly after being seated and served at a waterside table, I noticed a boat coming towards Pop’s dock, presumably to dock and dine. Their approach was with the current and it had all the ingredients for disaster. The nameless boat was coming into the dock with the current and they had no lines ready to secure to the dock. It was beginning to look like our boat might become an involuntary bumper boat.
Kismet tied up safely at Pop’s.
As the harried captain aborted the first attempt, by throttling so hard into reverse, several passengers stumbled into each other trying desperately not to fall out of the boat. I instinctively jumped to my feet, leaving my lunch to cool, as I hurriedly made my way out on the dock to help. I gently suggested they try docking against the current and prepare some lines as I made my way to the bow of our boat to prepare to fend off the next attempt with a large fender. By this time several people were on the dock helping secure the boat. Finally, with said boat safely landed, I returned to my lunch, relaxed in knowing that no more boats would be docking near us before we left the restaurant.
Walking the wide-open natural beach, at Stump Pass, on the hunt for seashells.
One of the big advantages of cruising without a time constraint is the ability to really take time when you go exploring. That was the case when we dropped the hook off Englewood Beach. We’ve anchored here before but we’ve never had the time to dinghy to the white sand beaches of Stump Pass. Stump Pass was created by a hurricane in 1948 and today provides visitors with the Stump Pass State Park, a truly natural, Old Florida, beach experience. We dinghied out, and around, one of the three islands that encompass the park, landing the dinghy on the inside pass of the barrier island. There are no groomed beaches and the walking trails are all natural, providing visitors a little piece of untouched paradise. We laid on the natural white sandy, shell and shark tooth littered, beach for a while napping and listening to the gentle wave action before returning to Kismet. It was so pristine and peaceful we ended staying at this anchorage for two days.
Kismet, tied up stern in, med style, at Whidden’s Marina in Boca Grande.
After being at anchor six of the last eight days we decided to cruise 14 miles south, to the southern end of Gasparilla Island, where Boca Grande sits as sentinel to the Charlotte Harbor entrance. We’ve never been on the island so this stop fit into the “Something New” category. Our choice for dockage was the rather rustic Whidden’s Marina. This long time, family owned, marina has been in business since 1926, today it’s being run by the second and third generation of Whiddens. They’re friendly caring people but the place is a little folksy. Lisa and I enjoy unique and quirky places like Whidden’s, but it may not be for everyone. Starting with the outdoor shower facilities, which we loved, interesting restroom, and clutter of antiques and boating paraphernalia, it might disappoint those looking for greater amenities.
An outdoors style shower and roughly appointed unisex restroom are what help make Whidden’s a little folksy.
I think the photo of Whidden’s office speaks for itself.
Boca Grande’s town center is only a few blocks from the marina, a pleasant walk through tree lined residential streets, and with only with only walking a few more blocks, you could stand on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The island has a rich maritime history; initially fishing was its major draw, being one of the world’s best tarpon fishing areas. Gasparilla Island was also home, at one time, to Calusa and Seminole Indian fishing villages. In 1907 the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad arrived to the south tip of Boca Grande, one of Florida’s deepest natural inlets. For over 50 years phosphate was brought by rail to the southern tip of Gasparilla Island to offload onto freighters. So, in the end, it was phosphate, trains and fishing that developed Boca Grande and ultimately made it into the laid back and desirable tourist destination it is today.
Lisa’s presence sure enhances the white sand and blue waters of Boca Grande’s Gulf beach.
One of the pleasurable activities we enjoy when making a stop, such as Boca Grande, is discovering local restaurants. We try to find a resident, around our age, to ask where they prefer to dine. One morning we were looking for breakfast and we were directed to 3rd Street Cafe, the “best place on the island for breakfast.” I know it’s kind of hard to screw up breakfast, but this proved to be one of the rare moments where we were treated to a breakfast that, served with their homemade blueberry jam, was fit for a king. The corned beef hash Lisa had and my omelet were exceptional.
Are you hungry yet? Breakfast at 3rd Street Café, in Boca Grande, gave our tummies an unexpected treat.
From Boca Grande we were a little more than 30 miles from Cape Coral and the greater Fort Myers’ area. Our first mail drop of our trip awaited us along with a visit with long-time boating friends, from Michigan, Andy and Mary Sarver. Having dinner at their condo was a welcome treat and greatly contrasted our time anchored out and the recent, rustic, marina stay at Boca Grande.
The next day, with time as our ally and a wonderful weather day, after cruising the five miles across Charlotte Harbor we decided to call it a day. We ducked into Pelican Bay, where we found no less than 30 boats already anchored for the day. Pelican Bay is a wonderful anchorage; our third time there and therefore, “Something Old.” Pelican Bay sits as a protected anchorage between Punta Blanca Island and Cayo Costa State Park, within close proximity to Useppa Island and Cabbage Key.
The anchorage water was so calm at Cayo Costa it felt like we were sleeping in our bed at home instead on Kismet.
There was no wind when we arrived, the water was calm therefore all the boats seemed to sway at anchor in unison, gently moving with the current and tide. We spent an idyllic day sitting in the cockpit of Kismet reading, relaxing, eating, and watching our neighbors dinghy from boat to boat or to shore. The decision to call it a day, hang it up early and drop the hook, after only five miles, was one of those no brainers you look back at and wish more would present themselves. We mixed a lot of the “Old” with the “New” and as you can see, for us it’s a recipe for success and a theme we think will hold true for us during many future cruises.