Archive for September, 2012

Photo: Kitchen, House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar, Stuart

The kitchen of Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge in Stuart features an original coal-fired, potbellied stove.

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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 elliottmuseumfl.org or call 772-225-1875.

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

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Photo: Keeper’s quarters, House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar, Stuart

The parlor in the keeper’s quarters at Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge in Stuart holds a Thomas Edison gramophone.

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Photo: House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert’s Bar, Stuart

Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge was one of 10 houses commissioned by the U.S. government after the Civil War to be shelters for shipwrecked sailors.

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Sleepovers at SeaWorld in October

Sleep with the fishes, sort of. SeaWorld Orlando is offering families with kids that are in grades K-5, the chance to participate in a sleepover party at SeaWorld! Bring your sleeping bags and your sense of adventure and settle in for a magical evening surrounded by fish, exotic rays and sea dragons inside the floor-to-ceiling aquariums at Manta.

The dates are Oct. 19, 20, 26 and 27, 2012. Arrive at the park at 6 p.m. and stay overnight until 9 a.m. the next morning. Ticket prices are $78 per person or for $103, you can stay and play in the park all the next day (when you wake up)! A pizza dinner and breakfast is included.

Call 1-800-406-2244 tor more info and reservations, or visit their website, seaworldorlando.com.

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Fall Fairs and Festivals on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

As if the season weren’t cause enough to celebrate, here it yields a magnificent harvest of festivals and fairs. As diverse as they are sensational, these events showcase everything from pirates to key lime pie. Here are some of the highlights:

Fort Myers Art Walk and Art Fair
Monthly year round, first Friday; also seasonally, third Saturday
From 6 – 10 p.m., art galleries in the downtown Fort Myers River District highlight the cultural side of the city, with local and national artwork on display. Meet the artists and linger for after-party revelry at 10 p.m. The Saturday Juried Art Fair is held October through April along First Street.

Fort Myers Beach Pirate Fest
Oct. 5 – 7
Ahoy there, matey! Get up close and personal with professional pirates at this swashbuckling shindig that goes overboard with roving musicians and performers, costume contests, Pirate’s Ball, pub crawl and more.

First Ever Restaurant Week
Oct. 5 – 14
Foodies will embrace this first-ever culinary extravaganza, featuring a bounty of fresh Florida fare. At this intimate local event, area restaurants will serve up their signature, locally grown dishes at a discount, from almond-crusted snapper to legendary key lime pie.

'Ding' Darling Days
Oct. 14 – 20
It’s only natural that "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge hosts an enlightening week of interaction with creatures great and small. The fun includes kayak, bicycle and tram tours, sea life cruises, birding, Henson nature puppets, face painting and other family-friendly activities. {pullquote}

The Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival
Nov. 1 – 4
One of the fastest growing paddling festivals in North America, this adventure includes evening socials, film festival, photo contest, fishing tournament and the sheer joy of navigating our scenic waters. You want forget this adventure!

30th Annual Taste of the Town
Nov. 4
A savory celebration featuring samplings from more than 40 restaurants, three great bands, a Kids Entertainment Area and a corn toss tournament with cash prizes! Proceeds benefit The Junior League of Fort Myers and its community projects.

American Sandsculpting Championship Festival
Nov. 16 – 25
The Holiday Inn on Estero Boulevard hosts Florida’s largest sandsculpting competition, where you can witness dozens of world-class sand sculptors create spectacular works of art, peruse the markets and pause for lunch. Little ones will delight in special kid-friendly fun.

Captiva Holiday Village
Nov. 25 – Dec. 20
'Tis the season when Captiva becomes aglow in a joyful tribute to the holidays. Thanksgiving kicks off a cornucopia of weekend festivities including street dancers and fireworks, concerts, a lighted boat parade, decorated golf cart parade and the ever-popular “Captiva Mullet March.”

Mark your calendars, because you’ll “fall” for all the fun brewing at The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel this season!

This article was brought to you by The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. To plan your trip, visit http://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.

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Destin’s Fantastic Fall Fisheries

Fishing fans, one month is barely enough time to take advantage of all the fishing opportunities, especially that time of year. Whether you like to fish inshore, along the beaches or in the deep blue, fall is arguably the best time to fish in the Gulf.

