Please Note That Postings Below From Fellow Cruisers Are Listed in Chronological Order, Based on Publication Date
Captains Dave and Nan Fuller offer good advice and recommendations of routes and stops on the sail from Marco Island to Marathon, as originally posted on the AGLCA Forum, www.greatloop.org.
We made this leg of our Loop in August 2013, and it was the roughest open water we have yet encountered, probably because we were on a deadline to get > to the Keys. Our Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs leg was glassy smooth as we were patient and waited nearly 3 weeks for a suitable weather window. I mostly used NOAA and Weather Underground for my weather forecasts from Ft. Myers to the Keys but did not make a go-no go decision based on weather as it was predicted to remain the same for several days and it was within my personal tolerance of seas 2-3 feet. We had wind from the northeast and east during the three day trip from Ft. Myers to Islamorada. Day one, we traveled from Ft. Myers to Marco where we met a close friend and his wife for dinner and then the next day we left Marco for the Little Shark River anchorage in the Everglades. Everyone told us to beware of bugs, but there was
sufficient wind blowing day and night so they were almost zero problem in August. I was even able to grill out after dusk and only had a few horseflies to deal with. We highly recommend Little Shark River as an anchorage as it is well protected in every direction except southwest and if you go a little deeper up river, it offers protection in every wind direction. The trade-off will be the amount of bugs to deal with. After spending one night at anchor, we continued around the Cape and to the Keys. We have friends in Islamorada, so we did not go to Marathon by boat. We spent a few days in Islamorada and rented a car to go to Key West and be tourists.
If I take this route again, I will stay further offshore going around the Cape. We basically followed the boundaries of Everglades National Park and went over so much shallow water that I finally shut off my depth alarm. We never hit bottom, but this is an area where shallow water is the rule and the charted depth pretty much matched what we experienced. Interestingly, the closer we came to shore, the bumpier it became and the further off shore, the smoother. This was with a 25 MPH east wind. We had constant 2 foot seas with occasional 3 and 4 footers. I think that the bottom profile is such that because of a slow slope, it gives the wave energy extra lift making for steeper waves and the deeper water makes them more of a roller profile. Normally, when you are behind a reef, you experience smoother water than on the windward side, but that was not the case here. Waves were on
our port forward quarter resulting in nearly constant spraying and were more bothersome than uncomfortable. However, our dinghy came loose and was thrashing about on the davits and we just had to let it swing as it was not safe to go on our swim platform to secure it. It did some damage to the
davit mounts and bracing that required repairs, but the dinghy sustained zero damage.
I am not an expert on weather in this area, but my understanding is that typically the winds are out of the northeast (bad weather) or east (prevailing) or even southeast (best possible for this leg). I understand it is rare to have winds out of the west quadrants unless associated with a storm. We spoke to one skipper in Marco who had come from Key West the previous day and said they got beat up by 6 footers in the same wind conditions, but they took a much deeper water track than hugging the coast as we did. There is only one area you will need to watch with a well-marked channel marking the opening between two reefs. You make an S turn and it is very easy – no problems. As you approach the Keys, crab pots are EVERYWHERE and can only be described as a mine field, even in the middle of the marked channel. Keep a sharp lookout, go slow, and forget your depth alarm – it will be useless.
If you follow Tom’s weather musings for the Big Bend crossing, he posts a disclaimer that his advice is dispensed based on a specific boat with its characteristics and his tolerance for risk which clearly falls on the conservative side. I share his risk philosophy of being conservative as this is supposed to be fun boating – not a race or a delivery captain mission. Each skipper is responsible for their own decisions after gathering all available data. You should make your decision based on your personal risk tolerance, your boat’s ability to handle different sea conditions, your level of competence and training, and your personal tolerance for what conditions you are willing to accept. Keep in mind that this leg is open water and is a LONG way from help if something goes wrong. VHF radio coverage is spotty in places, and cell phones simply won’t work as you go around the Everglades. I personally carry an EPIRB just in case the VHF or cell phone won’t summon help. You should be prepared to be self-sufficient for this leg or travel with a buddy boat.
If you can be patient and are not on a specific timeline, you can pick a suitable weather window and have a non-memorable open water trip to the Keys.
