We continue to enjoy gorgeous weather here in Southwest Florida. Since January 11th when an afternoon thunderstorm interrupted our visit to Key West, there has been no rain and only occasional cloudiness. The fair weather trend continues today as Cutter Loose and her three companion buddy boats leave their respective moorings in Fort Myers Beach and enter the Gulf of Mexico through Matanzas Pass.
Our destination today is Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa State Park, some 37 miles to the north. Instead of taking the outside (Gulf) route, we pass under the Sanibel Island Bridge to intersect with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) at mile marker zero. Our course takes us west through the well-marked but narrow Miserable Mile, so named because the tide runs perpendicular to the dredged channel and the helmsman must compensate for the set of the current. But today, the Miserable Mile is tame.
Passing the southern tip of Pine Island and the small hamlet of St. James City to starboard, we turn north and enter the pristine waters of Pine Island Sound. To the west lie the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva. To the east is Pine Island and numerous mangrove islands and keys. The land here is undeveloped, much of it protected as part of the Pine Island National Wildlife Refuge. The water in Pine Island Sound is shallow, so much so that dredged channels along the GIWW are required to transit this area.
Approaching North Captiva Island, the small mangrove keys become more plentiful. The white beaches of Cayo Costa to the west are clearly visible from the waterway. The decision is reached to make an interim stop at Cabbage Key for lunch. All four boats anchor outside of the GIWW channel in the lee of Useppa Island and dinghy the short distance to Cabbage Key for lunch.
Cabbage Key is a tiny island where beach cottages are available for rent. The island is accessible only by boat. It is the home of the allegedly famous Dollar Bill Bar and Restaurant. Attached to the walls of this establishment are layers upon layers of one dollar bills that have been accumulating for fifty years. The custom began when local fishermen taped bills to the wall as a source of ready cash to settle their bar tab. Over the years, patrons have left behind an estimated $100,000 in one dollar bills, many of which bear the signature of the donor. The walls are so thick with bills that every year, an estimated $10,000 in bills become unattached and fall to the floor. The owners make good use of the fallen currency, making contributions to local charities. After a satisfying lunch, we explore the grounds and return to our anchored boats by dinghy.
Tonight’s anchorage in Pelican Bay is only a few miles to the north of Cabbage Key. But the tricky entrance channel to the Bay passes dangerously close to a white sand beach. The passage is shallow and the charts are of little use. We sound our way at low speed into the bay at mid-tide. The deeper water inside is 7 feet at low tide. Cutter Loose is at anchor, surrounded by mangroves and white sand beaches.
Once anchored, our group is greeted by local Island Packet sailors Kathy and Al who are also at anchor in the Bay. An impromptu gathering of Island Packet owners is quickly organized aboard the IP 420 Flatlander to celebrate another spectacular sunset. Back aboard Cutter Loose, the stars and constellations in the clear night sky are overpowering. Tomorrow, we will dinghy ashore to explore Cayo Costa State Park.