Island hopping off the South West
Our first stop from Burnt Store Marina was
Useppa is just a short hop from Burnt Store Marina which would give us a chance to get to know our vessel before the longer legs on the “outside.” The Useppa entry channel into the harbor from the
We found it fascinating to see road signs in the ICW, akin to small billboards telling you what you’d find at end of the channel. You really can’t go too wrong. When you see the sign that says “
We arrived around and got a nice reception from the shore crew, including the harbormaster who deftly guided boats into slips and helped them secure. Hook ups for electricity, telephone and cable TV are readily available and we can attest to their claim of the “finest marina shower facilities in the state.”
There are two restaurants and bars available to the visiting yachtsman. The Tarpon Bar right on the waterfront is a casual establishment. The more formal Collier Inn provides an experience you won’t soon forget. We had lunch outside on the terrace, with fresh seafood and very nice service overlooking the beach and several colorful boats bobbing on moorings off the beach. What a way to get going!
The highlight of things to do on Useppa include walking the Pink Promenade the length of the
Another really interesting thing to do on Useppa is to visit the museum. For a tiny island, it surely has a lot of history. The museum has an excellent self-guided tour, with tape recorders that recount the story behind all the exhibits. The story begins with the Paleo peoples around 8000-6500 BC who used this place as a kitchen midden, building up the elevation with their discarded shells, and leads to the recent history of tarpon fishing, celebrity visits, and staging for the
Aside from these activities, the best things to do are to lounge in hammocks strung between palm trees on the beach, swim in the heated pool, play tennis, or arrange for a round of tournament croquet (whites required). Dinner at the Collier Inn is a treat, and the staff are really special. Coat and tie are de rigueur at the
Our next stop was
As it turned out, it was a full moon and the tides were exaggerated being almost an extra foot lower than MLW! As the boat with the least draft in the fleet (3.5 feet), we hardly expected this. But sure enough, we were aground and the tide had about an hour to go before it turned. If we couldn’t make it out, we would not make
The boat to port of us made it out. The one to starboard was even more stuck than we with a draft of 5 feet and a wing keel that tends to stick to the bottom like a suction cup. We threw some lines to our friends ashore, and heeled the boat over on its side. They dragged it sideways into the next slip where there was obviously a bit more water, and she popped out like a cork this time. Yahoo, we were on our way!
The first half was great, we had 20 knots of wind, that kept dying until we stopped making headway. At that point, the iron genny made its debut. We had to keep an eye out for nets set by the shrimpers off the coast, but our passage was otherwise delightful.
One of our fellow charters owns a home about a mile out of town and directly on a series of canals that have great anchoring possibilities. Our entire fleet anchored inside
There are a number of fine restaurants in town, as well as a few serving casual fare. Dinner at the famous Campiellos was top notch. Dinner the next night at the Real McCaw provided a counterpoint of Old Florida style and fare.
All in all,
St. James City,
After our visit to
There is little water inside the canals but one place to visit for sure is the Waterfront Restaurant. They are open for lunch and dinner and some of the friendliest folks you will meet. We stopped for a seafood feast of fresh oysters from
We took a dinghy ride down the canals to explore and saw a lot of for sale signs on properties that looked like the landside homes of cruisers just returned home. These were mixed with gorgeous spreads of lavish estates. Looks like old
The village is about a mile from the restaurant and there is limited provisioning available. We asked for ice at the restaurant and they were kind enough to sell us a large bucket full for a couple of bucks. We brought the bucket back at dinner time. A lot of the entrees we were hoping to chomp into were already sold out. So if you have a taste for something special, don’t wait.
Back to Captiva and the rebuilt
Our next stop was Captiva, and the beautifully rebuilt South Seas Resort and Marina. If it feels like its brand new, that’s because it is.
A couple of years ago, this resort was wiped off the map by Hurricane Charlie. A multimillion dollar rebuild later, everything is sparkly and new. The showers are quite adequate, there are several restaurants, a beautiful golf course just off the beach, a lovely pool with a snack bar and terrace overlooking the ocean, brand new docks in a superbly protected deep water marina complete with a family of manatees to keep the children occupied.
About the only thing that was distasteful is the fact that you cannot do anything in this pace without your guest registration card. You can hardly get a glass of water without it. And, to sit by the pool, you have to have a wrist band identifying you as a paying guest. Perhaps I did not understand, but it seems to me that if they need a trolley bus to take people around the resort because it is so vast, it is hardly likely that throngs of unwelcome interlopers would be sneaking in to the pool. It made it feel unnecessarily exclusive and almost paranoid about trespassers. Maybe it’s just me.