Dave & Nan Ellen Fuller
Little Shark River is an interesting, but sometimes very buggy anchorage that lies well south of Everglades City and a short hop north of Cape Sable. It is one of the most backwater cruising possibilities in all of Florida. The SSECN recommends three Little Shark River anchorages in our Western Florida Anchorage Directory, but there are actually several dozen spots you might choose to drop the hook. These reports come to us from the Great Loop forum.
Going south from Marco I. we have stopped at the Little Shark River. One time we found it to be buggy on warm, windless night. Every other time (about five) we have found it to be a pleasant, quiet stop. VERY remote with plenty of place to anchor.
Mitch & Carole On Serendipity
A good stop for the night when traveling out of Marco is Little Shark River. This breaks the trip up into two nice segments. When anchoring in Little Shark, go up the river 1/2 mile or so past the entrance. You will find good depths and good holding. Plan on a fast tidal current in both directions, inbound and outbound. This current will set you securely on your anchor for the night. Even with the cool temps currently being experienced, have screens ready for the bugs.
Marty and Jerry Richardson onboard M/V Monarch
Captains Lloyd and McKane offer good advice and recommendations of routes and stops on the sail from Marco Island to Marathon, as originally posted on the AGLCA Forum, www.greatloop.org.
From Sanibel Island I usually head for Naples, then you can take an inside route behind Marco Island. Charted depth is 4′ but depth increases by 3′ at high tide. Pay attention after Bear Point bridge as daymark colors switch sides. A red daymark appears to be out of position but it is not! Definitely stop at Goodland, an old-time fishing village that is a marked contrast to the rest of Marco Island. Calusa Island Marina is within walking distance of restaurants.
Some boaters recommend Everglades City but I usually go directly from Goodland to Little Shark River in Everglades National Park. This area of the park consists of mangrove Islands and hardwood hammocks, not acres of sawgrass that one usually associates with the Everglades. There is a very protected anchorage about 1.5 miles up river.
I recommend a direct route from Little Shark River to Seven Mile Bridge and stop at Marathon.
For weather we used the National Weather Service’s graphical forecast tool for Florida (http://graphical.weather.gov/sectors/florida.php#tabs). It shows wind, wave, precip forecasts in an easy format.
As for going to Marathon, we overnighted at Middle Cape near Cape Sable which allowed us to get an early start. You get good protection and comfort when the wind is coming in from the E or NE. Some other loopers stayed at Snake River and left from there. In either case, stay inside the park’s waters as long as possible to stay away from the crab pot markers.
For the passage, it is pretty much a straight run from market MG off Cape Sable to John Sawyer Bank (about 20 NM). Actually it’s not really a straight run. Florida Bay is covered/littered/blanketed with crab pot markers and requires a lot of weaving left and right. Take extra care navigating this area. I spoke with 2 other loopers in the past month who
got their props fouled. We are staying at the Boathouse Marina and love it. It’s across from Vaca Cut, about 4 miles from Publix, etc. Have a safe voyage.
Bob & Loretta McKane
The passage from East Cape on Cape Sable eastward across Florida Bay to Marathon in the Florida Keys requires a sharp lookout at best and the presence of crab pot floats only adds to that necessity.
Florida Bay from Cape Sable to within 2-3 miles of Marathon is carpeted with crab pot markers. While we dodged them all, I heard that 2 boats got their props wrapped during their crossings.
Bob & Loretta McKane.
Florida rule 68B-13.008: Gear, Trap Construction and so forth states in part:No more than 5 feet of any buoy line attached to a buoy used to mark a stone crab trap or attached to a trotline shall float on the surface of the water.
I have personally wrapped up in traps with 50′ of floating line.
FWC doesn’t seem to enforce this rule or the other one about dropping pots in channels. I’ve had problems with them crossing under the 7 mile bridge as well. It’s a mine field in the channel.
Once you leave Little Shark, travel down the shoreline to Cape Sable and then take a course for John Sawyer Bank just on the north side of Marathon. From their you can easily follow the ICW to 7 Mile Bridge and then head back in Boot Key Harbor. There really isn’t an exact route. Plan on water depths of 8 to 14 feet and LOTS of crab and lobster traps to dodge. We look for an wind out of the eastern quadrant to run down the coast and then leave Little Shark early to get calm seas. We watch for a time when there are 2 footers or less. Dodging pots in seas is a real pain.
