Planning the Perfect Gulf Coast Trip
Planning the perfect trip with your new boat
Everybody knows that here on the Northern Gulf, the weather can sometimes turn pretty yucky, gray and rainy in the winter months. So you bought that new boat and you want to set out on a grand adventure? How do you do it?
Many people will hire a captain on the first expedition. Good, reliable captains can be found through your friendly brokers at Great Southern Yachts and they will tell you how to outfit your boat and guide you from place to place. It makes for an adventurous and wonderful trip.
Most people go to Port St. Joe, or to Carrabelle to station the boat and themselves for the first leg of the journey. If your boat doesn’t have the range to travel across the middle of the gulf then you jump off from Apalachicola and head to Clearwater which is approximately 170 miles.
Once you pick your time frame to leave so that the seas are not too rough, you gather your supplies, like fuel, spare filters, spare parts and lots of snacks, a 20 knot boat will take about 7 hours. So if you leave bright and early you should get in at Clearwater Municipal Marina around early afternoon.
Once there, you’ll want to refuel and rinse off the boat from your ocean crossing, and then give yourself a big pat on the back! Take yourself to Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill for a celebratory grouper sandwich. And don’t forget your Frenchy’s t-shirt! On my son and I’s first crossing, I bought him a shirt and here it is 30 years later and he still has it. If a higher brow place is your style, you’ll want to check out the Beachcomber which has been in Clearwater since 1952 and is outstanding.
The next morning when you rise, your boat already has a full tank of fuel, and is rinsed and ready to go. You’ll head out of the Clearwater pass and turn south, keeping the beach on your left side. Now you have a decision to make, you can go into Boca Grande and start heading through the canal that crosses Florida or you can go down to the Key West Area.
The two legs:
If you are trying to reach the other side of Florida quickly, and the canal is open, this is a great option. There are 5 lochs and they are very simple to navigate, they have ropes on each loch that they will toss to you or that you can reach with a boat pole. They have a system of lights; you pull up in front of the loch and the light will be red, they will equalize the loch to the level of water that you are on and then the light will turn green, the doors open and you pull in. Once in, the loch tender will throw the lines down to you. If you have never navigated the lochs before, you should find it really quite fun.
Once through the series of lochs, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee. If your timing is right, and the speed of your boat gives you good time, a good place to stop is the Martin Marina at the base of Lake Okeechobee. They have good food and a fantastic band. The locals there are friendly and varied, as you can find boats from 80’ Hatteras’ to 15’ bass boats. In the morning when you wake up you can head up Lake Okeechobee, where the water is shallow and clearly marked. Your GPS will lead you to the center of the lake and then a turn back to the northeast which will lead you through the remainder of the canal and take you out at Stuart. Stuart is a very nice place.
Here, you have another decision to make; left to Manatee pocket where there are many great marinas, or turn right, south, to Jupiter, Palm Beach, and Palm Beach Gardens which is a beautiful area of the world.
Heading back to the decision at Clearwater; if you decide to head to Key West, a personal favorite destination of mine, you’ll head south and take a hard dog leg left into Key West’s northwest channel. That will bring you right into Key West Harbor where you can pull up at the dock and sip on some margaritas!
In a 20 knot boat, you are looking at a 3-4 day trip either route. Once you get on board and get all of your systems running you can take your shoes and put them in a locker as the weather gets warmer, moving away from the yucky, gray winter of northwest Florida.
Life is wonderful! And there’s nothing like a boat adventure to see the world! Next stop, the Bahamas!