By Jessica Tuggle
SEBASTIAN - Light breezes and slightly cooler temperatures mark the beginning of Florida fall weather and Indian River County residents are ready to enjoy some outdoor fun without blazing temperatures.
Last week, Donna Goodridge enjoyed a morning cruise on the St. Sebastian River for the first time, though she has lived and boated in the area for nearly 20 years.
Capt. Kathleen Benjamin of Mangrove Mama Riverboat Cruises takes passengers up and down the river and the Indian River Lagoon daily. She said the weather is perfect to be out on the water.
Clear blue skies, sunshine and a fresh breeze are a winning combination for a cruise on the water in her pontoon boat, Capt. Benjamin said.
Most people are aware of and enjoy the beauty of the ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, but the St. Sebastian River is a little hidden jewel, too, passengers on the cruise said.
"I've lived here since 1991 and we have three boats and we've never been down here," Ms. Goodridge said.
"I really can't believe we've never done this, this is beautiful," she said.
During the tour, Capt. Benjamin pointed out various plant species to passengers, providing historical information about vegetation and the Old Florida landscape.
Palm trees, endangered ferns and mangroves fill the small land masses with varying colors of greens and yellows and browns, giving visitors a peek at what pioneers saw when they first arrived in the area.
The St. Sebastian River State Buffer Preserve, 20,000 acres of state conservation land, is visible from the boat.
"If you want to see primitive Florida, gosh, this is the tour to take," Ms. Goodridge said.
"It's like going back in time, it's like the Jurassic Park of Florida," she said.
Birds, fish and other wildlife such as alligator, manatee and dolphin, are also commonly seen in the waterways and along the shore.
"I once saw a couple of 12-foot gators wrestling out here," Capt. Benjamin said.
Many fishermen were also out enjoying the weather and had their fishing lines at the ready.
West of the railroad bridge spanning the river is considered freshwater and the eastern side is brackish to saltwater, Capt. Benjamin said.
Capt. Benjamin said she has been only living in Indian River County for the past six years, but spent much of her childhood camping on spoil islands on the east coast and fishing and boating with her family enough to develop a love of the water.
"I love the outdoors. I was like a little pirate when I was a kid, always looking for treasure in the water. I think lagoon water is in my blood," said Capt. Benjamin, who is a 100-ton master boat captain.
"The first time I got on a ship (to learn how to be a captain) the captain said, 'What's a powderpuff like you doing on my ship. You won't last a week.' But look at me now," she said with a laugh.
"I love to show people the wildlife and let them explore the spoil islands. I just love to show them a good time," she said.
For more information about the St. Sebastian River State Buffer Preserve, visit http://myfwc.com.
For more information about Mangrove Mama Riverboat Cruises, call (321) 536-3369.