As you travel by the beautiful waterways that make this area special, chances are you’ll want to be out there on a boat.

If you don’t have a boat, you can still enjoy water adventures, thanks to the availability of local tour boats.

The Crack of Dawn tour boat, docked at the back of Gasparilla Marina in Placida, is one of several waiting to whisk you away to a day of fun and learning.

By the time visitors walk by 800 other boats on the way to the tour boat, they are more than anxious to begin their day on the water.

What awaits is more than a boat ride. It’s an eco-tour, a history lesson, a nature guild and an unique sightseeing tour.

“It’s the best way to sightsee,” says Captain Al Petterson, one of five tour captains.

“You can see so many things not accessible by land — and just being on the water is its own reward.”

He should know. For more than 30 years he has been piloting and leading boat tours in the Placida-Englewood area.

Many may remember Al from his days as a boat captain for Grande Tours in Placida. He and owner Marion Schneider worked together to create boat tours that would help others appreciate our local waterways and ecosystem.

He also led kayak tours where he says he had as much fun as the visitors.

“I’ve always had a passion for being on the water and I love teaching people about what’s out here. Hopefully, what they learn will help make them want to protect it,” Al says.

When he narrates a tour, visitors learn more about local history and islands than they could in any book. Captain Al makes history come alive by telling fascinating stories about people and places on the water.

Because Coast Guard regulations require one captain for every six people, the seven passengers on one recent trip were treated to interacting with both Captain Al and Captain Tim DiStefano, who owns the Crack of Dawn.

It offered plenty of one-on-one attention and information.

A day of sunlight shining on the water like a sea of diamonds and picture perfect blue skies had the camera buffs snapping away. But the best part for the passengers was all the wildlife, including many manatees, white pelicans and brown pelicans.

Captain Tim maneuvered the boat close to the island of pelicans, much to the delight of the photographers.

“We’re enjoying our day of seeing wildlife and being on the sea,” said Marion Guymer. She and her husband Steve live in Buckingham England, “as far from the sea as could be,” she says.

World travelers, they hop from place to place to see whales and sharks in the wild.

In Jamaica, they met Rotonda West residents Sandy Macys and Deborah Slinn and accepted their invitation to visit. (Sandy is a freelance photographer who often works for the Sun.)

“We love the area and the people we meet here. Now, we come back every year,” Marion said.

The two-and-one-half-hour trip exploring the Boca Grande Buoy offered views only available via boats.

Gasparilla Boat tours also offers other eco tours, a special critter cruise, sunset cruises and special excursions.

“We explore some of the most pristine waters and sandbars in southwest Florida,” said Captain Tim.

More information can be found at

Pattie Mihalik is a regular columnist for the Sun. Contact her at


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