Cheeseburger in Paradise

Travelogue - January 7, 2007

Sunset, Cayo Costa On January 1, 2007, we motored away from la marina des Collards, into the wide world to begin this season's cruise. We crossed Charlotte Harbor and continued into Pelican Bay, the anchorage near Cayo Costa.

We had come here last spring with Pat's mom, and it was calm and still and lovely then. I phoned her when we arrived this year, to tell her that it is still lovely.

We did have some rain on the way in, and thunderstorms the first night. We rotated 180-degrees in just a few minutes as the wind shifted. I'm happy to report that the experience was not quite as spooky as it would have been last year!


Island trail The next morning was calmer, so we puttered in to the island in good ol' Bump Head. Cayo Costa is a barrier island, relatively undisturbed and preserved as a State Park. Check the State's website: Florida State Parks - the Real Florida. A dock is available for day trippers and for the dingies of the many sail- and motor-vessels who take advantage of the anchorage. The beach, some campsites and rustic cabins lie across the island, on the Gulf side. It's a nice place.

Alligator We crossed the island on the Park road (above) to the beach, then followed another trail to an inland lagoon. We had a nice stroll along the shore, until SPLASH! Alligator!

That sucker heard us coming and lunged into the water. We watched him swim away, then circle back to check us out. We backed down the beach and remained quiet, so he came to shore. He didn't leave the water (I'm not complaining) until we'd gone back the way we came.

alligator A quick hike the long way around brought us to another vantage point, and there he was on shore. According to the sign, he was looking for a snack! Note: the warning sign is on the path leading AWAY from, instead of TO, the lagoon. It is misplaced, I would say, unless one desires to do away with tourists. Florida's native son and best-selling mystery author, Carl Hiaasen, would be pleased. If you like dark humor you might enjoy his novel "Tourist Season". From the author's website:

Tourist Season, published in 1986, was Hiaasen's first solo novel. GQ magazine called it "one of the 10 best destination reads of all time," though it failed to frighten a single tourist away from Florida, as Hiaasen had hoped it might. His next novel, Double Whammy, was the first novel ever written about sex, murder and corruption on the professional bass-fishing tour. In fact, it might be the only novel on the subject...

But I digress.

Park rangers later told Rick that there is a 15' alligator in that lagoon; the little six-footer we saw was a tadpole. Yikes! You don't have to tell me twice to not go swimming in a 'gator hole.

We strolled the beach on our way back and there we met a family we'd seen earlier near the lagoon. The father had little daughters with him, so Rick told him about the alligator and about the safe vantage point we'd found. The girls were busy hunting seashells, dead sea urchins (below) and other flotsam, so I doubt they went back to check it out.

Adventure in Real Time

Little girl with sea urchin Back on Sea Gator we were getting some work done. Just before dark I heard water. I leaned over Rick's nightstand and I heard water spraying. That's not a sound you want to hear below waterline on a boat. I opened the nightstand and saw water pooled around his secret (yeah, right) beer stash. We dragged the mattress off its base and pulled the planks off the bed frame.

Here's the setup: our 150 gallon steel water tank sits on the keel. The platform for the bed is framed over and around it. You can remove the four broad planks that form the platform, to access the tank and the hydraulics for steering and autopilot, and you can install the hand-tiller in case the steering goes out.

Once the planks were out of the way we could see water spraying from a ruptured tube - the break was on a previous repair. We shut off the pressure pump at the breaker box and Rick repaired the leak.

So we've added a new item to our checklist: always shut the pressure pump OFF whenever we leave the boat. Just in case.

And we'll be even more conservative with water until we figure out how much we may have lost. It looks like a lot of accumulated water in the beer locker and progressively downstream in Rick's laundry locker, shoe locker, and tool locker. And who knows how much ran past the water tank and into the bilge to be pumped overboard. Well, we're still afloat!

General Ranting

Cabbage Key Inn sign This brings me to a rant. Skip over if you are faint of heart.

I remember that, this time last year, all I could do was complain about poor Sea Gator. I realized, belatedly, that complaining gave me a false sense of control over my fate in a situation that was completely foreign and incomprehensible to me. In reality, of course, I had no control, so the illusion didn't last long.

My biggest source of displeasure was and are the various kludges perpetrated upon Sea Gator. The wiring is a rat's nest, the plumbing "repairs" are slipshod. I know this is a fact because of Rick's continuous work fixing and amending and correcting. And, of course, today's ruptured hose.

I realize today that my relationship with Sea Gator must be different than it was last year. I am now offended on her behalf, and I'm glad she has us to look after her, because she deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Cabbage Key

Rumor has it the Cabbage Key Inn (entry sign on the water, above; restaurant, below) was the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett's song 'Cheeseburger in Paradise'. Some folk, including Mr. Buffet who should know, dispute such rumors (Songfacts: Cheeseburger in Paradise).

