I am planning to leave Tampa first or second week of Feb and go to the Bahamas. I intend to go across the Okeechobee Waterway if there is enough water. Never have been across and it sounds like a fun way to go.. Does anyone have any info or knowledge how it is now? Is anyone planning a trip to Bahamas next month?
[Okeechobee Waterway Depth Information]
Route 1 [a.k.a. the “Lake Route” – editor] is best for anything larger than a bass boat.
The Okeechobee FUN? Not in my mind it isn’t! Boring is more like it. Be SURE you have a chart. this advice may sound silly but twice when going across we met boaters, both time sailors with small kids onboard, who not only had no chart but also had no clue! They both asked how you find the opening at the other end? It is so shallow you must follow the channel and that is not always easy. You are looking at water all day long and about the only excitement is seeing the white pelicans STANDING in the water nearby. No anchorages, you must stay at Indian Town on the east and the free dock right next to the lock on the west and
neither is at all interesting. My memory fails me about the name of the place you can stay on the south west end, a little town with a dock at a restaurant in a narrow channel that is not fun to turn in and noisy at night. It sure beats the alternative though!
We found the Okeechobee very interesting. We took the rim route going west because we wanted to check out all the facilities for Skipper Bob’s guides and we came back east through the middle of the lake. The rim route proved to be full of wild life, We saw plenty of alligators, birds, and fishermen in FAST boats. (They did not speed in the channel) I put fishermen in the category
because the are a different breed from regular boaters. We enjoyed out trip, took a few days because of stopping at every place there is to stop and found it to be relaxing and peaceful. Sorry that Marg was bored on her crossing. I do agree about the charts. So many people leave the dock without a chart and that is so wrong.
Co-founder, Skipper Bob Publications
Years ago our last crossing [ the forth time ] had to be across the lake because the rim route was full of downed trees. Now I think I have heard lately that the COE was going to clean it out. Even before all the storms crossed Florida [ in ’06, ’07 ] the rim route was shallow. I’d check with the COE before starting out. Also there was a bridge near the fish camp about half way around that would only open at 7 AM. Not that you would want to continue on anyway. Slow trawlers would take most of the next day to get to the R.R. bridge at Port Mayaka. That is unless you have a fast boat. And even if I did I would NEVER run the rim at
more that a crawl. I do recall the last time we were heading east after leaving the Morehaven Lock and heading down to Rollin Martins we were amazed at the number of Alligators along the banks.
To each his or her I guess. But I’ve never found the trip boring.
Following the channel is very easy IMO, as it is clearly marked. If you have an autopilot it’s almost a no brainer. And there are a few anchorages. Plus you can tie up to the dolphin pilings located near the locks for the night if you wish. Indiantown has a couple of good restaurants and good marina.
The other marina you seem to be talking about would be Roland Martin’s in Clewiston. Which can have a bit of a bar crowd on weekends now that they have added a Tiki bar, which some folks (myself included) just might find appealing at times. They have some good bands from time to time and you can always call the Clewiston Inn to send a car for you so you can get a bite to eat and check out the very cool Florida wildlife mural in their bar while getting away from the marina for a while. As to turning around in the marina channel, there is a fair sized turning basin just before the marina docks. So it’s just a simple
matter of backing down to it and then turning around. Or turning around first and then backing down to your slip.
Been there done that Several times, Loved it each time. It you want to know the Fun and interesting parts of the Okeechobee, email me. It’s a great trip, NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!
See you in Paradise!!
Totally agree, see the real Florida, one of our favorite cruising areas. Just be sure to avoid Ms Martins Marina in Clewistown, it has become a very unfriendly place. Last time we were there they would not meet you at the dock or help with fueling.In addition the owner was running around inside yelling and screaming at all her helpers. With that said we like the docks and facilities at Moore Haven and LaBelle is always a favorite.
While I agree with a lot of what Capt. Bill said in those short sentences, I would like to add to it. But first, I’d like to say that we find the Okeechobee Waterway very interesting. The lake crossing is just another open water crossing, but the sights and sounds along the route are very cool, and to us, well worth it.
West-to-east, the route starts at the Caloosahatche River “delta.” At the gulf end at San Carlos Bay, which is wide, but there are many shallows and shoal areas, so the marked channels do need to be honored. It’s not difficult at all. At and after Ft. Myers, the river follows a narrow channel that you must honor.
At Alva, past the western-most CoE WP Franklin Lock, the character of the river changes slowly from narrow river to man-made canal. It’s like that all the way to Clewiston. Then there is a 5-mile long channel from Clewiston out to the open-water lake crossing to Port Mayaca. Port Mayaca to St. Lucie is cut man-made canal. The St. Lucie River from the CoE St. Lucie lock to Stuart is narrow and shallow.
The Roland Martin marina at Clewiston is located in a very shallow pool behind a
CoE lock [flood gate actually – editor] that is almost always open on both ends. If you stop there, be very mindful of lake water depths and very careful in the Clewiston Harbor if you draw more than 3 to 3-1/2 ft. The Clewiston Harbor carries less depth than the published lake crossing, Route 1. We tried to get in once with our 4 ft draft, but grounded in the mud before we could get to their dock. The girl at the marina told us they had 5′ of water at the docks. Not! NG.