Marty and Jerry Richardson onboard M/V Monarch
If you run inside the Everglades Park limits you will have no Crab Pots, but once you get south of the Everglades Park watch out for them.
Mitch & Carole On Serendipity in FT. Myers
Flamingo Marina is part of the Cape Sable Everglades National Park Service and is located in Flamingo, FL. The contact number for the Marina is 239-695-3101. However, because of the severe shoaling in the entrance channel, this facility is not recommended by the SSECN evergladesnationalparkboattoursflamingo.com/
We came here from Flamingo. While the national park service people there are very helpful, the concessionaire who runs the marina is not. Phones are not answered and go into voice mail which is not returned for a day+. The channel is badly shoaled near buoys 13/15′. No one responds to a hail on channel 16 so you are left on your own to find a place to dock. The utility pedestals are infested with hornets, half with no electricity, the others with no water. This could be a great place to visit, but should only be used if the Florida Bay is too snotty to cross.
Bob & Loretta McKane.
Little Shark River is an interesting, but sometimes very buggy anchorage that lies well south of Everglades City and a short hop north of Cape Sable. It is one of the most backwater cruising possibilities in all of Florida. The SSECN recommends three Little Shark River anchorages in our Western Florida Anchorage Directory, but there are actually several dozen spots you might choose to drop the hook. As beautifully described below, Captain Libby chose the Little Shark River Outer Anchorage.
Recently enjoyed a wonderful 2-week cruise from Cape Coral, FL to Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL late Oct/early Nov. 2013. Anchored in Little Shark River off Red “4″ and it was an incredible experience! Unbelievable fishing, dolphin feeding frenzy, and manatees everywhere enjoying the tidal feast! Offered the most incredible sunsets, brilliant star gazing and sunrises I have ever experienced. Winds were N so I can only guess they blew the mosquitoes away as we were prepared for them and only a few show up on our screens. Tidal swing is strong but a solid holding. Happiest thought I have had in a long time and I look forward to visiting and exploring the area when we have more time. Excellent anchorage if you can bear to be without electronic communication devices! Happy thought for me!
Little Shark River is an interesting, but sometimes very buggy anchorage that lies well south of Everglades City and a short hop north of Cape Sable. It is one of the most backwater cruising possibilities in all of Florida.
Just don’t try anchoring here on a still, summer night, or even in October, as Captain Luby relates. The little guys will come out, pick your boat up, and consume it in the nearby marsh! The SSECN recommends three Little Shark River anchorages in our Western Florida Anchorage Directory, but there are actually several dozen spots you might choose to drop the hook.
Anchored here Oct 2013 and it was fascinatingly beautiful. Though the water is black and nothing much visible below the surface, there were many creatures jumping. One very large creature would surface making a large splash but we could never see what it was – thinking it would be manatees surfacing. We were alone this night and it was incredibly peaceful and the sky was incredible with billions of stars and no ambient light. Bugs were fierce after dark and cutters held most at bay but a few got through. Hatch screens a must here if you want to sleep. Recommend this as interim between Marathon and Marco areas. Depths going in and out were fine. A little challenging to locate by eyesight so the GPS was required to find it. Have fun.
“A little buggy” is quite the understatement. This is a fantastic anchorage . . . in January, February. Otherwise it’s mosquito hell.
We were there on August 10, 2013 with one other boat for one night and had nearly zero bugs. I suppose it was because we had a 15 to 20 knot wind just about the entire time. We had a few of the big horsefly type flies, but nothing else. I suppose we were just lucky, but we were prepared none the less. I was actually able to cook a pork loin on the grill outside without any issues. This is REMOTE and a really fine anchorage – well protected in just about any direction as long as you choose your spot wisely. A west or southwest wind might be a problem, but when we were there the wind was out of the east. It even has a marker to help you find it, but I would recommend GPS as the coast looks pretty much the same all around. Don’t confuse the larger Shark River just north of here – it does not have much protection. We had a few fishermen come by in small boats before dark, but after dark, it was dead quiet and VERY dark with zero ambient light. It is strategically located just about the halfway point between Marco and the Keys. I highly recommend this anchorage.