Anyway, the staff were professional, courteous, and most helpful. The dock hands were among the best we’ve ever encountered, and our stay was brief but enjoyable.
Dinner was at the amazing Yacht Club a ways down the road. What a spot they have! Waterfront on two sides! We pulled in by car on the ocean drive side and walked in to a warm reception and view across to the harbor on the other side. Sitting in the dining room, you could have a great view of the sun rise and sunset without leave your seat.
Once again, we walked the beach searching for the elusive shells we’d heard so much about. In stead we found colonies of birds perched on the beach, each species in its own separate grouping, and each grouping facing a slightly different direction all together. At first we thought perhaps they were facing into the wind which was swirling along the beach. But that did not explain it. Then we thought they might each have a preference for a specific angle to the sun. But that wasn’t it either. Finally, we decided that they were prepared for a concert or lecture as they were facing toward one point on the beach. Alex decided they were awaiting the coming of their supreme commander who would shortly descend from the heavens for a command performance. It was the most plausible explanation we could muster.
The manatees were also quite entertaining, several young ones frolicking in the marina to the joy of the onlookers. It’s not so common to see them up so close and so active. In the past, I’ve seen lone manatees, huge and lumbering rolling along the canals, but to see four young ones diving and sowing their rounded flukes was quite fun.
On we went to our next and final stop in the company of a whole family of dophins swimming along in our wake.
Lunch at Cabbage Key look out for the tour boats
The next day, we decided to make a stop at the restaurant in Cabbage Key for lunch. Every square inch of it’s legendary bar is covered with $1 bills that have notes from people who have passed by. However, the place is inundated by hordes of tourists from the mainland taking a day trip out to the islands by ferry. Group after group flock to the restaurant for lunch, hike the island, then head back home loaded with T-shirts and other reminders of the unusual island.
This place is reputed to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet when he wrote about the cheeseburger in paradise. We had to see it. It was originally developed by ___ whose son owned the island.
Just as our fleet arrived so did two ferries from the mainland which disgorged hungry hordes at the foot of the island where a small souvenir shop greeted them. Every one of the tourists ran up to the restaurant and placed their names on the waiting list. The place was packed. The beers were chilled. The hamburgers were mediocre, and the crab claws were overrated and overpriced. It turned out to be one of the most expensive meals we would have all week. There are hiking trails on the island that are open to the public but we did not take the time to explore.
Back in time to the wonderful world of Boca Grande what a grand dame she is.
Boca Grande, which we passed by on our way out of Burnt Store Marina, is on the
We decided to forego the marina and instead to anchor in the Boca Bayou, a well protected anchorage north of the channel leading to Miller’s
It was hot in here and lots of little flies descended on us. So we took out our DEET and put up the screens. We then hopped into the dinghy and took a ride around! Oh my, the channel we were in actually backs up to the golf course right on the ocean, and the club house is stunning. The channel leads out to sea and effectively creates an island out of the golf course. The boat houses lining the channel are extraordinary like elaborate hangars for some of the most beautiful classic vessels you will ever see. It was quite the experience.
In the other direction, is Miller’s
The town is sweet, with stark white mission-like churches dating back a couple of centuries, shops aplenty, food stores for provisioning, beaches to content the most discerning, and of course golf courses. You gotta have those with all the golf carts in town. There are lots of photo opportunities with stark contrasts in color and light, interesting characters, and pretty views.
We had dinner at the exclusive Boca Bay Pass Club. What a spectacular spot and clubhouse. Surrounded by lovely gardens, and overlooking the ocean with expansive windows providing a wide angle lens view, it’s the perfect place to sip a tropical concoction while awaiting the possibility of a fleeting green flash. We didn’t see it that day but we had lots of fun watching.
Return to Burnt Store
There are plenty of other stops you can make along the way, including a shelling stopover on Sanibel. We kept trying to find shells but the tides were not cooperating. We always arrived long after MLW when the shells were well picked over. We did see a couple with the most beautiful specimens. Huge conch shells in almost perfect shape. All we found were small 3 inch shells with bits broken off, but we kept them anyway.
Anyway, when you return, remember to pump out, fill up, and clean out. Burnt store marina has some very experienced personnel to take care of you. As you can see, the fuel will cost you some. The fuel dock is to starboard as you enter the harbor.
Our checkout was uneventful but we did make sure we mentioned all the things that were not right on our boat. That's the only way they'll know what to fix so be sure to tell them what you liked and what you didn't. It was a great week punctuated byt both ordeal and adventure. Not a bad way to recharge your spirit!
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