At Anclote Key, just outside the mouth of the Anclote River, we pulled the boats up in the shallows and the kids donned snorkels. They found small shells and sand dollars, chased minnows and splashed around. The dads waded nearby and kept an eye out from a distance. The rest of the crew relaxed on the chase boat, sipping iced tea and listening to the '70s channel on Sirius satellite radio.
Anclote Key is the pine-shaded home of a lighthouse, hiking trails and tent campsites. Camping is a tempting boating adventure there, but only in the windy, drier spring months when insects haven't reached their seasonal population highs.
"There's nothing here!" shouted one of the kids. The minnows had gone to deeper, safer water, so new hunting grounds were needed.
The nameless next island was more a spit of sand than an island. We beached the Sea-Doos and boat and started to explore. Amy and I decided to hike around barefoot. Soon we discovered a grassy area roped off and posted with "Keep Out" signs. Rare shorebirds were nesting there. We couldn't see the nests, but several of the birds sulked around, presumably trying desperately to protect their nests. We felt guilty just being there.
"Let's go, Dad," Amy said. "I don't think they like us much." And, in fact, one had taken to divebombing us. We backed away and returned to the beach, the warming light of the sun now on its downward slide toward the Gulf of Mexico.