Of course, if you are going to cruise the very useful Okeechobee Waterway between Florida’s eastern and western coastline, or the other way around, you must include a passage across Lake Okeechobee as part of that sojourn. Sometime, but less often than many captain’s inexperienced with these waters think, you can bypass rough conditions on Lake Okeechobee, by taking the so-called, “Rim Route.” HOWEVER, this passage is a bear in northerly winds, it is much shallower, and more subject to debris. So, most cruisers choose to take the “Lake Route,” also known as “Route #1,” from the Port Mayacca Lock to Clewiston (or, again, the other way around).
Captain Moore’s remarks below are, in my opinion, right on the money when it comes to crossing the great lake in foul weather. Better to stay in port until the weather turns fair, while pouring one more round of Mount Gay Rum, and playing a few more hands to bridge.
As to Lake Okeechobee being safe “because the waves cannot be higher than the depth of the water,” some of my most fearsome experiences sailing (50+ years) have been on the Big O. Because the lake is shallow and fresh, the waves are square and close together. Fresh water becomes airborne more easily in a storm than in salt water. Coming off a wave and having the bow of your boat bury in the next wave while still on the first can be very exciting. Watch the depth sounder when that happens and the 4′ wave you have just navigated sends you toward the VERY nearby bottom. The most severe lightning I have ever encountered has been on Lake O. In addition, suggesting the rim canal during a norther puts the lee shore just an engine hiccup away. Oh, and I came across this last May and encountered epic swarms of love bugs the entire way across. I have also spent many idyllic crossings under sail with fair winds and flat water.
Capt. Jeff Moore
Good morning to you too.
I’ve been sailing Florida’s West coast (grew up in Bradenton in the 50′s, taught school for 40 years up and down the coast) and have made the Lake O crossing more times than I can count in boats from 24′ to 70′. One thing I’ve never seen addressed is wind direction relative to the orientation of the lock. The only one where this is absolutely critical is the Port Myakka lock in a westerly. That lock is right at the edge of the lake with breakwaters extending into the lake and oriented a little south of west. In the winter, our cold fronts shift SW before they go north. In a sou’wester I have see 4′ rollers IN the lock when the doors open. Conversely, if you are in the lock heading into the lake, when they open the doors, you will think you are in a washing machine. The good news is that the lock masters are very helpful in analyzing the situation and will give you lots of info so as to what to expect, even to the point of suggesting waiting for a more favorable wind direction.
Capt. Jeff Moore