Sail the Florida Sea to Longboat Key in a Boat
A two-hour tour with Captain Kim reveals an island best seen by the seaside.
Anchored between Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Capt. Kim Ibasfalean of Capt. Kim’s Charters jumps into the sea grass of Longboat Pass and grabs a homemade scooping contraption off her pontoon boat. It’s a sort of shovel constructed with wood sides and rabbit cage wire bottom. “Everybody in Cortez had one of these when they were a kid,” Capt. Kim says.
After prowling through the stomach-deep water, Capt. Kim finally dumps a quart or so of green gunk on the light-blue marine-painted deck. At first, it looks disappointing. She wants a starfish. No starfish. But as she picks through, Capt. Kim finds a tiny-nosed “fish” that is the color and size of an inchworm and has a nose that, as far as I can make out, looks rather like a toy Sea Monkey. “This is a pipe fish,” says Capt. Kim. “He is a cousin of the sea horse, but he is really little.”
Then, a succession of critters appears from out of the green gunk, including a stone crab, a spider crab, a baby scallop, an arrow shrimp and a few regular shrimp, the latter almost as clear as the see-through plastic container that is holding them. “The arrow shrimp …” says Capt. Kim, “… I have never seen bigger than my pinkie.” She even finds some globs of jelly. A jellyfish? No, it’s fish eggs.
I get lots of one-liners from Capt. Kim on her two-hour tour of the history and ecology of the waters around Longboat Key. Kim comes from a family of fishermen (her husband’s unique last name is Romanian, though his family has been in the historic fishing village of Cortez forever). When she had young kids at home, she had to quit the fishing boat, but when she did, people began asking for tours. It grew into Capt. Kim’s, which is really just Kim, her Yamaha-powered pontoon boat, her Cortez scoop and a good story for every moment.
Islands to See
Capt. Kim is not only a tour guide but a sometimes ferry service between Cortez, Bridge Street, Coquina Beach and the islands off Longboat like Sister Key. Just below the drawbridge between Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key is the white-beach Beer Can Island or Greer Island, formed by sand and a local boaters’ party spot. Inside the pass, the private cottage island of Jewfish Key was, during the Depression, home to a shark liver oil processing factory. Reached by water and privately owned, it has a stunning Polynesian house for rent, and even a few lots for sale.
Each of our stops along the shoreline has a different story. Moore’s Stone Crab (reached by land at 800 Broadway Street) is remembered by Capt. Kim for the two dolphins, (she recalls George and Gracie) that were enclosed at the dock for years. The couple left when the fencing came down in a storm, but they still came back for regular feedings.
Just down the cove is MarVista. The original building was built in 1912, and the restaurant has that 'Old Florida' charm, with some seats underneath 120-year old silver buttonwoods on a beach. Inside is an old paneled bar; it’s said that when it first opened, guests bought their beer with the honor system.
Water by Shore
You don’t have to be out on Capt. Kim’s boat to see the waterside of Longboat Key. Cannons Marina rents motorboats by the day. Water access is also easy if you are staying at one of the many resorts along Gulf of Mexico Drive; resorts range from the intimate 1948-vintage Rolling Waves Beach Cottages to the uptown Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort.
If you are coming to the island for the day, there is Gulf of Mexico access on Broadway Street and Gulfside Road, though spots fill up quickly on Broadway in high season, and there is no public parking at Gulfside. One ideal solution is to rent a bike for $8 a day (or $35 a week) from Longboat Hardware.
Adjacent to the well-known restaurant Euphemia Haye is Joan M. Durante Community Park, which affords an expansive view of Sarasota Bay. Testament to the civic-mindedness and wealth of Longboat Key, the park is immaculately kept; it even has a botanical garden. The park has picnic areas; pick up a gourmet take out right around the corner at Harry’s Continental Kitchens. Proprietors Lynn and Harry Christensen opened in 1979.
Harry’s is immaculately run, and eat-in menu items like shirred eggs ($11) and Spanish roast sirloin on French bread with feta ($13) come out of the kitchen perfectly timed and carefully, but not too preciously presented. Which is a perfect metaphor for the entire island, shoreline or not.