Island Tidings: Paradise with Cabbage Key & Bob’s Island Adventure

Island Tidings: pictures and prose about our recent adventures on and off our tiny island
It has been eight years since Luke and I had some time away together without a babe in my belly, without a babe at our side.  We eagerly awaited the sans-kids date and daydreamed for the day-night-morning away.  Plans danced into place beautifully, and I’m pleased to highlight two independently-owned businesses that made it all possible:  Bob’s Island Adventure and Cabbage Key.
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Today I give you the pleasure of getting to know Bob of Bob’s Island Adventure in SW Florida.

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Baby by the Sea:  Tell us about the beginning of your business.

Bob:  I have always loved boats and water.  I’ve always wanted to operate a fun, vacation-type business.  This business is less than a year old and it has many rewarding aspects.  

Baby by the Sea:  Who are your customers?  What do you love about them?  

Bob:  Most of our customers are vacationers, but we do get a lot of locals who want to rent our boats.  I love nothing more than making sure they have the best possible boating trip.

Baby by the Sea:  What makes your business unique?

Bob:   We let kids fish off our docks.  I supply them with free fishing poles, hooks and live bait.  It makes me smile every time I see a little kid catch their first fish.  I give them a trophy which declares they caught the biggest fish.  

Baby by the Sea:  What makes your business special?

Bob:  I do whatever it takes to make our customers happy.  We show them where to find dolphins, catch fish, get a bite to eat on the water, and where to experience some of the most beautiful beaches Florida offers.  

Every boat is GPS-equipped, for ease of navigation on the water.  Customer satisfaction is our number one priority.  Many businesses say that, but I purchased the best equipment and hired the best staff, from the very start, to ensure that our customers will have the best experience.

In addition to our Pineland Marina location on Pine Island, we also have an outfitters shop on N. Captiva offering: boat, kayak, and golf cart rentals; live bait and tackle; dolphin tours; fishing charters. 

Baby by the Sea:  Tell us about your background.  What led you to the work you do today?

Bob:  Business is my passion.  This is my first brick-and-mortar business.  I find it very rewarding to see face-to-face happiness in my customers, rather than just in emails and on-line feedback.

Baby by the Sea:  What is your favorite saying?

Bob:  No worries!

And, lovely readers of Baby by the Sea who find themselves in SW Florida, make sure you make Bob’s Island Adventure part of your next adventure and remember to mention Baby by the Sea upon reservation!
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The first hour was perfect.
We drove and conversed, uninterrupted, and listened to NPR.  We stopped at a convenience store and chose road snacks:  candy and beverages we’d never eat at 10 AM in front of our children.  We drove to Bokeelia, FL until we reached Pineland Marina, where docks rest with open views of Boca Grande Pass.
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Bob of Bob’s Island Adventure thought of everything to make our boating adventure fun.  He reminded Luke and his Icelandically-pale skin about sunscreen’s reapplication and lent us another beach umbrella.  The Gulf’s Pine Island sound reveals mangroves after mangroves afloat against dredged channels and shoal waters.  It’s unfamiliar scenery to someone used to boating in Washington State, British Columbia.
Bob offered to escort us to Cabbage Key’s gateway, Channel Marker 60 at Latitude 26 39’37” Longitude 82 09’13.”
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Have I told you lately how much I love manatees?
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I mentioned it before, but fear of sunburn had me reapplying sunscreen like an addict.  The side effect was burning eyes, with sunscreen dripping in my eye due to 92 degrees and a whole lot of sweat.  I tried three different, fancy brands all declaring won’t sting eyes.  Another side effect to this affliction was my inability to properly set my camera.  I do, however, love how the noise on these Adirondack chairs creates a receptive glow as if to say welcome.
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We checked in to our cabin by the sea at the marina.  Here, there’s no key, no locks, said the dock master.  Just like home, we replied.
The fourth hour was surreal.
Cayo Costa is a state park only accessible by boat.  There’s a formal entrance with a park ranger, but we went to the secluded south tip.  I Googled how to spell this island and came across it on a list of the top ten hidden beaches in the world.
We set the anchor and walked all our beach goodies safely to shore.  The Northwest has me so trained to fear the instant numbness that accompanies jumping in to wade.  Here, the water was 78 degrees.
Perfect?  Yup.
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The fifth hour was both filling and funny.
We packed east coast grinders and kettle chips for lunch.  I read half of Matt’s new book, while Luke read Hemming’s Motor News.  We collected sea shells, stared at the horizon.
Then, they came.  Strangers, with two kids in tow and a grandmother.  Nine, stunning miles of coastline and they anchor on top of – minutes later into our boat.  The crash of collision is spared, thanks to a choppy wave and a quick captain.  Their anchor drags on.  They reset.  The life-jacket-clad four-year-old twins kick sand on Luke’s magazine, squabble over sea shells and begin to demand lunch.
Nine miles.  Yup.
We packed up, headed north.
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Where to? as said in the Sixth hour.
The Blue-Wave Bay boat was perfect and it liked to ride skinny [in the shoals] and smooth.  We zipped around Pine Island Sound, peered out at Gasparilla Island across Boca Grande Pass.
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The warm, salty tropical waves danced atop horizon’s view.  In my head it was confetti to a first trip away, confetti for 28 hours of joy.
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Hour seven:  hike.
Cabbage Key tucks itself into the eastern edge of barrier island Cayo Costa.  This 100-acre island is a wildlife preserve with a twenty minute trailed hike around the shore.  I was eager to look for Osprey and other Floridian wildlife.

