Monday, June 27, 2011

"But there are other beaches to explore. There are more shells to find. This is only the beginning." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea

The view on the way over the Sanibel Causeway.  The rainbow ends right where we are heading.

Joan (front), Connie (back left) & Capt. Brian 

Looking forward to a great shelling day

As the skiff "Muspa" slipped her way out of McCarthy's Marina on Captiva Island and into the glimmering waters of Pine Island Sound it became apparent that the amazing rainbow I had seen earlier crossing the Sanibel Causeway had been pointing in the right direction. Capt. Brian Holaway of the blog Capt. Brian's Observations on the Water invited me to join him on a shelling trip to Cayo Costa State Park.  As a native Floridian I have been around the Gulf of Mexico my entire life but I don't boat or own a boat so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to visit Cayo Costa which is an island only accessible by boat. Coming along with me are my cousins Connie & Joan. Let me just explain that we Southerners have a quirky habit of adopting any close friend and calling them a cousin.  Our parents all went to high school together. As young married's our parents purchased houses directly across the street from each other.  I am as close to them as I am to any blood relation.  We grew up together on the beaches of Honeymoon Island & Clearwater Beach sunning, shelling, cast netting, camping, & carousing. Who better than to share Cayo Costa with? Good times, I say.

Capt. Brian pointed out the fish house that belonged to Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist Jay Norwood Darling or "Ding" as he is known to Sanibel folks. Ding is responsible for arranging a federal lease of 2,000 acres of Sanibel land that designated it Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945 & saved it from over-development.

Cayo Costa State Park has 9 miles of  pristine beach & clear, calm water but you can only get there by boat.

As we travelled north on Pine Island Sound, Capt. Brian pointed out a baby dolphin swimming to our right.  Not only does Capt. Brian hold a US Coast Guard Master license but he is a Master Naturalist in coastal systems as well.  As we motored along he not only pointed out the local wildlife,trees, & plants but shared with us what landmarks we were seeing on the coastline. He pointed out the famous political cartoonist J.N. "Ding" Darling's fish house turned residence although no longer occupied & also where then President Teddy Roosevelt used to anchor his boat in the early 1900's.  We passed the beach where Hurricane Charlie made landfall on August 13, 2004.  That was a sober moment for all of us remembering how that storm had devastated our area.  The combination of salt air & the waves smacking on the bow of the boat must have shaken loose some memory cells for us girls because the reminiscing commenced.  We laughed and teased each other about many an adventure gone wrong.  Thankfully we pulled up to Cayo Costa before anything really embarrassing was shared.  Capt. Brian anchored us right at the beach & helped us disembark.  "Nice office" I quipped to him as he helped me off the boat.  He just smiled the smile of a person that loves what they do for a living.
It was hard to decide which way to go with so many shell & wrack lines.

Millions of shells line the beach

Nice Sea Star.  He's alive so we took a picture & put him/her back in the water to make more little sea stars.

Cayo Costa State Park is like stepping into a vintage Florida postcard.  Miles of shell-lined beach stretched out before us and the only inhabitants had feathers on - not a bathing suit.  There were dunes with purple & white morning glories creeping up the sides to explore.  The lagoon in the middle of the island was created by a  storm from last year & is surrounded with black & white mangroves, palm trees of all sorts, & millions of tiny fiddler crabs.  The no-see-um's & skeeters chased me from the lagoon and back to the beach where I proceeded to find a quite a few shells that you don't hardly see on an accessible beach any longer.  After a few hours of combing the beach for treasures we got back on board and heading to the other side of the island to eat our picnic lunch.
Dunes are the low ridges of sand on top of the beach that protect it from storm surge. The roots of the beach morning glory & sea oats help to anchor the sand and prevent beach erosion.

It's a totally different environment the farther up into the island you walk (& more bugs too)
You know you are a serious sheller when your back is the most tan part of your body.
My favorite finds from Cayo Costa:

(top) Tellinella listeri

(Röding, 1798)
Speckled tellin

(middle) Eurytellina lineata
(Turton, 1819)
Rose petal tellin

(bottom) Semele purpurascens
(Gmelin, 1791)
Purplish semele

Capt. Brian's boat is a 1981 Fishawk aka a Florida skiff but if they were going to trick-out a mullet boat this would be it.  The Muspa is large enough to accommodate 6 people comfortably but the boat is small enough to navigate the shallow waters of Pine Island Sound (which can be 1 1/2 feet in some places) & also get up close to tidal creeks, bayous, & keys. Capt. Brian designed his shade canopy & spray dodger for the ultimate comfort in any kind of weather. When the sun was starting to turn us girls slightly lobster-ish the shade canopy was erected and it kept us out of the sun but did not obstruct the views in the least.  Capt. Brian actually camps on his boat and sets his tent up on the bow of his boat under the spray dodger that he had a zip-up door installed to keep the critters out at night.  A new floor was put in the skiff in 1999 by the famous Boca Grande wooden boat builder Francis Knight.  His boat is reminiscent of the kind of boats that ran on Pine Island Sound 100 years ago. 
 Muspa was the last of the Calusa to go to Cuba in the 1700's. (Credit: Capt. Brian Holaway)
Connie enjoying her tasty homegrown tomatoes

Capt. Brian designed the shade canopy for ultimate comfort & visibility.  The spray dodger to the bow keeps you dry & warm in the colder months.  Capt. Brian sets his tent up under it when he camps on his boat.

