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Ten Thousand Islands to Marco Island By Rebecca Burg


Krista (Rebecca’s sister) strikes a pose near the colorful Esplanade artist’s colony signs on Marco Island.


January 2011


n part I, two boats sailed along the Florida Keys backcountry, through the Bay and past Everglades National Park. After anchoring for the night in Ponce de Leon Bay, Neil and his engineless (the outboard wasn’t functional) Cape Dory 25, Astrid, followed me and Angel along the Ten Thousand Islands. There’s no cell phone coverage, not since Florida Bay. Fellow cruiser, Capt. Bill and Defiant, had stayed behind, but Bill was eager to learn of our experiences in Marco. Like many traveling boaters, Bill had the impression that as soon as we were visible to Marco’s tall condos (their owners supposedly disdain the sight of boats), marine police would pounce on us. Just a few years ago, any cruiser who anchored near Marco was made to feel like a criminal for daring to use a boat to visit the water-surrounded island. Tourism by land was encouraged, but tourism by water was uncertain. In 7-8 feet of water and 2 NM from shore, we kept land in sight should seasonal thunderstorms form over the Everglades and push offshore. Numerous channels between the flats and mangrove isles offer shelter from such an occasion. A glance at the dizzying network of mangroves on the chart and it’s understandable that Ten Thousand Islands is a fitting destination. Small boats can easily become lost in there. Just short of heading into Gullivan Bay, the inside route to Marco Island, we entered Dismal Key Pass, which led to a sheltered pocket between White Horse Key and Gullivan Key. Neil had no trouble sailing into the narrow, unmarked channel, but at one point he strayed too close to White Horse’s beach and scuffed the unseen, sandbar bottom. Alarmed but unhurt, the ruffled Cape Dory veered toward Angel, who was depthsounding the channel’s center at 8-15 feet. Current flow though a narrow area will define the shallows and depths, so reading the water’s surface is helpful. White Horse’s sandy beach is a pleasant refuge, and we found the footprints of past visitors. The island’s jungle-like interior is a tangle of sea grapes, various trees, cacti and tropical plants. At night, bug screens are a must. Early morning, Neil ghosted out of our sheltered pocket while Angel, too fat to fly in the slight breeze, motored. From here, boats with drafts of less than five feet can reach Marco