Our friend, front porch’s tortoise, enjoyed an afternoon snack.  I knelt down to take his (or her) picture and just as I got closer Luke said, I think that’s a snapping turtle.  I freaked out and took a few steps back.
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Linda,  my purse made by a talented pal gets a ride on the shoulder of my man.  Looks good, right?
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I couldn’t get over the cactus vines and how they climbed, like some version of Tropical Jack and the Bean Stalk.
The flora and fauna are labeled with signs, but I was too freaked out over fire ants to stop and read each sign.  
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We walked up to the top of the water tower with sweeping Gulf views.  We’d heard that Cabbage Key boasts the highest elevation in the country at thirty-eight feet above sea level and sits happily above an Indian shell mound.  Atop the white tower, where countless guests have undoubtedly looked for sunset’s lucky green flash, we felt on top of the tropical world.
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Such old wood, such strong wood to withstand so many hurricanes.
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Ahhh, sweeping Gulf views.
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Ahhh, hurricane’s tattoo.
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We saw live oaks, gumbo limbos, eponymous cabbage palms, buttonwoods.  
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Funny, Luke stopped to read all the signs, slowly strolling over sandy, shell-encrusted trails and never came across a fire ant.  I have so much to learn from this man.
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We saw palm-less palms.  My mind pictured palm leaves and coconuts swirling in hurricane’s force.
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Geckos: everywhere and at all times.
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Hour eight:  bar.
When you enter, you’ll hear the gentle flapping of $70,000 on the walls, ceiling, backs of doors.  They’ll tell you $10,000 falls down a year and is donated to charity:  9/11, hurricane relief funds, and most recently a local At-Risk youth school.  Now, they’d like to continue keeping it local.
When you walk in, you’ll hear the masking tape and the money move with the fans and the tropical breeze.  It’s dimly lit and the building is mummified with money.  There’s a picture of Jimmy Buffet behind the bar. He’s on the stereo, too.  We’ve been hearing about Cabbage Key burgers for days leading up to our trip.  Turns out, Jimmy wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” about this very spot.  
When you ask about the money, you’ll see how each bill bears a name, a date, a word, or a hometown written in black. Sharpie.  When you ask, you’ll hear of a fisherman long ago who wrote his name on a dollar bill and pinned it to the wall so that the next time he came in for a beer he’d have money, regardless of it having been a good day at sea or not.
When you walk in, you’ll be mesmerized with the Sharpie love notes, framed in masking tape.
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In 1929, The Rineharts purchased Cabbage Key for $2,500 and spent over $125,000 on what still stands today.  The Stults ran the resort from 1944 to 1969, where this fish hung on the wall in what was once a library, now bar-library with many of the original books on the shelf.  The present owners, Rob and Phyllis Wells, have done a fantastic job maintaining the charm for the past thirty years.