We finished our tasty lunch that included pickled okra & homegrown tomatoes from Connie's garden.  Our Captain offered us ice cold watermelon & fresh mango.   What a wonderful way to share a lunch on the water with friends - old & new.  So as our tour was winding  down  Capt. Brian had one more treat in store for us.  As a self-professed "closet Anthropologist" he has studied  Botany, Archeology, & Tropical ecology.  He has a passion for the local ancient culture of the Calusa Indians.  The coastal bays & estuaries from Tampa Bay south to the Everglades are dotted with the Calusa's ancient shell mounds which have been dated back to 1500 AD although as a people group the are much older than that.  These shell mounds are all that remain of the Calusa. At one time there were as many as 50,000 Calusa. As the diseases of the Europeans like smallpox were introduced to them & stronger tribes warred against them, their peoples either died out or fled to the everglades where they were absorbed over time  into the Seminole Indian population.  They could have also travelled as far a Cuba.  Capt. Brian took us for a close up look at a shell mound.  We quietly, almost reverently crept past the towering mound of oyster shells, lightning whelks & horse conchs that were once used for food & tools.  Huge gumbo limbo trees lined the top of the shell mound.  The Pine Island Sound has a rich Calusa heritage that not many Floridians are aware of.  Capt. Brian is a member of the founder's circle of  Randall Research Center on Pine Island.  They have an active archological dig going on and are committed to keeping the Calusa history alive.
A Calusa Indian shell mound

This would have been the heart of a Calusa village

Bursera simaruba or the Gumbo Limbo trees line the top of the shell mound.  It's also called the Tourist Tree because it is red & peeling.
Manatees looking for a meal off the eel grass
Thanks for a great day! (l to r) Connie, Capt. Brian, & Joan

No man bag for Capt. Brian - he has a bucket.  He retired his 12 year old one for a new shiny one.  It's filled with all his essentials.  That "EB" sticker is from me designating that Englewood Beach has been in the house.
I'm just saying.......

So for us Florida girls we had a terrific day out on the water.  Mullet were jumping, manatees sighted, sting rays were swooping, & many shells were found.  Any ole captain can take you out on a boat but a guide like Capt. Brian that has Cayo Costa in his heart & soul takes your shelling adventure to an entirely new level.


  1. Looks like a wonderful day was had by all! Thanks for taking us along with you! I would love to go out to Cayo Costa!

  2. Oh, another wonderful look at some familiar Cayo Costa and Pine Island...Matlacha is a particularly colorful stop for me on the way to having "Cheeseburgers in Paradise."

    Thanks for a most informative post, Karen...I enjoyed the trip!

  3. What a fun day! I am Sanibel yearning . . .

  4. What a wonderful day!!! I would have bhad to bring some vino though!! heehee:)

  5. Fantastic post Karen - I felt like I was right there with y'all! In fact, I wish I was. Nice sticker for Brian's bucket too!

  6. What a beautiful day with Brian! He found you a rainbow.... and you found some very nice tellins!

  7. Thanks for sharing your wonderful day trip story, Karen! Looks like a fun day with your old and new friends...

  8. What a wonderful trip...I am amazed by all the can't find any here on our coast...they are few and far between!

  9. What a fun time! I can hardly wait until we go out with Capt Brian!!

  10. Looks like you had a great trip Karen and you found that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!! Capt. Brian is the best isn't he?!! We had a great time with him too!

  11. I just at back and relaxed and read every word...and enjoyed every photo! What an amazing I hope to have some day! Maybe I could even qualify as a cousin...or maybe an Aunt! heehee! Just a perfect day in my opinion! A beach all to yourselves! It does NOT get any better than that! ♥♥♥

  12. I love it there! Great pictures- you are dead on: like stepping into a vintage Florida postcard!

  13. Karen, this is a wonderful post! So informative and I learned quite a bit about things I never knew about. What a Florida treasure, Captain Brian is, now I know why everyone always raves about his trips! He's just downright handsome too!

    I really LOVE that he tent camps right on his boat, boy that'll keep those darn coons away.

    My favorite thing though, is the wealth of knowledge he possesses to share with others and his respect of the sea.

    Thanks for showing us all that one of his trips has to offer! Love it!!!!

    Hugs to you and the captain

  14. What an interesting post, Karen! I love anything about Sanibel and Captiva! I've been to Cayo Costa and Upper Captiva. We rented a pontoon boat from Jensen's and spent the day up there roaming the beaches for shells. What a fun day! :)

    xoxo laurie

  15. Awesome post - you're making me want to go to Cayo Costa again. It's been a couple of years. Also wish you could have been in my Florid Master Naturalist final presentation/graduation last Wednesday night - my group presented on the Calusa and how they exploited their environment to achieve dominance over their neighboring tribes and resist the efforts of the Spanish invaders for so long. I have to figure out a way to post the Powerpoint online (and see if my team mates mind)

    Erin aka Tink *~*~*

  16. Just wondering where the mullet t-shirt is for sale? My Dad is a long time mullet fisherman and I would love to get the shirt for a gift for him. Am coming to Sanibel in August, so would appreciate your help in locating the shop where it is sold! Kathy Pace


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