Red Tide and Life as usual on Useppa Island

“What’s the reason for your cough?” is frequently heard on Useppa Island, Florida this winter.  The reasons are varied.   First is red tide that is proving to be one of the worst in years.  Second is the toxic runoff from Lake Okeechobee, down the Caloosahatchee River, and up and around Pine Island Sound.  Last is what most TV stations talk about most every night: this year’s flu season is awful.  Tents are used for triage outside hospitals, and visitors are bringing those germs all the way to Southwest Florida.

Living on Useppa Island for six months out of the year – forty years now – is a lesson in learning to roll with the punches.  The water goes off when one is shampooing in the shower; the mainland power vacillates on cold days when Lee County Electric Coop cannot keep up with demand.  Extremely low tides keep residents on the island who are either afraid of going aground or know their power boats draw more than two feet in spots we all know too well.  A depth finder is useless – by the time you are warned that shallow water is imminent you are aground.  Best to go with the age-old rule that no one goes where you can see the birds’ feet. 

And then there are rare cases of fog.  It’s not that our GPS doesn’t work; we worry about the other guy coming toward us.  Most of us who run the route that skirts Charlotte Harbor and in through Jug Creek to our mainland base, Four Winds Marina, actually remember the old compass courses (and they still work).

Living on an eighty-acre island with no bridges and no cars is a pleasure my husband and I have enjoyed for decades.  Now retired, we have more fun doing nothing.  As an author and magazine writer, I hide upstairs on my computer.  My husband John is the unofficial last word on everything to do with sailboats, Marshall Sandpipers that is.  He can fix most anything, and if not, he orders backup parts for the parts he already has from Jeff Marshall at Marshall Marine. There is a fleet of about eighteen and racing and fun sailing take place when the wind is not blowing and owners and their crews are not coughing.  This has been a strange winter so far with temperatures, winds and tides on the extreme ends of the spectrum.  Just check the Weather on your cell phone: what’s true today will likely change in twenty-four hours.

Island living is not for everyone.  We have friends who will not visit because of the boat ride.  That’s OK; we can see them on our other island where we have a bridge and a population that goes from 10,000 in the winter to 150,000 on a popular summer weekend (Long Beach Island, NJ).  Just give us Useppa Island in our 1910 Baron Collier historic home, peace and quiet, and some sailing – when we’re not coughing that is …