Only Along the Gulfshore

Feeling It: A Day in the Life of the Gulf

How large the Gulf looms in the lives of us all

BY May 4, 2015


I you’ve noticed your refrigerator pointing due west, it’s because there’s a massive magnet near Southwest Florida; a magnet that has pulled people from around the globe to either visit or settle in this area. It’s called the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether you find it necessary to head to the beach on a daily basis or have literally never even bothered to drive over to glimpse its glistening shores, that body of water has brought a wealth of opportunities and experiences to every one of us, from seafood to golf courses to world-class shopping. Without it, we might as well be in Iowa. (Editor’s note: There’s nothing wrong with Iowa—and yet there’s a reason none of us are there right now.) And a whole lot of people spend their days living and working on the wet wonder first explored by Europeans in 1497 (thank you, Amerigo Vespucci).

“I wonder if it’s a moon, tidal thing that draws us here,” says Vanessa Guerra, a Pennsylvania native who is now assistant manager at one of the more notorious hotel bars on Fort Myers Beach. “It’s got to be more than the heat and the booze, right?”

One would think. But there is an undeniable—and perhaps unexplainable—pull for people to come and live on or near the Gulf. And for those who choose to work on or near it, it’s a way of life they wouldn’t change for anything.

For those of you visiting from way out of town, the Gulf of Mexico borders five American states as well as six Mexican states (Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Yucatan) and the island nation of Cuba. It is approximately 995 miles east to west and 560 miles north to south, covering around 600,000 square miles and containing 643 quadrillion gallons of water. It is, in fact, hard to miss. (Which is probably why Guerra has had to pull more than one intoxicated spring breaker out of its frothy waters.)

“I’m not sure our clientele is really thinking about why they want to come here, to be honest,” Guerra says. “But I know we’re glad that they do. Where else could I make a living having this much fun and looking out at one of the most beautiful views around? … I really can’t stop looking at it. I’ll catch myself just staring off into the waves. Don’t tell my boss.” Her secret is safe with us. Pinky swear.

A little further down the coast on Marco Island, Captain Hugh Cross, owner of Cross Cruises, gets it. With two catamarans capable of navigating even the shallowest of waters throughout the Ten Thousand Islands, Cross has made it his life’s work to be on the water. In fact, he’s been doing it for 30 years.









“I think we all share a love and passion for the natural environment,” Cross says. “I see more dolphins than you can imagine and it’s still magical. It really is. It never loses anything. … But, without a doubt, the No. 1 thing I love about what I do are the people I get on my boat. It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction knowing these people have worked their butts off for 50, 51 weeks and they’ve chosen to come out with me.”

It’s something you hear over and over when you talk to folks earning their paychecks on the Gulf. And though not every day is sunshine and rainbows (Cross was once struck by lightening while working off the coast of Sanibel), the massive body of water sloshing around to our west is bountiful in ways most could never imagine. Take, for example, the recent hellish workweek put in by Daniel Smock, manager of marketing and communications at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva.

“I helped facilitate things when the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photographed the model athletes here this year,” says Smock with feigned boredom. “They shot both Ronda Rousey and Caroline Wozniacki here. It was awful. I tried to be as attentive as possible. But, hey, that’s my job.” The grin on his face when he talks about it is devilish—and enviable. … “What an office, right?” Smock says as a dolphin swims by, almost on cue. And you can bet the folks from Sports Illustrated were just as drawn to the Gulf as the rest of us.

“It reminds me of home,” says Everton Maxwell, a server at South Seas Island Resort’s new Crooked Snook Tiki Bar, which literally backs up to the water’s edge. Maxwell is from Montego Bay, Jamaica, and knows just how lucky we are to be living where we do. “I moved here 10 years ago then tried living in New York for a few years, but I had to move back. There’s something about the water and the people here. … I just love it.”

