Archive for September, 2012

Video of Quirky, Wonderful Captiva Island

Captiva Island is a little sliver of land nestled against Florida’s southwest Gulf coast. It’s has a slightly off-kilter feel, a wonderful and almost magical feel. You might discover a giant frog there, a restaurant where it’s Christmas all year long, or even a tiny starfish.

Check out my video to see if it might be your perfect getaway!

Insider’s Warning: Watching this video could result in beach envy, or even a vacation.

Continue reading Video of Quirky, Wonderful Captiva Island »

Photo: Atlantic Ocean from House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar, Stuart

A view of the Atlantic Ocean from Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge in Stuart, the oldest building in Martin County.

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House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert's Bar: Stuart's Sanctuary for Shipwrecked Seamen

The parlor still has its original furniture, with small Victorian tables, sofas adorned with doilies and an early Thomas Edison gramophone. The bedrooms still have beds with brass headrails and books on cracked wooden shelves. The tiny kitchen — where there’s barely room for anyone to sit down — has hanging utensils and the original coal-fired, potbellied stove. Shards of light stream in through the wood-framed windows, landing on worn floors.  

There was once life in this building, once laughter and celebration, sadness and struggle. But the only sounds you’ll hear are surf washing onto the shore and the American flag flapping in the sea breeze.

While quiet now, this house — the House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert's Bar — and the beach in Stuart that surrounds it echo the stories of lives along the sea.

It’s named after Don Pedro Gilbert, a notorious Spanish pirate in the early 1800s who used to prowl these waters in his ship, Panda. Operating from a bar of sand jutting into the ocean, Gilbert’s men would light fires on the beach, fooling many a ship’s captain into thinking they were victims of a shipwreck.

Once the unsuspecting victims were lured to the beach, Don Pedro’s men would jump them and kill them, take their treasure and sink their ship.

In 1832, Don Pedro and his crew attacked an American ship named, interestingly, the Mexican. They removed the $20,000 worth of treasure, locked the crew below decks and set fire to the ship.

The ship’s crew, though, somehow managed to unlock the door and put out the fire. They returned to port with their story, and Americans were outraged. In 1833, the British Navy caught Gilbert and his men off the coast of Africa as they were loading slaves onto the Panda for transport. Britain then extradited the men to the United States, where they were hanged for their crimes.

History is often ironic, however, and this stretch of beach eventually became a haven for several generations of shipwrecked sailors.

This area of Florida (about 40 miles north of West Palm Beach) — called the “Treasure Coast”  — is the site of many shipwrecks and a lot of buried treasure. Shortly after the Civil War, Congress appropriated funds for the U.S. Lifesaving Service to construct 10 “houses of refuge” between St. Augustine and the Keys that could offer shelter to any shipwrecked sailors lucky enough to reach shore.

Each building housed a “keeper” and his family on the bottom floor and 10 to 20 cots on the top floor for sailors, along with enough food for all. When shipwrecked sailors were well again, the keeper would give them enough money and supplies to find their way back home.   

After every storm, the keeper and his family would walk along the beaches, searching for survivors. And, in between the storms, they lived a life of isolation, fighting boredom, heat and mosquitoes.  

In 1915, the facility became U.S. Coast Guard Station No. 207. Two years later, when the U.S. entered World War I, the keeper and the crew of four were augmented by members of the local Home Guard.

During World War II, German U-boats sank several American ships off this coast, sparking huge explosions that could be seen onshore. So the facility added manpower and an observation tower. When the war ended in 1945, it was decommissioned.   

Today, you can walk through the living quarters of the keepers’ families. A small onsite museum showcases photographs, nautical memorabilia from sunken ships, artifacts from 19th century life in these parts, personal items from the families who lived here, and documents and news clippings about Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge and the Treasure Coast (including Stuart News photographs of American ships on fire after being torpedoed by the Germans in 1942).

If you look about 100 yards offshore, you can still see part of the Georges Valentine, an Italian brigantine that sank during a storm in 1904. Today it serves as an artificial reef and diving site.

Nine of the 10 Florida houses of refuge are gone now. But the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge still stands silent sentinel over the Treasure Coast, as it has for 150 years.

If You Go

The House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert’s Bar, 301 MacArthur Boulevard, in Stuart is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 5-12. Children under 5 are free. For more information, visit the Elliott Museum website at or call 772-225-1875.

Steve Winston has written/contributed to 17 books. His articles have appeared in major media all over the world.

Continue reading House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert's Bar: Stuart's Sanctuary for Shipwrecked Seamen »

Enter the South Walton Gulf Paradise Getaway Sweepstakes

Beaches heaped with sugar sand. Masseuses kneading the knots out of your body. Savoring a glass of wine while you listen to the Gulf play its sweet melody.

This is the stuff South Walton getaways are made of, and you could possibly enjoy it all for free. I’m as serious as a stingray! Cross all of your fingers and all of your toes for good luck and enter the South Walton Gulf Paradise Getaway Sweepstakes.

The winner will receive:

  • Five nights in a Gulf view room at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa
  • Daily Breakfast Buffet for two at Sandcastles
  • Two massages at Serenity by the Sea Spa
  • A Welcome Bottle of Wine at check-in

Note: I'd advise you to enter before the next high tide; the sweepstakes ends Sept. 30, 2012.

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Get a Little Sand in Your Soul: Video of New Smyrna Beach Sunset

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It's always our self we find in the sea.
~e.e. cummings

Need a little sand in your soul? Take a peek at my video – and enjoy!

Details: I shot this sunset at New Smyrna Beach, located just a splash south of Daytona Beach. This little surfer’s hangout is the second oldest city in North America and one of the closest beaches to Orlando. It boasts a vibrant art community, an abundance of quirky restaurants and shops, and its beach is award-winning.

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Sea Turtles Set Records at MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach

It has been a busy – and productive — nesting season for sea turtles at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park (10900 Jack Nicklaus Drive, North Palm Beach, FL 33408).  Loggerhead turtles laid 1,664 nests, surpassing the previous record of 1,308 set in 1995. Leatherbacks are also having a record-breaking season with 93 nests; green turtles are consistent with 208 nests.

And that’s even with Tropical Storm Isaac impacting the numbers. "We estimate that we lost 4 percent of the total number of nests due to Tropical Storm Isaac," says Park Manager Don Bergeron. "Our beach held up well. The health of the plants and keeping the wrack line in place added stability to the beach. Nineteen-hundred nests on 1.6 miles of beach is exciting and gives us hope for the future."

Even better news?

The season’s not over yet; we still have about two months to go.

About John D. MacArthur Beach State Park: It’s Palm Beach County’s only state park, nestled on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Lake Worth Lagoon. It boasts 438 acres of pristine coastal land. Check out my video of the Park.

Insider’s tip: Only one in 1,000 hatchlings will reach reproductive maturity. Despite education programs and new regulations, the greatest threat to turtles is still incidental capture in fishing gear and direct harvesting of the eggs by humans.  Please remember to keep lights out for sea turtles; they disorient hatchlings.

Continue reading Sea Turtles Set Records at MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach »

Free Music by the Sea Concert Series Dances into St. Augustine Sept. 12

The beach makes me happy. Likewise, free events make me happy. And when you combine the two — well, that makes me absolutely gleeful!

The Music by the Sea Concert Series dances into St. Augustine Sept. 12, 2012, promising toe-tapping fun that won’t leave your wallet wailing. Bring your chair or a blanket and enjoy a lively musical performance by Roland Fleming.  

This family-friendly fun event takes place every Wednesday evening through September from 7 to 9 p.m. at the St. Augustine Beach Pier Pavilion (350 A1A South, St. Augustine Beach, FL 32080).

Admission is free. You also can enjoy a signature dinner starting at 6 p.m. from Ripe Bistro for under $10.  For more information, call 904-347-8007.

Continue reading Free Music by the Sea Concert Series Dances into St. Augustine Sept. 12 »

National Public Lands Day Means FREE Admission to National Parks Sept. 29

A natural beach that stretches as far as you can see. Lagoons brimming with sea life. Coastal marshes rich with nature; dunes that curve out of the sand like golden mountains. These are a only a few of the wonders you can discover at our fabulous National Parks –and now you can discover them for free.

