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Southwest Florida Guide to Fun on the Water

BY December 31, 2015

Think “Southwest Florida” and what do you see? A beach chair, umbrella, drink in hand, maybe a couple of kids building sandcastles nearby?

We are all in favor of that quintessential experience, but Gulfshore Life is tossing out a challenge: How many new and creative ways can you find to enjoy our waterways? On these next pages, we’ll get you started, offering up everything from places to learn new watersports to the calories you’ll burn while learning them.

We’ve found activities for speed demons and Sunday drivers; stuff for those who prefer their heads above water and those ready to plunge below; and even options for those who don’t want to get their feet wet at all. And, of course, we’ll make sure you look good doing your activity of choice with the hottest looks in tropical attire.

We’ll start at the southernmost tip of Southwest Florida, in the fishing village of Chokoloskee, a starting point for excursions into the 10,000 Islands and parts of Everglades National Park. Pack a water bottle, slather on the sunscreen, and let’s go!

 

Exploring by Boat and Kayak

Captain Joshua Fussell spotted the dolphin off the right-hand side of his boat on a late September afternoon.

“Let’s see if he’ll chase us,” he says, a hint of mischief in his voice. He revs the engine, increases speed and generates a small wake. Sure enough, the dolphin leaps from the Gulf and splashes back into the wave, in a steady rhythm. Up … suspend … splash. Up … suspend … splash. The passengers—a pair of women from the D.C. area and a German couple—are delighted.

Call it a success—the day’s tour had included sightings of dolphins; manatees; a gator; the golden head of an elusive sea turtle; a yellow-crowned night heron, once slaughtered en masse for their plumage, worth more per ounce than gold, Fussell had told the group.

Photo by Jim Freeman

Fussell is a guide for Everglades Area Tours, one of the many organizations offering visitors and residents unique ways to enjoy our waters.

For this “Boat Assisted Kayak Tour,” Fussell and his assistant, Christin Westbay, secured six kayaks in the bow of the powerboat and motored their guests 12 miles out through Chokoloskee Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico—a distance not achieved by the average day-tripping kayaker. The ride out was nearly two hours long (with multiple detours to see wildlife) but sped by with Fussell’s nonstop ecological and historical lessons—about the fearless Calusa, the global journeys of the sea turtles, 800-pound manatees so docile that you can swim alongside them.

Fussell anchored off the shoreline of Pavilion Key, part of the 10,000 Islands chain, where he and Westbay helped passengers into kayaks and set them loose to explore. Aside from the intermittent rumble of a nearby motor, the place was devoid of human intrusion—like the Calusa might have experienced in a time gone by.

The boat-assisted tour is just one of many water adventures to be had in Southwest Florida. Here are a few suggestions for those looking to escape civilization—or who find sunbathing just a little too tame. 

 

Collier County

Row your boat: In addition to the Boat Assisted Kayak Tour, Everglades Area Tours offers a variety of other kayak tours, including the popular moonlight and mangrove tunnel tours. evergladesareatours.com, 239-695-3633

Get mucky: Go sloshing through Fakahatchee Preserve searching for ghost orchids and other rare botanical treasures. orchidswamp.org, 239-695-1023

Live like the Gladesmen: Everglades Adventure Tours offers pioneer-style pole boat expeditions and overnight chickee-hut stays. evergladesadventuretours.net, (800) 504-6554.

Lakeview: Experience tropical waters—inland style—on Lake Trafford near Immokalee where fishing and airboat rides await. laketrafford.com, 239-657-2214

Walk on air: Captain CJ’s Jet Pack Adventures of Fort Myers and Naples lets you glide through or above the water wearing a jet pack propelled by water. jetpaction.com, 239-389-9538

Rough it: Paddle and camp along the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway between Everglades City and Flamingo with help from Everglades Adventures. Shorter trips also available. evergladesadventures.com, (877) 567-0679

Bucket list check: See the Everglades by visiting Everglades National Park directly or contacting a private tour operator. nps.gov/ever

For a full listing, visit paradisecoast.com, where you can live-chat with an adviser or explore the offerings on your own.

 

Lee County

Fossil hunt: Channel your inner paleontologist with Fossil Expeditions. Featuring walk-in or kayak trips to search for mammalian and reptilian relics—including the monstrous megalodon. fossilexpeditions.com, 239-368-3252

Re-live history: Paddle out to Mound Key, believed to have been the spiritual center for area Calusa Indians, and discover how tribe lived. CGT Kayaks offers a half-day trip. Other kayak, fishing and standup paddleboard experiences available. cgtkayaks.com, 239-221-8218

Fly away: Strap on a flyboard, a personal watercraft device that makes you fly through the air, or stream through the water, dolphin-style, using jet propulsion. Or, grab your family and speed over the water on an inflatable banana boat—sure to provoke Facebook-worthy cover photos. YOLO watersports offers those and more. yolowatersports.com, 239-472-1296

Island escape: Flee the crowds with a trip to Cayo Costa State Park, a 9-mile wonderland off the coast of Lee County accessible by boat. Primitive campsites available. floridastateparks.org/park/Cayo-Costa. Ferry service through Captiva Cruises. cayocostaferry.com, 239-472-5100.

