Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cape Coral, Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key and more...

Where to start? Cape Coral Yacht Basin is a beautiful little marina run by the city that contains within its borders a sort of half-size olympic pool with a diving section, a small but pretty beach, a food stand near the beach with awesome hamburgers and not bad fish & chips. There is a conference center and tennis courts. They have a little gazebo inside the marina where the boaters have a Friday cocktail hour. There are also handball/racquetball courts. As facilities go, it's top notch. Staying there gets you free access to all of it.

True, it's up the Caloosahatchee River about five miles, but by the same token it's really well protected.

Cape Coral, like all post war communities in South Florida, is spread out with much of it on man-made canals. On the other hand, it's really flat and a perfect place to use my Xootr kick scooter to get around.

There is not much to see here or do, for that matter, other than swim or walk or kayak about. But just a little over an hour away by boat is the Gulf of Mexico with ports of call all over - the south you know because I've mentioned them. To the north is Venice, St. Pete's, Tampa and more. In between are a bunch of islands that are accessible only by boat or ferry. The two big exceptions are Pine Island, that is a real taste of old Florida and Sanibel Island that is expensive and apparently not that friendly, or at least the National Wildlife Refuge isn't.

But I'm getting ahead of myself as usual.

I arrived here on March 14th because my friend, Brooke from Noank, CT, told me she had a friend at this marina, AJ, who had said it was inexpensive and quite nice. On both counts, AJ was correct. I'm at the 'T' end of the middle dock which is an easy in - easy out slip. Given Pelican's lack of low speed maneuverability, it's the best slip in the house!

Since it was a week until Teri arrived I had lots of time to do some of the deferred maintenance - which is what cruising is all about anyway (fixing boats in exotic locations).

Every Friday evening the boat owners get together at the gazebo and bring some food and whatever they're drinking and have a little soire that ends fairly early in the evening. It's very pleasant and it allows everyone to catch up. Enjoyable!

If you're in Cape Coral for any length of time and need a place to eat, there are two very good ones - the first, Maria's on 46th Lane near Del Prado, has been in business for a long time (since 1991 under the same owner). It's an Italian restaurant with some absolutely fantastic dishes and excellent pizza. At lunchtime, they have personal pizzas for $5.99 with three toppings included! Can you beat that? I think not.

For breakfast and Cuban fare (real Cubans run the place and eat there), Mambos Cuban-American Bakery, Deli and Restaurant on Del Prado has a terrific breakfast special - three eggs, bacon, and toast for $2.99. Coffee is extra, but three people can eat there for breakfast for like $11.00 before tip. They have $.60 bakery items that are delish! Highly recommended!

The weekend before Teri arrived, my friend, Tony, and his girlfriend, Joy, came down to see me from Tampa. We ate dinner at Maria's and breakfast at Mambos. They are a long walk from the marina (a couple of miles or so), but an easy scooter and easier bike ride. Remember, Cape Coral is really flat. However, Tony drove this time.

I picked up Teri at Tampa International Airport on the evening of March 23rd. She wanted to see a beach, maybe collect some shells and shark's teeth. So we went to Sharky's in Venice, FL for a bit of wandering and some food.

Sharky's is a tourist trap - the food is pretty good, the service is pretty good, and it's crowded! There's a long fishing pier into the Gulf of Mexico and it's surrounded on both sides with a really beautiful beach. Apparently it's the shark's teeth capital of the world! Not just live sharks, but fossilized teeth as well (white vs. black).

The trick, though, is that you need to sieve the gravel and shells right at the water's edge. It is extremely unlikely to find one just laying there. More on that later, though.

It was windy and cold, so we didn't spend too much time wandering about the beaches. Besides our table got ready and so we returned to Sharky's. It would have been nice to eat outside except for the cold and the wind.

As mentioned, the food was pretty good. They have some really innovative ways of making their fish and the portions are good sized. I suggest, if you're in the area, and it's not Spring Break, you go there and relax a bit. They also have live music every night, I think, on the deck. As tourist traps go, it's worth the visit.

The plan had been to sail up to Tampa to pick up Teri, but that's three days up and three days back almost all motoring because the wind's mostly out of the north. So it was really less expensive to rent a car and drive it. Teri was only going to be here for a week so to waste three days just getting back to the area wouldn't have been great.

We got back to Pelican exhausted - and way too full from Sharky's.

The next morning, Wednesday, walking the dock, we met Chuck and Shannon who indicated they were taking "Packet Up" a 37 foot Island Packet to Cayo Costa for the weekend - they were going to anchor in a little hurricane hole and enjoy the solitariness.

