Category Archives: Florida’s Gulf Coast

How a Dolphin Sinks a Boat in Sarasota

Dolphin Sinks Boat in Sarasota Bay

Houseboats and live-aboard yachts used to dot Sarasota’s bay front, an interesting mix of the very wealthy and the working poor, sometimes alcoholic-independent-usually-hippie who lived cheaply in a leaky tub that barely floats. The yachts came and went. The houseboats stayed. The worst of the wrecks have been removed from the bay front since Sarasota started enforcing regulations.

One of the older fishermen (dubbed the “Old Salt”), unlike the other owners of broken down barges, owned a fancy dinghy that he used to row to the pier’s bar at 8 am each morning. But on one particular morning, his routine was suddenly interrupted.

It was a beautiful morning. The dolphin were chasing bait fish through the bay, changing direction the instant they did, and leaping in graceful arches through the air in an effort to close the gap between them.

One of the dolphin leaped high in the air, still chasing the bait fish, and landed, with a loud smack, in the Old Salt’s dinghy. While the folks on the yachts watched, Old Salt tried to roll/pull/push the fish out.

Unfortunately, dolphin are very large and, while not particularly slippery, they’re smooth and bulky and hey, when you have a dolphin in your boat, you know you have a challenge on your hands. One of the men on one of the yachts finally rowed over in his matching rowboat to see what he if he could help.

The fish, of course, didn’t budge, so it was decided that Old Salt would have to sink his dinghy. He transferred his gear to the rowboat, pulled the plug on his dinghy, and climbed into his neighbor’s rowboat.

As the boat quickly took on water, the dolphin swam off without a backward glance, seemingly unaware of the precarious position it had just escaped. Droplets glistened and shone like diamonds as the fish swam away.

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The two men in the rowboat watched the dinghy, now well underwater, slowly sink out of sight.

The yacht owner started to row toward Old Salt’s tug, but he shook his head and pointed to the pier, in the direction of his favorite bar. The yacht owner shrugged, pulled the rowboat around, and headed for the dock.

I guess the moral of the story is that dolphin and yacht owners don’t give a boatload of water about an Old Salt’s assets.

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Mothers Helping Mothers

Mothers Helping Mothers: a Low-Key but Effective Non-Profit Helps Floridians

Here on Finding Florida, I usually share points of interest that are tied to nature, of historical significance, or fun places to see, but today I take you a place that reveals Florida’s compassion, a place that appears a little seedy at first but soon reveals her true beauty…

I spent a few hours on Saturday morning volunteering at Mothers Helping Mothers (MHM), a non-profit, all volunteer organization in Sarasota that was created by one woman who saw a need and set about filling it. Her efforts have grown into a vibrant program that helps almost 3,000 families in need each year.

From the Mothers Helping Mothers website http://www.mhmsarasota.com/:

“ … providing basic necessities such as clothing and baby items free of charge to families in need … we offer emotional support and referrals to other agencies in the surrounding area … ”

Mothers Helping Mothers collects donations in big garbage bags and when one is full, it is stored in a closet for later sorting. When the door can no longer close, they put out the call to churches and other organizations, asking for volunteers to help sort.

It is all quite organized. Children’s toys, infant clothing, shoes, books, and baby supplies (everything from diapers and bottles to crib layettes, strollers, and car seats) are in one room, women’s clothing, older girls and boys clothing in the other. Seasonal clothing is put away for later, designer outfits and gowns (some with tags still attached!) went in the front window. Items needing laundering or mending went in a special basket and items too damaged to give away were put in a box for a man who bought the rags by the pound. Men’s clothing went into a bin to be given to a men’s shelter/help place. The smaller men’s clothing was kept for the boys.

Mothers Helping Mothers is open on Tuesday and Friday mornings. No one is turned away; all items are free. Parents do not need to prove financial need, but a photo ID is required. Limits are generous: up to 15 clothing items per person per household. Only new cribs are given out, free of charge, paid for out of financial donations from others.

We opened bags and put clothing on hangers, placing it on the correct rack. It was almost like having Christmas for somebody else! We tried to hang things attractively, arrange toys to appeal to kids, brush off the purses and hang them at a rakish angle…sort of like playing “store”!

