Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Feature Stories
Written by Eric Taubert Thursday, 08 April 2010 00:00
Unforgettable sunsets are one of the premier amenities of living in Southwest Florida.
People line up just about every evening at some of the local sunset hot-spots to relax and take in the magnificence and unique beauty of this celestial event. On Fort Myers Beach you'll find laid back crowds claiming space on the pier as live music from the Beach Pierside Grill sets the tone for the festivities. On Captiva, the destination is always the beach in front of the Mucky Duck with pints of Guinness and clusters of like-minded individuals who love to applaud the successful completion of, yet, another regularly scheduled natural rhythm. Cape Coral has its own well-organized "Sunset Celebration on the Pier" down at the Yacht Club Basin on the first Wednesday of every month. There you'll find musicians, food, and craft vendors.
But, there's something about seeing a sunset from the water which adds a whole new dimension of appreciation to this daily occurrence. Did you know there's a sunset cruise you can board without ever having to leave the Cape?
Banana Bay Tour Company runs a sunset cruise that departs from Rumrunner's Restaurant dockside at Cape Harbour one hour before sunset every Friday. If you're in need of a reminder as to why you moved to Southwest Florida in the first place, you may want to book yourself a passage on this two hour tour. You'll learn about the local tidal ecosystems, see a beautiful sunset, and head back home with a new appreciation for Cape Coral and the wildness surrounding it.
This isn't your run of the mill South Florida sunset cruise with hors d'oeuvres and a mediocre solo-musician murdering Jimmy Buffett tunes. This is a sunset cruise with more of an ecological bent. Banana Bay Tour Company is a member of the Society for Ethical Ecotourism of Southwest Florida. There's no music, but there's plenty of opportunity to learn more about the flux and pulse of nature.
The mode of transport is a 52' aluminum pontoon boat called the "Coconut Woman". The seating is arranged into comfortable large booths with tables.
One important point: If you'd like an alcoholic drink to toast the sunset with (and, really, who wouldn't?), you'll need to plan ahead. While the "Coconut Woman" does have some light refreshments available, there are no adult beverage services offered. Banana Bay Tour Company does allow passengers to carry their own libations aboard with them...BYOB style. However, one caveat was mentioned, no red wines allowed. Apparently there was some past problem with a spill and stained clothing...makes me wonder what their policy is for cranberry juice? Looks like it's champagne instead of Cabernet. Oh well. We'll live.
Our guide, Captain J.R., welcomes us as we board the vessel.
We arrive early, so we make ourselves comfortable as other small pleasure boats idle past Rumrunner's Restaurant and the Cape Harbour complex.
After the mandatory mention of Coast Guard regulations, and a brief introduction to our our trip, we push off from the dock.
We slowly motor down the canal.
Within minutes, the Tarpon Point Marina condominium high-rises come into view.
We see the nearly completed Resort at Marina Village building from a different angle.
The descending sun impresses us with colorful shows and lively silhouettes.
As we float along, Captain J.R. points out oyster bars and osprey nests, explaining the rituals and significance of each.
The Sanibel Island Causeway lingers in the distance.
The Captain speaks to us about the various marine mammals, like dolphins and manatees, which call the waters near Cape Coral home.
"One of the highlights of this cruise is the opportunity to get up close and personal with our Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. They have a population numbering about 1200 residents here in Southwest Florida. We've got one of the largest dolphin communities in the entire state of Florida.
Eighty percent of all dolphin sightings on this boat occur in the stretch of water called the 'Miserable Mile'. This is a highly traveled waterway with currents that love to push you into the shallows and get your boat stuck. It's a nightmare for out-of-town boaters with little local experience. They see the dolphins, get distracted, and before you know it their boats are in precarious situations."
About 15 minutes after we leave the dock, J.R. tells us all to look 15 feet off the front of the boat. First a dark fin emerges, then the splash of a large tail. Just like that...we defy the odds and join the twenty percent who see dolphins without ever entering the "Miserable Mile".
We spend a good deal of time interacting with, and learning about, the multiple dolphins which magically appear in the water around the "Coconut Woman".
Eventually, the dolphins are lured away by the novel excitement a passing fishing boat offers. We head towards a spot where the waters of the Caloosahatchee River, Matlacha Pass, and San Carlos Bay mix and mingle...an awe-inspiring and glorious vantage point from which to watch the sun dip below the horizon signaling the end to another perfect day.
Each South Florida sunset is unique, and this one is no exception. We say an early goodbye to the sun as it appears to disappear for the evening behind a low bank of clouds on the skyline.
Everyone snaps pictures. As the last rays of light tuck themselves behind the cloud, the entire boat applauds (a Florida tradition tracing it's origins to the nightly Mallory Square sunset celebrations in Key West).
Minutes later, the burning orb reemerges from beneath the clouds, tinging the edges of the airborne water vapor with a magnificent margarine-colored lining.
Thus begins a more traditional sun-setting, with it's final magnificence snuffed out by the island on the skyline. Two sunsets for the price of one. How can you beat that?
In the final seconds of sunlight, Captain J.R. turns off the gurgling boat motor and encourages us to listen to the cacophony of the birds as they make their frantic, last-minute preparations for the impending darkness. He draws our attention to a nearby rookery, a small island serving as a breeding ground for a multitude of eclectic bird species. Thousands of birds are perched on seemingly every square inch of the island. Grackles. Pelicans. Anhingas. Cormorants. American Oyster Catchers. White Ibis. Snowy Egrets. Lesser Blue Herons. Piping Plovers. A roll call of the bird species which inhabit and travel through Southwest Florida.
Our boat is commandeered closer to the rookery and the scent of, let's call it "nature" to be polite, fills the air heavy-handedly. Let's face it, anytime you get thousands of birds taking up space on a few small acres of land there are going to be certain environmental clues to their presence.
Intermittent, but steady, streams of birds fly in from all directions, pulled by primal urges, governed by the short seasons of day and night. All around us, all the time, animals are responding to the availability of food, temperature fluctuations and all the other natural phenomena our species has successfully sheltered itself from. The birds are finished working today, and are returning home to rest for the evening. Time may be a concept created by man, but Nature runs on a tight schedule all her own.
The breeze is warm. The rocking of the boat is gently hypnotic. A meditative calm has everyone on our sunset cruise growing quiet and introspective with the catharsis only reconnection with nature can provide.
"I do this four or five days a week," Captain J.R. confessed, "It never gets old."
As the pastel explosion in the western sky fades to dark smoldering embers, the "Coconut Woman" heads back through the darkness towards its mooring. Light from waterfront homes dances nervously across the calm canal water. The Cape Harbour high-rises and restaurants come into sight, remarkable and inviting, pulsing with life and live music, signaling our return to the rhythms of human civilization.
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-- writing and photography by Eric Taubert