THAT’S A MOORING! Catching Gulf Balls in Naples and Fort Myers Beach By Cyndi Perkins
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ounding Cape Romano and heading north on Florida’s wild and exquisite southwest coast requires time and meticulous attention to the depth sounder and charts. Negotiating out and around some very skinny water as far as three miles off the Cape is a patience test for a slow sailboat with a five-foot draft. Northbound, the ritzy skyline of Marco Island is always in sight, but we know it’s going to take us through breakfast, lunch and late-afternoon snacks to get there. We usually sail right on by Marco Island, the last bastion of civilization at the base of the 10,000 Islands and that mysterious, powerful yet delicate treasure known as Everglades National Park. A snowbird migrating north, Chip Ahoy had a late departure from Russell Pass in Everglades Park on a calm, sunny March morning. Located about three miles off the channel heading into Everglades City, Russell Pass is a lovely anchorage verdantly characteristic of the 10,000 Islands. Its tidal white sand beaches, tangled, mangrove-lined estuaries and plankton-peppered brown-green waters are full of surprises, from seahorses to dolphin-watching park boats blasting down the channel and zigzagging into the bays to make a wake for the acrobatic mammals. You never know what you will see here. Once I spotted a pink flamingo, in the same area where quintessential wildlife artist James Audubon came to sketch the birds of nearby Indian Key. My bird book says that today any flamingo seen in the wild is most likely a rare zoo escapee. It was equally amazing to observe on another stay a full-out harbor blockade, with Immigration, Homeland Security, Coast Guard and assorted other local, national and federal police agencies on the hunt for smugglers of some sort. Throughout the night, their lights blinked along the channel. We never did find out what they were looking for. In its hell-raising glory days, Everglades City was known to have a thriving marijuana highway. A noteworthy federal bust and the erosion of commercial fishing settled things down. But patrollers remain vigilant. Back in 2004, an assortment of law enforcement agencies surprised us with multiple inspections of our documentation and questions about where we had been and where we were going as Chip Ahoy lay at anchor in Russell Pass waiting out a cold front. My mistake was hanging out bedding to air. The V-berth cushions propped on deck and clothes-pinned blankets draped over the cutter mast possibly made it appear that we were unpacking illegal immigrants or other contraband. Cruisers passing through must adjust to the local climate, from weather to crime. With both, prepare, take a deep breath and pray for patience. When the second Coast Guard boat came over to ask for the same info we had provided to their fellow agency the previous day, I remarked that we should have our papers laminated after so much handling. Scott shushed me from further comment, shooting me one of those looks, and I was reminded that in all www.southwindsmagazine.com