Picnics, puffer fish and Eric Milton: A new captain meets the high seas

As spring break destinations go, it’s a hard one to beat.

And though some instinctively link the term with Daytona and Miami Beach, the Sunshine State’s southwest coast offers an experience that’s light on debauchery and heavy on chill.

Unless, of course, you’ve never steered a boat before.

The latter was true for me on a recent Sunday, when I loaded the newly-minted 9-year-old (Ryan), the perpetually accommodating wife (Danielle) and the nearest thing I could find to an accomplished seaman (screenwriting ace Michael Korb) into the trusty Kia for a trip to the Tween Waters Inn.

Upon arrival, the task was simply to keep said trio safe as I sought adventure while taking a maiden voyage as captain of a craft chartered through the Inn’s marina.

The property offers skippers of all stripes a chance to take to myriad waterways – bay, river and gulf among them — at the helm of vessels ranging from 19 to 25 feet. Arrangements can be made by calling (239) 472-6336 or visiting a marina-based representative from Beach Bums Boat Rentals, and all that’s needed to get underway is the requisite state paperwork.

Boat operators who were born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must have a Florida Boating Safety Education Identification Card or a NASBLA-approved safe boating license to operate a motorboat in Florida. Temporary certificates are obtainable in about an hour onsite, or can be acquired prior to arrival by visiting, or

Given that my past captaining experience hadn’t strayed far beyond rubber rafts in backyard pools, I chose the 19-foot Palm Beach model and its 115-horsepower engine and immediately sought the aforementioned Mr. Korb – and his Fort Myers waterfront property street cred – to help ensure the adventure wouldn’t end with an emergency room, a holding cell or an uncharted desert isle.

Toward that end, and armed with sufficient food, drinks and sundries for a three-hour tour, we set off for a back-and-forth trek to Picnic Island, a man-made seven-acre tract that was created by dredging near the confluence of Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass and the Caloosahatchee River.

It’s clearly visible and probably an invigorating swim from the bridges connecting Sanibel Island to the Lee County mainland, but Captiva’s orientation a bit more to the northwest requires a leisurely eight-mile trip that we covered in 45 minutes over glistening and (thankfully) chop-free conditions.

There are no docks, but our boat was easily anchored just a few steps from shore — allowing chairs, towels and umbrellas to be quickly transported. The island’s north side provides a shallow wading area while the south is more wooded, and the entire expanse can be covered on foot in no more than half an hour alongside a generally uninterested menagerie of pelicans, ibis, anhingas and herons.

True to his standing as the trip’s lone Florida native, Ryan chose to stick by the water, where he giddily assembled an entourage of puffer fish, hermit crabs and conch shells, then staked out the boat’s bow for the trip home as the crew’s self-appointed – albeit ultimately unsuccessful — “dolphin spotter.”

As it turned out, the most majestic sighting on the return leg was a palatial home owned by ex-big league pitcher Eric Milton, who must’ve shelled out some of the $47.3 million he earned in an 11-year career (a cool $531,966.28 for each of 89 wins) for a prime spot along the Southwest Florida water.

Seeing how one of his old Cincinnati Reds jerseys still hangs lazily in my wife’s closet – exactly 10 years after his final inglorious game with my favorite team – it’s pretty much a lock that we’ll be stopping by for drinks the next time we’re in the neighborhood.

I figure he owes us at least that much.


Getting My Day in (Pool-Side) Court

If you want danger, Florida’s got plenty.

The late-summer heat and humidity can be enough to swallow a tourist whole, which is similar to the fate that can await those who traipse uninitiated into the area’s many bodies of fresh or salt water – where they might just meet face-to-face with a hungry alligator or snack-seeking shark.

Which is precisely why I chose to keep my latest outdoor adventure on good old terra firma.

Proving ground in paradise.
Proving ground in paradise.

Of course, what I lacked in carnivorous marine life I now more than make up for in middle-aged joint pain, thanks in no small way to the pool-side tennis courts at the ’Tween Waters Inn.

Fueled by the sort of early September U.S. Open zeal that used to let me get a three-setter in before my junior year Editorial Methods class, I called upon good friend and colleague Michael Korb to play Andre Agassi to my John McEnroe in a 40-something reenactment of hard-court glory days gone by.

Truth is, we were a lot closer to Brooke Shields and Tatum O’Neal even at our peaks, but the pristine, sun-soaked playing surface made it feel enough like Flushing Meadow to render the task worthwhile.

Indulging our inner John and Andre.
Indulging our inner John and Andre.

The courts are open free of charge to resort guests from dawn to dusk, and can be reserved via the sign-up sheet that’s tucked away at the front desk. “Andre” and I strolled in the office shortly after 9 on a recent Sunday morning, and we were exchanging serves, volleys and maniacal grunts well before 9:30.

The subsequent two hours featured pretty much more of the same, with the occasional skid, tumble and snarky comment mixed in for color – not to mention the groans, head shakes and cringing glances around the perimeter fence to make sure no one had seen us whiff on a would-be overhead smash.

By 12, we were passing the Icy Hot while drowning our soreness in cool drinks at the Oasis Pool Bar.

Which, when you think about it, is a lot easier than lugging a silly trophy back to the car anyway.


Need Gear?
Rackets can be rented at the marina for $6 (for a 2½-hour time block) between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Balls are included at no additional charge. A complimentary clinic is held every Saturday for adults and children, and lessons are available from a vendor who contracts with the resort.

Sweating it Out on the Tour de Captiva

OK, I’ve finally conceded that I’ll never be mistaken for Lance Armstrong.

But while a month on a bicycle in France isn’t viable for a 45-year-old who breaks a sweat taking out garbage, it’s lucky that Southwest Florida is not without more suitable two-wheeled options.

And if you’re seeking to get your pedal on, why not enjoy a little scenery along the way?

Some natural roadside scenery
Some natural roadside scenery

The quest for mild exertion amid world-class visuals begins conveniently at the Tween Waters Inn’s bayside marina, where a full complement of non-geared bikes are available for rental by resort guests. Rates start at $15 for the first two-and-a-half hours and $5 per hour thereafter, an outlay which provides instant access to a fleet of ready-to-roll machines stationed a turn or two from Captiva Drive.

From there, the options are only limited by the spring in your legs and the air in your lungs.

My Saturday adventure (rentals are available starting at 9 a.m. sharp) began alongside good friend and colleague Michael Korb, who joined me in the mid-morning scorch as we hung a left out of the parking lot with visions of a full 28-mile trek from resort to Sanibel lighthouse and back.

It only took a trickle of middle-aged perspiration – which arrived after barely 60 seconds – to get us rethinking those objectives. And by the time we’d rolled two miles to picturesque Blind Pass, we were content with the idea that a 15-mile ride with higher aspirations would substitute nicely for a nearly 30-mile version that was 50/50 to end with a next-of-kin notification.

Fortunately, there was enough eye candy in our midst to distract any battered 40-plus ego.

Picture break at Blind Pass
Picture break at Blind Pass

Our leisurely tour brought us past the familiar cadre of fishermen on the bridge, alongside the occasional white egret strolling the fence line of the sprawling “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge and face to face with a vagabond gopher tortoise happily munching grass in the linked video while cars whizzed past just feet away.

We used the refuge’s parking lot as a pit stop prior to a thankfully tail-winded return trip to the resort, and the jaunt was capped by a visit to the pristine beach across the street before the bikes were re-racked alongside the marina steps just a few minutes before noon.

It’s far more sand than Champs Elysees, but as finish lines go it’s pretty tough to beat.

The perfect finish line
The perfect finish line