MHM #1

Our morning ended with just a few containers left in the closet.

MHM #2

We would have gladly stayed and finished, but there was no place to put anything more! Every clothes rack was jammed full and the toy chests filled to the brim. No space was left unused: purses hung from the ends of the racks, belts snaked along the top.

On Tuesday morning, I thought of those families going in to see the replenished stock, of a young Mom finding that designer suit or her child’s eyes lighting up at the sight of a teddy bear mountain. And I felt good inside, knowing that I helped to improve my community by helping families to stand on firmer ground. It’s only a drop in the bucket, but when you get enough drops, that bucket can overflow.

I hope that each reader here will one day come find Florida and all her unusual spots, and I hope you include a stop at Mothers Helping Mothers, to see for yourself what one small but really good idea can do.

Hunting Fossilized Shark’s Teeth at Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida

For the Best hunting Ground for Fossilized Sharks Teeth, go to Caspersen Beach in Venice, FL

Caspersen Beach is people-friendly. The new walking trails, paved and unpaved, restroom/shower facilities and walkway have helped make the area even more welcoming to swimmers, sunbathers, fishing enthusiasts, and shell hunters alike.

Caspersen Beach #2

The handicap area is well shaded and the rocky shoreline gives way easily to the beach. Families with small children may find low tide to be less challenging for a swim. There is an ADA compliant playground in the pavilion area.

Caspersen Beach

Caspersen Beach #1

Some dedicated “shellers” invest in a “Florida snow shovel”, a basket with a long metal arm for sifting through the sand. I’m not sure why the shark tooth hunting is so much better at Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida, but it is. They are easy to find along the beach and scuba divers who go digging into the Gulf bottom are often rewarded with super-sized teeth as big as a man’s hand for their efforts.

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It takes a while for the eyes to adjust to the telltale gleam of a fossilized tooth of the ancient carcharodon megalodon, a fifty foot long shark that weighed more than a tyrannosaurus rex.

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The teeth are black because they have fossilized with age. The younger, white teeth, are often too hard to find. They are jumbled up in a swirl of seashells that wash ashore with every wave, at the shell ledge, where the tide coughs up its bounty: a confetti of glimmering silvers and whites, broken bits of shell, sometimes a tinge of pink or aqua, depending on the mollusk. A sliver of black streak on a clamshell looks no different from a shark’s tooth at first, but you learn to look for the shiny black that identifies the composite and then, of course, for the shape.

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The area is not without controversy. In 2010, nude sunbathers and those seeking a bit less exposure clashed over their rights and even the police departments could not agree on who had jurisdiction to sort the mess out. The controversy continues. The naturists hope to curry favor by making extra efforts such as organizing regular beach cleanups, but the law and the majority side with those who oppose a “clothing-optional” beach.

Caspersen Beach #1

Nature still has her way at Caspersen Beach. There are no gulfside motels and hotels lined up along the shore and the condominium crowd is found further inland. Left to her natural state, Caspersen has repaid visitors tenfold with a seemingly endless supply of shark’s teeth and shells, some from as far away as Australia, Mate. Even better, although the beach is popular, parking is plentiful and the beach is big enough to allow each visitor a sense of privacy. The rocks that protect the soft white sand are full of ever-changing tidal pools that bear exploring again and again as each new wave delivers fresh treasure. The water calls the swimmers and surfers closer, and the sun gently warms the soul. Who couldn’t fall in love with Caspersen’s allure?

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St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

Twenty-five miles south of Tallahassee, St. Marks is a small fishing community located in Florida’s Big Bend where the St. Marks River and the Wakulla River converge. The Gulf port on the Apalachee Bay was first developed by Spanish explorers in the 17th century who built a fort that played an important role during the Civil War.

The fort’s foundation is located within the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. Bicyclists and horseback riders enjoy the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail State Park, a sixteen mile long trail that finishes on the St. Marks waterfront. Some believe the fort’s tower once held torches to guide boats safely, which would make it the site of the first lighthouse in the country.

