Tag Archives: Featured Image

Legendary performer dazzles, makes new ‘friends

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Audience members applaud Jan. 31 for singer-songwriter Janis Ian, following her performance of her song, “At Seventeen,” for which she received the 1976 Grammy award for best female pop vocal performance. Ian lectured and performed several songs as part of the Friends of the Island Library 2019 Lecture and Travel Series. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Singer-songwriter Janis Ian holds a note Jan. 31 during her lecture and performance at the Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, as part of the 2019 Friends of the Library Lecture Series.
Janis Ian autographs a record album cover Jan. 31 for Benjamin Keevil of Bradenton, while Ian’s wife, Patricia Snyder, sells copies of Ian’s books at the reception following Ian’s performance at the Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. “I think people can really relate to the themes in her music,” Keevil said of Ian.

Former AM commissioner aims criticism at city pier project

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A drone photo by Islander photographer Jack Elka shows a thriving Anna Maria City Pier in February 2015.
The Anna Maria City Pier — including two residential houses jutting from the north and south sides — circa 1915-25. Islander Photo: Courtesy the Manatee County Library Historical Collection.
An Islander file photo of the city pier in 2016.
A construction barge is positioned Jan. 26 in Tampa Bay to begin work on the new pier. Islander Photo: Robert Abrunzo

Not everyone is happy with the plans for the new Anna Maria City Pier.

The first pilings were to be driven by Jan. 28, according to Vice Mayor Brian Seymour, but former city commissioner and architect Gene Aubry believes there are issues with the pier as designed by the Sarasota-based Schimberg Group.

First, Aubry, who moved to Anna Maria in 1985, is concerned with the lack of railings on the pier walkway. He said railings are important safety measures and could double as a surface for cleaning fish.

“I think the railings are absolutely crucial,” Aubry said in an interview Jan. 25. “You’re 6 feet over the water without railings? I’m questioning the whole blasted thought process because if you’re not putting railings on it, that’s a very serious problem for the handicapped and for the public in general.”

Aubry pointed to the Rod & Reel Pier, 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, which has no railings but has benches on the walkway for comfort and also to block people from falling into the water.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing more benches,” Anna Maria Commissioner Dale Woodland said in an interview Jan. 25. “Simply because that’s a long walk out there, and we get older people and maybe they want to relax a little bit on their way out there.”

Woodland said the city could discuss adding railings or benches after building the pier.

“We don’t want to mess anything up,” Woodland said. “Look how long it has been already just to get it back to what it was. I’m sorry, but when you’re working with the government and you bring up any new point, that could set you back three months.”

Commissioner Amy Tripp said she wished Aubry’s input had been given during public meetings with the Schimberg Group, held for people to share opinions on the pier design.

“I went to all those meetings, and that was even before I became a commissioner, and I didn’t see him there and I didn’t hear those issues raised,” Tripp said in an interview Jan. 25. “So at this point I just feel like it seems like a really negative thing to say for no productive reason.”

Commission Chair Brian Seymour — vice mayor during Mayor Dan Murphy’s two-week vacation — said a member of the public raised concerns for railings at one of the meetings, but it was discussed and an overwhelming majority of the public feedback was against railings.

“We even had the engineering firm make sure the curbs that run along the sides were higher than originally proposed to help stop things such as a wheelchair from going off the sides of the pier,” Seymour said in an interview Jan. 25.

Tripp, who had visited the island since she was 19 years old before moving to Anna Maria, said she couldn’t recollect any issues when the pier had no railings.

“I don’t think it is really a problem,” she said. “And at this point, it’s a done deal. The design is finished and the money that we have … is already earmarked for how it is going to be used.”

Commissioner Carol Carter said it is the commission’s intention to build the pier as close as possible to the structure damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, but to use longer-lasting materials — such as concrete pilings instead of wood.

Aubry said he also doesn’t agree with using concrete instead of wood for the pilings. He said wood could be used for the pier like it was for the pier demolished in 2018.

“They’re hellbent on building a pier that lasts 100 years,” he said. “Why? I have no idea.”

Woodland — a self-titled traditionalist — agreed, saying, “Yeah, they have to be replaced once in a while. But is concrete better? I don’t know, I’m not an expert. But I supported the wooden pilings, and I lost that vote 4-1.”

Woodland said he spoke with three different marine construction businesses about wood pilings, all of which told him there wasn’t a big difference between wood and concrete because wood could be wrapped in vinyl to prevent damage from barnacles.

Tripp said the engineer on the project, Ayres Associates, maintained concrete was superior to wood.

