So much has changed on North Captiva since 1986 and especially 1921!  Please enjoy this history lesson written by Bruce Slaugenhaupt printed in the Sun Sentinal back in March of 1986.  Please note:  these rates quoted for rentals and taxi rides no longer apply. Hahahaha....


MANY PEOPLE CONFUSE NORTH Captiva with Captiva, and it's not hard to understand why. For countless eons, the two were one island. Then, in 1921, a powerful hurricane sliced them apart.

Today, only a 100-yard-wide channel separates the cars that swarm over Sanibel and Captiva from the lush, 550-acre hunk of unspoiled Florida known as North Captiva. Preservationists remain thankful that Mother Nature provided a deep and swift channel to discourage bridge-builders.

Twenty years ago, after the Sanibel causeway was completed, many people thought that a bridge would be built to connect North Captiva to the mainland. That bit of speculation fired a real estate boom on the island; six subdivisions were plotted and about 400 lots were sold.

But North Captiva came under the state's eye as a good acquisition for future generations because it was the type of land that was rapidly becoming extinct through development. In the late 1970s,under the auspices of the Environmentally Endangered Land Act and the Conservation and Recreational Land Act, the state purchased the southern three-fourths of the island.

These 350 acres of mostly cabbage palms, mangroves and pristine beach look much the same as when Spanish explorers first saw them four centuries ago. Like state-owned Cayo Costa Island to the north, it is the last undeveloped barrier-island land in Florida.

The state considered buying the rest of the island but, after calculating the cost of buying out 400 landowners, backed off. After all, only a few stilt houses and fish camps existed on the land - there were no paved roads, no electricity, and no accessibility except by boat.

In 1980, the Realty Development Group of Camden, Maine, bought 32 acres that stretch from the Gulf to Pine Island Sound. Electric and telephone lines were cabled underwater, and the rustic fishermen's retreat was finally connected to the 20th century.

A "village" of 34 stilt home units in 17 cluster townhouses now gaze out over Safety Harbor. Like the luxurious island homes that have also been built, the development has been skillfully planned to harmonize with local surroundings. Banning exotic plants (except maybe bananas) and sod, builders have left as much of the natural vegetation as possible. Even the gopher turtles were captured before construction and returned near their old holes when building was completed. An attractive common area includes a fresh water lake, tennis courts, pool, clubhouse and birdtower.

The atmosphere is much like that of Sanibel before the causeway was built. No one seems to wear a watch - time is calculated by the sun and moon. Golf carts are the main mode of transportation, and the biggest excitement is likely to be a reckless cart race on a moonlit sandy lane.

THERE ARE ONLY two places to eat on the island. One, the Over The Waterfront Restaurant at the Safety Harbor Club, was originally a bunkhouse for the mailboat crews at Punta Rassa (where the ferry used to depart for Sanibel). Built in the 1920s, the building was barged to its present site at the end of a wooden dock to catch the bay breezes. Island burgers and key lime pie (made from their own trees) are among the specialties. The owners, Scott and Jane Gilbert, only open for dinner when traffic warrants, but will cater party food upon request. If you want a drink, it's strictly BYOB. In fact, it's a cost- effective idea to bring in most of your own provisions.

The other eating place, located in one of the oldest buildings on the island, is called Barnacle Phil's. It's the only place you can get a cold beer or glass of wine. They also serve delicious seafood.

I was told that if I really wanted to learn about life on North Captiva, I should talk with Phil Kinsey, the owner of the Barnacle Phil's. The easiest way to find him, I learned, was to watch for his little Cessna bumping down on the private airstrip.

The first time I saw Kinsey, I was standing on the beach at the end of the grass runway watching the sun set. All of a sudden this little plane was just over my head, popping into the air over the breaking waves.

The second time I saw Phil, I was strapped in next to him. By then my fears had been quelled by Safety Harbor employees who informed me that Phil was a veteran WW II flying instructor. At any rate, I had no time to think about it. Seeing these mangrove-shrouded islands from a few hundred feet in the air was a breathtaking experience.

A few times a year the water here is as clear as in the Keys. It was on one of those days that Kinsey says he spotted what may be an old wreck lying in about 30 feet of water off the beach of North Captiva. An antique silver mug was found nearby recently, he said, and someday he plans to drop a marker and dive it.

Later that day, Kinsey took me out to his cottage, built on stilts on a sand bar. Boats coming into Safety Harbor navigate the narrow channel below his porch.

We sat there and watched the ever-changing view of Pine Island Sound as birds and boats drifted in and out. I didn't want to leave or even get out of my chair.

IF YOU'D LIKE to experience North Captiva, village townhouses, lakefront homes and beachfront homes are available to rent by the week or day. Summer rates, starting in April, are as low as $80 per night or $500 per week and don't increase to seasonal rates until December 15. Privately owned, all these homes are tastefully furnished and sleep six to eight people. For more information, contact Upper Captiva Property Management, P.O. Box 476, Captiva Island, FL 33924 or call (813) 472-9223.

The easiest way to get to North Captiva is to drive through Fort Myers to Pine Island. A water taxi from Safety Harbor (pick up and return are included with house rentals) will meet you at Pineland Marina. Or, if you'd like to see the commercial islands too, drive over to Sanibel and Captiva, and the taxi will pick you up at Timmy's Nook Restaurant on Captiva.

Obviously, a boat comes in handy around these islands. Cabbage Key and Cayo Costa Island make for great day trips and are only a few miles away. Also, some of the best fishing and shelling anywhere in Florida await you.

Some of the places you can rent boats are: Pine Bay Marina on Pine Island (283-3636), 'Tween Waters Inn & Marina (472-5161) on Captiva, and Palm Grove Marina at Fort Myers Beach (463-7333). Prices start at about $60. Palm Grove is the farthest from North Captiva, but rentals are the least expensive and will afford you a more scenic trip. For a $3 dock fee, you can also moor your own boat at Pineland Marina.