Cruising on Last Dance

This blog archives the adventures of Glen and Jill Moore and provides a means of communication for friends and family. Exploration and adventure have been synonymous with boats and water for centuries. The joy of adventures shared while exploring new places and meeting new people has built a strong bond for Glen and Jill. Last Dance is the platform for the exploration.

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." St. Augustine, 354 - 430

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain, 1835 - 1910

"There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats." The Wind in the Willows, 1908, Kenneth Grahame, 1859 - 1932

"I've never believed speed and ease are conductive to living fully, becoming aware, or deepening memory, a tripod of urges to stabilize and lend meaning to life." River Horse: a log book of a boat across America, 1999, William Least Heat-Moon,1939 -

The Great Loop -- The current adventure is a circumnavigation of the Eastern United States, cruising north up the east coast through New York into Canada, across the Great Lakes to Chicago, navigating multiple river systems south to Mobile, along the Gulf coast to the Florida Keys and back to St. Augustine. This trip by boat is commonly referred to as the Great Loop. Progress and current location are indicated by the red line on the map to the right. It was titled the Traceless Path in recognition of a German sailor we met in St. Augustine who published booklets of his travels with hand-drawn, detailed maps describing his travels across the water as the Traceless Path.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Everglades City - Chokoloskee

The Everglades, once considered a swamp, is actually a wide, shallow river running from Lake Okeechobee to the west Florida coast (The Everglades: A River of Grass, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, 1947).  Many islands, known as the 10,000 Islands, have been formed along the coast.  Few inhabited places are located in the Everglades.  Two small communities remain on the west coast, Everglades City and Chokoloskee, highlighted on the chart above.

There is much water among the 10,000 islands, though little with enough depth for a cruising boat.  The channel through the mangrove islands toward Everglades City is tricky with many quite shallow spots.

Everglades City was once a prosperous and important city in southwest Florida.  The impressive city hall stands in tribute to this once thriving town.

The Caloosa inhabited this area for centuries.  The first white settlers arrived during the civil war.  In 1889, George Storter, Jr., purchased the land in this area for $800 and built a home along the river.

The area remained a small fishing village until 1922, when Barron Collier, an advertising millionaire from New York, began buying property, eventually owning most of southwest Florida.  He converted the Storter home into the private Rod & Gun Club.

It has been a popular place hosting many celebrity guests, including Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon.  Films made in the area have brought famous guests - Winds Across the Everglades (Burl Ives, Gypsy Rose Lee), Cannonball Run (Bert Reynolds, Sally Field), Just Cause (Sean Connery), Gone Fishing (Danny Glover and Joe Pesci).  A wide diversity of the famous have visited, from Mick Jagger to Jack Nicklaus to Earnest Hemmingway.

The Rod and Gun Club is now operated as a hotel and restaurant.  It also serves as a marina, tying boats to the bulkhead along the Barron River. A popular stop for cruisers since it is the only place to stop.  The closest anchorage is 3 miles away.

Collier convinced the state and federal governments that a road was needed to connect Tampa and Miami.  With Everglades City near the middle of the proposed road, it made a good headquarters for the construction.  The Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928 and Everglades City began to prosper.  It was the largest city for many years in what became Collier County and served as the County Seat.  Then in 1960, Donna changed everything.  Hurricane Donna blew 8 feet of water over the island, destroying most of the buildings.  The County Seat was moved to Naples in 1962.  The once busy Bank of Everglades is now a bed and breakfast and most of the property in the town is vacant.

Today, one of the biggest industries is air boat rides. (The boat at left has an additional passenger on the bow.) Tourism, restaurants, and fishing make up the majority of the commerce.

This boat for sale illustrates the philosophy that boats priced at "free" are often overpriced.

If a quaint fishing village is a place you might like to settle, an interesting house with a lighthouse is for sale.  A unique property, on the Barron River, with a single wide for a guest cottage (don't want those guests staying too long).  Next door, the airboat ride operation keeps the home humming with the sweet sound of propellers driven by Chevy V8's.  The property comes with a long dock and a fishing boat, easily converted into a cruiser.

Uniqueness may describe much of Everglades City.  Yard art incorporated into landscaping is another example.

In 1947, the same year that Marjorie Stoneman Douglas published her first book, 1.5 million acres of this area was dedicated as the Everglades National Park.  The park headquarters, down the road toward Chokoloskee, has a great specimen of the Gumbo Limbo tree. Its growing range in the U.S. is limited to South Florida and is known as the tourist tree because its red and peeling bark resembles sunburnt tourists who frequent this area.  Gumbo Limbo wood was the primary wood used to carve carousel horses.

There is much history in this area.  Bricks have been placed in front of City Hall to commemorate notable residents.  There is a brick for Totch, whose great-grandfather settled here.  Totch did well making a living from the land, until the land and water became a National Park.  Then it became difficult for him to gather the animals for food and sale.  The Park Service described Totch's difficulties as "poaching."  Randy Wayne White tells the story of Totch looking for other ways to make a living.  He bought an old shrimp boat and went into the import/export business - only, he never exported anything.  He ran afoul of the authorities again, but because of his knowledge of the 10,000 Islands, they never could apprehend him.  Finally, the IRS did.  Totch describes the rigors of living in the Everglades in his autobiography, Totch: A Life in the Everglades,  Loren "Totch" Brown,1993.

In Chokoloskee, the community where Totch was born, the Smallwood General Store still stands.  It is now a museum.  The store has a large role in local history as it is the site where Ed Watson was killed.  The area residents, tiring of Watson's ways, all shot him in front of the store as he stepped off his boat.  The account is detailed in Peter Matthiessen's well-researched historical fiction, Killing Mr. Watson, 1990.

And, for a fun read, Carl Hiaasen's Nature Girl uses Everglades City and the 10,000 Islands as its setting.

Now, with a brief introduction to the Everglades and your reading assignment - Stoneman Douglas, Brown, Matthiessen, Hiaasen - we leave you with a sunset at Cape Sable, the southernmost point of the Florida peninsula.

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