Site  Updated:
June 12, 2013

Cruising the Sun Coast

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Shore facilities and restaurants in the area are many but scattered, and you can find almost anything along San Carlos and Estero Boulevards if you don't mind walking or cadging a lift for a few blocks.

The waters of Estero Bay between Estero Island and the mainland are navigable with but minor difficulty by shallower-draft boats to Big Carlos Pass. There's excellent fishing, a pleasant anchorage inside Black Island, and a pretty shoreline along Carl Johnson State Park.

Heading north, the routes fork just north of the bridge connecting Sanibel Island with the mainland and you have another of those no-lose choices — up the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers or on up the Gulf ICW to Sanibel Island and Pine Island Sound.

Fort Myers itself is a first-class destination port — a beautiful and historic old city with excellent facilities and  accessible downtown shopping, reached by a pleasant 15-mile run up the Caloosahatchee AND with plenty of dockage if not many places to anchor out. (The city has  sailboat moorings off the city marina.)

Among those who long ago discovered the delights of Fort Myers was inventor Thomas A. Edison, who chose the town for the site of his winter home and laboratory back in 1885. Edison so loved the area that he talked his good friend Henry Ford into buying the land next door for his own winter retreat and the two remained neighbors for years. Both homes are now museums well worth visiting for their insights into the lives of two of history's true geniuses, each of whom did so much to shape the growth of urban (and suburban) civilization world wide. 

Notable among facilities is the Fort Myers Yacht Basin, an exemplary municipal marina between the city’s two bridges, deserving of its claim of “friendliest place on the waterway.” Legacy Harbour Marina is west of the bridges and has a comfortable upstairs lounge and occasional get-togethers for customers in their Chickee Hut. Their Legacy Harbour Hotel is on site too.

Across the river in North Fort Myers, MarinaTown Marina has dockage for transients and welcomes liveaboards! The Best Western Fort Myers Waterfront still has the old dock  which can be used for restaurant dining only ... no overnight dockage!  Other facilities will be noticed on the left bank of the Caloosahatchee, including Landings Marina. Cape Coral Municipal Yacht Basin is opposite on Redfish Point, and Tarpon Point Marina lies in a sheltered cove at the mouth of the river.

By the way, Cape Coral is somewhat of an anomaly in an area so rich in history – the city didn't exist until 1958. But it grew quickly and is now the largest community in Lee County, in both area and population.

Back out in San Carlos Bay, you will find yourself at Mile Zero of the Gulf ICW and in what local boatmen call "Miserable Mile" — a mixmaster caused by tides and river currents meeting at right angles — a passage that needs  close, constant attention to both course and steerageway.

Once through that mile or two, however, you enter Pine Island Sound, which may be the loveliest cruising area on the Gulf Coast — or anywhere, for that matter. It’s another of those places whose combination of beauty and convenience has cut short many a longer float plan. You can easily spend an entire vacation cruising between Pine Island on the east and the barrier chain of Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva and Cayo Costa on the west.

The east shore of Pine Island Sound is Pine Island, which might have been another St. Augustine had not Ponce de Leon been killed by hostile Caloosas when he landed on the island in 1513. As it is, the area is relatively undeveloped — but that is changing! Still, fine beaches and small islands are popular with local boatmen on weekends and holidays, but are fairly empty the rest of the time.

The Lee County tourism people have been promoting the area as “180 degrees from Orlando.” While this is not quite true in a strict cartographic sense (Everglades City is closer to being exactly due south from the central Florida tourist Mecca), it is quite accurate nonetheless. While many of Orlando's attractions are based on fantasy, in Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva and the surrounding communities, tourism is grounded solidly in reality. Visitors are welcome. In fact, most folks who live in Lee County seem to really enjoy having company (in the broad sense, at least). But what you see is essentially what you get, with little pretense.  (Continue...)

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