“Back in the day when the pier was built, they didn’t have the option of using better materials,” Tripp said. “I know when I redid my house, I put new stuff in it because the old stuff wouldn’t serve me as well. So when you do something, I think it only stands to reason that you’re going to use the best materials on the market that are available.”

Commissioner Doug Copeland declined to comment on Aubry’s issues with the pier design.

HBPD’s McGowin: All about kids, community, family

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Sgt. Vern McGowin helps 8-year-old Sarah Graham choose a bicycle, her prize at the Holmes Beach Night Out, an event he helped organize in 2017. Islander File Photo
Sgt. Vern McGowin, with Chief Bill Tokajer, speaks at a forum in Holmes Beach City Hall in March 2018, where he introduced the community to the department and its outreach activities. Islander File Photo: Kathy Prucnell

He’s a stand-up guy, with the highest integrity — a family man.

That’s how fellow officers and chiefs regard retired Holmes Beach Police Sgt. Vern McGowin, who is about to live his dream of motoring across the country, visiting his children and grandchildren in North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon.

He’s our choice for Islander of the Year for all the mileage he gave above and beyond the job to Holmes Beach and its residents and visitors.

McGowin retired from the Holmes Beach Police Department Jan. 1.

Former HBPD Chief Jay Romine, who hired McGowin 21 years ago, and others who’ve crossed his path, agree. McGowin’s retirement is well deserved.

“He’s just a steady, calm influence,” said Romine, who retired from the HBPD in 2013 and now serves as the director of the Manatee Technical College’s Law Enforcement Academy in Bradenton, which certifies police officers for active duty.

“There’s no one with any higher ethical standards than Vern,” Romine added.

McGowin grew up in Florida, attended the law enforcement academy in St. Petersburg and, after graduating, moved to Alabama, where he served as a police corporal for the city of Laverne. His next step on his career path was Palmetto.

Bradenton Beach Police Sgt. Lenard Diaz worked with McGowin when they served as patrol officers on the Palmetto police force in the late 1980s-’90s.

Diaz said McGowin is an easygoing guy, always relaxed, a good family man, who always talks about his family. He’s well mannered and reliable.

“You could always count on Vern to show up at your calls,” Diaz added.

Romine hired McGowin from Palmetto and his career flourished at HBPD.

“I had more jobs,” McGowin said of his ride at HBPD. He was a marine unit and patrol officer for years.

As a beat cop, he saw his share of domestic violence, death and accidents.

But in 2013, HBPD Bill Tokajer promoted him to sergeant and, according to McGowin, the best part of his career began.

His “most enjoyable times” included years as the department’s Anna Maria Elementary School resource officer and, later, overseeing the position at the school. He enjoyed the “kinder aspects” of policing and spearheaded HBPD’s National Night Out, Neighborhood Watch and other outreach programs.

McGowin’s heart belongs to his wife, three kids, four grandchildren and Josh Fleischer’s little girl, who, he said, believes McGowin is her grandfather. The feeling is mutual, McGowin said.

Unfortunately, a health struggle precipitated his retirement. McGowin said he was diagnosed with melanoma and the cancer spread to his lymph nodes.

“I am cancer-free now,” he said, adding that he went through several surgeries and chemotherapy.

Today, he’s preparing to hit the road and travel to see his children and grandchildren.

About his police career, McGowin said, “The only regret I have is the time I missed with my family.”

During his time at HBPD, McGowin served as the marine patrol officer, senior officer on the dive team, field-training officer and firearms instructor.

He was chosen Officer of the Year in 2001 and 2004 by HBPD. He attended the Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration of President Donald Trump, as part of the law enforcement patrol on the inauguration parade.

After spending two decades at the HBPD, McGowin said he misses the people, workers and city of Holmes Beach, where he “thoroughly enjoyed working.”

From everyone at The Islander: We thank you for your service, Vern, and wish you a grand adventure and fantastic times spent with family. — Bonner Joy

Beach washout evident, renourishment planned

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Bradenton Beach’s southernmost groin, created an escarpment, revealing a rope and bollards — part of a divider that protected the dune from being trampled by people. Islander Photo: Courtesy David Herrmann

The beach will have to endure another hurricane season, but the Gulf of Mexico shoreline on Anna Maria Island will be renourished in 2019.

Hurricane and storm season runs May 1-Nov. 31.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, said in an interview Jan. 8 that two renourishment projects, spanning 5.4 miles of beachfront south from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Longboat Pass, are in the works for 2019.