In the past, we had to hug the shore away from Fl G”1″ at the entrance to the Little Shark River, as the shoaling came out into the channel there. Not sure what the current conditions would be.
Our first visit to Little Shark was during a 50K/12′ seas blow. The conditions inside were “severe calm”. A Great Anchorage!
Nils Pearson “Fairwinds”
Little Shark River pierces the southwestern Florida coastline between Cape Sable and the Ten Thousand Isalnd region (Indian Key and Everglades City). The SSECN recommends three anchorages in our “Western Florida Anchorage Directory, but there are actually several dozen spots you might choose to drop the hook.
Most of the reviews we have received here concerning a night spent on the waters of Little Shark have been positive, BUT the experience described below by “Swing Set” is not unique. When the wind dies on a warm night, the mosquitoes here are beyond bloodthirsty!
As for the strong currents mentioned by Swing Set, that is the norm for this portion of the Southwestern Florida coastline. Be SURE your hook is well set before heading below for a well-earned toddy!
We couldn’t get out of the Little Shark River fast enough. We got a good hook, but the currents are swift and the tidal range is extreme. A catamaran that came in behind us had a lot of trouble getting an anchor to set due to a hard bottom. We set one anchor and used an anchor alarm, but probably should have set two because of the tidal current changes. The water is just plain nasty and make sure you have plenty of bug spray when the sun starts to set. Next time we’ll pass this one up unless weather dictates otherwise.
Looks like Captains Ken and Pat are reporting on (or near) the second anchorage we recommend on Little Shark River moving upstream from the stream’s mouth. In our “Western Florida Anchorage Directory” (follow link below), we recommend dropping the hook north of the “island,” but, hey, Little Shark River is one of those places where you could spend a month, and never exhaust all the anchorage possibilities!
I wish we would have spent more time exploring the Everglades. We did anchor in Little Shark River, and enjoyed exploring in the dinghy.
We went up the mouth of the river, turned right at the T, and anchored below the first Island. Very nice spot!
Ken & Pat Goewey
The brief discussion below is copied from the American Great Loop Cruisers’ Association forum. Really, there are at least three different routes from Marathon to Cape Sable and the Western Florida coastline (or the other way around), but the first message below refers to only the easternmost of the three, known as the Yachtsman’s Channel.
In the second message below, our good friend, Captain Chuck Baier, gives some good general advice about this passage!
This is actually the reverse of what you want to do but it gives you some perspective. There is a place called Yachtsman’s Channel which is accessible from Channel 5 which is well north of Marathon. In fact you could take the ICW all the way to Yachtsman.
From that channel you pass by Cape Sable and which is the edge of the gulf.
Name Not Provided
We have made that crossing several times. About the best advise I can give you is to wait for the weather. You don’t have any information that I can find on the type of boat you have, the draft or how fast you can travel so the question is hard to answer. Ideally you want to wait until any fronts forecast on the way are already through and the seas have settled down. You can wait at Indian Key or Shark River to be a little closer. If you have a slower trawler you will want 24 hours of wind and or seas NOT on the beam and 10 knots or less winds. We use 24 hour wind and wave reports from weatherfax rather than NOAA vhf forecasts to make our decision. Best advise I can think of is to not try and outrun any approaching fronts.
There is a wealth of good cruising tips in Captain Lloyd’s note below. His description of the “inside” passage navigational challenges, behind Marco Island, is spot on, as is his description of Little Shark River’s shoreline.
I might also add that as of a few months ago, the entrance channel into Flamingo was still quite shallow!
You can take the inside route behind Marco Island with a 4′ draft but avoid low tide. Charted depth is 4′ but depth increases by 3′ at high tide. Pay attention after Bear Point bridge as daymark colors switch sides. A red daymark appears to be out of position but it is not!
Definitely stop at Goodland, an old-time fishing village that is a marked contrast to the rest of Marco Island. Calusa Island Marina is within walking distance of restaurants.
