When Edward and Deborah Higgins retired to Punta Gorda, Fla., from their home in Lynn, New Englanders asked if they were worried about hurricanes, especially since Hurricane Charley had wiped out a good portion of their new city in 2004. Deb’s response: “You will get snow up north. We may get a hurricane.” The odds have stuck with them.
Ed, 71, grew up in Peabody and spent 32 years as a firefighter in Lynn, retiring in 2008 as department chief. He loved being on the water and often fished from a canoe. Deb, 62 and a Lynn native, worked at various accounting and record-keeping jobs with the Lynn Fire Department. Neither had kayaked until they moved to Florida in 2009, but once they tried it, they were smitten and soon started exploring new paddling routes. After dispensing advice to fellow members of the Punta Gorda Boat Club for years, they took the plunge and wrote and published two guidebooks to kayaking in and around Southwest Florida: “Paddles in Paradise” (2013) and “More Paddles in Paradise” (2015). Below are edited excerpts from an interview with the couple.
Q. Why Punta Gorda?
Ed: The fire chief I replaced, Curtis Numberg, had a house there and we used to visit him and liked the little town. We were done with cold and snow, but for many years I said I never wanted to live in Florida. But that was before we saw the West Coast. It’s less commercial and has a slower pace than the East Coast.
Q. Why do you prefer kayaking over canoeing?
Ed: I feel more connected to the water. We bought a motorboat in 2009, but every time we had time on our hands we’d say, “Let’s go kayaking.” We sold it in 2015.
Deb: I like going in my kayak, and he can go in his.
Q. What compelled you to write paddling guides?
Deb: We wanted to discover new places, so I started researching. I couldn’t find the resources I wanted, so I compiled all this information for leading trips. Then people started calling us asking, ‘Where was that place we paddled a year ago?,’ things like that. Someone said we should write a book and we joked about it, but that planted the seed.
Ed: The research for each book took a good year. For every one of the 25 trips in each book, there were three others than didn’t make it. I did the writing and Deb took all the photos.
Q. Overall, what types of trips do you detail?
Ed: We tried to find the prettiest paddles, places you could never see unless you were in a kayak or canoe. We love little creeks and rivers and canals, where motorboats don’t go, and the book sticks with recreational paddles that aren’t too difficult.
Q. What’s one special trip?
Ed: There are so many, but one is best done in the dark. On Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in the summer you can paddle among bioluminescent plankton, which leave a blue glow with any movement, whether it’s your paddle or a dolphin. We were thrilled.
Q. What surprised you the most about paddling in Florida?
Ed: We never realized how much wildlife there was, especially the birds, like roseate spoonbills and hawks. Manatees have come right up to us. Plus I love alligators. Everybody’s afraid of them, but they don’t bother you if you don’t bother them.
Deb: I did have one jump over my head.
Q. How did that happen?
Deb: We were at the Myakka River State Park, going to Deep Hole, which has a lot of gators. On the way back, I came around a bend with a little sand bank, where I’d seen a gator earlier, so I was trying not to startle him. But he’d gone to the opposite bank and was actually now higher than my head. He startled me, and I startled him. He jumped over my head to get into the water, making this huge splash. The tip of his tail hit my kayak.
Ed: As soon as I saw the splash, I thought I might have to go over and wrestle with a gator.