My husband, Dave, and I down on a trip from Minnesota enjoyed a sailing adventure aboard the 34’ sailing catamaran, TropicBird, on a beautiful, nearly cloudless day this February. The Cat, captained by Patrick and Martha Higgins, docks at the Calusa Island Marina, which is located at the south-eastern end of Marco Island and is beautifully positioned as the gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
After Patrick, a Florida Master Naturalist, led us on a tour of the marina’s protected mangroves and explained their reproduction and ecology, we set sail at high tide. TropicBird can sail in water as shallow as 18 inches so we set a course threading through the Refuge’s protected islands or keys. That meant close up wildlife viewing that would normally be available only to small runabouts, canoes or kayaks but with all the luxuries of our large, comfortable boat including a choice of sunny or shady lounging areas, a complete galley including refrigerator, an ample dining table (for our lovely lunch), a bathroom, and plenty of storage. We immediately spotted two dolphins before leaving the marina. A short while later we watched as a dolphin, seemingly splashing near shore, was actually driving fish up to the beach to trap them. Dolphins kept us company all day long with several coming very near the boat to check us out. Unfortunately, the water temperature hadn’t warmed up enough for the manatees to return so we didn‘t see them. We’ll save them for next time.
We saw so many birds I don’t know where to start!
- Pelicans roosting on the marina pilings waiting for the fishing charters to return, a classic scene, or flying with their bellies skimming the water;
- Ospreys nesting on the channel markers. Patrick explained how it is that the osprey carries fish “torpedo” style – headfirst: they, along with owls, have a flexible toe that allows them grip their prey with two toes in the front and two in the back;
- All kinds of wading birds including Great Blue, teal, and blue herons, great white egrets, and ibis. Whole trees were white with their guano;
- Cormorants swimming and diving for fish alone and in groups; and
- Turkey vultures roosting in a tree; and
- Flocks of Terns and Royal Terns swooping en masse through the air.
For a lunchtime break, we anchored near a beautiful white sand stretch of beach on White Horse Key. The dingy was lowered and we set off for a shore adventure. Patrick’s botany and ecology training came in handy in identifying trees, shrubs, flowers, shells, and all manner of creatures. If he didn’t know what something was, we took a picture or scooped up the shell for later identification in “Florida’s Living Beaches” by Blair and Dawn Witherington. We found several good sized Gumbo Limbo trees – their reddish bark reminded me of the beautiful Madrone tree and enjoyed some charming shade in beachside grove of black mangroves.
With the shore party safely back aboard, we sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and set a course for our return to Marco Island. Afterwards, while enjoying a beachside dinner on the Isle of Capri, we toasted our Ten Thousand Islands adventure aboard the TropicBird.