Beginning in November 2019, the first project will bring sand to the shoreline from 79th Street to Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay for 54 percent of the project, with supplemental and emergency funding appropriated from the U.S. Congress to counteract erosion caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, according to Hunsicker.

The state and Manatee County will split the remaining costs of island renourishment at 23 percent each.

Hunsicker said he expects the project to total $16 million.

“As a result of Hurricane Irma, we have a full year-and-a-half to two-year head start on addressing what would have otherwise been the erosion due to this last storm,” Hunsicker said. “If we had a completely healthy beach and observed these erosional losses, and then started the process today, it would take us at least another year-and-a-half to get to where we are right now.”

The cost of the second project will be split between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Manatee County and the state of Florida, with FEMA covering 75 percent and the state and county sharing the remainder.

The project will span the shore from Fifth Street South to Longboat Pass and cost about $4 million, according to Hunsicker.

“We hope to piggyback on the contractor that the army engineers will be using, so instead of stopping at Bradenton Beach and packing up and leaving, they can stay right with it and keep on going under a separate and independent contract to do the Coquina Beach segment, and thereby save substantially in local and state dollars,” Hunsicker said.

Mobilization costs for large beach renourishment projects can range from $4 million-$6 million before the first shovel is turned, according to Hunsicker.

In total, the projects would replace more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand lost to erosion and cost around $20 million. Hunsicker expects the work to last three-four months.

The sand will be dredged from a sandbar offshore of the northern end of Anna Maria Island and pumped in pipes to the renourishment area.

Hunsicker said a dump truck can load up to 10 cubic yards of sand at once, and to meet the project requirements would require 70,000 truckloads — an effort that would cost significantly more than dredging and pumping the sand.

A couple of recent storms have furthered the erosion caused by Irma.

Bradenton Beach resident David Herrmann said erosion is apparent north of the groins at Cortez Beach and is within 10 feet of a multiuse path that stretches from Cortez Beach to Coquina Beach.

“I’ve seen this beach come and go for 30 years and this is probably about the worst I have ever seen it,” Herrmann said in an interview Jan. 8.

While he isn’t concerned the erosion will impact his property, he is worried for the multiuse path and utility poles west of Gulf Drive.

“If we have another storm like we just had, it’s going to cut back even more, and the path will collapse. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “It’s a concern that will become a problem if we get two more storms like those that came through a couple weeks ago. If we get a hurricane, it’s gone.”

Hunsicker said beaches on the Gulf lose 10 feet in depth and width every year due to “an aggressive wave climate that actually has the effect of pulling the sand off the beach, like grabbing a bedspread off of your bed and pulling it onto the floor.”

To counteract the erosion, renourishment projects replace the lost sand so that the Gulf doesn’t eat farther into the beach.

“We put that sand out there, fully expecting it to be sacrificed under very heavy storm conditions,” Hunsicker said. “Rather than farther upland.”

Additionally, groins can help preserve and build upon the existing beach, as they trap sand moving down the beach via the drift current by slowing the sand and changing its direction.

“The new groins (in Bradenton Beach) kept the footprint of the sand in place,” Hunsicker said. “We didn’t lose that much sand there around the groin.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie agreed, saying that “in effect, with the recent storms, the groins and the dune system did exactly what they were supposed to do: protect infrastructure.”

Suzi Fox, director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, told The Islander erosion would have no effect on sea turtles or shorebirds while nesting is in its off-season, but would need to revisited when sea turtles begin nesting in May.

“It’s nothing new,” Fox said Jan. 8.

“Historically, that sand comes and goes. We’re a barrier island. That’s just going to happen.”

Federal investigation of copter crash hits delay

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Duke Overstreet of Sea Tow, center, who oversaw recovery Jan. 4 of a helicopter that crashed in the Gulf of Mexico Jan. 2, and two other men note damages to the copter after it was brought earlier in the morning to the Coquina Beach South Boat Ramp. The helicopter was recovered at about midnight Jan. 3 about a mile offshore of Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Sea Tow Bradenton owner Duke Overstreet talks to the media Jan. 4 about his crew’s recovery of helicopter wreckage from the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
The helicopter that crashed in the Gulf of Mexico Jan. 2 with three people aboard approximately a mile offshore of Anna Maria is readied for transport Jan. 4 at Coquina Beach by Sea Tow Bradenton and Ben’s Crane Service of Bradenton. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

The federal government shutdown is reverberating on Anna Maria Island.

Answers to why Sarasota pilot Stanley Lee crashed Jan. 2 in the Gulf of Mexico about a mile from the Anna Maria shore — sending Lee and photographer Tom McKnight to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton — appear to be delayed due to the shutdown.

