We just finished crossing the Okeechobee waterway from east to west. Some observations:
1) Obstruction report at MM34: On January 12, 2016 the Cruisers Net contained a report of a vessel which hit an object and sustained damage in the vicinity of MM 34 on the St. Lucie Canal.
On June 22, 2016, while we were underway we observed the scene below, at approximately MM34:
This bird was perched on the limb of a tree, on the south side of the waterway. The water was very murky, so we could not see any other parts of the tree or limb to be able to tell how far it extended into the waterway. The bird is approximately 30’+ from shore.
I hit the MOB button, and recorded the location as we passed: 27 degrees 00.8582’N; 080 degrees, 32.8102′ W.
In re-reading the report about the damaged vessel from January 12th, it appears that the vessel was “along the side of the canal which is the starboard side coming East from Port Mayaca,”“which would have put it in approximately this location. Of course we can’t be certain that this was the earlier reported obstruction.
This type of hazard is not unusual along this portion of the St. Lucie Canal. Just a mile further west, we took this photo:
On both sides of the canal, there are stands of trees, including some tall casuarinas on the right side. If one of them fell into the canal, it could easily become a hazard. The lesson here is to “stay in the middle”. That won’t protect you from free-floating logs or pilings, but it will minimize the risk of contacting fallen trees.
2) Lake Okeechobee water levels: The water levels in the lake have been high, due to heavy rains. Most cruisers use “Route 1” to cross (as opposed to Route 2, the southern rim route). This link takes you to the Corp of Engineers site, showing you the current depths for each route:
According to the Corps, the shallowest part of Route 1 is in the SW corner of the lake, from Clewiston out to where the channel stops its zig-zags. Follow the markers carefully, and don’t drift off. When we crossed on June 22, the level was over 8.8’.
It’s important to try to cross the lake as early as possible in the morning, before any strong winds develop, especially if the winds come from the north/northeast, or east. Where the water is only 8’ deep, if winds cause waves in the lake 2-4’ in height near the SW corner of the lake, a boat with a 5’ draft may start to bottom out in those conditions. The bottom there is rock, not sand.
3) Algae conditions:
Due to the heavy rains, there are severe algae blooms in the St Lucie canal, lower St. Lucie River, and the lake. We saw none on the Caloosahatchee River side. The algae is kelly green in color. Here’s what it looks like:
According to local news reports, samples have been sent to
Florida’s health lab for testing, so as of the time of this report it is unknown whether it will be considered toxic or not. We observed no cooling issues with our engines as we passed through these patches. It is thin and “whispy” and did not accumulate at all in the engine strainer baskets.
Favorite places to stay overnight:
1) To position yourself for an early morning Okeechobee crossing, going west to east:
a) Moore Haven docks (just before the lock). $1.00 a foot; electric available.
b) Roland Martin’s Marina, in Clewiston. Probably the best layover place; right on the edge of the lake. The outdoor bar is terrific: it reminds us of the bar scene in the first Star Wars movie.
When we stayed there in March on the way east, the small lock at Clewiston was actually in operation (the first time we have ever seen that.) Our 65’ LOA boat barely fit into the lock. On our most recent return trip, the lock was fully open, not in operation, and allowed full pass-through to the marina. The Clewiston lock is not operated by the Corps of Engineers – it is private, and the people who run it are well intentioned, friendly amateurs. Just because they tell you to do something, it doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. They put about 20 bass boats into the chamber with us, and they were hanging all over us, banging into us, and cutting us off as we entered the chamber; it was bedlam.
Roland Martin’s is still the best place to stay on a west to east trip. The dockmaster Sam is excellent. Call for a reservation.
2) To position yourself for an east to west crossing of the lake in the morning:
a) Indiantown Marina: A true old fashioned time-warp. They have limited slip space, but at $1.00 a foot, it is a bargain. It’s about 9.9 Statute Miles from the Port Mayaca lock, where you would begin to cross the lake.
b) If Indiantown can’t take you, the River Forest marina, just 1/2 mile west of the St. Lucie lock, is a good alternative, at $1.35 a foot. It will take you longer to get to the eastern edge of the lake in the morning, but there aren’t any other choices.
4) Ortona Lock Restrictions:
The Ortona lock is undergoing repairs, and there are restricted openings which have been reported on the Cruisers Net.
Note that the restricted openings do not apply on weekends, when the lock will open on demand from 7:00 AM to 4:30 PM.
On our recent trip across the waterway from east to west, we stayed at the River Forest location in Moore Haven, just 1/4 mile east of the Ortona lock. It’s perfectly positioned to allow us to arrive at the Ortona lock in time for the 7:00-7:30 limited opening. We did hear the lockmaster, on the VHF, allowing a boat to lock through at a time other than the restricted windows, so it does not hurt to ask. It depends on whether construction is actually going on.
Corp of Engineers Contact:
The day before we begin any Okeechobee crossing, we call the local Corp of Engineers office directly (they are in Clewiston), to be sure there aren’t any lock shutdowns or bridge problems. They are always very helpful.
Many of our cruising friends would never consider using the Okeechobee. We enjoy the trip. It’s much shorter than going down through the Keys and then heading north, up through the endless and tiresome Florida Bay, which can be loaded with crab traps. It is also easier to run the waterway in bad weather. It presents a fascinating slice of old time Florida. Scenes like this sunrise make it worthwhile: