Thursday, October 28, 2021

Sanibel, Captiva and Gasparilla Islands

White sand beaches. Submitted photos

White sand beaches. Submitted photos

By Frances Diebler

Captiva Island and Sanibel Island are often referred to in the same phrase as if they are sister islands. There are similarities between the two islands and therefore it is hard to separate them. Sanibel is the first island that you reach coming from Marco Island to Pine Island Sound. Many local boaters take their boats for a day sail of shelling on their glorious beaches. If you are interested in staying on the island, contact a rental agency on that island. For those who come by their own boat, note that Sanibel is very shallow and you are better anchoring off shore.

Both Sanibel and Captiva Islands are noted for the wonderful shelling that is available to welcome visitors walking along the sandy beaches. Visitors come from all over the world to collect these beautiful shells. They walk along the beaches bent over with their buckets in hand as they search for these shell treasures. This is known as “The Sanibel Stoop.”

The beaches, both Sanibel and Captiva, have a long history to tell. These islands are both steeped in history. Just as the other islands mentioned before, the Calusa Indians are once again known to have been the first settlers here as far back as 2,500 years ago. Later on in the 1500’s, Ponce De Leon is credited with discovering Sanibel Island and naming it after Queen Isabella of Spain.

For years Ponce De Leon and his Spanish seamen battled the Calusa Indians. It was here on this tiny island that Ponce De Leon received a deadly arrow shot. He retreated

Gasparilla Pirate Boat Float (Tampa).

Gasparilla Pirate Boat Float (Tampa).

to Cuba where he subsequently died in 1523. It was on this voyage that Ponce De Leon was searching for the “fabled fountain of youth.” The Spanish were unsuccessful. Even though they did not establish a colony here, the Spanish did leave behind a terrible legacy of diseases such as yellow fever, tuberculosis and measles. Because of slavery and diseases, the Calusa Indians became almost extinct.

Soon after the Spanish left these islands, the islands became home to some of our most infamous pirates. From this point on there were many skirmishes. This coast now attracted the notorious pirate José Gaspar in the early 1800’s. It is believed that he buried his treasure somewhere on Sanibel Island.

As you can tell these islands may be small in area, but are rich in history. Wouldn’t you like to anchor your boat in the harbor once visited by infamous pirates?

Another infamous pirate named, “Black Caesar” was a slave who escaped from the west coast of Florida. It is reported that he became a pirate with his base on Sanibel Island and  buried his treasure there as well.

These most unassuming islands are very rich in history and are well worth your stop over  when you are in this area. Today, you do not have to rely on coming by boat, although that is the best way to come. There is now a Sanibel Causeway with a new fixed bridge replacing the old draw bridge.

Captiva, the smaller of the two islands, is joined to Sanibel by a bridge.

Perhaps I saved the best for last, Gasparilla Island. Gasparilla was

Boca Grande-passlight.

Boca Grande-passlight.

named after the legendary pirate José Gaspar, “the last of the Buccaneers.” He terrorized the coastal waters of western Florida during the 18th century.

This famous area has been named, “The Buccaneer Coast” because it attracted notorious pirates. José Gaspar built a prison on the island of Captiva where he kept women prisoners whom he held for ransom. As you can imagine, all kinds of stories and folklore have been written about him. He served as an officer in the Royal Spanish Navy until 1783 when he and his followers seized the vessel and set sail for the Florida straits. The number of ships that he and his crew vanquished is not known.

As legend goes he and his crew were ready to retire and go back to Spain. However, in December, 1821 Gaspar spied a ship on the horizon and fatefully decided, “just one more ship.” It was the U.S.S. Enterprise. It led a fierce and bloody attack on Gaspar’s ship. Rather than be taken in chains, Gaspar wrapped himself in chains and jumped over board. At least that is what the legend says. His body was never found.


We Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla invite you to step lively ‘n’ join us as we once again invade the City of Tampa to share trinkets ‘n’ treasures – a tradition we’ve honored since 1904. For more info go on line and look up “Gasparilla Pirate Fest.” Looks like fun!!!

Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.


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