We decided to go to Cayo Costa as well for the weekend, but figured they'd be way ahead of us and not really interested in company. But as luck would have it, we caught up to them right at the outside of their anchorage - following them in they ran aground (soft) and shortly after I touched. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and we headed around to Pelican Bay (how could I not) to anchor - in reality, less than half a mile from where Chuck and Shannon were going to anchor.

Well, after running aground twice and getting stuck because it must have been mud I decided once again for discretion and anchored in seven feet just out of Pelican Bay. That said, of course, I have to give a shout out to an unknown Samaritan who towed me off the mud twice. All with extremely good humor. I wish I remembered his boat name. Sadly, I don't.

Anyway, we had a lovely dinner and watched sunset with cocktails and that was that - you don't really need to know that there was no sailing being done that day - wind on the nose the whole way.

Thursday morning I put the dinghy together and we went to Cayo Costa State Park where the rangers were friendly, helpful, and wonderfully kind. The beach on the Gulf side was beautiful and long and not terribly crowded. Teri walked with me a bit, sunned herself, and swam a bit. I walked the nature trails (because I can't stand sitting on a beach). Chuck and Shannon were there as well.

At the park, we all decided to have dinner together on Pelican, and so Teri put together a lovely dinner with my grilling some chicken breasts. Shannon made a salad. It was delicious, especially after a day of doing nothing at the beach.

They had to go back to walk their dog so the evening was early. Once again, we collapsed exhausted...

Dinghying to Cabbage KeyA view of Useppa Island from Cabbage KeyLittle known fact - Cabbage Key is where "Cheeseburger in Paradise" by Jimmy Buffet comes from - Key West tries to take credit but can't. Search the web for it. You'll see. Friday the weather was iffy - but not raining and not too cold so we all dinghied over to the restaurant for a cheeseburger. No problem landing, got great service, not crowded at all. Our waitress told us that usually there's an hour wait to just get to the dock, and the same for the restaurant! The iffy weather made the trip really pleasant! Lucky us! Food was good, price ok, drinks small. If you're there, drink beer. Fancy drinks are pricey. But to touch a little Paradise...

We had planned to go back to the marina on Saturday, a day before Chuck and Shannon, and so got ourselves together to go - Sunny, hot, and no wind. Naturally. Tried to sail. No go. Got back to the marina early afternoon and went swimming at the beach. Ok, walking in the water to cool off. It's not more than about knee deep well out. But it was refreshing. Dinner was a cheeseburger (again) at the place on the beach. For a burger stand, their food is really decent. And not too expensive. And the atmosphere is quite nice with the beach and the waterway right there.

Sunday we met up with Teri's friend, Chris, from her high school days and his girlfriend, Vickie. Chris picked us up at the marina around lunch time and took us to their home for some hors d'oeuvres and a couple of drinks - then loaded up their kayaks and drove a block to the park's launch ramp.

In a couple of minutes we had kayaked into a mangrove swamp that seemed so remote as to be nowhere near civilization. It was spectacular and we got to go through tunnels of mangroves and see egrets and ibis and osprey and mullets jumping along the shore as if for the fun of it. It was a lovely few hours seeing the kayak trail and just catching up. Of course, I forgot the camera so there's no pictures...

When we got back it was dinner time and Chris suggested a small restaurant/bar in Matlacha (pronounced 'Mat-le-shay') near Pine Island called Bert's Bar & Grill. The food's good, the service good, the price good, and it's definitely worth the visit - but get the handmade potato chips. Very, very good!

After that, Chris brought us back to the boat.

Monday Chris took us to Ft. Myers to look around. The center of the city has been renewed but it only covers a few square blocks, but it's really pretty - very artsy. Teri enjoyed looking about, especially at the beading shop.

Then we were off to the ice cream palace, and finally back to Pelican.

We had planned to go to St. John's City on Tuesday and staying overnight before heading up to Tampa, visiting J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge and anchoring out for the evening. We had heard that the refuge was a destination we could dinghy to so we decided to tootle on over to St. James City and anchor, head over to the refuge and tour it, see the beaches on Sanibel Island, and generally spend the day wandering. We had planned to rent bicycles from the park and really see what we could see.

Getting anchored - check. Getting our little lunch/snack cooler together - check. Getting into Tarpon Bay to the park - check. Being allowed on shore to see the park - What? We can't land?

No, apparently not. There's no place to put the dinghy. Lie. There is plenty of space to put a dinghy. So called the park's main office. Lovely woman asked me to hold on - after a while she came back and said that we could go ashore, someone would help us take the dinghy up the ramp and we could tour the park. Lots of 'thank-yous'. Whoopee! We're going exploring!

