“Hurricane Charley blew threw through and caused a breach that the locals now call ‘Charley Pass,’ ” says Clayton. “It’s a great spot to for boaters to pull up and have a picnic.” Exit the Sound via Redfish Pass to the south and travel north on the Gulf of Mexico to Charley Pass. Trying to get there through the skinny waters of the sound is asking for trouble, she says.
Clayton says many boaters are now using kayaks to explore the sound. Kayakers can meander the Great Calusa Blueway, a paddling trail that winds through the mangroves. It’s named for the Calusas, the seafaring natives who thrived for centuries in southwest Florida before the arrival of the Spaniards. If you don’t have a kayak, rent one at the public docks in Cayo Costa State Park. Visit www.greatcalusablueway.com for more information.
Getting under way
My guide, Rob, had launched the boat and was waiting for me dockside when I pulled into the parking lot of the Punta Rassa boat ramp at 7:30 a.m. This county facility — just north of the Sanibel Causeway and Bridge’s east side — has two double ramps, a good staging area, a fish station and restrooms. It’s $5 to park for 24 hours, with a maximum of 72 hours. The ramp recently was renovated, and its parking lot now holds up to 81 vehicle-trailer rigs and has 34 parking places.
Rob was dressed appropriately for the day: water-
resistant pants, all-terrain Crocs, long-sleeve fishing shirt, and baseball cap. He issued a quick handshake and asked if I had brought a jacket. I hadn’t, so he scampered to the foredeck and grabbed two from a locker. He cranked over the engine, we untied the lines, and we were on our way, motoring slowly north a few hundred feet. He pointed out the Sanibel Harbor Resort & Spa (www.sanibel-resort.com), which sits on the mainland and faces west toward Pine Island Sound.
There are 10 transient slips here that can handle boats to 50 feet, according to Evelyn Stewart, manager of Adventures in Paradise, the company that manages the resort’s docking area and the Port Sanibel Marina (www.portsanibelmarina.com). The marina is a mile north of the bridge and adjacent to green marker No. 11. There’s plenty of dockage, as well as fuel, showers, restrooms and the Lighthouse Restaurant.
Both the resort and the marina are good stopping points for cruisers, but the dockage at the resort — $4 a foot per night, with a 30-foot minimum — isn’t as protected as the marina, because it’s open to the sound. “You’ll be rockin’ and rolling,” says Stewart. The marina’s transient slips are $1.85 a foot per night. For more information about either location, call Adventures in Paradise at (239) 472-8443.
Rob gave me a quick history lesson about the land upon which the Sanibel Harbor Resort & Spa sits. In the 1800s it was the point where cattlemen would drive their herds for shipment to Cuba. It also was the location of the telegraph office that was first to hear of the sinking of the USS Maine in Cuba.
Class was dismissed, and Rob punched the throttle. We took a quick run south and out of the sound to Matanzas Pass. “That’s a very good anchorage for boaters, right off Fort Myers Beach,” he says.
To the west, we could see Sanibel Lighthouse, first lit in 1884 and still a functioning beacon. Sanibel Island differs from most barrier islands on Florida’s west coast in that it’s mostly situated east/west. Prevailing winds and currents from the south push shells onto the beach, where shelling is a popular leisure activity, says Rob. In fact, he says he is hired by shellers about two dozen times a year.
“From here to Boca Grande is just awesome,” says Rob. “There are no buildings or development. … All you see is the mangroves and trees and the water.”
We zipped over the clear water, and I could see patches of sea grass on the bottom of the 8-foot-deep channel as I held on to the rail that rims the boat’s center console. I learned that the average depth of Pine Island Sound is 4 feet outside the channel, so skippers of deep-draft vessels take heed. The Skeeter draws only 9 inches, so wandering out of the channel wasn’t a problem, and given Rob’s local knowledge, I had no worries when he did. The Skeeter is an open boat with shin-high sides, so I was grateful Rob had a foul weather jacket for me, as we did take on some spray.