OUT & ABOUT

North Cap is a lit­tle bit of Caribbean in our own back­yard

RSWLiving - - DEPARTMENT­S - Capt. Brian Ho­l­away is a Florida mas­ter nat­u­ral­ist and has been a Southwest Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His boat char­ters visit the is­lands of Pine Is­land Sound, in­clud­ing Cayo Costa State Park, Cab­bage Key, Pine Is­land and North Capti

Don’t Stop the Car­ni­val

There is an is­land off the southwest coast of Florida that is ac­ces­si­ble only by boat or small airplane (via a pri­vate airstrip). This re­mote is­land, called North Cap­tiva, or some­times sim­ply North Cap, has been an un­ex­pected es­cape for decades and is rem­i­nis­cent of the classic Caribbean book, Don’t Stop the Car­ni­val by Her­man Wouk, about es­cap­ing to a trop­i­cal is­land.

North Cap­tiva Is­land is lo­cated only a few miles to the west of Pine Is­land and is the next bar­rier is­land in the chain run­ning along the Southwest Florida coast; it sits just above Cap­tiva and im­me­di­ately south of Cayo Costa. So close, but the vibe here is def­i­nitely a world away.

Re­ferred to in the past as Up­per Cap­tiva, this is­land is just 4.5 miles long and a to­tal of 700 acres, 500 of which are pro­tected land owned by the state as part of Cayo Costa State Park. The is­land is di­vided into three ar­eas: The south end has 11 homes; the mid­dle sec­tion is al­most all park­land; the north end has just over 300 homes and a year-round pop­u­la­tion of 32 res­i­dents. Many of the houses are in va­ca­tion rental pro­grams so there can seem to be more than 32 res­i­dents at dif­fer­ent times of the year. The is­land has no cars but uses golf carts for trans­porta­tion.

Be­cause there is very lit­tle com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment on North Cap, most of the so­cial ac­tiv­ity of the is­land cen­ters around its three pub­lic restau­rants: Bar­na­cles, Mango’s and Over the Wa­ter­front. The fa­vorite of many on the is­land is Bar­na­cles. This res­tau­rant has a quirky Caribbean/Wild West at­mos­phere. Walk­ing down the dock to­ward Bar­na­cles feels a lit­tle like en­ter­ing a Corona beer com­mer­cial. Adiron­dack chairs sit on the beach to the right, along with hula hoops and a chic­kee hut shel­ter­ing some pic­nic ta­bles. The aqua­col­ored build­ing is adorned with large white painted let­ters spell­ing out B-a-r-n-a-c-l-e-s. A man with RayBan avi­a­tor sun­glasses sits on the porch singing a John Prine song. A shirt­less man pulls his golf cart up

They may be in the United States but it sure feels hun­dreds of miles away, like some for­got­ten out­post in the Caribbean.

be­side the res­tau­rant, fin­ish­ing the last third of his 16-ounce Bud­weiser as he dis­em­barks. The gui­tar player nods to the man as he en­ters the res­tau­rant.

The pic­nic ta­bles are fill­ing up and the Ray-Ban gui­tar player breaks into Johnny Cash, “I Walk the Line.” Buck­ets of ice-cold Corona and pitch­ers of home­made san­gria come out of the res­tau­rant and are placed on the pic­nic ta­bles. Con­ver­sa­tions range from buy­ing real es­tate on the is­land to how cold the tem­per­a­ture is in some­body’s home­town.

Sit­ting under the palm-thatched chic­kee hut, din­ers can look out to­ward the wa­ter, past the Adiron­dack chairs, and see an American flag flut­ter­ing on the dock. They may be in the United States but it sure feels hun­dreds of miles away, like some for­got­ten out­post in the Caribbean. The gui­tar player starts play­ing a War­ren Zevon song, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”

Bar­na­cles and the whole is­land seem to have their own mea­sure of time and rhythm; they march to a dif­fer­ent cadence, found some­where be­tween the Ba­hamas and the Lesser An­tilles.

If you get the chance to travel to this nearby trop­i­cal is­land, en­joy the na­ture, con­ver­sa­tions, cold beer, good food and mu­sic. But please, “Don’t Stop the Car­ni­val!”

The trop­i­cal view from Bar­na­cles (above), a pop­u­lar din­ing spot on North Cap­tiva.

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