Go Blue: The Great Calusa Blueway offers 190 miles of marked canoe and kayak trails spanning Lee County. Explore everything from Estero Bay to Pine Island Sound to the Caloosahatchee River. fortmyers-sanibel.com/calusablueway

Submerge: The waters off of Lee County are home to some two dozen artificial reefs waiting to be explored. leereefs.org

For a full listing, visit fortmyers-sanibel.com or call 239-338-3500.

 —Jennifer Reed

 

The Landlubber’s Way to Paradise

Not a big fan of the water? Sticking to the beach doesn’t sound like too bad of a plan. Here are a few other ways you can still enjoy the water without actually being on or in it.

ReadThe Swamp by Michael Grunwald. It’s the story of the battle between man and water. Many have tried to tame the Everglades, but the Everglades has always fought back. Grunwald details the history of development in South Florida.

Visit … Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery. The photographer is known for his breathtaking, black-and-white photography of our River of Grass, aka the Everglades. Visit his gallery deep inside the swamp in Ochopee. 239-695-2428, clydebutchersbigcypressgallery.com

Walk … The Gordon River Greenway. The boardwalk winds over the Gordon River and through one of the last untouched areas of Naples.
gordonrivergreenway.org

Play … at the Imaginarium Science Center in Fort Myers. The kid-centric center lets you and your young ones
explore underwater creatures in the touch tanks, or, if petting a horseshoe crab isn’t your thing, just watch the bamboo sharks, clown fish, eels and other sea dwellers in the aquariums.

Fly … with Everglades Area Tours. All those exotic Everglades creatures freak you out? Rise above them. The company offers Alaskan Bush Plane tours over Everglades National Park.

—Justin Paprocki

 

I Left My Heart on the Gulfshore

Truth be told, there is little more romantic than the blue-green of the undulating Gulf, a sherbet sunset over a meandering Naples back bay, a cruise on the Caloosahatchee. Southwest Florida waters provide a beautiful backdrop for romance time and time again, whether for a chance encounter with a future special someone, a planned picnic date, a sandy engagement, a destination wedding. We had one romantic share her story.

Photo by Mark Block

Meet Caryn Rasnick Bosco, a Naples resident of 16 years who now lives in Chicago (and misses the beach). Caryn ended up with her husband, Ryan Bosco, against the odds—they were in the same class at the same Illinois high school and never met. They were dating other people when they met at a 25-year reunion she planned for said high school. Ryan went to college where Caryn had a full-ride scholarship she didn’t accept.

Visiting Naples together about 16 months after their first date, Ryan suggested sunset drinks, so off they went to The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. Just south of the resort, Caryn happily spotted a red carpet leading to chairs and a table for two topped with an ice bucket. No champagne glasses; the party must have come and gone, she thought.

“All of sudden he grabbed my hand and he walks me onto the red carpet. I’m like, ‘What are you doing, we can’t be here! This is somebody else’s!’” Turns out it was for them, and the planner of it all, Caryn’s friend Amber Phillips of Sand Dollar Weddings, had removed the glasses for fear of the wind. Caryn, of course, said yes, and Phillips caught it all in pictures from her hiding spot in the sea oats.

On Feb. 15, 2015, the couple married barefoot on the beach. To the sound of a steel drum, they said “I do” off Vedado Way in Naples. “Everything was gorgeous,” Caryn says, adding, “It’s something I will never forget.”

—Cayla Stanley

 

Room With a View

Some of our area’s many waterfront resorts share the best room to book if you want fantastic water vistas.

Collier

Cove Inn

Naples, coveinnnaples.com

Ask for: Bayside Efficiency, 219

What you’ll see: Naples Bay

 

La Playa Beach & Golf Resort

Naples, laplayaresort.com

Ask for: Premium Beachfront Guest Room, 1102

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico

 

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club

Naples, naplesbeachhotel.com

Ask for: 909, Watkins Building

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico

 

Naples Grande Beach Resort

Naples, naplesgrande.com

Ask for: 1202 or 1802

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico, Clam Pass, Clam Bay

 

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Naples, ritzcarlton.com

Ask for: Presidential Suite, 1412 or 1433

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico

 

Lee

 

Casa Ybel Resort

Sanibel, casaybelresort.com

Ask for: 101-140

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico

 

Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa

Bonita Springs, coconutpoint.hyatt.com

Ask for: Regency Suite

What you’ll see: Estero Bay, Fort Myers Beach, Big Hickory Island

 

Lovers Key Resort

Lovers Key, loverskey.com

Ask for: Any suite

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico and/or Estero Bay

 

Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina

Fort Myers Beach, pinkshell.com

Ask for: White Sand Villa, 5601

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico

 

South Seas Island Resort

Captiva Island, southseas.com

Ask for: Harbourside Water View
Guestroom, 1848-1872

What you’ll see: Pine Island Sound

 

The Westin Cape Coral at Marina Village

Cape Coral, westincapecoral.com

Ask for: Oasis, 1802; Admiral, 1806;
Serenity, 1813

What you’ll see: Gulf of Mexico,
Caloosahatchee River

—CS

 

Play It Safe

What to Do …

if you become capsized: Stay with the vessel. It increases your chance of being found. Put on your lifejacket so that you’re not expending your energy trying to stay afloat, says Coast Guard Mark Barney.

if you become seasick: A variety of seasickness pills are on the market, but Barney says to consult with a physician before trying them to minimize chance of a negative reaction. “Other than that, just focus on the horizon. It helps relieve some of the symptoms,” he adds.

if you become hypothermic: It’s vital to absorb and retain body heat. If you are with someone, huddle up. If you’re traversing deep, cold waters, opt for a life suit, which preserves body heat.

before you go: In addition to a map and lifejacket, consider packing a whistle, plenty of water and snacks, and a first-aid kit for any on-the-water adventure, says Kayak Excursions owner Stefan Kuenzel. Let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to depart and return. Avoid embarking in inclement weather conditions or at night, if possible. And, inform yourself on the waterways you’ll be navigating before you set sail. Learn where the no-wake zones and channel markers are prior to physically encountering them. 

What Lurks Below

Keep a careful eye out for these critters each time you take a dip.

Alligators are found mostly in fresh and brackish water environments, and are most active between dusk and dawn. Feeding them is illegal and may make them less apprehensive. Seek medical attention immediately if bitten, as it may result in serious and even fatal infection.

A variety of shark species swim through our coastal waters, bays and/or estuaries, and are most active in the dark. Minimize risk of an encounter by avoiding wearing shiny jewelry or splashing excessively in the Gulf, or entering it with an open wound. Use extra caution near sandbars and drop-offs, where sharks are known to gather. Seek medical attention immediately if attacked.

Stingrays can be spotted between April and October near the shores. While not purposefully aggressive, they defend themselves against perceived threats with venomous barbs at the base of their tails. Avoid stings by doing the “stingray shuffle”—sliding your feet along the sand rather than taking large steps. If injured, contact the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.

—Melanie Pagan

Rules of the ‘Road’

Q-and-A with Mark Barney, 7th Coast Guard District Southeast

What are the most important ways boaters can practice safety with their vehicles?

The most important thing is to have the appropriate mentality before getting aboard a vessel, and what goes along with that is having a plan. We want people to have the same kind of mentality as they would when taking a road trip when getting in the water. Have proper safety measures set in place so that if something does happen, you’re equipped to handle it.

How should boaters behave in the presence of others?

We want people to remain vigilant—be aware of your surroundings and increased boat traffic. Those types of situations can determine what kind of day you’ll have out on the water. If something seems suspicious or someone else needs help, report it on VHF (very high frequency) radio.

Should all boaters be carrying a VHF radio?

We always encourage boaters to have a VHF radio in their vessel so they can communicate with emergency services in the area via Channel 16. Cell phones sometimes lose service.

How should boaters handle encounters with marine life?

The best motto is to treat others the way you want to be treated, including with marine life. We understand people see sea turtles and they get excited and want to take a picture, but sometimes we see (boaters) doing pretty reckless things. We just want people to respect all wildlife and leave them be. We don’t want people out there to possibly endanger themselves or endanger the sea creatures.

What should boaters do in head-on meeting situations?

In the water there are no lanes like there are on a road. Hopefully boaters can send out some kind of message and hopefully they have a way to signal the other boater. If you can get out of the way, get out of the way. If something does happen, it’s important to be wearing a lifejacket before you recognize the danger. We understand it’s not the most in-fashion accessory, but at the same time, would you rather look good in the water or would you rather be alive in the water?

What about when a vessel is approaching at faster speed than another?

If somebody is passing you and going a lot faster—just as you would on the road—you don’t get in their way.

Do boaters communicate with one another with a specific language or set of rules?

Horn blasts are normally reserved for larger vessels. Smaller vessels are in a better position to move than bigger vessels because cargo vessels cannot slow down right away.

