I’ve noticed something a bit disturbing about boat owners here in Southwest Florida. A majority of them rarely use their boat. This statement isn’t from scientific polls of owners, but of my own observations while running charters out of marinas. Each morning I’d leave the marina and notice that the same nearly new boat was still moored, or on a boat lift, day after day after day. Yep, it was still there on my return. I just can’t imagine paying thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars for something you don’t use. Especially with all the wonderful places along our coast that can be accessed only by boat.
Many years ago my brother and I took a couple of boats loaded with gear up to Cayo Costa Island, where access is only by boat, for an overnight stay on the beach. We packed fishing gear, a small grill, sleeping bags and coolers with food and drink. We spent the day fishing along the shoreline and caught lots of snook. Later, as night took over the island, the sky lit up with more stars than anyone will ever see while on the mainland. We could see stars all the way down to the water on the western horizon. This memorable trip was brought to us by our boats. So why on earth do some Floridians buy a boat they never use?
Perhaps the fear of the unknown plays a big part in this mystery. A boat is a much different animal than an automobile and it does take a bit more expertise to operate, but it certainly isn’t rocket science. With just a few lessons aboard the boat with a licensed captain, any skipper can become proficient enough to go to some very special places.
Have you had a cheeseburger in paradise? You can, if you own a boat. Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant is famous for serving more cheeseburgers than any other location in Florida thanks to its rumored connection to Jimmy Buffett’s song “Cheeseburger In Paradise” and it’s only accessible by boat. You can spend a few hours, or book a room or cottage and spend the entire weekend away from the hustle and bustle of real life on the mainland. I love the pirate like atmosphere of the bar. Before leaving I always staple another autographed dollar bill to the wall alongside the thousands of others left by island travelers.
Fishing is enjoyed by a great many Fort Myers Beach residents and visitors, but mostly on foot. Don’t own a boat? You can rent one at many of the marinas located on Estero Bay. The rental will include a chart and instruction for navigating the local waters, but before leaving the dock be sure to ask for locations where the fish have been biting. You won’t get the dock-master’s secret spots, but he or she will be glad to head you in the right direction. They can also supply bait and tackle if needed.
Estero Bay has many very special places that can only be explored with a boat. I spent a great deal of my charter captain life in the backcountry searching for fish, but there were times when I’d just stop and look around and marvel at how lucky I was to be there. It’s beautiful and something that most residents and visitors have never seen. If you own a skiff or a bay boat do yourself a favor and venture into the far reaches of Estero Bay. The Horseshoe Keys, Rocky Bay and Hell Peckney Bay are some of my favorites.
Please don’t let a boat sit at the dock. One of my friends said something that I feel addresses this problem and should be passed along. Owners should have a date night with their boat. We’ll call it a ‘boat date day’ where you schedule a boat trip at least twice a month and stick to it each and every month.
I like that.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman and retired spin & fly fishing guide and host of REEL Talk Radio on ESPN 99.3 FM every Saturday morning. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association.