Everglades Adventures

Alligator Port of the Islands
Regular visitor to our dock at Port of the Islands

We arrived at Port of the Islands last August, after a trip to the Dry Tortugas and a quick haulout in Key Largo, to get a change of scenery, find a safe place to wait out hurricane season, and be near family in Naples for some important events (graduations, weddings, birthdays).

Take Two at Port of the Islands 2
Take Two at Port of the Islands

That was seven months ago. Much has changed, and what started out as a temporary stay has started to feel semi-permanent. I took over management of much of my mom’s medical care, giving my brother and sister-in-law a much-needed break. She’s had three hospital stays since Christmas, and I’m glad I was only thirty minutes away. Jay’s dad has also been in the hospital and continues to have medical issues that make us feel like we need to be nearby—both to be helpful and to spend time with him.

St. Patty's Day at Skipper's
Family Dinner, St. Patty’s Day

My dad and his wife also live in town, and Jay’s mom and stepdad are only a few hours away, so this is a very convenient location. In addition, it gave Sarah a stable place from which to launch—she joined the Coast Guard in December and shipped out of Miami, only an hour and a half away. She’s now serving at her first station in Shinnecock, NY. We were able to go as a family to New Jersey to see her graduate and spend a day in Philadelphia sightseeing before flying home. Aaron got a job at Mercedes-Benz and moved back to Naples at the end of February and is sharing a rental with Eli and one of their cousins. I never expected to be here so long, but I’ve been grateful for the family time. When we’re not out seeking adventure, we take the adventures that come to us!

Sarah, graduation USCG basic training
Sarah’s Graduation from USCG Basic Training, Cape May, NJ

We have used the opportunity to do an in-depth, interdisciplinary, homeschool unit on the Florida Everglades*, getting outdoors as much as the weather (and the bugs!) allow. My brother and his wife, who live about thirty minutes from our marina, have ten kids, ranging in age from five to twenty-three (all of whom are/were homeschooled; the oldest graduates from college this spring). My sister-and-law and I tried to plan one field trip every week and it’s been fun to go exploring as a group.

Everglades National Park Shark Valley Tower View
Moms and Kids at the Shark Valley Observation Tower, Everglades National Park

My favorite field trip so far was the wet walk at the Swamp Celebration at Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery. Our introduction to Big Cypress National Preserve was at the Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor’s Center, about fifteen minutes east of Port of the Islands, where we saw a video about the ecology of the cypress swamp. In the video, a group of school students is on a tour with a biologist, wading through chest deep water. My six-year-old nephew was sitting next to me in the dark, and whispered, “I want to do that!” I became determined to figure out how to make that dream a reality.

Big Cypress National Preserve 3
Big Cypress National Preserve, Loop Road

While visiting the Clyde Butcher gallery on another field trip, I asked how we could get out into the swamp, and they helped me make a reservation for their event in October. It was a perfect Florida fall day—the weather was warm, the water cool, and the sky a cloudless blue. We packed a picnic and headed east on 41. We received the VIP treatment, and our group (me with Rachel and Sam and my brother and his wife with five of their kids) spent an hour and a half hiking through the Cypress swamp ecosystem in surprisingly clear water, learning about flora and fauna from a very knowledgeable and engaging naturalist. On the way home, we stopped at the Kirby Storter boardwalk and got to see a mama alligator and a dozen babies. I hope it was as unforgettable for the kids as it was for me.

Swamp Walk at Clyde Butcher Big Cypress 2
Swamp Celebration, Wet Walk at Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery

The first week of April marks sixteen years since we bought Take Two. As long-term liveaboard sailors, there have been times we felt a little “stuck,” like when we had a newborn, or when we were doing major repairs, or when the weather just didn’t cooperate with our travel plans. For the last few years, we’ve had teenagers who needed some stability, a boat that needed a lot of work, and aging parents who needed help and companionship. Taking the long view, we know that we will eventually travel again, but we may have to settle for short sailing trips or land-based adventures until we’re in a different season of life. When we can’t control the circumstances, we can control our response to them, and make the most of the place we find ourselves.

Dirty Jeep
Jay and Eli getting Sarah’s Jeep muddy in the Picayune Strand State Forest

*Here’s a list of the field trips:

1. Ten Thousand Islands–Port of the Islands (boat tours, kayaking, manatees, alligators), Marsh Trail (wading birds, birds of prey), Collier-Seminole Sate Park (historic walking dredge display and hiking trails), Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, Marco Island Historical Museum

2. Everglades City—Museum of the Everglades (history of the area), Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee (historic general store), Earnest Hamilton Observation Tower

3. Everglades National Park—Shark Valley Tram Ride/Bicycle Trail and Observation Tower

4. Big Cypress National Preserve—Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor’s Center, Ochopee Post Office (smallest post office), Loop Road, Skunk Ape Headquarters, Kirby Storter Roadside Park (boardwalk)

5. Immokalee—Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Robert’s Ranch, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary