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Cruising back into the history of Matlacha

By Staff | Jul 20, 2009

Six lucky readers of the “Honor” series written by Matlacha author Bob Macomber were recently treated to an unusual cruise on the waters of Matlacha Pass. Climbing aboard an authentic Chinese junk, Steve Ruediger, Carolin Riordan, Bob Daulton, Kelly Cochran, Dan Walz and Renee Boudreaux spent the morning learning about the Matlacha area as well as the latest adventures of Macomber’s character, Peter Wake.
According to Macomber, Matlacha has not always been known as Matlacha.
“In the 1880s, a man named Harson was believed to have been among the first settlers of the island and was the unofficial postman. Because of this, Matlacha was first referred to as Harsonville,” said Macomber. “Many of the buildings in Matlacha were built by squatters and Matlacha only began to see real growth back in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Much of the area around Matlacha remains just as it was all the way back to the Civil War times.”
Macomber also spoke of the role Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound played during the Civil War.
“Civil War action was seen in Pine Island Sound in December of 1861 as the area was frequented by blockade runners,” Macomber said. “Carrying important cargo such as cotton and turpentine, the blockades continued in the area until 1864. Many people don’t realize how involved Florida was during the Civil War and I am often asked, were they for the north or south. To demonstrate Florida’s involvement, I tell them that Florida’s capitol is the only one that was never captured by the northern soldiers east of the Mississippi and there are seven Civil War shipwrecks in our local waters.”
Macomber’s “Honor” series chronicles the adventures of his main character, Wake, who is an officer in the navy stationed in Florida during the Civil War. His works are historical fictions in that the characters are fictitious, but the places and events are true to the period.
“The idea behind my books is to teach people the history of places they may have an inkling about, but don’t know very well,” said Macomber. “I spend a lot of time researching and learning about the areas I write about. I feel very blessed because I get to do what I love to do for a living.”
His latest novel, “The Honored Dead,” finds Wake on what he thought would be a simple mission which quickly evolves into much more.
“Peter Wake was sent to bring a personal message to the king of Cambodia from President Chester Arthur which Wake believed would take two weeks and ended up stretching out to more than six months,” said Macomber. “Wake encountered several events that would change his life for eternity as he faces Chinese-Malay parties and French gangsters as well as suffering near starvation at sea, surviving a typhoon, becoming marooned on a beach and enduring a full-scale battle.”
After doing extensive research from his Matlacha bungalow, Macomber then does what he calls “eyeball recon” where he travels to the areas where his stories are staged. The research for “The Honored Dead” took Macomber to areas that included Cambodia, Vietnam, the Indian Ocean, up the Mekong River and other areas in the Indonesian region.
The reason Macomber decided to invite some of his readers to join him aboard the Concubine, a genuine Chinese junk captained by Matlacha resident Frank Schooly, was to give them a flavor of the essence of his book as well as the research behind it.
“This was an opportunity to experience some of the same things Peter Wake experienced in the novel that is set in 1883,” Macomber said. “It is my hope that those who took the voyage with me will remember how it felt sailing on this vessel as they turn the pages of my latest book.”
In addition to the boat ride, Macomber displayed the Cambodian flag, burned incense and showed maps, new and old, of the waterways he traveled when researching the book to further enhance is reader’s connection to the story they were about to read.
“The Honored Dead,” which was released in March, is the seventh in Macomber’s Honor series which includes “At the Edge of Honor,” “Point of Honor,” “Honorable Mention,” “A Dishonorable Few,” “An Affair of Honor” and “A Different Kind of Honor,” all of which can be found at local book stores.
Macomber’s next book in the series, “The Darkest Shade of Honor,” is scheduled to be released in March 2010. For more information about Macomber and his work, visit: robertmacomber.com.