I’ve spent most of my Christmases in Michigan where I grew up under layers of wool and long puffy coats that never won me any style awards but kept me toasty in the worst conditions. Last week however, I traded my winter accoutrement for flip-flops, a floppy hat, and the beautiful coastal waters of Southern Florida.
A few years back my father and stepmother left Michigan’s precarious weather for golf and daily sunshine in Fort Myers, Florida. Can’t imagine why. (wink.) Two week ago they brought the family: a contingent of half siblings (an older brother and sister, and a younger brother) from my dad’s three marriages, plus a sister and brother in-law and two nephews, down to celebrate the holiday.
During our visit, Lynne, my stepmother, arranged a couple of boat trips around Sanibel Island and Pine Island Sound for a smorgasbord of activities that included fishing, shelling, general wildlife viewing and lunch.
Our leader was Captain Bill, owner of Endless Summer Charters, a very nice guy who has the family outing thing down pat, though he also caters to serious fisherman. He’s incredibly friendly, knowledgeable about the area, and knows when to jump-start a conversation and when to hang back. He helped the landlubbers with their fishing skills, and did his best to get me as close as possible to the Ibis, pelicans, gulls and other birds that flew in and out of view. Though in that area, filled with a multitude of sandbars and skittish wildlife, it wasn’t easy.
Our first excursion focused on fishing, and included Lynne, my older brother Steve and his sons, Mark and Will. I’m not fond of fishing and chose to sit out, but it was fun to watch the suburban giants (the guys range from 6 ft 3″ to 6 ft 5″) try their luck with the rod and the reel. With a baiting and casting guidance from Captain Bill, the boys were, indeed, quite lucky, each nabbing two or three fish a piece. Their prizes ranged from snooks and trout to catfish, and all of them went back into the water (woohoo!) after we took the obligatory celebration photos.
Afterward we explored a small island called Cayo Costa. The others went shelling but I became transfixed by a gauntlet of dead trees running up one side of the beach that reminded me of a ship’s graveyard or the skeleton of a giant whale. Later, we stopped at an adorable sea-side restaurant called Cabbage Key Inn where we stuffed ourselves with burgers and fresh crab claws.
The second trip was a girl’s only afternoon with Lynne, my sister Lisa and Steven’s wife, Ellen. We spent most of the day roaming around the various small islands checking out the wildlife, including some very sweet dolphins that Captain Bill coaxed into playing in our wake. For lunch we stopped at the Tarpon Lodge, home of the Cabbage Creeper—a must-order if you find yourself there. The Creeper is a yummy, TALL drink made with rum, Pina Colada mix and a Kahlua floater. It’s awesome, but as the name suggests, serious drunkenness is likely to creep up on you if you drink more than one.
(That’s me by the way, cheering the dolphins on. I just loved the way they played in the wake with the wild abandon of puppies. I wanted to jump in the ocean and hug them like crazy but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have been as thrilled with that encounter as I).
At the end of both trips (each lasting about 6 hours), captain Bill took us by pelican island—my name for it, I don’t think it has one—on the way back to the marina, where hundreds of white pelicans along with cormorants, a few great herons and other birds congregate in a crescent-shaped cove. It was a wonderful photographic opportunity and probably my favorite stop on both journeys. (Photos below)
Tips for those who might want to try their own Sanibel sea adventure
- Wear lots of sunscreen. Even on cloudy days you can get cooked.
- Wear a hat. Helps with glare and keeps your face from melting off.
- Polarized sunglasses are your best bet for seeing what’s in the water clearly against the sun’s glare.
- Bring a fleece or sweater. Even on a hot day, if the boat picks up speed it can get chilly especially if it’s cloudy.
- For photographers: From what I experienced, to capture really decent images a 500mm lens is preferable. Skittish birds and sandbars kept a lot of the wildlife at a distance. I took the photos in this post with a Canon 70-200mm and a 1.4 teleconverter. While the images aren’t terrible, I had to crop into the photos more than I would have liked.