The current lighthouse, St. Marks Light, was built in 1828. It is interesting to note that construction costs for the lighthouse exceeded the allocated $6,000 budget by more than $5,000. Even worse, the first one was rejected because it had hollow walls (you’d think someone would have caught that), so the lighthouse was rebuilt and it was put into use by 1830. Hmmm…a project that costs twice as much as predicted, poorly planned, and poorly executed? Yep. It was a government job! Time and erosion took its inevitable toll and a new lighthouse was built further inland in 1842.

St. Mark’s NWR and Wakulla Springs State Park draw visitors from all states and is popular with birders. The area’s ecosystem ranges from saltwater estuaries and bracken marshes to swamps and forest.

Boating and fishing are big here, of course, so arranging a fishing charter or contacting an outfitter is easy.  Lodging accommodations range from trailer parks to inns (there are various motels and hotels in nearby towns, as well). The Shell Island Fish Camp, located directly on the Wakulla River, offers accommodations that range from motel, cabins (2 bedrooms, kitchen and bath), tents, campers, and a limited number of RV campsites with water, electric, and dump station. A full service marina provides boat rentals and boat repairs.

The Sweet Magnolia Inn Bed and Breakfast offers a slightly different ambience. Its history as a general store, boarding house, brothel, church, city hall, possible bootleg warehouse, hotel, and hurricane shelter offer up many a story on a warm summer night. In its current dress, the B&B stays true to its roots, right down to a fishpond built in the shape of Florida, including the keys.

A vintage shot of my mother, in her first year of college, 1948. She’s the one closest to the shrimping boat:

Mom #9

And St. Marks today:

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We enjoyed our visit and would go again for a more in depth exploration of the area.

A quick note for those who are leaving me notes regarding the website hosting. My tech guru is currently out of the country. When he gets back, I’ll show him your notes and get feedback. In the meantime, thanks for your interest and positive comments (they are very much appreciated!) and please be patient. I will respond to them when I can.

 

A Visit to Gulfport, Florida

Gulfport, Florida is a Step Back in Time

Our trip to Gulfport, Florida, nestled next to St. Petersburg, was a trip down memory lane! Little has changed over the years here and yet it has kept up with the times, offering the best of both worlds: family-friendly safe as well as eclectic Key West-style lifestyle.

We headed for Gulfport’s waterfront district, on the edge of Boca Ciega Bay. The city of 12,000 is an art community, as well as a beach community, and the seaside cottages are painted in bright colors that lift the soul.

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As I stepped through the doors of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, small, by today’s standards, and into the Quonset hut shaped building, I could almost hear the Big Band sound wafting from the stage and instead of tables and booths filled with Florida memorabilia, I could see the pretty girls in their rolled and pinned up hair waiting by the sidelines for a boy in uniform to ask her to dance.

The building sits by (on?) Williams Pier, which juts out over the bay. The crystal chandeliers and the worn wooden floorboards brought me back to the days of shuffleboard and bocce ball and old men feeding seagulls from park benches.

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The Tierra Verde shoreline and the Don Cesar Hotel, aka “The Pink Palace” across the bay, offer pleasing views, whether wiggling your toes in the water or soaking in the sun on a beach towel. The “Don”, originally built as a hotel in 1928 and used as a hospital for recovering soldiers during WWII, reverted back to hotel use in 1973. We stayed there once. The view was fantastic and we watched a beach wedding from our window. It is, however, a historic building and all the quirks are there, including very small guest rooms.

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Gulfport houses and stores are quaint, no high rise condos here, folks, even the library is vintage 1950s. Maybe 60s. It wasn’t terribly crowded, but it was busy. We were all there for what had been billed as “Florida’s largest show” of vintage Florida souvenirs and memorabilia. I found many treasures including a “Florida Queen” cigar box and a matchbook with matches intact. Its outside cover offered “a choice Florida home site (Only $195 per lot, no money down! Purchaser paid $5 per month per lot.). Other finds included a “Graham for Senator” political button, a quilted hat made by Seminole Indians, and shipping labels from a couple of Florida citrus companies.

I priced some textiles, but passed them up. Later, we crossed the street and had lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. There is a wide variety of cuisine choices here and the area has been recognized in the past as a strong contender in “Best Dining Experience”-type competitions.

Ours was a day visit, so we did not get to see all the area had to offer. Next time, I’d like to explore the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve and stroll the grounds of nearby Stetson University.

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