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Boomer buddies become kids again, kicking back on Florida's southwest coast

Katherine Rodeghier, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Travel News

"No, Pete, turn here."

Navigating a pontoon boat through the maze of islands off the southwest coast of Florida turns out to be nothing like sailing on the Great Lakes. Our friend, Pete, has done the latter for decades, but finding our way to Keewaydin Island dumbfounds us all.

The boat-rental guy said it would be easy. Just follow the map, he said.

But with beer in hand and the map spread on his lap, my husband, Bill, directs Pete down one wrong channel after another.

Then the guys do what guys are loath to do. They ask for directions.

"Sure," a fellow boater replies. "Just follow us."


Our day on Keewaydin Island became a highlight of a week. We had several more as the four friends who graduated high school together 50 years ago set off with their wives to share in camaraderie and experience what Marco Island, Naples and the Florida Everglades have to offer 60-something vacationers like us.

Aside from renting a house on Marco Island through a local rental management company, we didn't do much planning, choosing instead to wing it. Over evening cocktails or morning coffee, we'd discuss activities for the next day or two. Meals weren't a problem. One of the guys loves to cook but hates the beach. While the rest of us were off sunning, he hit the grocery stores and laid out feast after feast.

A few jabs on a smartphone search engine led us to "Dr. Beach," university professor Stephen P. Leatherman, and his annual list of top 10 U.S. beaches. One on his 2015 list, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, is just north of Naples.

A mangrove forest takes up 80 percent of the park's 199 acres. We picked our way through the thicket, ducking around sea grapes, and stepped onto a milelong stretch of gorgeous white sand. We could have rented paddleboards or kayaks, but nah, sitting in beach chairs next to a cooler seemed just our style. Some ventured into the surf; others strolled the shore. Shelling on this narrow barrier island rivals that of Sanibel Island, we were told, so we picked up a few specimens.


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