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Captiva Cruises offers seasonal cruise to Pine Island

By Staff | Nov 15, 2017

Kevin Lollar, a docent at the Randall Research Center, shows guests what the Calusa used to trade with. ASHLEY GOODMAN

Captiva Cruises’ Historic Tarpon Lodge and Calusa Indian Mounds Cruise to Pine Island, the largest island off of Southwest Florida, gives guests an up close look at the historic fish houses of Pine Island Sound, the Calusa Indians and even marine life. The half-day cruise, which takes place on Tuesdays from November through April, departs from McCarthy’s Marina on Captiva at 10 a.m. and returns at 3 p.m.

“The trip focuses on the fishing cultures of Pine Island Sound,” said Richard Finkel, Captiva Cruises’ environmental educator. “Everything we talk about directly ties back to the water.”

During the cruise, guests learn about the fishing cultures of the Calusa Indians, the Spanish-Cuban ranchos, the history of the Punta Gorda Fish Company and tarpon sport fishing.

After arriving at Pine Island, guests have the option to dine at the Tarpon Lodge & Restaurant, built in 1926. The special menu for cruise attendees includes watercress, cucumber, yogurt and curry oil salad topped with bronzed shrimp, Pine Island Sound salad with chicken, chef’s fresh catch du jour, a Cuban sandwich and a spinach and romaine salad.

Rob Wells and his family have run the Tarpon Lodge & Restaurant since 1999. Wells said that building the lodge and the surrounding building wasn’t an easy task for early settlers.

“They wanted to be on this property bad enough that they dredged the channel out and then they had to boat all the supplies over to build the houses around here. It’s kind of neat when you think about it that way because most of the supplies came from Boca Grande,” Wells said.

After lunch, a docent from the Randell Research Center, located across the street from the lodge, will lead a tour of the Calusa Heritage Trail.

“This site discusses what researchers have found out about the Calusa Indians over the last 30 years,” Finkel said.

The informative, docent-led tour, sheds light on the pre-Columbian Mounds and how the Calusa Indians lived. The Calusa lived in Charlotte and Lee counties for about 1,500 years. Only a few mounds remain today – many of the mounds were used to make roads by homesteaders.

“They were the dominant tribe of all of South Florida,” said Kevin Lollar, a docent at the Randall Research Center. “They called this area Tampa.”

After doing some digging in Brown’s Mound Complex which reaches 30 feet, researchers found chili pepper and papaya seeds which brought them to the idea that the Calusa traded with other tribes.

“We don’t have chili pepper seeds or papaya seeds naturally occurring. The only chili pepper seeds found in an archaeological context were found east of the Mississippi. These were the only papaya seeds found in an archaeological context in North America,” Lollar said. “They had a huge trading network.”

The Calusa themselves were known for trading shells. They fashioned lightning whelks into weapons and traded them with other tribes. Their diet consisted mostly of seafood – pinfish was a primary food source.

“They had a very diverse diet,” Lollar said.

Lollar said by 1710, the Calusa left Pine Island and by 1750, they ceased to exist. This was due to disease and being killed off by other tribes.

On the way back from Pine Island, guests will be able to view the historic fishing houses up close and get a brief history lesson. Before heading back to the marina, Finkel will use a trawler net to observe marine life. Grunt fish, seahorses, pipefish and starfish are just a few of the common sightings in the estuaries. The cruise is $45 for adults and $35 for children. To make a reservation, call 239-472-5300 or go to captivacruises.com. Registration is required. A portion of the proceeds from the cruise are given to the Randall Research Center.