Over stone crab, I was lucky to meet Ken who spoke of growing up with his brother on the island, and taking a boat ashore for school when weather permitted.  Not much has changed since he was a boy, except the solar energy system and a 25,000 gallon reinforced concrete water storage.
Over lemonade, I met Fish.  He grew up at a boy scout camp.  I heard him shout from restaurant’s front porch, Look out for shoals beside channel on your way out.  I’m not a captain by any means, just a passenger on my boat.  I looked out to turquoise sand bars and envisioned boats around, abound.
Luke ordered another beer from a once-Chicago-Nightclub-owner bartender.  I learned we shared the same birthday.  He was hilarious, and if the weather hadn’t been so perfect I bet we could have sat on the bar stool for hours and traded stories.
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We paid our tab and ventured out into the full sun, full humidity.
We live in the evergreen state, but evergreens are aesthetically my least favorite tree.  I’m so drawn to the root patterns, sap and bark of others.
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Hour nine:  snooze.
I felt absolutely over-the-moon, blessed, simply all of it that’s ever been said about excitement that we got the opportunity to stay one serene night in a waterfront house called the Cabbage Patch.
Our lovely Cabbage Patch had two bedroom, each equally tranquil.  We had two bathrooms, each equally immaculate with breathtaking views.  We loved the air conditioning most, and of course the recent renovations that made this getaway so amazing.
I decided on a king-sized nap, while Luke read and enjoyed a beverage of choice in another room.  It was incredible to have so much space to ourselves.  It was such a perfect nap.  I woke when my heart told me to get up, rather than to a tug of Mommy! or to alarm clock’s buzz.
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While I slept, Luke used my camera to capture front door’s view:  a seashell, a taxi-tour boat.
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Hour ten:  peace.
I read 140 more pages of Two Kisses for Maddy.  I couldn’t believe how pretty everything was.  In my head it went something like this:  Neat, look at those pretty baby sand sharks under the dock.  Look at those pretty mangroves.  Cool, look at that pretty pelican catching fish.  Pretty, look at that pod of dolphins.  Pretty, look how cute my pedicure looks.  Funny, when one *bad* adjective gets stuck inside and attaches itself to every noun you see.
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Luke joined me on the dock.  We sat near sunset, still sunscreen-y salty from our beach travels and we watched a pod of dolphins, lone sailboats at anchor and hilarious powerboats with names like Git ‘Er Done.  We laughed.  A lot.  It felt good to simply be.  To be at the end of a dock, so close to the equator with someone so close.
Really the whole experience was like a dream.  Loved.  Every.  Minute.
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This day held one deadline:  eight thirty dinner reservations.
I learned many things from our wonderful server.  His stories stuck.  I was so lost in his narrative, I can’t remember his name.  Well, it’s often been said we take with us what’s important.
Thirty years ago he got off a plane and someone asked him, Hey, want to grab a cheeseburger in the middle of the Gulf?  That was his first trip to Cabbage Key.  Now, it’s been 7 1/2 years since he’s seen mainland’s rush.  With no roads or vehicles on the island, it’s been about that long since he’s driven a car.  He’s a past photographer of anything with a heartbeat.  When he isn’t daydreaming about dog ownership [island rule:  no employee dogs], he’s building his own guitar.  He was a dog groomer and told of a tale of Ling Ling, the Sharpei.