Some boaters recommend Everglades City but I usually go directly from Goodland to Little Shark River in Everglades National Park. This area of the park consists of mangrove Islands and hardwood hammocks, not acres of sawgrass that one usually associates with the Everglades. There is a very protected anchorage about 1.5 miles up river.
I have not been to Flamingo since it was rebuilt after the hurricane. The approach was shallow at that time. I recommend a direct route from Little Shark River to Seven Mile Bridge and stop at Marathon.
There has been an interesting, ongoing discussion on the AGLA (American Great Loop Cruisers’ Association) about the best route to cruise from the Florida Keys to the southwestern Florida mainland coastline, Marco Island in particular. Anyone who plans of making this passage will want to check out the string of messages below with a proverbial fine toothed comb.
We are sitting in the Keys for a month before getting ready to head north to Marco Island and points north.
I know there are several routes that are mapped but I was hoping that those who have done this trip could help with suggestions on the most recommended route from Key West to Marco Island.
Thanks in advance
Cheri and Gerald Wallace
Cheri and Gerald:
There are as many ways to make the trip from Key West to Marco as there are folks who have done it. I’ll give you a straightforward way we did it.
Your route will depend on how much time you have and how much water you draw, but we had moderate time and drew about 4 ft. 4 in. Also, watch for good weather. There is a lot of open water on your trip.
Leave Key West and move into the Hawk Channel, then eastward to Marathon. Spend some fun time in Marathon and watch the weather. When the wind is light from the south, head under the Seven Mile Bridge cut and take up a northly course to put you just off Little Shark River. It can be a bit shallow south of Little Shark and you will have to stay off perhaps 6-8 miles to avoid frequent furtive glances at the depthfinder. Spend the night at anchor a peaceful, primitive environment. If you have time, dinghy up the river a ways, taking a handheld GPS with you. Lots of fun.
Next day, head for any of a dozen good anchorages off Everglades City, or go in to Everglades City for some “old Florida.” Visit the Rod and Gun Club. Next day, go in to Marco. Depending on your draft, you can go inland at Gullivan Bay, but be careful getting around Coon Key and into the Big Marco River. It is easier to go outside if weather permits to Capri Pass leading to Marco.
By the way, watch carefully for crab pots all throughout the route — particularly the Florida Bay area.
Hope this helps. It is a very nice trip if your weather holds.
Cheri and Gerald,
I agree with Bill Donovan. We love the Sportsman’s Club in Everglade City. I would add to what Bill posted with the following: if you draw 5′ or less, you can go inside at Coon Key Pass and north through Goodland to Marco. It’s pretty, and not too bad in the afternoon hours. If you do stay at Everglades City or Indian Key, you’ll hit Coon Key Pass in the afternoon, on a rising tide. You must be careful to stay in the marked channel, particularly in Goodland, but you’ll make it with no trouble.
Yes, Gullivan Bay is shallow, generally charted at 5′, but the charting is accurate, and in the afternoons on a rising tide, you’ll have good water. The gulf route around the Romano Shoals will take you way offshore, so if you need cover for high seas or weather, the inside route is doable.
In Goodland, stop at Stan’s for an adult beverage and a fun afternoon. Very “old” Florida. If you stay at a marina in Goodland, get local
knowledge on approaches. As you approach the high rise bridge in Marco from the south, there are two things you need to watch. One is that there is a Red Marker immediately south (east) of that bridge that you MUST clear, but at an approach distance of a mile or so, lies with the shoreline behind it and is very hard to pick out. Approaching from the south, it will be to the left of the bridge. Find it and honor it, or you will get to meet the local Tow Boat operator. DO NOT head straight for the bridge channel.
The other thing is that the marker colors change sides at that same bridge. Approaching from the south (east), it’s kinda obvious, because the water gets wider and less confined on the Marco side, but if approaching from the north (west), it can be very confusing, and it’s again easy to miss that Red marker, or take it on the wrong side.
Finally, the inside route north of Marco is also shallow. There is a great anchorage at Rookery Bay; it does have a correctly charted shoal on the north. The stretch from Rookery Bay north to Naples is very shallow, and should be done at or near high tide (afternoon) for a 5′ draft boat.
On the West Coast of Florida, there is generally only one high tide per day, and it’s always in the afternoon. Exceptions are spring tides, when there is one tide that is much higher and one tide that is much lower than the other.
