Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

There’s This Place…

We’ve spent a year cruising Florida’s Gulf Coast from St. Petersburg to Ft. Myers Beach, and now it’s time to move on. But before we do, we’ve stopped for one last sojourn in one of our most favorite anchorages—between Useppa Island and Cabbage Key in Pine Island Sound. Pine Island Sound is the body of water north of Ft. Myers and south of Charlotte Harbor that is protected by the barrier islands of Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva, and Cayo Costa. The Sound is dotted with numerous islands (Pine Island being the largest), many of which are inhabited by only the water birds of the area. At our favorite spot at the northern end of the Sound, Useppa and Cabbage Key support human habitation, but their isolation and water-only access has kept their development to a minimal level. Nature abounds, soothes, and entertains here.

Cabbage Key

We first discovered this peaceful haven about ten years ago on a charter cruise. One of our best cruising experiences occurred on one very warm, windless night that made sleeping on a boat with no fans difficult. Feeling stifled in the v-berth, at some time in the wee hours we went up to the cockpit for a breath of air, and were awed by the puffing sounds breaking the stillness. Looking around we lost count of the number of dolphins surfacing all around the boat, as they enjoyed their mid-night snack. Together Jim and I silently watched for the better part of an hour this extraordinary exhibition that was really quite ordinary in the dolphins’ daily lives.

A few months ago when we stopped here for a couple of days, the dolphins obliged us once more with their superb entertainment. This time they went beyond a simple feeding display. Perhaps they delight in these surroundings as much as we do, because for at least five minutes they cavorted, leaped, breached, and generally performed for us as I clapped my hands in glee. As desperately as I wanted to run for my camera, I didn’t want to miss a moment of the show. The images will be forever etched in my memory, and always bring a smile to my face.

I love bird-watching, and these mangrove islands provide excellent opportunities. At low tide the flats attract the many varieties of water birds that call Pine Island Sound home. Pelicans, herons, egrets, ibises, kingfishers, cormorants—they’re all here in profusion. The channel marker at the edge of the anchorage supports an osprey nest with permanent residents. In the spring the very vocal nestlings made their presence known through much of the day, but, thankfully, they also seemed to appreciate the quiet serenity of the nights here. Sunset seems to send a signal to the multitude of flocks as they take to the orange and purple skies and make their way to their nighttime roosts across the Sound. Watching their flight is such a tranquil way to close the day.

Sunset over Cabbage Key

We once found a hidden treat among these islands behind Cabbage Key on Cayo Costa. The Tunnel of Love is a primeval mile-long cut (by the Caloosa people, perhaps?) through the mangroves just wide and deep enough for a dinghy. At the end is a small lagoon just behind the dunes from a secluded beach. A picnic lunch and a swimsuit are all that are needed for a relaxing day. On second thought, if no one else shows up, you may not even need the swimsuit. The wild boars roaming the island certainly won’t care.

These islands took a serious hit from Hurricane Charley this year. The Australian pines with their soothing wind-sighs may be a thing of the past. The mangroves seem to have taken a beating and many are devoid of greenery. On Useppa many of the homes are still in need of roof and window repair. Guest cottages and docks on Cabbage Key have already been rebuilt, and the restaurant—famous for its wall-to-ceiling-to-wall collection of signed dollar bills—came through unscathed by the storm’s fury.

Cabbage Key Inn

As we walked along Cabbage Key’s nature trail, we were struck by how much of the vegetation is now either horizontal or atilt. Tangles of devastated trees and under-growth are everywhere. Sadly, we learned that the Tunnel of Love is no more; broken mangroves have made it impassable. But the Cabbage key harbormaster informed us that he had cut a walking path, so that the beach is still accessible.

Hurricane evidence at Cabbage Key

Sitting here in the gentle ten-knot breeze, it’s impossible to envision the vicious onslaught of the 150-mph winds that passed through here just a few months ago. But life goes on and God creates anew. The breath-taking poinsiana blooms seen from the observation tower may be gone presently, but surely they will return another year. New growth is evident in the midst of the destruction.

Renewal after Hurricane Charley

I will surely miss this small piece of heaven. Hopefully, as we cruise to new waters, we’ll find other anchorages equally appealing. But wherever we find ourselves, I’ll always experience a warm glow when I imagine being anchored back at Cabbage Key.

Caloosa Spirit at Useppa

Posted Monday January 3, 2005

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  1. Are you sending notice when you post, or depending on the interest of readers to check the site? I sent an e-mail to Caloosa@prodigy.net Is that still valid?
    Bette Lobresti was very pleased with the info about your new site.
    I do hope you had a good visit in Indy.
    Good health and sailing in the coming year.
    Ann    01/14/2005 02:29 PM    #
  2. Hi,

    Bette gave me this site it is
    very interesting in fact sent for
    and received your book.
    Do you have an e-mail address?

    Uncle Clarence
    — Clarence riday    01/29/2005 03:28 PM    #
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