Off the southern gulf coast of Florida, about 8 feet deep in water, lies the ruins of one man’s personal Xanadu. The apocalyptic Star Wars looking structures off Cape Romano are a confusing sight to behold. The “Dome Homes” as they are known have been described as many things including something from an extra-terrestrial movie set or an evil’s villains hideout. In reality the domes were an eco-minded home ahead of its time that succumbed to heavy coastal erosion. A retired oil tycoon and avid inventor named Bob Lee dreamed up the project, his interest in renewable energy and living off the grid led him to build a series of self-sustaining geodesic domes that connected to form his home.
The location of the Dome Homes were miles away from society on a desolate but beautiful stretch of barrier island that is part of the 10,000 island chain. Bob spent over two years building the homes, battling logistics with it’s remote location and severe bouts of bad weather. The Lee family moved in into their home in the early 1980’s and stayed for seven years living happily off the grid with an island to themselves. Solar power and a water desalination system kept basic needs met and they took their boat to town in Marco Island when needed. A steady longshore drift over the years though slowly kept eroding the coastline and Dome Homes inched closer and closer toward the Gulf of Mexico. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew came through as a direct hit and battered the Dome Homes while leaving them in a state of disrepair. After the Lee family abandoned them they changed hands a few times before becoming an abandoned building boaters would party at on the weekend. The Domes were on dry land till 2004 when the steady longshore drift finally eroded the coastline and the pillars of the home touched the sea. 11 years later the home’s pillars are about 8 feet under water and on a rough day the crests of the waves can brush the bottom of all six buildings.
The Dome Homes became an official target for a wakeboard mission in the early summer of 2015 after years of discussion. Brian Grubb went on a scout mission by PWC and reported back that there was plenty of concrete debris in the water, the tide was kind of scary, but with the right conditions we could pull off something really unique. We reached out to Parks Bonifay and watched the weather for the right time to head south and mission out to the Dome Homes.
The First Go
On an early afternoon in April I met Parks and Brian, who brought two Red Bull PWC’s, at a Marco Island Marina that was to be our departure spot. Also meeting us there was local fire captain and wakeboard charter owner Dustin Beatty who offered to help with the wakeboarding trip. Dustin knew the area and all the waterways well so we let the captain take over! We loaded his Mastercraft X25 down with camera gear, camping gear, and supplies to build a massive kicker. The fleet then headed south to the Dome Homes, avoiding the open ocean by taking the 10 or so miles of backwater that were only navigable at high tide. An hour or so later we turned the corner of Cape Romano to get our first glimpse of the Dome Homes.
Though not very windy, the tide was ripping around the point and through the domes making driving the boat around them very difficult as we still checked them out excitedly. We unloaded the boat and set up camp as the sun went down and full moon came up. The feeling was truly surreal, the full moon lit up the domes and as the island’s only inhabitants we cooked fish, listening to music, took the jet skis out, and planned for the next day over some cold brews and a campfire. The next morning we got to work on building the kicker, spending about three hours getting it perfect in the brutal morning sun. Once finished we had to wait for the slack tide, the half hour to hour window between high and low tide where the currents would theoretically calm.
With a full moon the night before we would soon realize there wouldn’t be much of any slack tide that day. We loaded up the kicker and struggled mightily to get it into place, the tides began to switch quickly and kicker worked against us in any way it could. After about two hours of battling the tidal currents and now a new strong west wind we took a break and tied the kicker off where it was hoping to try again later. As the day wore on and the conditions only worsened we realized there was no chance of even riding in turbulent conditions around the Dome Homes. With the sun setting and the forecast for the next day only looking worse we decided to dismantle the kicker and leave the island before dark. A lot of hard work had been put in all day for pretty much nothing so spirits were low, on top of that the low tides were going to force us to take the open ocean back to the marina and the winds had been building all day. We departed at sunset on what was an unforgettable journey home. The waves were 4-6 feet and almost crashing over the bow of the Mastercraft as Captain Dustin guided us home into the night. Grubb and Parks followed closely behind on the skis while I held onto the dogs and kept an eye on them for safety. We hadn’t planned on navigating at night nor in such extreme weather so were more than relieved when we made it back to the marina. We were happy to be back but we also knew our journey to the Dome Homes wasn’t complete. Crazy to think such a unique and beautiful place could become equally as harsh and unwelcoming, certainly a lesson Domes Homes builder Bob Lee had learned.
The Victory Lap
Parks, Grubb, Dustin, and I watched the weather over the summer and stayed in contact until we found the perfect day to return to the Dome Homes. Our game plan for success this time involved a custom, floating kicker built by Dustin and a windless beautiful summer day during a smaller moon phase. We departed in the morning at 5am with glassy conditions and dolphins jumping in our wake following us on the way out. We quickly setup the kicker upon arrival and got to work using a multi rope anchor system that worked perfectly to keep it in place with the calm conditions. Parks took some cracks at going higher and higher on the homes before finding his line and pressing around one side of the curved concrete structure. Once the 10-15 foot drop starting taking its toll on Parks, Grubb switched the kicker around to other side of the domes and showed how well he can float out a kicker hit on his wakeskate. Grubb charged the kicker with huge frontside big spins with the apocalyptic ruins right behind him and jagged concrete debris underneath the water’s surface.
Captain Dustin charged the kicker a few times too knowing that there might not be another chance at these conditions. Our effort had paid off, the trials and tribulations we went through on the first attempt only made it that much easier for us on the second. By afternoon we had our fill and decided to head back as the wind began to pick up. As we pulled away from the Domes I stared at all the names that had been carved and spray-painted over the years. So many people had visited this place before and left their name but only one Parks Bonifay left his mark by sliding his wakeboard across it. Huge thanks goes out to Dustin Beatty as it wouldn’t have been possible without his local knowledge and expertise.