As of Jan. 4, Lee was reported in serious condition, improved from a critical status.

McKnight, who spoke to The Islander Jan. 6, was treated and released, said he’s feeling very sore but thankful.

McKnight was shooting video and stills of a boat for a manufacturer’s promotion, when water rushed into the helicopter.

“We were flying close to 50 minutes and had done multiple passes in the bay,” he said.

According to Robert Smith, director of Manatee County Public Safety, the helicopter was flying 10-15 feet above the water level before the crash.

“I really don’t know what happened. We were flying normal and then we were not,” McKnight said, adding he then submerged and realized he was hooked on something.

“Honestly, I thought that was it,” he added, saying he felt no panic.

Somehow he became unhooked, he said, came to the surface and saw the other men who had been in the helicopter also had surfaced.

Lee, McKnight and the third man in the chopper, Peter Bowden, boarded the boat they had been filming.

As a 911 dispatcher was directing the boaters, the U.S. Coast Guard from station Cortez met them with a 29-foot boat and crew.

The Coast Guard crew rendered first aid and escorted the boat to the Coquina Beach South Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach. From there, a Manatee County EMS ambulance transported Lee and McKnight to

Blake. Bowden, saying he was not badly injured, refused EMS transport.

All civil aviation accidents undergo investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the NTSB website.

However, FAA public affairs officer Gregory Martin wrote in a Jan. 3 email there were no plans to begin an investigation of the helicopter crash.

An auto-email response Jan. 3 from Kathleen Bergen, FAA public affairs officer for the southern region, states, “Due to the lapse in government funding, I am not working.”

A similar message was delivered by an officer with the NTSB who answered the phone, but declined to give his name as a spokesman.

Meanwhile, local officials were fielding questions about the crash.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Randy Warren wrote in Jan. 3-4 emails that the FAA and NTSB were notified but an investigation had not begun, adding the FAA “may or may not follow up.”

Sea Tow Bradenton recovered and delivered the 2,500-pound Robinson R-44 helicopter, registered to Sarasota Helicopter Services, to Coquina Beach Boat Ramp for transport to Jacksonville.

Duke Overstreet, owner of Sea Tow Bradenton, said he and a crew, including a diver, found the copter in 25 feet of murky water at about midnight Jan. 3

Found among the retrieved helicopter were a professional video camera, a backpack and wallets.

The crash was first reported at 10:53 a.m. by one of the people in the vessel that was being photographed.The boater told the 911 dispatcher, “We’ve got multiple injuries. We’ve got a guy with his ear torn off. It’s bad. He’s got half an ear cut off and he’s choking blood.”

The dispatcher advised treatment and directed the boater to the boat ramp, remaining on the line until they were met by the Coast Guard vessel.

An MCSO Marine unit, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, and Longboat Key and Sarasota police departments assisted in the rescue.

McKnight, a guitarist with a rock band, The Verge, said he’s not looking at life the same since the crash.

Noting he lost his cellphone and video camera, McKnight said, “None of that matters.”

“That first gulp of air I took is the same air we all breathe,” but, he said, taking a breath again reinforced his belief in peace, love and helping others.

There were some reports that four people were aboard the helicopter when it crashed, but McKnight dispelled that rumor.

“There were three of us” on the chopper, he said. “Maybe the fourth was the angel.”

McKnight added that his band will play for a celebration of life for the crash survivors Friday, Jan. 18, at Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse in Sarasota.

Wienermobile drivers choose AMI for pit-stop

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Paradise Cafe owner Jackie Estes, left, with granddaughter Jazzy Sparks and Willona Blanche of Toronto and her granddaughter, Charlotte Blanche, came from the bagel shop to get a closer view Dec. 8 of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile at the Anna Maria Island Centre in the 3200 block of East Bay Drive. The kids received weinermobile stickers and a whistle. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale proudly holds a wiener whistle.

Meat the hot-doggers.

Elise “Cheddar Cheese” Johnson and Dominic “Dijon Dom” Ricci are two of 12 people who can drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile — with the rare exception of Jay Leno, who took the modified Chevy truck for a spin and a story earlier this year for his TV series on motor vehicles, “Jay Leno’s Garage.”

And it was Johnson and Ricci who chose to beach the larger-than-life hot dog and stay at the Cedar Cove Resort in Holmes Beach between marketing events Dec. 5-10 in Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton, North Port, Fort Myers and Sarasota.

“A lot of people have been stopping by and taking pictures,” Johnson said about her stay on Anna Maria Island.

“It always makes somebody’s day,” she added.