The channel from Clewiston Harbor to the open lake can be deceiving. The markers near Clewiston are fairly close together, but they get progressively farther and farther apart out in the lake. However, the Clewiston Channel itself remains very narrow. Winds in the region will generally try to blow boats sideways out of the channel, so YOU MUST BE ABLE TO BACK-SIGHT MARKERS YOU
HAVE ALREADY PASSED AS WELL AS SEE THE MARKERS IN FRONT OF YOU to be sure you actually stay WITHIN the channel. Two key questions are: how good is the astern visibility you’ll have on your boat, and how good is your eyesight? I’m not kidding here; both factors can/will affect you in this area! There are two areas in the Clewiston channel known to be very shallow, but the real problem when lake waters are down is the channel edges. There is no margin; the markers mark the channel edges. The channel is man-made, and the dredged cut penetrates a shallow and thin limestone layer. That is rock, and it will damage a prop if you manage to get over to it. See Claiborne Young’s web site for details; also checkActiveCaptain.com. In my opinion, I do not recommend autopilot use in the Clewiston channel or the upper St. Lucie River. In Clewiston, even in light winds, it’s just too likely that you’ll wind up drifting sideways. The upper St. Lucie is very significantly shoal; follow
If the lake sounding levels for Route 1 are down, also be aware that prolonged winds will drive water to the lee shore; so, south winds will pile lake water up on the north, leaving water levels in the south noticeably less than published. North winds will pile up water to the south, which causes water levels at Port Mayaca to be, likewise, less than published. Port Mayaca is soft mud, but not so, as mentioned, Clewiston. Depending on specific wind conditions, the day you cross and in the preceding 24 hrs, published depths can mislead you into thinking there’s more water than there actually is at the other end.
All this is just to make you aware, not nervous. Conditions like this are common in SE Florida. Just be careful! Plan to cross on calm days if possible. For deeper draft boats, Moore Haven town dock is better than Roland Martin for draft and docking convenience, although there ain’t much at Moore Haven, and what there is is a 3/4 mile walk. Indiantown Marina is nice, and very busy when the Canadian enclave boats are splashing in fall and hauling in spring; call ahead for reservations. Sanctuary draws 4’2″, and we have crossed in calm conditions uneventfully and successfully when the daily lake datum was 4′ 5″. Did I mention: conditions were “calm.” We have also crossed in 25 knot winds (a different crossing); 2′ – 3′ short period seas were not particularly “fun.” Incidentally, the water in Lake “O” is not water at all; it’s a nice, dark chocolate mix; and, Palm Beach County drinks it.
Hope this helps.
Peg and Jim Healy aboard Sanctuary
The Okeechobee Waterway is a delightful trip! We have taken this in a 16 foot Boston Whaler, a 34 foot SeaRay Express & a 56 foot SeaRay Bridge boat many times with & without dogs. You see parts of Florida and her nature that you might not see otherwise such as the possibility of flocks of storks, pelicans, alligators along the banks, ranches with cattle and more.
There are two ways across Lake Okeechobee. One is across the middle of the lake & the other is around the South rim. If you plan a round trip, then, we recommend trying each option. There are a half dozen marinas along the waterway to spend the night, each with their own personalities from quiet, more elegant to fun. We have tried most several times including Roland Martins. We had a good experience with all of them. Some marinas have seaweed or grasses in the water so if this is an issue for you, just ask in advance. None of the marinas are the “Ritz” but more of a homey or back country feel. A waterway guide would be helpful to learn about the marinas, their depths and amenities, as well, anything neat to see along the waterway.
You can make the trip in one day. However, if you have crowds in the locks or have to wait much, you may want to prepare for an overnight trip. The lock masters are helpful and will guide you. Reading the protocol about how to go through locks,
setting the lines, where & how to position your boat in advance would be beneficial. We recommend taking a chart for directions, locations and to monitor the water depths.
It is a great, short trip! Enjoy!
We have done the Okeechobee Waterway three times – once over and back on our friends 39 ft raised deck Cruiser and once with our own 36 ft raised bridge cruiser. On one trip we used the lake route one way and the rim route the other way. On the other route we could only go the lake route due to low water. On both trips we stayed at Roland Martins Marina and ate at a hotel in town –
excellent choice. Both trips were very enjoyable experiences.
As a young lad and a Floridian, I well remember when the Okeechobee Waterway was built and the residents of South Florida objected because it essentially made South Florida an island! The lake at that time had a debth of 3 ft or less, until the dykes, canal and locks were built — all for the purpose of creating a fresh water reservoir to irrigate Florida’s mid state farm lands. The project also resulted in a major wildlife refuge and fishing mecca.
That is why today the Army Corps of Engineers controls the water depth of the lake and canals.
John and Judy Gill
Two J’s V, a 36 ft. Carver Mariner
We have made the trip twice, east to West across the lake both times. Enjoyed both, we have stopped at St Lucie Lock Campground, Roland Martin’s Marina in Clewiston, friends living nearby brought us to the Clewiston Inn for a very nice dinner. Moore Haven Docks which are fine to spend the night, but not much to do around there, We also spent a night at a friend’s dock near Ortona. All nice spots.
In addition to all the alligators and other Florida wildlife we cruised past someone’s canal side backyard which held a group of Llamas and a Camel!
Monk 36, Gumbo
Made the trip several times, and enjoyed it every time. Great wildlife and bird watching, and if you are a people person,you WILL meet some characters!
Our favorite stops are the free dock at LaBelle (a charming little town with the most majestic live oak trees you will see this side of Savannah) and Rialto marina near Alva.