How should alcohol be handled onboard?

It depends on the county and where you are at but it’s safe practice to not operate any kind of vehicle with alcohol in your system. Have a backup driver just in case.

Any other things boaters should be aware of?

There’s a growing trend in Southwest Florida and that’s illegal charter vessels. There are a few apps out there offering the same services as Uber, except it’s for out on the water, so any Joe Schmo in a boat can offer services. A lot of times people operating the vessels don’t have the training they need, so we’re advising people to “ask the captain.” Ask to see their licenses and to see if they have enough lifejackets aboard. Take some kind of role in it. Just because you’re a passenger doesn’t mean you can expect (the drivers) to take control of your life in an emergency.

 

The Calories You'll Burn

In Southwest Florida, we can follow the word “gym” by another three letters—“why?” Not because we don’t want to stay fit, but because our surroundings provide plenty of natural space to do so. And when it comes to exercising on drab equipment or in the presence of crashing waves, well, is there really a comparison? Here are six water-based activities experts say sculpt key areas of the body, plus an estimated number of calories burned per hour* for each. 

Kayaking is low-impact, but adopting different stroke techniques and paddling in fast-paced intervals can intensify the workout, says Stefan Kuenzel, owner of Kayak Excursions.

Feel the burn: in your shoulders, biceps and triceps

See the burn: Women can drop about 308 calories, men about 353.

A combination of several sports, including surfing, wakeboarding and paragliding, kiteboarding lets you rocket across the water and into the air at impressive speed. It’s also good for toning the body, says Kelly Gianello, who co-owns Windstalkers Naples with her husband.

Feel the burn: in your core and leg muscles

See the burn: Men can shed about 363 calories, women around 306.

Scuba diving deep below the surface increases physical stamina and control, says Brent Argabright, owner of Fort Myers-based Dean’s Dive Center.

Feel the burn: in your core

See the burn: Women can burn around 454 calories, while men can burn about 521.

Standup paddleboarding, or SUP, is an increasingly popular way to traverse waterways. It helps improve balance and strengthens the body in the process, says Anna Noble of Bonita Springs’ Suncoast Paddle & Fitness. Stopping less and navigating choppier waves melts more calories, she adds.

Feel the burn: in your arm, abdominal and shoulder muscles

See the burn: Men can burn an estimated 449 calories and women can burn about 389.

In-water exercises are often less stressful on the joints, and swimming is no exception. The low-aerobic sport is extra beneficial to those with heart issues and inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis, says Andrew Bramlett, healthy living director at the Bonita Springs YMCA.

Feel the burn: in your neck, arm, torso and leg muscles

See the burn: It’s possible for women to burn about 373 calories and for men to burn about 428.

Wakeboarding works the entire upper body, says Dustin Beatty at Waterski & Wakeboard Charters Inc. in Marco Island. Similar to waterskiing, you’re tugged by boat while riding a short board, gripping tightly to a rope to stay up.

Feel the burn: in your shoulder, back and lateral muscles and biceps

See the burn: Men can melt some 435 calories, women about 367.

*Calorie count based on 60 minutes of activity, via healthstatus.com and myfitnesspal.com

—MP

 

The waters off Lovers Key. Photo by Gareth Rockliffe.

 

Sunrise, sunset

Five nature photographers tell us their favorite spots for an exceptional view of daybreak or the elusive green flash.

“I think the back side of Lovers Key takes some beating. There aren’t many other places that are more serene or beautiful. Because it’s a bit of a hike, there are fewer people—always a good thing.”

—Gareth Rockliffe, garethrockliffe.com

 

About 4 miles south of Collier-Seminole State Park on the left side of the road as you cross a little bridge on Route 41 is one of my favorite sunrise spots. If you blink, you’ll miss it. This little spot has probably one of the finest views of the Fakahatchee Strand at sunrise.”
           

—R.J. Wiley, rjwiley.smugmug.com

 

“My place of choice for capturing sunsets in Naples is Delnor-Wiggins State Park. I discovered this location while on a commissioned assignment for the Collier County CVB. I knew I had come upon a special place. It reminded me of a throwback to the ’50s with its pathways to the beach and overall special feeling.”

—Alan Maltz,  alanmaltz.com

 

Helen Key near Goodland, Florida. Accessible by short boat ride or kayak trip from Goodland, this area is close to my home and a favorite place for a short boat ride to watch the sun go down.”

—Jim Freeman, jimfreemanphotographer.com

 

“Two of my favorite spots to photograph at sunset are 33rd Avenue South and Seagate Beach, Naples.  I like 33rd Avenue because of the wooden structures and pilings. Seagate beach has rock structures that I like to photograph.”

—Dennis Goodman,
dennisgoodmanphotography.com

—CS