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June 12, 2013

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Cruising the Sun Coast

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Page 4

On the east side of Pine Island, a protected route runs through Matlacha (MAT la shay) Pass and northward to Charlotte Harbor between equally interesting mangrove shorelines visited mostly by fishermen. Among the area's virtues: an eclectic group of marinas, shops, and restaurants reminiscent of the Keys in the Good Old Days. The downside: passage is restricted by four-foot depths; the upside: all powerlines are now underground! The channel twists and turns, and though bridge tender Alvy Saunders tells us there is often more water than shown on the charts, which are based on an old survey, she also says you definitely need to heed the markers! (Red right, northbound.)  Construction is well underway on the long-awaited new bridge (MORE). The current bridge opening schedule listed on Chart 18 is still correct at press time but changes can and most likely will be made from time to time. The contractor's weekly-updated web site has a special "Mariner Information" section advising on schedules (and changes) and includes the contractor's phone. The project's completion is planned for April, 2013.

Interest in the arts and tourist activities has been increasing in the Matlacha community, and Friday night Art Shows are popular in season. The entire island is attracting more tourists these days.

Facilities in the area include Bob and Annie's Marine on the Monroe Canal at the south end of Pine Island. Farther up, Bridge Water Inn is just off the channel by the SR78 drawbridge and not far from Marker #55. The Bridge Water is actually built on pilings right at the foot of the bridge and offers resort amenities in addition to dockage. There's also a new-to-us-historic-restaurant — Bert's Bar & Grill — with dockage right there too. Note that many of the islands here are within Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve. Stand at least 50 yards off and don’t go ashore.

Note also that FWC has created a number of slow speed zones in Lee County. The zones are indicated bysigns or buoys that display the “regulatory marker” orange circle and state whether the speed restriction is year 'round or seasonal.  Heed them, please!

Sanibel and Captiva, on the west side of the sound, are laid-back resort islands justly famous for their  shelling — more than 200 varieties of shells litter the beaches — and the requisite shelling postureknown far and wide as “The Sanibel Stoop.” These islands are almost like Siamese twins, separated only by the nearly nonexistent Blind Pass with its 7 foot fixed bridge. (Don't even think of  using it without  local knowledge.) Cruising boatmen will find the full-service Sanibel Island Marina between the lighthouse at Point Ybel and the western end of the causeway to the mainland. There is also a good anchorage just inside Point Ybel. From Lighthouse Point Park you can take a trolley to Sanibel shore attractions (which are many, and include a number of interesting eateries) or just to tour the island.

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The Sanibel Causeway's new 70-foot fixed bridge has been completed and the old 9- and 26-foot fixed bridges remain. Exploration to the north along the island's coast is worthwhile and you'll find the beautiful protected anchorage off the wilderness shore of the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This 5,000 acre wildlife sanctuary occupies nearly one-third of the island and is home to a wide variety of exotic species of birds and plants. From the island-based visitors' center, you can drive, bike, or hike alongwilderness trails, or take a narrated tour by tram or canoe. This will allow you to view creatures in their natural habitat, creatures that range from the ubiquitous Florida alligator to the much less common (and certainly less fearsome) roseate spoonbill.

Of course, you can also view some of the wildlife from your boat with good binoculars, but don't try to come ashore directly unless you row your dinghy. The waters of the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge are a strict “no power” zone. 

Farther north, in a cove on Captiva protected by Buck Key, are two marinas: Jensen’s Twin Palms and the larger ‘Tween Waters. The latter is a full-fledged resort where dockage includes access to its many amenities.    (Continue...)

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