I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Get a dozen veteran cruisers together, put forward the question about the best way to cross Western Florida’s waterwayless “Big Bend” region, and you’ll get fourteen different opinions. For those not familiar with these waters, it’s basically a question of whether to cut the corner, if southbound, and head directly for Anclote Key or Clearwater (this often involves an overnight passage), or, staying well offshore, follow the Big Bend coastline around, with the opportunity to anchor or moor on one of the regional rivers. Almost all of these are naturally beautiful, but all have long, torturous, and sometimes shallow entrance channels from the open Gulf.
Captains Judith and Paul give one of the best arguments below I’ve heard in some time as to the good attributes of taking the Big Bend coastline route.
We opted to travel The Big Bend from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs. The distance is greater than the cross-Gulf trek, but well worth it. This area is of historical significance and is comprised of small/tiny fishing villages among marsh, cypress, fir, hardwoods, palm trees and alligators, not to mention dolphins and a myriad of sea/woods birds. Fishing is the name of the game here. There were large, deep draft boats in all the marinas, but one would have to watch the tides. This would be a much better trip if it were a bit earlier in the year before the northerlies arrive. The ubiquitous crab pots/fishing pots are easily seen and avoided
as long as the seas are 1-2′ and the sun is not in your eyes.
Our first stop was St. Mark’s (20 miles south of Tallahassee), staying at the new Shield’s Marina (showers/laundry/well stocked chandlery/full service) and a couple of anchorages in the beautiful St. Mark’s River. We lunched at the Riverside (Paradise) Cafe, walked the park, museum/fort, and the railroad converted to bike path. The area/fort has been significant historically since the 1500′s (and 12,000 yrs before) under the control of 9 different cultures. The area provided the most important salt for the Confederate troups. They have a post office and a limited grocery store and are the heart of the Stone Crab industry with a festival in October. A man came to talk with us for awhile and loaned us his car to go to the St. Mark’s Wildlife Preserve and The Lighthouse. We saw many alligators sunning. We found out later, the owner will loan you his car for Walmart or the lighthouse/nature preserve tour.
Next we went to Sea Hag marina in Steinhatchee. There is a post office, good grocery store and several restaurants. Fiddler’s Restaurant will come to the marina, pick you up and bring you back. Delicious seafood dinner. We took our zodiac up the river for a few hours as the weather was not condusive for anchoring out.
The wild and beautiful Suwanee River was next on the list, bypassing Cedar Key about which we had not heard good things. We stopped at Miller’s Marina for fuel and a pumpout. This is a very basic place on a lovely pool approached from the river by a leafy narrow canal. A short walk to The Salt River Seafood Company Restaurant provided us with a delicious lunch. We understand they will let you stay the night at their dock for free if you eat there. 350 people call this village home with 750 vacation homes–small is an overstatement. Predicted stormy weather prevented our anchoring out up the Suwannee which we very much wish we had been able to do–you know, the song and all!
After a few hours of being hammered on the open Gulf, we slipped into the first marina on Crystal River, Twin Rivers Marina. They are 6 miles from town, but had a floating dock for us which we prefer, being so small. One
could stay in town at Pete’s Pier. TRW is a full service marina, and we need a wiper repair and a stove repair after our Gulf ride. Crystal River is home to the largest herd of manatees in Florida. Photographing manatees
is similar to dolphins–as soon as you focus, they are gone.
We are waiting here for a window to get down to Tarpon Springs and back on the ICW. We have met friendly people and had quiet, secure havens and would highly recommend Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” to complete your Loop experience.
Judith and Paul