…Now this dog was a Bruce Lee descendant, as an adult more wrinkly than a puppy.  Her beautiful eyes were too saggy, so he got her a seeing eye dog from Bruce Greenwood [maybe he’s a baseball player].  This seeing eye dog would hold Ling Ling’s leash in her mouth until the day she died.  [Hmm.  I should totally know who Bruce Greenwood is]  The seeing eye dog died days later of a broken heart…

He talked some more, as my mind wandered to a sandy, sunset-y beach with Ling Ling and the dog I pictured with a baseball hat.  I felt sad, but also felt a lot of love in how maybe Luke and I hold each other’s leashes.  Then I laughed.  Out loud at how cheesy that thought was.  Then our waiter said, I live in a house boat.  I realized the story had changed.  My mind wandered.  Oh well, it could.  The beauty of this fine, super-tasty meal was the kidless, romantic air with the waiter with fabulous narratives.
We topped the meal with a Key Lime pie with the same recipe since 1944.  Out.  Of.  This.  World.
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Hour fourteen.
During our moonlit walk back to our house on the east tip of the island, we couldn’t believe how much we could see.  Luke said, I mean, really.  It’s brighter here and now than it is on a sunny day at home.  We didn’t have a tripod, and I was terrified of what might lurk in the cactus-y, thick mangroved trail’s edge.  The images of the moon are blurry, with the camera resting atop my hurry up we shouldn’t stand still head jolts. But, you get the idea.  It looked a Pacific Northwest sunshine-y day.
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Hour twenty-two.
We slept in and woke with only ourselves on our mind.  Hmm, should I brush my teeth now?  Maybe I’ll walk on the dock instead of usual just-up at home activities: pouring children’s granola and changing a diaper.
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We walked to breakfast, beside an egret the worker’s named Floyd,
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tropical Spanish moss,
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tropical trees,
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tropical flowers,
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and I thought, Wow.  I’m going to miss all this topical-ness.
I saw three little ducks that reminded me of our three little ladies.  I thought Lucy would say, Look.  Those ducks are from our island.  They must be on vacation, too.
And I thought, Wow.  I miss all our daughters.
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We called our beautiful three girls on speaker.  It was funny how connected we instantly felt within cell service.  We walked into the charming restaurant and put up a dollar bill.  Without date, just three perfect names.
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I made three very important wishes with my eyes closed as I taped the masking frame.
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Hour twenty five:  pack, back to mainland.
If the coffee at breakfast hadn’t been Maxwell House and well water, I’d still be there.  I’d wouldn’t make it without fabulous, Northwest coffee.  I happily drank my coffee bean water.  Luke laughed.  I’m so glad that even in paradise, not everything is perfect.  Because, up until this morning mug, everything has been just that:  perfect.
It was hard to say goodbye to our house with the private dock, private boat.  I’m pretty sure I did a ceremonial pat to the Adirondack chairs that held so much silence, so much relaxation.  Then, bittersweet goodbyes to the staff.  In an amazingly short amount of time, we’d really bonded with them.  They were such a great family – all employees eating together for all meals of the day in the restaurant.  It sounds like most live together in a giant house.  With few structures on the island, it must be that way.  Love it.
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Goodbye, Cabbage Patch.
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I liked the community of the mangroves, the endless channels leading to island, to island.  When I saw this floating bait shop, I thought, Wow.  That would be awesome if it was an espresso shack.  It’ll be good to get home, to drive up to one of those.  I guess the latter is proof that you can take the espresso-loving girl to tarpon fishing heaven, but you can’t take the espresso-obsession away for too long.  Thinking this, I felt like such a Seattle stereotype.
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Leading back to Pineland Marina, stillness abound.
Dredging’s breakwater gave way to mangrove, after mangrove.
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Piling’s perch gave rest to eider, after eider.
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There’s beauty in the stills of Pineland Marina.
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We spent 28 lovely hours away from our babes.  Then, in less than 28 hours, we went from a humid, tropical boat ride beside Useppa Island…
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to a ferry ride beside Decatur Island’s little island pals in Rosario Strait.
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I think it’s going to be a long, long time before we have a tropical vacation again.  I’m still savouring each humid, turquoise and pastel sunset-y moment.

11 Comments

  • MJ says:

    OMG!! I am totally adding Bob's Island Adventure to our list. I realize you are not that far from us!! And Cayo Costa, wow!! Captiva has always been on my list of getaways to do with hubs, so I think you would say thumbs up? I love your adventures Jen, thanks so much for sharing :).

  • Divine! All your Fl pics have made me so nostalgic to go home. You've inspired me to plan a long trip down this winter when my mom's there. Wanna meet up?! 🙂

  • Jealous! What a perfect tropical getaway. I love SW Florida…

  • Crystal says:

    Wow, I feel like I just went on vacation too, reading that post.. if the pictures are that beautiful, I can only imagine it in real life!

  • Wow! What an adventure! So many beautiful pictures – I agree with Crystal, I feel like I've been on vacation, too. Ah…

  • Melina says:

    I'm clinging to the photos of sun dresses, sea breezes and tropical flowers as I sit in the midst of the dreariest seattle spring ever….

    xox
    Melina

  • Kt says:

    Looks truly blissful!!! Gorgeous photos. I could sooooo do with that kind of a break!

  • amy says:

    We love, love, love camping at Cayo Costa and going to lunch at Cabbage Key. It is so beautiful and magical. I always come home changed. Usually, dreaming about buying a sailboat and moving to an island. It was fun to see it through another's eyes. You should take your kids camping on CC. The cabins are rustic with no electric or water. You pack everything in for your stay and it is amazing. My kids call it “our island.”

  • amy says:

    oh, and it is a gopher tortoise. they are endangered and it is illegal to move, touch or feed them. they are important because they are a “keyhole” animal – meaning their habitat/tunnel is home for alot of other things. so, when one dies (or is buried in construction, which is what happens the most) a whole colony dies. i have a reptile crazy son:)

  • Cory says:

    I just went on your vacation with you. It was awesome! Thank You! I so needed that!

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