By KELLI PARKER BECTON
Special to Flguide.com
There is no better way to experience the natural beauty that our great area has to offer than by viewing it from the water! It is what draws people from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe to vacation and even to stay and take up residence here in Charlotte County.
The waters that surround us are as beautiful as they are varied. From rivers that meet the harbor, to the harbor that meets the gulf, and to the shallows of the inlets where sea grasses and its creatures abound, Charlotte County is home to some of the finest boating opportunities in existence. All of it is right here in our own back yard.
Spending a day out on the water is not only relaxing and fun but can also be educational. I recently spent some time out on the water photographing a variety of Florida wildlife and sea creatures I came upon.
In the back bay I found everything from star fish and sea apples to bull sharks. Exploring the areas back in the shallows is as interesting as it is peaceful. Because the water gets so shallow, there isn’t as much boat traffic. You have to have boats that can run in very little water or a kayak to get very far back.
It is advisable to hire a professional to guide you through these areas. Boat propellers can easily damage the fragile seagrass that is so critical to the ecosystem, not to mention it isn’t much fun to push or pull a boat for a mile or two until reaching water that is deep enough to get up on plane. (That is boat talk for “leveling out” the bow of the boat after taking off.)
Now, there are plenty of places to boat for those who are less experienced boaters or who don’t know the area. The Intracoastal Waterway runs through the harbor, and marked channels can take you on a terrific island hopping adventure.
With a little advice, a good eye and by paying attention, you can easily maneuver through the waters of the area to tropical paradises such as Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key, Useppa Island and North Captiva.
On Useppa, you can dine at the historical old inn, and by arranging ahead of time, you can visit the wonderful museum to get a look at the “Calusa Man” who was found on the island during one of many archeological digs. Whether looking for a “cheeseburger in paradise,” learning more about the rich history of the area, or hunting for exquisite sea shells, the barrier islands within easy access of the Charlotte area just can’t be beat.
Along the way you may come across little “keys” that are (part-time) home to the endangered white pelican, or see such delights as the local dolphin who love playing in the wakes of the boats passing by.
One of my favorite things to do is to boat over to a couple of the small uninhabited islands. (As a matter of fact they are uninhabited because they are so small). It is in some of these little out-of-the-way places that I have experienced some of the most unforgettable moments of my life.
Most recently, I was able to show my children the banded tulip shells that I had searched for with my parents during my own childhood. (It is important that you do not remove any of the live shells — and also illegal.) We came across large welks, and king crowns as well.
It was terrific watching their little eyes widen as they realized that these sea shells were actually alive, and it made them want to search more for such strange creatures. We ended the day with one of the most intense sunsets I’ve ever seen as we headed back towards the mainland.
There are boat rentals available in a variety of sizes to accommodate any sort of boating adventure. In the Boca Grande area you can call Boca Boats at 941-964-1333. They have half day rentals available for as little as $170. The boats are Coast Guard equipped for safety and come with VHF radios, bimini or T-tops and coolers.
In Englewood, visit Stump Pass Boat Rentals (at Stump Pass Marina) where you can even receive training when needed. Online, go to www.stumppassboatrental.com
or call 941-697-7500 for rates as low as $100 (for two hours).
If you are leaving out from the Punta Gorda area, you can contact Holidaze Boat Rental at Gulf Coast Marina. Look them up on the Web at www.holidazeboatrental.com
or call 941-766-9900.
If it has been awhile, or if you’ve never taken the time or spent the money to take a boat out on the water for the day, don’t take my word for it, go find out for yourself. It is well worth the “splurge.”