Marsh Majesty

Creeks and rivers wind through towering oak and cypress hammocks before spilling out into the 3,260-square-mile Choctawhatchee Bay estuary – across deltas dominated by lush marsh grasses, oyster reefs and seagrass meadows. These are prime habitats for speckled trout, redfish, black drum, flounder, sheepshead and striped bass. Cooling waters trigger shrimp hatches and baitfish migrations, when these predators begin fattening up for winter. They will hit about any fly, lure or bait.

Sand Bounty {pullquote}

The fall runs of pompano, bluefish, whiting and Spanish mackerel make for stellar surf action. Anglers target these delicious species from beaches, piers, and jetties, with jigs, spoons and plugs. If you’re into a more relaxing fishing experience, sling sandfleas, shrimp or cut mullet out onto the sandbars, stick your rod(s) in a sand spike and have a seat.

Beyond the Breakers

Red drum spawning aggregations form nearshore, offering a rare opportunity to catch multiple redfish from 30 to 50 pounds. On calmer days with high sun, fly and light-tackle anglers sight fish for these giant breeders and chase after the schools of false albacore. There’s not much in fishing that can compete with sight fishing for bull reds and speedy tunas in a few feet of clear water.

Bluewater and Reefs

Gag grouper occur inshore, nearshore and on offshore wrecks and reefs, and the season is open in October. You’ll also catch plenty of powerful amberjacks plus tasty snappers and grunts while targeting the offshore reefs for groupers.

Another species that occurs nearshore and offshore is the Gulf king mackerel, recently declared “fully rebuilt” by scientists and fisheries managers. Veteran captains confirm that they’ve never seen better “kingfishing” in their entire careers. These speedy fish grow to more than 60 pounds.

October is a great month for billfish, tuna, wahoo and mahi. Many offshore fishermen hedge their bets by trolling early, and hitting the reefs for snapper, grouper and amberjack on the way in.

Big Events

The Destin Fishing Rodeo draws anglers from all over the world. Per eligible species, the tournament offers prizes for dozens of fish. Entry is free for anglers fishing aboard a registered boat. Visit
www.destinfishingrodeo.org.

Also in October, Destin celebrates with a Seafood Festival: www.destinseafoodfestival.org. Bring the family and dig in.

This article is brought to you by Northwest Florida's Emerald Coast. To plan your trip to the Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, go to www.emeraldcoastfl.com.

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Sarasota Halloween Happenings

There’s big family fun happening in Sarasota for families in October. For starters, the 4th annual Sarasota Pumpkin Festival takes place Oct. 19 -21 and 26-28, 2012 at the Sarasota Fairgrounds

This is a great event for all ages.There will be carnival rides, pie eating and costume contests, a “Not-So-Scary Haunted House” that’s perfect for children, pumpkin carvings, live entertainment, food vendors and more.

Best of all, this event is free for kids 12 and under and the $5 admission price for adults benefits All Childrens Hospital. For more info, log on to www.sarasotapumkinfestival.com.

Also, the Mote Marine Aquarium is invites families for Halloween fun the entire month of October. On Saturdays and Sundays, kids in costume will get in for free (with the purchase of an adult ticket) and a trick-or-treat bag.

On Oct. 19, 2012, the Aquarium will have their annual Fun, Fish and Fright Night. You won’t want to miss this! There will be trick-or-treating, and be sure to see their  famous underwater pumpkin carvings. Call 941-388-4441 for more info.

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Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando

My friend Donna loves Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights – she wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s the adrenaline rush and the fear that she feeds on – she can’t get enough. Me, well, I’ll wait right here while you go  s c r e a m !

Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN22) begins in only ten days and it's available on select nights from Sept. 21 through Oct. 31, 2012. This year, you can go inside the demented mind of Alice Cooper and watch as a magic trick goes horrifyingly wrong for Penn & Teller…think you can survive? Then, get your tickets now. As a note, this event is not recommended for anyone under the age of 13.

Florida Resident Gory Getaway

This deal is for Florida residents so if you can show proof of residency, you can stay at a Universal Partner Hotel from only $99 per adult, tax inclusive – and look at what’s included:

  • 1-Night accommodations at a Universal Partner Hotel
  • 1-Night admission to Halloween Horror Nights
  • Admission to select live entertainment venues at Universal CityWalk
  • One 5"x7" souvenir photograph

Want to start screaming sooner? Just upgrade to an on-site hotel. And when you show your room key from your fabulous onsite hotel, you can get Priority Access into Halloween Horror Nights from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. (show your admission ticket too). Then you’re all set for an evening of demented and diabolical fun. Good luck with that!

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