With so much to do here on the Suncoast, when you stumble upon something so unique and so cool, you can’t help but get a little excited about it. Nestled on the docks between among commercial purse seine boats and sport fishing boats, there’s one vessel that looks both oddly out of place and completely at home.
The wooden sailboat whose gunwale sits low to the water and two beautiful hand-turned masts reach high into the clear blue sky is the “Whisper”. As if that wasn’t authentic enough, the boat was built by none other than its Sailor, Captain Geoff Kendrick at N.E. Taylor Boatworks in Cortez from plans based on the 1890 Cedar Keys Sharpie.
This was the most common vessel used to fish these waters before the advent of the motor near the turn of the century. Able to sail in just a foot of water, it navigates the shallow bay waters with ease. It is still a little hard to imagine her loaded down with cotton nets and the days’ catch, but that is exactly how the earliest fishermen were able to establish the village of Cortez and many other fishing communities up and down the coast of Florida. It took Geoff over a year to build and was launched in 2014.
Sailing aboard Whisper is a unique experience. She sits low to the water and glides almost effortlessly through the shallow waters, giving you an amazing view of the grass shoals and its inhabitants as you glide silently past. Cormorants follow along, diving underwater as you pass to fetch the fish rustled up by the keel. For an hour and a half Captain Geoff Kendrick is able to sail in parts of the bay that very few can. Far enough away from the channels and its boat traffic, it is quiet enough to hear rhythm of the waves slap against the hull and every rustle of the sail. While you immerse yourself in the environment and wildlife around you, Geoff’s knowledgeable narrative of the area’s flora, fauna and history entertains you. The sail takes you into the bay and around Cliff’s Key, or “the kitchen” and “Bird Island” as the locals call them. Cliff’s Key is an unspoiled mangrove island that is one of the largest and last natural rookery islands in the area.
Depending on the time of year you can see almost every species of seabird resting among its branches. If you are a birder or a photographer, sailing past Pelicans, Cormorants, Roseate Spoonbills, Frigate birds and Great Blue Herons so closely is really a dream, and a fantastic experience for everyone else too. It’s a common sight to spot dolphins fishing the shoals and manatees cruising through trying to avoid the boat traffic or feeding on the grasses in the shallow waters.
You can find Whisper Sailing in the heart of the old Cortez Fishing Village, on the docks between Cortez Bait and Seafood and the Swordfish Grill and Tiki at 4628 119th Street West in Cortez. To book your own Whisper experience, call Capt. Geoffrey Kendrick at (941) 713-5958 to make a reservation. He sails 7 days a week (weather permitting) and for only $20 per person he can comfortably accommodate your group up to 6 people. You can also follow their adventures on Facebook at Whisper Sailing.
photos from Facebook and Rose Lipke