The other way is to go from Key West direct to Marco. It is not much farther from KW to Marco than Marathon to Marco, about 90NM I believe, including all the twists & turns of both routes. We have done this with no problem during daylight hours (running 9 to 10 knots) with average wave height of about 3 ft. No problems.
Watch the charts carefully and follow the channels. Go North around the Navy base and then follow channels and deeper water into the Gulf. Once into deeper water you can set your autopilot for the channel at Marco, again following the charts carefully.
If you have not been to Marathon and want to take longer to enjoy the trip, do that, taking the Hawk Channel on the South side of the Keys. Stop to anchor at Newfound Harbor halfway between Key West and Marathon (at Little Torch Key), where you can dinghy under the highway bridge to the dinghy dock at Parrotdise Grill for their excellent lobster reuben sandwich. Yum! After staying in Marathon, follow Moser Channel under the “hump” in the Keys bridge there and follow the channel and clear water to Marco.
The options already posted are good ones. We have done the direct route winter and spring as well as the Marathon route, and the choice can depend on your circumstances and vessel. If you are short on time and you have a couple of good days for sailing (or flat seas for motoring), suggest the direct route Key West to Marco. Monitor the WX for several days as part of your planning.
Shark River is indeed a terrific anchorage, but beginning usually in mid April be prepared for bugs. Suggest not using the Rod & Gun Club for an overnight. You would be better served continuing on around the island just off the Rod & Gun and motor a short distance to the fairly new Everglade Isle Motorcoach Park. They have terrific floating docks, power, water, great club house, and a friendly and helpful staff. I have seen a 46 footer tied there, but most of their slips are for smaller vessels. Great river restaurant nearby and golf carts may be available for your use.
Regards, Tom & Sue
By the postings I have read, there seems to be a sort of the “lets get past this”. Years ago for 3 years I spent the winter going from Ft Meyer down to the Keys, up to Miami and then back to Ft Meyer. My favorite part was from Key West to New Found Harbor to Marathon, then to Shark River, then to Indian Key and then either around Romano Light to Naples or to Coon Key to Marco and then to Naples.
Spectacular anchorages and good safe boating.
For 99% of us, we will never be back to the Everglades again and to speed by it is a mistake.
A potential danger is going straight across from Key West to Marco, especially in the winter. Northers come in very fast and often unannounced. 15 years ago there was a major unannounced all night squall that hit the Keys and Gulf side. The Coast Guard was asking all mariners to help: fishing boats were swamping. The coast Guard could not keep up with calls. I had 4 friends who had left Key West that morning in glorious sun and they got caught in it, boat damaged and almost lost one of them and they never went out in that boat again. Used it for a winter condo for 1 year and then sold it. They later told me how they had wished that they do what I do.
I do day hops and always have the ability to run for cover. I also try to be near anchorage or tie up, especially if I have never been there by 2 to 3 PM in the winter. That is what I am proposing.
After leaving the 7 mile bridge (Marathon) and heading towards East Cape you are in crab trap heaven. However when you are within 1 mile of the Everglades, crab trapping is illegal and the water is deep enough that you can run the coast out of crab traps.
Shark River is a very special place. You are in a jungle: thousands of birds and thru the night the sounds of the jungle. Go up the river a 1/4 mile and it is a hurricane hole. Wind cannot get to you and in the winter no bugs,
Up the coast to Indian Key to either anchor for the night in protected water or up to Everglade city.
Then to Marco by either going to Coon key or around Romano Shoals (R16) and then to Marco.
If you leave Marco out to the Gulf, years ago very uncertain markings and a strong southerly rip current across the bar. i was not aware of rip current and I did it at night and it cost $2000. in repairs
This is what it is about, as opposed to a fast open water run and then a landing in the dark where you have never been.
We’ve been reading the discussion, and are looking for some advice. We are heading South from Marco Island to the Everglades, and would like to take the inside route, but are wary of what sounds like quite shallow waters. We draw 4′6″ and are looking for some local knowledge of the area.
Mark and Marlene
We agree wholeheartedly with Captain Nicole. The New Turkey Key Anchorage is for shallow draft vessels only, and protection is not the best. On the other hand, this is pretty much the only possible overnight haven between Little Shark River and the Ten Thousand Islands.