Cabbage Key Inn Tried to amend my carnivorous habits
Made it nearly seventy days
Losin' weight without speed-eatin' sunflower seeds
Drinkin' lots of carrot juice and soakin' up rays

But at night I'd have these wonderful dreams
Some kind of sensuous treat
Not zuchini, fettucini or bulger wheat
But a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat

Cheeseburger in paradise (paradise)
Heaven on earth with an onion slice (paradise)
Not too particular not too precise (paradise)
I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise...

We set out to explore Cabbage Key and see for ourselves.

We motored Bump Head across Pelican Bay. The Bay is a wildlife sanctuary, with some very shallow (1') depths. So we went nice and slow, and it took us about an hour to get to Cabbage Key. A couple of ferry-boat loads of tourists were just arriving, so we snagged a nice table outside on the terrace, overlooking the ICW. It was really the perfect place to have lunch!

Dining room The terrace had an excellent view of the water, filtered shade, a cool breeze. As opposed to the experience for diners inside, where it is pretty dark and mysterious, see? The legend is that the first person pinned $1 on the wall so that, if worse came to worse, he'd be able to get a drink there. Now the walls and ceilings are covered with $1 bills. It would be like dining in a cave full of bats.

Beyond the bar, left of the photo above, are the restrooms. When I stepped inside I met a tall, smiling woman, and I was reminded instantly of June N., so I started smiling, too. She said, "Watch your knees!" The stalls are VERY short! I had been brooding about missing the Go Girl's annual cross country ski trip to Jenny Lake, and subsequent snack at Dornan's, so I told her, "My friends and I go to a place with short stalls, too, and we have to manage it in our ski boots." She told me about a place she'd once lived where she had to step over the tub to get to the toilet. Well... it was a nice, bonding moment, and I wasn't quite so lonely for my girlfriends after that.

Pat and Rick on the Inn terrace

Whether you believe the song is the anthem of a generation or, simply, interminable - I can tell you that the actual cheeseburger that we had - in this particular paradise - was just fine.

After lunch (one smoked salmon appetizer and one cheeseburger and one slice of chilled Key Lime pie, split between us) we exchanged photography favors with other tourists (right), then climbed to the top of the water tower for a look around (below, left). The view was very nice indeed, and the breeze was fresh. Then we went on their "nature trail". Descriptive plaques identified some of the more prolific plants, and that's always fun. And it was a nice stroll, kind of noisy because the paths are made up of bleached, crushed shells. Crunch, crunch.

View over Cabbage Key Lots of tiny lizards were out! They were no more than 2" long, and they would streak across the trail then scamper out of your path in a flurry of whipping tails. Once I paused as three of them scattered from beneath where I was about to put my foot. I don't believe we damaged anyone.

Then back to the dock to tip the dockmaster and retrieve Bump Head. Rick was concerned because BH's engine had sputtered and died just as we pulled up to the dock. He theorized that it was because we'd been going so slowly for so long. So we stayed on the ICW at full throttle all the way back to the north entrance to Pelican Pay. Whooo-eee! What a ride! We bounced and splashed and rocked and rolled, all on a plane at high speed. I was dry in the bow, Rick was soaked. Tsk tsk. We made it back to Sea Gator in 20 minutes flat.


Goldie shredding furniture Here is today's picture of Goldie. This is what she was up to on the settee when we came back. Note the shiny sharp claws embedded in the upholstery. Furniture-sitting by cats is forbidden back home, but her options on the boat are so limited that we only forbid her access to counters and table. Sigh. What'cha gonna do?

More About Florida Parks

The good news is: there is more to Florida than Miami Beach and Ft. Myers. The state has acted to preserve what is left of the wilder lands, and those are a major departure from the Tamiami Trail and its sprawl.

At the Florida OnLine Parks Guide you can check out any of the barrier island parks. Try clicking [Find a Park], then type in Cayo Costa and [Submit Search].

Or, even more fun, go to Google, select [Maps]. Then type in [Cayo Costa, FL] and click [Search maps]. Up pops a map of the US with Cayo Costa State Park highlighted. I had to zoom in manually... While you're doing that you can see Charlotte Harbor and surrounds, including Boca Grande on the adjacent island north of Cayo Costa.

When you are satisfied with the level of magnification, click [satellite] to view a satellite photo of your scene! Or click [hyrid] to get a photo with map overlay. The anchorage is protected from the main ICW by that long, NW to SE island. You can see the Park Service dock, and the sandy pathway straight west to the coast. In the midst of Cayo Costa you can see the long NW to SE lagoon. I wonder if one could zoom in far enough to glimpse the alligator?!


We had a nice last day on the beach and the lagoon, and I collected shells to mail back to Janet G. We are leaving on Sunday, heading south to Captiva then on to Ft. Myers Beach.

Keep warm, y'all, and thank you for listening!

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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