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Shelling on Sanibel

The pickings were more than generous at low tide on Thursday, our first full day on the island because the winds pushed shell piles up on the Gulfside beach, clearly a buffet shelling day. While my girlfriend, our expert, searched strategically for the perfect ones (she’s got 24 boxes stowed away at home), John and I collected like little kids shaking presents at Christmas, every shell was a potential target.  And, in the beginning, almost every shell was a treasure, until our expert judged its worthiness based on type, condition and rarity.  After a few reviews and supplemental instruction, we were promoted to “Sheller Junior Class”, feeling better about what we were looking for, pretty much; kind of like having the training wheels on your first bicycle taken off.  It a thrill to go it alone, but you fall down, scrapping your knees now and then.

By Florida law, a shell can be collected only if the animal inside is dead or the shell is empty so the collecting process takes on the air of a mating ritual.  It starts with bending over, looking into the sand or surf as you walk very slowly.  Once a ‘good one’ is spied, step two is to pick it up to peruse it visually, then smell, taking in all its aroma.  If the shell does not stink, it’s empty, or if there’s a stink, you’ve got a dead one and can go to step three.  If you see a critter’s foot, you have a live one and you must return it.  If you make it to step three, pop the shell into your net collection bag and ‘carry on’ until either your bag is full or your back aches.    Once back home, a good soaking in bleach water should kill the dead ones’ stink, but you have to pull out ‘remains’ which can be a challenge. Still stinks?  Bury it in the ground and let grubs clean it out. You be the judge of how much fun this can be.

Shell Show

On Friday, we supplemented our shelling with a visit to the world renown Annual Sanibel Island Shell Show (no kidding, it’s famous). There I discovered a sub-culture akin  to Star Trek conventions, sans costumes. There were two major tracks — scientific perfection with the emphasis on collecting…

…and artistic perfection with the emphasis on design. Shell flowers and the very traditional ‘Sailor’s Valentine’ competed with decorative sculpture and displays of all sorts.  Pick out your favorite in the slide show below.

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Scouting our sailing end game

Our sail plan is, starting in early October, to travel down the east coast via the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and coastal sailing, targeting  the Key West – Bahamas environs.  But eventually we will need to move on or back up north.  We had no end game in mind, but knew we needed one.  But where?  We’re done with the cold of winter and the intensity of Washington politics, so coming back north is a ‘been there, done that’ experience.  Worst case, if we had to, we’d come back north to Beaufort, SC or St. Simon’s for winter, but why not think a bit out of the box?   Why not move to where it is not only warm all year round, but also where we would be close to friends and family, say Naples, Sanibel, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach or St. Pete?

Energized by the idea of new options (yes, I drive my husband crazy), we took several short trips to scout Gulf Coast locations and check out marinas.

  • Fort Myers, a quiet place with a most welcoming three mile palm lined boulevard, is bound by 55′ bridges.  Our boat’s 64′ clearance won’t make it, so scratch that city.
  • Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island is the Jersey Shore on steroids – with less space, more kids, and only one bridge in and out.  Although there are several marinas that could accommodate our boat, the chaotic traffic of the place quickly forced us back to the mainland.  However, we did find the home of the shrimp boats on the mainland side.  Magnificat creatures – the shrimp boats.


  • Upscale Naples (south of Fort Myers/Sanibel area) with its Four Seasons Hotel is an elegant place, but more oldish than youngish, and not very affordable; however, it’s a good place to stop for a week after sailing up the west coast of Florida from Key West.
  • Sanibel is the land of many shallow waters with few marinas that can take our boat. It’s a beautiful island, but a bit too ‘island time’ without reggae music to set you swaying on balmy evenings.  The streets roll up by 9:30 PM.   There is a good stop over marina in Cape Coral, so visiting by boat is very doable.
  • Looking north, Sarasota is like Naples, so despite the fact my sister and her husband lived there, we will not make it our home.
  • That leaves St.Pete.  While driving over the architectural wonder of theSunshineBridge SunShine Bridge into St. Pete, we heard a seductive siren call. We found a vibrant little city with a great diversity of people, bay side park, museums, Florida Southwest University, night life, old homes and apartments being refurbished, and tall new apartments and condos overlooking the city marina. It’s less a tourist mecca than many other Florida locations.

St. Pete is smaller and more compact than its sister city, Tampa, across the causeway.  Little Red Riding Hood would have found it “just right” and so did we.  And, from what we hear, it’s affordable (by northeast standards).  The old city is rebuilding and regenerating itself, attracting people who understand that air conditioning solves summer heat problems.  So, we put ourselves on the 18 month waiting list for a slip, had a brilliant lunch at Bell Brava, and a trolley tour before we headed back to Sanibel.

Life is good.  I now know that my goal to grow old seeing water everyday, on a boat or not, is achievable.  We are now back home, hoping it doesn’t snow this weekend.