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Pine Island Sound, Fla.

Captivating Captiva

Our next stop would be The Horseshoe, a beautiful anchorage on the inside of Sanibel Island, north of Tarpon Bay. It’s not labeled on the chart, but it’s quite simple to find: head south at red marker No. 14. There’s good water here — 5 feet at low tide. Before we hit The Horseshoe, Rob gave me the lowdown on St. James City, on the southern tip of Pine Island. The Waterfront Restaurant and Marina — (239) 283-0592 — was once the Pine Island schoolhouse. Only the dinner bell rings here now. The Waterfront is known for its fresh, local grouper prepared to your liking.

We passed the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which protects one of the country’s largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems. The 6,354-acre parcel of land is known for its variety of migratory birds and has been a wildlife refuge since 1945. In 1967 it was named after “Ding” Darling, a cartoonist, conservationist and former head of what is now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who created the federal duck stamp. Sales of the stamp helped to purchase the land for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

On our way to Captiva Island, my guide pointed out Chino Island, northwest of red marker No. 24. Rob says the island was “wiped out” in the 1940s by a hurricane, effectively displacing its residents, and no one has lived there since. Heading northeast from red 24 you’ll find a nice anchorage on the southwest side of Chino, with 7 feet of water.

On Captiva, there are two popular spots for boaters: ’Tween Waters Inn, a resort and marina (www.tween-waters.com), and The Green Flash, a restaurant and 18-slip marina (www.greenflashcaptiva.com). The Green Flash serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — and no later, says manager Lydia Murphie. “A lot of boaters come in after 3:30, and we have to turn them down,” she says. “We need to start setup for dinner at 5:30.” What’s good? “Any kind of fish,” she says. “We cook a perfect piece of fish.” The lunchtime favorite is the crunchy grouper sandwich.

The Green Flash’s marina is basically for patrons, and has no power or water and no overnight dockage. Boaters with deep drafts must watch the tides. The channel to the restaurant is about 4 feet at low tide.

From red marker No. 38, head southwest and pick up red marker No. 2 to get to the ’Tween Waters Inn, whose marina has water, power and overnight slips. Transients can use the pool, tennis courts and walk the beach, says Tony Lapi, president and CEO. (It’s called ’Tween Waters because it’s sandwiched by the Gulf and the Sound.) You can also take a shuttle for a couple bucks to downtown Captiva.

Farther north on Captiva is the South Seas Island Resort, accessible by boat from the Intracoastal as well as the Gulf. Check out its Web site for details, including its marina and yacht harbor (www.southseas.com). Captiva Cruises (www.captivacruises.com) keeps day-cruise boats at McCarthy’s Marina (www.mcarthysmarina.com) that travel to Cabbage Key and exclusive Useppa Island. Useppa is closed to the public unless you’re visiting aboard the cruise boat. Only those who own residences or are members of the Useppa Island Club — and their guests — are allowed on the island.

Cruisers can contact McCarthy’s for transient slip availability if they want to take the tour boat to Useppa. Captiva Cruises also offers cruises to Cayo Costa Beach for shelling, another for sunset cruises and a cruise to Boca Grande.

A Buffett connection

From Captiva, Rob and I traveled north to Safety Harbor on the tip of North Captiva Island. The name says it all: This is a great place to hide from inclement weather. A rickety-looking house on stilts marks the entrance to the harbor. The house was once a “fish shack,” used by commercial fishermen as a resting place. Boats would shuttle the fishermen to and from the shacks — there are several others on the east side of the Sound — which are now privately owned.

I could see Barnacle Phil’s Restaurant — (239) 472-1200 — across the harbor. The restaurant has plenty of slips, so you can pull up for lunch (get the black beans and yellow rice) or dinner. There’s a bait and tackle shop above the restaurant. Word around the docks is that otters are known to sneak aboard boats and steal any food they can find, so keep your coolers and bait wells closed and locked.

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