It’s a bluebird summer day as I spot the Castillo de San Marcos in the distance. Made of crushed coquina shells and rows of cannons, it stands firm on the edge of the Matanzas Bay, a relic of the 17th century.But instead of mingling with the masses, I’m cozy aboard a 27-foot Stiletto catamaran with some newfound friends: a family visiting from Tennessee, a local couple kicking off a birthday celebration and a captain who is equal parts entertaining and genius.
As we approach Vilano Beach, the skim boarders zipping across the water capture our attention first. Seconds later, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin breaks the surface, and our chatter turns to oohs and aahs. Better yet, Captain Zach McKenna, interpretive naturalist and owner of St. Augustine Eco Tours, recognizes the individual.A dolphin’s dorsal fin is like a human fingerprint with different identifying notches, he explains. This happens to be a dolphin that he sees on a regular basis.“That’s a tail dive,” he says, as the graceful creature disappears. “It indicates the dolphin is going a bit deeper.”McKenna knows his stuff. After spending more than two decades exploring the Florida coast, he has amassed an arsenal of experience and information.Beverly Sanford, who has been on 20 excursions with McKenna’s company, can attest to that.“My husband refers to him as a ‘scholar’ of the water,” she says. In turn, the exploratory trips over the past nine years have given her family a deep appreciation for marine life.“We keep coming back for rest, family time, inspiration and solitude,” she says.