If Cabbage Key seems straight out of "Gilligan's Island," its neighbor, Useppa, could be "Fantasy Island." Useppa has been a resort for the privileged set since the latter part of the 19th century, and today is home to a private club, the Collier Inn, as well as elegantly appointed villas set in manicured gardens.
Listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places resulting from its archaeological significance, access is by a resident's invitation, or on a daily cruise offered by Captiva Cruises. Do sign up at captivacruises.com as lunch at the picturesque Collier Inn is a must. The food is first-rate and the upper-class atmosphere is in direct contrast to the rough-and-tumble Cabbage Key.
A TALE OF TWO ISLANDS
Randy Wayne White has the rugged, grizzled appearance of the fishing guide he once was when he walks into Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille overlooking the marina in Captiva. I'm here to interview White and discover the evolution of Doc.
He settles into a chair and begins explaining how he was simultaneously working as a reporter for the Fort Myers News Press and taking out fishing parties (he has some 4,000 charters under his belt) when he came up with the idea of Doc Ford and his crony Tomlinson, or as he describes them, "Doc, linear and pragmatic, and Tomlinson, purely spiritual."
He published his first novel, "Sanibel Flats," in 1990, and today is working on his 25th featuring Ford and company. As southwest Florida assumes the role of a character for White in the same sense that Louisiana's bayou country does for James Lee Burke and California's Monterey Coast did for John Steinbeck, I ask him what places does he most associate with his novels.
"Well, there's (semifictional) Dinkins Bay," he says, "standing in for the real Tarpon Bay, a distinctive tapestry of mangroves, estuaries and prolific Calusa remains, mostly ancient shell mounds.
"He also knows Pineland Marina on Big Pine Island well," White continues, "This is the gateway to the islands of Boca Grande, Useppa and Cayo Costa."
White says he used the few remaining stilt houses in the waters of the Sound (which can be seen on boat excursions) as a model for Doc's combination home and laboratory.
During our conversation, White is easy and relaxed, intent on explaining the appeal of Doc and the unspoiled Florida landscape he wants to protect.