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Marco Island offers many wonderful ways to get away from the pressures and strains of everyday life, but few can compare to the absolute relaxation, peace and tranquility offered by sailing through the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I was lucky enough to join Capt Hugh Cross on his gorgeous 22' Maine Cat early one sparkling morning recently and I re-discovered how beautiful the waters around Marco Island really can be. Cross Cruises is based right on Marco's beautiful beach in front of The Eagle's Nest, Marco Beach Ocean Resort and Club Regency. Most days it is very easy to board the boat from the beach but when the seas get a little rough he picks passengers up from his marina on Isle of Capri. Capt Hugh says that his Maine Cat's composite hull makes it fast, light and very solid. This, com-bined with his passion for sailing, means there's less engine time and more sailing than on most other sailboats. The boat, (which can easily ac-commodate six people) has a draft of just 10", which makes it absolutely perfect for use in our ever-changing shallow waters - "it enables us to get to all the best shelling spots which are just not accessible to larger craft" he told me. It's also extremely comfortable, with the music of your choice (the radio is usually tuned to a smooth jazz station but Capt Hugh is happy to switch to whatever kind of music you pre-fer), trampoline areas which just beg you to lay down and bask in the sun and maybe even nap a little, as well as a large sunken

cockpit area which is ideal for keeping young children safely confi ned. And speaking of children... Capt Hugh is a father of six (ranging in age from two months to ten years) who just loves to entertain kids on the boat. Ably assisted by pirate fl ags, swords and plenty of "all aboard me hearties" he happily turns his boat into a pirate ship whenever there are youngsters on board. Capt Hugh is obviously a sailor through and through. He has sailed in many parts of the world, including Australia, and was involved in the 1995 America's Cup. He also ran a boat rental and beach concession in Costa Rica and lived in the Virgin Islands for some time, but he loves to come home to SW Florida, where he says we have some of the best shelling in the world. He is also delighted to see how well the environment is protected here and he sees no degradation in the aquatic environment or water quality since he fi rst started sailing these waters in the 1980s. He regularly sees dolphin and manatee (sometimes together) on his trips and says that dolphin seem to be fascinated by his rudder and often swim up-side-down behind it. He also sees a lot of sea turtles because the boat is so quiet it doesn't frighten them as other vessels are inclined to do. Even with all this incredible wildlife to enjoy (which he says he never takes for granted) for Capt Hugh the best part of the job is the opportunity it affords him to talk to people from all over the world. He loves to share his local knowledge with his guests. He's entertained many famous and important people on board and his oldest passenger was an 89 year old lady who was out for a fun day with a group of her girlfriends! One satisfi ed customer recently said - "It was the best part of our vacation" why not make it the best part of yours?For more information call Capt. Hugh Cross at 239-580-8765. Spring 2011 Page 77