I’m as serious as a stingray! In honor of National Public Lands Day, admission to National Parks will cost you nothing—as in nada, zilch, zero– on Sept. 29, 2012.

Here’s the complete list of National Parks in Florida, and here are a few of my favorites:

  • Canaveral National Seashore (Titusville and New Smyrna Beach): If you’re searching for some soul-soothing solitude, this paradise on the Atlantic has your toes written all over it. Canaveral boasts the longest stretch of pristine shore in Florida. Imagine dunes, a lagoon and nothing but the glory of Ma Nature for as far as you can see, and you’ll have it about right. 
  • Biscayne National Park (Miami, Key Biscayne and Homestead): You’re only a splash away from downtown Miami, but you’ll never believe it. The watery wonderland protects four main habitats: mangrove forests, southern Biscayne Bay, more than 40 Florida Keys and part of the world's third longest coral reef, bejeweled with fish and marine life. You can boat, dive, snorkel, camp, watch wildlife… or just enjoy being alive in the great outdoors.
  • Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Jacksonville): One of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast is just waiting for you to discover it. Salt marshes, coastal dunes and hardwood hammocks combine with 6,000 years of human history, making for an unforgettable experience.

Insider’s Tip: One of the coolest ways to explore the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is with Kayak Amelia on Amelia Island. They’re small, local and committed to showing you a great time.

Continue reading National Public Lands Day Means FREE Admission to National Parks Sept. 29 »

Lobster Festival Clatters into Panama City Beach Sept. 13 -16

A truly destitute man is not one without riches, but the poor wretch who has never partaken of lobster. ~ Anonymous

I’ll give you three outstanding reasons to clatter over to Panama City Beachs Lobster Festival—and that’s not even counting the obvious ones like 27 miles of sugar-sand beaches nestled against the emerald waters of the Gulf.

Ready? Here they are:

1.    Huge local lobsters on the weigh-in scales
2.    Fresh lobster prepared every mouth-watering way you can imagine
3.    The 14th Annual Schooners Sand Sculpting Contest

I was betting my beach towel that would convince you!

Schooners, The Last Local Beach Club, is hosting the 23rd Annual Lobster Festival and Tournament Sept. 13 -16, 2012. It’s the biggest four-day lobster festival in Florida, drawing thousands of divers and lobster fans from all over the Southeast. Lobster Tournament divers will compete in a boatload of categories, including Spiny Lobster, Shovelnose Lobster and Big 6.

The final weigh-ins will begin Saturday (Sept. 15) and end Sunday (Sept. 16), when the grand prizes will be awarded. That’s a lip-smacking cause for celebration, because that’s when you get to enjoy a lobster feast – featuring super-fresh local lobster, grilled, fried, sautéed, broiled, chilled, steamed, blackened, whole, halved or skewered.

Can you say bring on the butter?

Smile-worthy note: Proceeds benefit the Florida Aquatic Marine Institute and the Toys For Kids Foundation.

Continue reading Lobster Festival Clatters into Panama City Beach Sept. 13 -16 »

Cocoa Beach Air Show Soars into Town Sept. 22-23

If you love airplanes, action – or just a fun-packed day at the seashore, here's an event that’s sure to tickle your rudders.

The 2012 annual Cocoa Beach Air Show soars into town Sept. 22-23, 2012, providing a unique chance for beachgoers and enthusiasts to watch both civilian and military aviation in action.  The theme of the event is the "Year of Extreme Flight," so as you can imagine it’s going to be exciting.  

The U.S. Marine Corps will showcase a full capabilities demonstration of the V-22 Osprey, an aircraft designed to fly like a plane but also to take off and hover like a helicopter. The Cocoa Beach Air Show was selected as only one of 10 shows in the nation to feature this exclusive air craft demonstration – and I can’t wait to see this bird fly! 

Many viewing areas are free and open to the public.  Premium viewing tickets start at $19.  For more information on VIP tickets, where to stay and show line-up, visit .

Insider’s Tip: If you want to learn to surf, Cocoa Beach is the place to do it. The waters are shallow, the waves are gentle and consistent and several companies offer great instruction.

Continue reading Cocoa Beach Air Show Soars into Town Sept. 22-23 »