Johnson and her fellow hot-doggers are among an elite few, including Oscar Mayer’s president, who can speak on behalf of the company.

They interviewed, sang the jingle and “cut the mustard” to get the job the first year out of college, Ricci added.

Johnson graduated from the University of Texas-Austin and Ricci from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

They attended a two-week Hot Dog High with the 10 other drivers and then took to the road for a yearlong stint at the wheel of the Wienermobile for the Kraft Heinz-owned company, now headquartered in Chicago.

A 2015 merger closed the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison, Wisconsin, consolidated operations and moved the headquarters to the Aon Building in Chicago’s Loop.

German immigrant Oscar F. Mayer started a meat market with his brother, Gottfried, first in Detroit and then in the 1880s on the north side of Chicago. His nephew Carl G. Mayer created the first Weinermobile in 1936.

About every 10-15 years, Ricci said, the company changes the vehicle design.

Ricci and Johnson see a bright future in marketing with the parent company, as teachers or wherever they want to use their people skills after finishing their tour of 15 Southeast states in June 2018.

They have oodles of transferable skills, they say.

“We’re basically running a PR firm, the 12 of us and the CEO,” Johnson said, with six months and 25,000 miles under her belt.

She also praised their Anna Maria Island hangout Dec. 8 while visiting The Islander office and greeting folks interested in the Wienermobile.

“It’s so peaceful. I think it’s the best-kept secret,” Johnson said about the island.

“I’ll be taking my family back here,” she added.

And, as Ricci and Johnson would say, the puns are many, so we’ll ketchup then. With relish.

In the meantime, put a little mustard on that dog.


“Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener. That is what I’d truly like to be. Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”

It’s a jingle everyone a certain age will not forget.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale is that certain age.

Hearing the Wienermobile was on the island Dec. 5, Speciale smiled a wide grin and broke out in the song.

The police chief shared memories of grocery shopping with his mother as a boy when he coveted the wiener whistles in the packages of Oscar Mayer wieners. Excited as he reminisced, he recalled how he slid the whistles out of the packs — and collected so many his pockets bulged.

The next day he couldn’t be happier on receiving a new whistle.

He tore it open and began tooting.

“Oh, I’m glad I’m not an Oscar Mayer wiener. That is what I’d never want to be. Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, there would soon be nothing left of me!”

And the winner is …

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• Following nesting and placement of a satellite tracking device atop her carapace June 20, Eliza Ann, a 300-pound-plus loggerhead, crawls back to the Gulf of Mexico. The device, placed by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and the Sea Turtle Conservancy, tracked Eliza Ann’s travels for the Tour de Turtles — a marathon for sea turtles. See page 26 for more. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Giddy up!

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The world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales eight-horse hitch and beer wagon circles the roundabout Oct. 14 on its way to Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. The horses traveled from St. Louis for the appearance on Bridge Street in celebration of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing of Sarasota winning the Anheuser-Busch “Red Jacket Award.” Gold Eagle delivered cases of beer to its restaurant-bar distributors and the crowd was “wowed” by the appearance of Budweiser’s iconic team, complete with its dalmation mascot. For more photos, see page 10. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

The world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales eight-horse hitch and beer wagon circles the roundabout Oct. 14 on its way to Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. The horses traveled from St. Louis for the appearance on Bridge Street in celebration of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing of Sarasota winning the Anheuser-Busch “Red Jacket Award.” Gold Eagle delivered cases of beer to its restaurant-bar distributors and the crowd was “wowed” by the appearance of Budweiser’s iconic team, complete with its dalmation mascot. For more photos, see page 10. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

Lifeguards save the day

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Beachgoers and rescue personnel look to the Gulf of Mexico Oct. 2 after authorities arrived at Cortez Beach to aid in the rescue of a 10-year-old boy and his mother on a raft. No injuries were reported. According to Manatee County Marine Rescue Lt. Karl Payne, two lifeguards and the sheriff’s marine unit found the mother and son, who had difficulty returning to shore due to a brisk shore breeze. Islander Photo: Courtesy Tjet Martin

Long haul for little loggerhead

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A hatchling discovered Sept. 26 during a nest excavation in Holmes Beach crawls to the Gulf of Mexico, but appeared sluggish to observers. Anna Maria Island Turtle watch section 6 coordinator Annie Camp noticed the hatchling was still attached to its yolk sack and retrieved the tiny loggerhead for rehab. As of Oct. 1, nearly 25,000 hatchlings had made it to the Gulf of Mexico and 19 nests remained to hatch on Anna Maria Island. See more on sea turtles, page 22. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes