My wife and I are new to this life and need a little assistance. We were headed to the Bahamas through Okeechobee and we hit bottom and damaged the boat. [See http://cruisersnet.net/165578] READ MORE!
We are in the process of getting repairs and are thinking about going to Bimini by the keys but really unsure of anchorages on the way or the best route. We have a ocean Alexander 50 with 4.5 draft and 14.8 beam. Any advice or help would be appreciated.
Dan and Peggy Stricklin
Drawing from my experience of multiple Bahamas trips from the east coast of Florida at different times of the year, if you are planning this trip for the immediate future (next three to four months or so), peruse the long range hurricane forecast. Take a look at what disturbances are coming off the coast of Africa as that is where the majority of tropical storms and hurricanes that affect the Bahamas originate. Disturbances coming off the coast of Africa take as much as 7 to 14 days to make it to Florida and the northern Bahamas from Africa. Otherwise, just pay attention to the general forecasts and EXPECT daily thunderstorms, but a few less of them once you reach the Bahamas. This time of year, fronts usually do not make it this far south especially with prevailing surface winds from the east, southeast, and some from the south. As others have posted, a wind with any north component will make for a bumpy ride crossing the Gulfstream. Ideal winds will be from southeast or south causing lay down seas. Cold fronts are just one of many weather event triggers that create or take advantage of instability in the atmosphere that leads to clouds with vertical development that leads to thunderstorms.
The thunderstorms that occur over Florida this time of year are mostly the result of convection which is warm and moist air rising creating cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds which eventually turn into thunderstorms as the air heats up and begins to rise. Usually, they occur mid to late afternoon and evening and dissipate overnight, therefore mornings are the best time to travel and lessen the chances you will be caught in one of theses storms.
In late fall and early winter, the cold fronts become stronger and begin to penetrate further south. When this changeover in patterns occurs, the seas will be much less friendly for crossings.
If you are going to Bimini to check in with Customs and Immigration and then further explore the Bahamas, you will be going across miles and miles of water that is less than 15 feet deep after leaving Bimini. The only thing to watch out for here are the NUMEROUS coral heads that are sometimes as shallow as 3 or 4 feet, but fear not, they are charted AND easy to visually spot and steer around. As I always recommend, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security and keep good situational awareness with a constant lookout. On one trip coming back from Cat Cay (just south of Bimini) to Palm Beach inlet, one of the boats in our Flotilla hit a telephone pole floating in the middle of the Gulfstream about 30 miles out. Fortunately, only damage was to the prop, but hitting a telephone pole could have sunk the boat. Just keep a good watch, and you will be just fine.
The water colors will strike you with their different hues – deep water is cobalt blue to nearly black if deep enough and the shallows will be very light blue. The water is so clear, you will think you are in three feet of water when you are in 15 or 20 feet and it may take a while to get used to it. You will quickly learn how to “read” the water to know where to go and not go. Take and refer to your charts, but be aware that with last season’s storms, the bottom is almost certain to have been rearranged from what the charts show. As always, seek local knowledge for a more complete picture of what to avoid. There are some hard corals to be avoided, but most of the bottom you will be over is made of sand. Keep that in mind when anchoring as you will likely need to pay out more rode to increase the scope of your anchor line to get good holding power. If you drag anchor, try letting out a bit more scope to see if the anchor will reset itself and hold.
I personally prefer the Bahamas in the summer and early fall because the crossings are almost always easier on the crew, the weather is more predictable, and there are more consecutive days of good weather strung together to make it a more fun trip. I don’t have much fun tied up to a dock somwhere with the wind blowing from the north at 25-35 knots causing 10 foot seas in the winter when cold fronts come through. However, the caveat in the summer is that you must be aware of tropical storms and hurricanes. If one is forecast, you would be very wise to make an early decision to come back to the east coast of Florida prior to conditions deteriorating. There are hurricane holes in the Bahamas, but none of them is well protected from a direct strike. Your chances are much improved in Florida.
You say you wish to go to Bimini so if you come across Lake Okeechobee, you will be in Stuart which makes for a VERY long open ocean crossing to Bimini. I would consider two options – first is to leave Stuart and go directly to West End to clear Customs and Immigration which is a much shorter open ocean crossing, or better yet, leave from Palm Beach inlet to go to West End which makes for less than a 60 mile crossing. Another option is to go further south in Florida and leave from Ft. Lauderdale or from Government Cut in Miami (shortest crossing at 57 miles) to Bimini. Remember that the Gulf Stream is a river of water flowing north so this will lengthen your time and burn more fuel if heading into it. Wind direction may also play a role in your decision. However, coming back, take advantage of the current and possible winds and take a northwest track to come back to Ft. Lauderdale or Palm Beach. There are other possible inlets, but I strongly recommend you only use the class A inlets at Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. No hassles, much wider, much safer, and no surprises as long as you watch for traffic. Several other inlets have tricky approaches with blind bends or really problematic roller coaster conditions when the tide is running (Jupiter) or constantly shifting shoaling (Stuart).
Check the weather, have good situational awareness, have good charts, and go have fun in a fabulous country with friendly people and some of the clearest waters you will ever take your boat in. Enjoy the trip!!!
I must weigh in with an opinion on taking the inside route from Key Largo up through Biscayne Bay versus taking Hawks Channel. There is only one place on the inside route where you should consider arriving at or close to high tide and it is very well marked on the charts called Cutter Bank. Even then, the tide is only around 1 foot. It is between ICW statute miles 1120 and 1117 which is at the transition between Card Sound and Biscayne Bay. The channel is very well marked and should be no problem for even a 5 plus foot draft boat as long as you are not passing through with strong winds from a northerly direction. Winds from north quadrants can blow some of the water out of the bay causing shallower conditions than expected. Depending on wind speed and direction, it could affect water depth to a greater degree than the tide. We draw 4 feet and never even come close (my shallow water alarm did no go off either) so time it correctly and you should not have an issue. Just like everywhere else, stay in the marked channel and you should be fine.
With the inside route, you will need to pay close attention to the markers, and keep an especially sharp lookout for crab pots and lobster traps (depending on the season) as they are EVERYWHERE – even in the middle of the marked channels. Stay alert and just steer around them.
The obvious advantage of Hawks Channel is no issues at all with depth, but the biggest minus for this route is that it is on the open ocean and although the reef cuts down on some of the waves, it will not be anywhere near as smooth as the inside route through Florida Bay, the various sounds separated by mangroves, and finally Biscayne Bay via the ICW. In my humble opinion, I would rather dodge a few crab pots, make a bunch of course changes, enjoy the scenery of the mangroves, and keep a sharp lookout than experience the boring offshore passage of Hawks Channel. However, your mileage may vary and you may decide that boring is a good thing!
As you have likely already learned, try to avoid travel on weekends once you reach the Keys and points north in Florida. It seems like the crop of inexperienced and uncaring, inconsiderate boaters increases exponentially on the weekends. No sense making this any more stressful than it needs to be. Be safe and have fun!!!
Dave & Nan Ellen Fuller
If you plan to head west from Bimini to reach Ft. Myers, you have a couple of choices.
You don’t say what time of year you plan to do this. If summer, you will have to plan for daily t’storms on the Gulf coast. Sometime in the early AM hours, sometimes in the mid-afternoon hours. It will depend on fickle summer sea breezes and daytime heating patterns over the Florida peninsula. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE GOOD ACCESS TO LOCAL WEATHER FORECASTING IF YOU PLAN TO TRAVEL THOSE WATERS FROM JUNE THROUGH SEPTEMBER. Summer t’storms are land heating phenomena. From October on, the fall/winter patterns are dryer, but the weather is driven by fronts. Fronts always bring strong winds for 24 – 48 hours after they pass through.
From your post, I assume you do not plan to go through Lake O. Note however, that is your best route for summer weather, cover and distance. The Lake water level has come up a foot in the last month, and summer rains will add another 3 – 5 feet by fall. The trip around the bottom will add at least 250 miles and four travel days from Stuart around to Ft. Myers. Fuel is available, but expensive, in the Keys.
Curious, where did you hit bottom? Clewiston Channel? That channel is a bear in low spring water level conditions. I have detailed my strategy for doing that channel in my website article on cruising Florida.
So, from Bimini, plan to arrive at Key Biscayne. You can anchor or find marinas in that area. From Key Biscayne, you have tow choices. You can go inside through Florida Bay, or you can go outside in the Hawk Channel to Marathon. The Florida Bay route is shallow, with miles of water at 6′, 5-1/2′ in places, but a lot of fun. There are good marina options and many anchorage options. The Hawk Channel is exposed to ocean winds and weather, and there are fewer places to stop. Opportunities to get back inside from the Hawk Channel are very limited, but one such place is channel 5 at Islamorada.
