Tag Archives: Florida islands

What’s So Great About Pelican Bay?

As some of you may know, we spend a lot of time in a place called Pelican Bay.It’s an Eden-like harbor that lies between the islands of Cayo Costa and Punta Blanca on Florida’s southwest coast. It’s just south of the Boca Grande Pass, at the convergence of Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound.

Anchor holding is excellent in a sand/mud mixed bottom. Protection from east and west winds is excellent. Sometimes north or south winds can sneak into the narrow entrances and cause a bit of a roll, but you can move about in the anchorage to escape a blow from any direction. In a worst case scenario, the far south end of Punta Blanca has a nifty hurricane hole that will shield your vessel from winds in any direction. It’s a bit tricky getting in with a deep draft vessel, and is pretty much a one-boat anchorage, but it’s very safe in a storm.

 

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What else makes it special? The island of Cayo Costa is a tropical paradise. The only full-time inhabitants are the park rangers. They man a small store with a few essentials, including ice for $4 per bag. They rent kayaks and bikes for exploring the island. They also run a tram to and from the Gulf side beach. It will carry you and your beach stuff across the island at two hour intervals. Last train back to the docks is at 4 p.m.

Cayo Costa sports a seven-mile stretch of white sand along the sparkling sapphire waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We prefer to skip the park ranger ride and resulting tourists who’ve come by ferry and dinghy to our own private beach.

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There are rarely other humans on this stretch. It’s so awesome to hang out together, just the two of us, and gaze upon the Gulf.

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It’s also a great area to explore via dinghy or kayak. Lots of wildlife including every aquatic bird known to the south, manatees, dolphins, dozens of fish species, and even wild pigs.

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The best part about it is the peace. It’s so quiet here. There are no cars or trucks, no lawnmowers, no sirens. There is the breath of dolphins, the call of the osprey, and the sound of water lapping gently on the hull of the boat. It’s rarely crowded, except on holiday weekends in season. We have several times enjoyed being the only boat in the anchorage. On the other end of the spectrum, New Years Eve hosted 70 plus boats.

For provisioning, one can either cruise up Charlotte Harbor to Punta Gorda, about 20 miles, or head south down the intercoastal to Fort Myers Beach, about 26 miles. If you choose to go south via the Gulf route, it adds considerable mileage to the trip, but you can avoid the sometimes busy ICW with the constant boat wakes.

We can stay for a month easily and sometimes dread returning to civilization to re-provision. We’d much rather stay at anchor and enjoy beautiful sunsets.

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What do we do with all the free time? We relax. We walk on the beach and pick up sand dollars. We read. We have an adult beverage or three and enjoy the serenity. We explore the nearby islands. We meet up with other boaters on a sandbar for happy hour. We do whatever we feel like doing. It’s called Freedom.

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We have explored Florida’s west coast from Tampa Bay to The Keys. We have found no other anchorage as nice and peaceful and safe as Pelican Bay. Most Keys anchorages offer poor holding and little wind protection. A few municipalities have decent mooring fields, but then you are surrounded by all the trappings of modern society. We’d rather be at one with nature. No better place to do it then in Pelican Bay.

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Longboat Key, Florida

  One of our favorite stops in our travels has been Longboat Key. A nice anchorage, good restaurants a few hundred feet away via dinghy, spectacular beach and a party atmosphere on weekends make this must stop along the Gulf Coast Intercoastal Waterway. Longboat Pass is a treacherous and dangerous one. Access is best made from the inside. 

  Heading north approach the bottom of Jewfish Key and turn to port. You can see Moore’s Stonecrab Restaurant as soon as you clear Jewfish Key. It looks as if you want to anchor between Jewfish and Longboat, and you can, but the current is wicked strong there. If you instead choose a spot alongside Moores, the current diminishes. During winter this spot can get crowded, but holding was good for us while we were there. Next to Moore’s is the Mar Vista Restaurant. Both offer good Florida fare and are boater friendly. 

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  The water is gorgeous with plenty of dolphin and manatee willing to visit. Weekends get a little busy in this area as it’s a popular place to party. Just inside Longboat Pass is a large sandbar that locals congregate on.

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  The north end of the island offers a really nice white sand beach. There is no access to this part of the beach for the public, except by boat. It’s a short dinghy ride. You can set up beach camp on the inside and watch the revelers play out on the sandbar, or you can go around to the Gulf side and enjoy the spectacular view. 

  Across the pass is Anna Maria Island. During our stay we took a dinghy ride across the pass, walked up to the public beach, and caught the free trolley to Publix for some supplies. Pretty good deal for cruisers with no cars. Bradenton Beach anchorage on Anna Maria offers a place to get rid of trash and take on water via jerry jugs. The general atmosphere there is kind of seedy though. Several of the anchored boats are derelict. Some of the resident liveaboards might be derelicts as well. Longboat is much higher end and safer appearing in our opinion.

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Longboat Pass and Beer Can Island to the right. 

 

  Longboat Key is best visited out of the height of snowbird season. As I mentioned, the anchorage can get crowded during the winter, but if you can find a spot to drop anchor, it’s well worth it. It truly is a beautiful stop along the Intercoastal. Do NOT pass it by if you travel this way. 

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 Sunset from the Beach, Longboat Key, Florida

 

(By the way, Happy Hour at Moore’s is from 4 to 6 daily

Gasparilla Island

According to Florida folklore, Gasparilla Island gets its name from the legendary pirate captain José Gaspar (“Gasparilla“, c. 1756–1821), who had his base on the island and purportedly hid his fabulous treasure there.

Situated above the Boca Grande Pass, just north of Cayo Costa, this island is famous for two things; The town of Boca Grande and the world’s best tarpon fishery. It’s the playground of presidents and Fortune 500 CEOs. You can visit too, as long as you’re willing to pay the 6 dollar toll to cross the old swing bridge from Placida. You’ll pay again to park at one of the public beaches, or you can visit The Southbeach Bar & Grill and skip the parking fee, (if you can find a parking spot).

Having the reputation for hosting society’s elite and for charging to visit, keeps the beaches uncrowded. The wide expanse of white sand leading down to the clear, blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico are a sight to behold. 

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The Boca Grande Pass is known worldwide for it’s awesome tarpon fishing, and is also the entrance to beautiful Charlotte Harbor.

The old lighthouse on the southern point of Gasparilla has been converted into a museum, and is worth a visit.

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Although I could never afford the real estate there, it’s nice to visit once in a while. The anchoring possibilities are either inside Boca Grande Bayou, or just outside behind the golf course. I have taken the dinghy into the bayou from Cayo Costa when the winds are light. It’s a short walk into town from there. Note: there is a public dock available, but dockage is limited to 15 minutes during tarpon season (mid-april thru June). Anchoring inside the bayou means dropping a hook, then backing into the shore and using a stern hook or tying off directly to the mangroves. There is zero swing room. I wouldn’t try it in my boat, but I see boats less than 30 feet do it all the time.

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North Captiva Island

  Another destination that we can reach from Pelican Bay via dinghy is North Captiva. It’s a separate island from it’s bigger sister Captiva Island, and can only be reached by boat or small plane. There is no bridge from the main island to North Captiva. The locals like to call it simply North Cap. 

  North Captiva Island is known for its pristine white beaches and some of the best shelling in the world. There are 5 miles of beautiful beaches to walk on North Captiva, two-thirds of which border a 700-acre state land preserve. Enjoy walking for miles and not seeing any signs of civilization except the footprints you leave in the sand. Many rare, colorful shells can be found along the shoreline.

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  The interior is dotted with million dollar homes with a spectacular view. Many are available to rent.

Our visit involves taking a 5 or 6 mile ride in the dinghy to Safety Harbor, on the intercoastal side of the island. An old stilt house/fishing shack guards the entrance.

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We had lunch at Barnacles, which used to be called Barnacle Phil’s. Good burgers and cold beer, but we dropped a hundred bucks on lunch for four. Must have been the bar tab. There are several canals to explore in a small boat, but Safety Harbor is too shallow for larger vessels. 

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It’s a quirky little community, mixed with crusty locals and upscale vacationers. There are several fine resorts where on can enjoy all the tropical amenities and watersports if so desired. 

 

Useppa Island

 Just east of the barrier islands on the west coast of Florida, lies Pine Island Sound. It is dotted with dozens of small, uninhabited mangrove islands. Only a few show any signs of civilization. The most exclusive of these is Useppa Island. 

 

  It has been known for luxury resorts since the late 19th century, and it is currently the home of the private Useppa Island Club. On May 21, 1996, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, due to its archaeological significance. The Barbara Sumwalt Museum is located on the island.

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  The Useppa Island Club is more exclusive than the island itself. If you’ve got money to burn and are looking for a world class island getaway, check it out:  http://useppa.com/

There are assorted (expensive) membership options. Otherwise, if you can’t get an invite from a current member, Captiva Cruises offers day excursions from  South Seas Island Resort and McCarthy’s Marina on beautiful Captiva Island, Florida.

 

 Like the nearby islands of GasparillaSanibel, and Captiva, a folk etymology has developed connecting Useppa Island’s name to the legendary pirate captain José Gaspar, also known as Gasparilla. A local folk story, extant in at least two versions, tells of Gaspar kidnapping a Spanish princess, with whom he becomes enamored. When she spurns his advances he kills her, but is overtaken by remorse and buries her himself on the beach. One version identifies the princess as Josefa, daughter of Martín de MayorgaViceroy of New Spain from 1779 to 1782, and indicates that her burial place of Useppa Island still bears her name in an altered form.

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  Kim and I have explored the shoreline in our dinghy on numerous occassions. The homes on shore are simply gorgeous, with a beautiful view of Pine Island Sound. Manatee and dolphin abound in the surrounding waters. Fishing is excellent for snook, redfish and tarpon in season. Don’t wander to close to the club and marina, the harbormaster will run you off!

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