Take a Wilderness Tour

Excerpts from Katherine Roach's article: Take a Wilderness Tour
June 1993

There is an entirely different type of entertainment to be found in Key West. The climate, the geology, and the vegetation of our island are unique to the United States. What better, then, than to tour the waters and inlets and learn about the natural elements of Key West and its environs?

Captain Victoria conducts just such an excursion. Her Wilderness Tour has unveiled some of nature's phenomena for locals and visitors during the past 17 years. My trip with Captain Victoria taught me more about Key West and its surrounding waters in four hours than I learned in the past six years.

We started from Murray Marina on Stock Island in the IMP II, Captain Victoria's 25-foot boat. Her powerful motor is the quietest I have ever heard, which makes it possible for the boat to creep slowly into shallow inlets in search of Mother Nature's masterpieces without disturbing birds and wildlife.

The first part of our tour took us into a shallow mangrove-lined inlet just off Stock Island. Here, as we watched small fish swimming aimlessly, Captain Victoria explained that the entire ecosystem of the area begins with the mangrove. The mangrove is the largest supplier of food for Keys wildlife, with 90 percent of our food and sport fish beginning their lives in the shallow waters of the mangroves.

Captain Victoria pointed out the pencil-thin stems of trees reaching down toward the water in their search for something to stick themselves into and begin growing. She explained that these were not seedlings - they don't have to germinate. The roots and leaves are already there, in the long stem, just waiting to pop out when the stem finds a home in shallow water.

In the shallow water off the inlet Victoria pointed out the calcareous algae that comprises 70 percent of the sand in the Keys. This algae is not harmful - on the contrary, it is an important component of our ecosystem and is not found in the waters off mainland Florida.

From the inlet we took off for open water, as Captain Victoria carefully guided the IMP II to one of her favorite spots for snorkeling. In addition to being a veteran tour guide, Captain Victoria also teaches neophytes like me the art of snorkeling. Floating on the blue-green water looking down at the sponges, coral, and small fish was a most unusual and interesting experience. I can hardly wait to go again.

She has taught children as young as three years old and adults in their sixties to snorkel. She supplies the equipment, and her patience with the amateur makes one want to be an immediate expert. Only thing you need to bring is your sunscreen.

Captain Victoria has her own secret spots for viewing dolphin, and after we had clambered aboard The IMP II, she got behind the wheel and ran us to one of her choice sites. She turned on some music to let them know we were there, and we were rewarded with the sight of three mature and one baby dolphin cavorting playfully in the water. According to Captain Victoria, the dolphin seem to recognize her when she plays music or beats her hands on the side of the boat, and are not afraid. At times they even seem to be keeping time to the music, bobbing their heads from side to side. She never approached the dolphin in the boat but runs parallel to the swimming mammals, allowing them to make any approach. They put on quite a show for us.

Captain Victoria specializes in taking families out on the IMP II. She especially enjoys teaching children about the environment and all the living species that abound here. A typical day charter includes a run to open water for a snorkeling lesson, then watching the dolphins. Next stop is a patch reef where snorkelers can look at angelfish and other species. For lunch, a slow trip to a mangrove-studded inlet for a picnic. The children can climb on the intricate jungle gym of mangrove roots. After lunch a trip to the nearby beach is in order for shell collecting and just walking in the sand.

A day, or a half day, with Captain Victoria is a stimulating and informative alternative to the usual tourist entertainment in Key West for adults and children alike.
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