Going north along the SW Florida coast also involves choices. From Channel 5, you can follow the “Yacht Channel” to Cape Sable. The Yacht Channel takes you through the Everglades National Seashore. Navigation in that area involves Situational Awareness. Within the Nation Seashore boundary, there are no crab floats but the water is 5-1/2′. Outside the National Seashore boundary, you get 6′ of water, but there are thousands of crab floats. There is one recommended anchorage, at the Little Shark River. There is no place there to safely land a dog.
One thing to know and understand about SW Florida is that on that part of the Gulf, there is only one high tide per day, and it tends to be from about 14h00 to about 17h00 daily. Spring tide times look more typical of East Coast tides, but neap cycles are clear with one tide per day.
You can make the same trip to the Little Shark from Marathon, but in somewhat better water. Yes, you will have crab floats approaching the SW mainland shore.
From the Little Shark north, visit Everglades City via the Baron River. Stay at the Spprtsman’s Club. Great stop. Again, shallow water, and less forgiving than the sandy bottom Yacht Channel. The River is well marked, but it does have a fast current at ebb and flood. Mindful of the low morning tides, don’t leave EC at Oh dark thirty. Wait ’til mid-morning. Get local water level knowledge at the Sportsman’s Club. But, the trip is well worth the care required.
Again now, more options. From EC, you can go outside in the Gulf, north around the Cape Romano shoals and just head for Ft. Myers Beach or Sanibel. Or, you can go inside through Gullivan Bay and Coon Key Pass, through Goodland, FL, and up toward Marco. There is a high rise bridge immediately south of Marco. The marker colors change sides there. DO NOT MISS THAT NAV DETAIL. That route is described on my website, and you should read it for more detail. It carries 5-1/2′ of water. Despite the tentative words, it is my preferred route.
Again, still more options… From Marco, you can go outside to Ft. Myers Beach or Sanibel, or you can go inside towards Naples. You will eventually have to go outside at Gordon Pass. There is no thru connection from Gordon Pass north to Ft. Myers Beach, but that outside is just a couple of hours. That route is shallow – well, BY NOW YOU HAVE FIGURED OUT THAT ALL OF SE FLORIDA IS SHALLOW – but we draw 4-1/2′ and have never had problem in these waters. Just stay in the marked channels!
Hope this is what you wanted. I have done all of these waters several times. Charts are fairly reliable. Stay in marked channels!
Sanctuary and crew crossed Lake O on 5/27/2017, when the depth was 5.03′. I posted a summary here on this forum on 5/28/2017, under the subject line, “Lake Okeechobee.” Since then, the lake is up another foot plus from summer rains.
I don’t know who told you depths were unreliable. That is not so. The rim route from Moore Haven to Clewiston and the Clewiston Channel out into the lake are very well understood, and reliable.
What is important is, you MUST have the skills to stay in the channel from Clewiston out into the main body of the lake. That channel is dredged from sandstone. Sandstone is a soft rock, but still plenty to damage running gear if you get too far to one side or t’other. You MUST be able to backlight that channel, and you MUST understand “set,” “drift” and “crabbing.”
Given that you draw 4′, you draw less than we do. You will not have any problems if you stay in the marked channels. No worries.
The area you are talking about is in the vicinity of G”9″, “G9A”. That area is one of two areas in the Clewiston Channel that control the depth of the channel (the other is out around G”5″). However, there is no local guidance I know of to favor green in that area. The channel is a dredged channel. If you get to the edges of that channel, you will contact sandstone ledges. To my knowledge, there are no obstructions IN THE CHANNEL. IF THERE ARE OBSTRUCTIONS IN THE CHANNEL, YOU OWE IT TO EVERYONE ELSE TO PLEASE ENTER THAT FINDING INTO ACTIVE CAPTAIN! The only comment in Active Captain in that area today is a missing marker at R”8A”. And yes, that is in the approximate area you describe.
We just returned from the Bahamas. Miami to Bimini is an easy trip. Marathon to Bimini is a hump which we did to take advantage of a weather window. Stuart to West End or Great Sale is doable. I also second the purchase of explorer chart books as they have valuable info on the Bahamas plus great charts. Our blog has some info on our route- mvmoondance.blogspot.com.
It is a great adventure so have fun!