The first time I visited Florida, I was 6 or 7 years old. It was during Thanksgiving break, and I don’t remember a whole lot other than our trip in grandpa’s boat up the Peace River and the gator. Grandpa was driving the little speedboat uncharacteristically slowly, looking for one of those prehistoric monsters so he could give his grand-kids a thrill. All of the sudden, he killed the motor and let us drift up to an island in the middle of the channel. There, basking on the bank, was an alligator every bit of 12 feet-long. I remember peeking at him from the boat with my older brother, wondering why he didn’t move; then again, he was an awfully big alligator. Maybe it would take him awhile… or maybe he wasn’t scared of us. Grandpa, mischievously Irish and bullet-proof as he was–and still is–decided to blast a fog horn right about then. My mouth dropped open in horror as the giant gator opened its jaws wide and filled the air with a seething and powerful HIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSsssss. Then, before I could bat an eye, he slipping into the water right next to my side of the boat, an invisible, monstrously large, and now righteously indignant reptile. It was about then I decided that I wasn’t cut out for Florida. I didn’t like that you had to watch where you walked (because of fire-ants and pygmy rattlers), it was still hot, even in November, aaand, from that moment, any body of water in Florida larger than a puddle got a second glance; if something that big could submerge itself completely in just a few feet of water, just think where the littler ones could hide!
Almost twenty years later, I find myself back in Punta Gorda, Fl. Though my fear of crocodilians has never completely subsided, some of my other perceptions regarding this place have changed quite a bit. While it’s still not a place I could ever call home, Punta Gorda has won me over as a spot for cruisers.
The amenities and friendly nature of the staff at Fisherman’s Village Yacht Basin are superb. The marina offers a clubhouse with a full-sized refrigerator, coffee-maker, flat-screen TV, super-clean bathrooms, and laundry services (only $1.50 for a load here, as compared to the $3 in Marathon). They also have an in-ground pool, and brand-new bikes for use around the town in case you need to grab groceries or parts from the local West Marine. They also have a BOGO rate for the summer months, so Joel and I ended up staying for 4 days… on a dock…with running water… and electricity that we didn’t have to generate via solar panels… and access to laundry machines. Can you tell I’ve come to appreciate 1st-world conveniences a bit from this trip?
Punta Gorda has also made a pretty drastic comeback since Hurricane Charley hit it in 2004. Many buildings that were damaged have been beautifully restored and refurbished; there are several parks and a river-front walk that offers cool views. There are an array of restaurants within walking distance of the marina. We really enjoyed Harpoon Harry’s, Hurricane Charley’s (a super-reasonable waterfront grill and bar with a large, wrap-around tiki hut), and The Celtic Ray (a traditional Irish pub where you order at the bar). If you’re into shopping, there are a bunch of your typical Floridian gift shops in Fisherman’s Village. Alligators aside, Punta Gorda has a lot going for it and is a great stop for any west coast cruisers.