Back to the ramp. A woman comes down clearly annoyed. Net result - we can come in if we promise to carry the dinghy 40 yards to the parking lot, and no, no one will help and it's a $15.00 launch fee - just so you know, the dinghy and motor weigh approximately 140 lbs. I can't carry it alone and I'm sure Teri can't carry half of it.

Why can't we put it on the side of the ramp in the grass where there's nothing? Nope, no can do. How about the dock space right here or over there? No. Not allowed.

Well, we weren't about to do that so we left. I wrote to the director of the refuge. No answer. Here's the thing: the state park rangers were spectacular. The national park system is run by concessionaires. Do you think they give a hoot? Seems not. Apparently the director isn't interested in responding either.

If you have any inclination to write to the director expressing your outrage (politely, of course), here's his information directly from the site:

Paul Tritaik, Refuge Manager
1 Wildlife Drive
Sanibel, FL 33957
Phone: (239) 472-1100
Fax: (239) 472-4061

Normally I don't promote political action but in this case my reasoning is that it's a national park, we all pay taxes to support it, and the park should try to accommodate all of our citizens regardless of their mode of transport.

Ok, that's the end of that rant.

Well, back to Pelican. Teri went for a swim while I got Pelican ready to get underway and eventually we went off for a sail into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a terrific sail! We got back to the marina late-ish. Time enough for a cocktail and a bit of dinner. We watched a movie and collapsed again. Play, apparently, is just as hard as work.

Sadly, Teri's time was coming to an end in Cape Coral but there was one more adventure - I have friends in Tampa I haven't seen in some time (longer than I even remember). So we headed up there Wednesday and stopped at the beach near Sharky's to look for sharks teeth and to let Teri get a few more hours in the sun and water (which she dearly loves).

As usual, I walked the beach and found out how to find the teeth. When I got back to Teri, I borrowed a colander from a family sitting on the beach and Teri and I filled, rinsed, and examined the results from the stirred up beach just where the waves stop. After about 15 minutes of that we found two tiny new sharks teeth (white) and one fossilized one, also tiny.

Some families had a regular industrial site going with two people hauling the stuff from the water with tools specially built for this - a screen box at the end of a stick and several sorting sieves. I don't know how many teeth they got, but they were certainly industrious!

After a while, we had to make our way to Tampa to check in and get cleaned up for dinner at Yara and Al's home. Although we ended up getting there a bit late, they were still happy to see us. I used to work with Yara in New York and hadn't seen her since she moved to Florida, got married and had a baby! The meal was excellent and so was the company. It was very nice to reconnect again with them.

Since I hadn't brought Pelican to Tampa, I promised them a day out when they come up to visit friends in Connecticut!

By the time we got back to the hotel, it had once again been a long day - and we had to get up at 4:30 to get Teri to the airport at 5:00am. That was pretty hard - the getting up bit, I mean.

After driving around the airport a couple of times to find the terminal, I dropped Teri off and we said our good-byes. I was sad to see her go!

I drove back to Cape Coral, went to the grocery store to stock up, returned the car and went back to Pelican for a nap or whatever. The next day I took the dinghy out of the water, cleaned and folded it and stowed it for the trip north. Very sad. Also, twisted my back. Feh. I ended up staying until April 6th when I headed off to Moore Haven on my way to Indiantown for a short haul! The possibility exists of seeing Lee and Karen again as well as Jack and Paula!

More on that next time - the Okeechobee Waterway is long, often dull, but a real kick to travel. It's Old Florida.

See you on the water!


Patrick said...

We demand video of you you riding around on your Xootr Kick Scooter.... hilarious! I ride a child's bicycle covered in astroturf and plastic animals though so who am I to talk. ;-)

Chuck said...

Nicely written. Look forward to following your progress. Hello to Terri

Cap't Bob said...

Hey Patrick, your wish is my command - I'm in Indiantown for a short-haul and will get video of it.

Thanks, Chuck!

Anonymous said...

Wow.!!It seems that you did enjoy your travel at the Cape Coral, Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key and some places..!!You have an excellent adventure..!!Thanks for sharing your story,I had fun and hope I can also visit those places..!!Nice photos.

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Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you did enjoy your visit in those places..!!I went to Cape Coral already,and I have a lot of happy memories on this place..!!The place is indeed great,no doubt.!!I enjoyed every moment that I spent on the place..!!I had a great time reading your blog.!Good job.!Keep it up.

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