But what’s not to love when you work on the beach serving cocktails to people thrilled to be on vacation in paradise? Or renting them Jet Skis or stand-up paddle boards? Of course, there are plenty of locals who generate their livelihood from what they pull out of these turquoise waters. Crabbers such as Capt.Daniel Boxsee, a fifth-generation fisherman in Goodland, or charter captains such as Capt.Jody Weis of Weis Guy Charters on Marco can find life on the Gulf to be literally feast or famine. The glamour of the high-rises and the multimillion-dollar homes seems miles away on the days the lines come up empty. And it’s certainly not without its faults for the rest of us: hurricanes, red tide and beach erosion dull the brass every now and then.

Yet the Gulf really is a magnet, attracting all types of people—for all sorts of reasons: It is filled with the aforementioned fish for sportsmen, waves for windsurfers and enough reflective H2O to help sunbathers bake in half the time it would take in their front yards. And if you just stand on the beach and stare out at it long enough, everything spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle has ever written will suddenly make sense. (For the record, we have not stood on the beach long enough for that.)

It has certainly been a powerful muse for artist Juan Diaz, who was inspired by its energy to create this month’s cover.

“I go to the beach most of the time seeking balance,” Diaz says. “I connect very well with the natural elements. I am most at peace with the air, with the water, with the sun, with the breeze, with the animals passing by. That’s where I seek balance and I seek an understanding of everything else. There’s a calmness. And that is what I get from the Gulf. … I know that this mass of water travels all over the planet. And this wind has traveled all over the planet. I see it as a continuous thing. It gives me a sense of endless possibilities. And it is the place that we are all equal.”

On a related note, the Gulf is thought to extend more than 14,000 feet at its deepest point.

Of course, if it were to dry up tomorrow it’s anyone’s guess how many days it would take for the last of us to turn out the lights and Google “Martinique real estate.” But so far that seems unlikely to happen, which is good news for David Addison, senior biologist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. He’s run the Conservancy’s sea turtle project for the past 26 years. The monitoring takes place at night, so he sees the Gulf and its glory by the light of the moon and the glow of ATV headlights covered with red lenses (so as not to disturb the turtles).

“Life and the life processes are a 24-hour operation,” Addison says. “It’s not just seen through my eyes. You get to see it through the eyes of another creature. And at some level you’re dealing with an animal that has been around for 125 million years. So if you get a dark night and you don’t see the lights of Marco Island or Naples, you step into a time machine and crank it back however many years you want, where things are going along as they’re supposed to when everything is good.”

Addison is quick to point out that the job is not quite as bucolic as you might assume. There are mosquitoes and no-see-ums and thunderstorms, etc., and he’s not down there “in shorts and a T-shirt skipping around like a character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (But) there are nights with a full moon where you can see snook swimming in the water and there are no bugs to speak of and other nights where it’s so hot you think you’re going to die and the mosquitos will carry you off. It’s just part of the experience,” he adds. “Being out there in the moonlight and watching some of these electrical storms and the things that you see over the course of a night out there, there’s always something different that you’re going to see. It never ends. It’s a fairly compelling spot. And it helps you get things in perspective.”

But while watching and tagging sea turtles as they lay their eggs might be as close to the definition of wet and wild as many of us will likely come, the view from above gives helicopter pilot Gavin Cresswell a unique perspective on the very things we love about living here.

“We offer trips over the Everglades and architectural tours looking at houses, etc., but people always go for the beach and shoreline tour,” Cresswell says. “Always. I’d say 99 percent of our tours.” The Toronto native moved here five years ago with his wife and young son to flee the Canadian winters. But he fully admits he wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for the Gulf. “Our company would not be a success. We also operate as a flight school, but there is no way we could maintain our business on the flight school alone. We absolutely need the Gulf and people’s attraction to that. We wouldn’t survive if that wasn’t in our backyard.

“When we first moved down from Toronto … we moved into a small condo right on Bonita Beach. There was just a feeling living next to the beach—even if you don’t want to go there every day, just knowing it’s there is just an amazing feeling. It’s an enlivening thing.”

No, it’s a magnet. 


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