OUT & ABOUT
North Cap is a little bit of Caribbean in our own backyard
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.