Good Anchorage but mind how far you swing if you don’t go all the way in. We anchored here on a calm night a swung a little to close to shore and found ourselves aground at low tide (we draw 3′9″). It wasn’t a big deal, we took the dogs for a run in the mud flats on the other side of New Turkey and floated right off an hour later but anyone with a draft of more than 4 might want to skip this anchorage.
New Turkey is one of my favorite spots on the “outside passage” through Everglades National Park – but then again I draw a whopping 20 inches with engines up. It is worth noting that dogs are not allowed on shore anywhere in the ENP
There are at least three routes that cruisers might choose to sojourn from the Florida Keys to the western mainland coast of the Sunshine State, or the other way around. Two depart from Marathon and the Moser Channel, and then join as they meander their way north. The easternmost passage is known as the Florida Bay Yacht Channel. It is the best marked of the three and also features some protection from eastern, northeastern and southeastern winds, by way of the shallow water and banks in Florida Bay. However, it is also the shallowest of the three passages.
We did the Florida Bay Yacht Channel in 2007 on the advice Of Sterling Kennedy, a Looper who has now been around twice and also is a resident of Key Largo and proprietor of a marine touring/guide service that covers the Florida Bay and other areas in the Keys. Point of all this is ,he is very knowledgable of the area waterways.
He advised that we run along inside the National Park boundary till we got to the Yacht Channel to avoid all the crab traps(they can be place inside the park boundary-we did and it worked) then cut over the short distance–about 400yds or so as I recall–to pass thru theYacht Channel. We did the passage around Dec 1. The night before we anchored inside the mouth of Little Shark River and with a nice stiff North Eastern breeze it was a great anchorage–beautiful lots of wild life, no misquitos–highly recommend with breeze existing. Stirling advised that the “depth finder would drive us crazy due to sand being kicked up by the props”. When we passed thru there had been a strong Northeastern wind that had blown a lot of water out of the bay so it was quite a bit shallower than normal. We draw about 36 inches and never bumped but had Stirling not warned us about the depth finder going off and that large yachts routinely run this passage we would have been a lot more concerned. This route offers a lot more weather protection than the Seven Mile Bridge or Key West passages and is substantially shorter if your objective is only to make the passage from the west to east coast and/or upper keys via the tip of Florida.
I had a look at my charts that are downloaded from the NOAA site, plus my paper charts (Maptech) and did not see any recommended sailing line. The only line I could see was the COLREGS demarcation line which is a dotted magenta line, and does end up at East Cape, but is certainly not a sailing line. Is there any chance that you have mistaken this COLREGS line for a sailing line? If so, it is important to understand that this is in no way a recommended sailing line, and only demarcates the “Inland” versus offshore rules, and has nothing to do with channel guidance.
Some of you may have seen parts of this report in other places yesterday evening or this morning. This is the “final” version, including an addendum and editorial change posted elsewhere….
There are three routes from Florida’s West Coast to the Keys and on towards the East Coast:
1. West Coast departure location direct to Key West, then east,
2. West Coast departure location direct to Marathon via Channel 7, then east, and finally
3. West Coast southeast across Florida Bay to Islamorada via the “Yacht Channel.”
This report focuses on choice no. 3. If time is of the essence, this option involves the shortest distance and travel time. It sounds difficult, but it’s not, and I think this will give you the planning information you’ll need/want. Deep draft boats – greater than 5 ft – may choose to forgo this option.
Sanctuary and crew traveled from Key Largo to the Little Shark River on 11/30/2010. Our direction of travel was westward, toward the West Coast. Our distance traveled was 82.5 StM and our transit time was 9.86 hrs. at 8.35 avg. mph. Sanctuary draws 4′-3″. We departed Gilbert’s (Jewfish Creek, StM 1135) at 07h00 and arrived at G”1″ at ICW StM 1173 (the Yacht Channel) at 11h00. Determining “Low Tide” time is slightly imprecise, because Florida Bay is large and not all tides occur at the same time, but the approximate average time of low tide on 11/30 on Florida Bay was 11h00, so I ***hope*** our experience was worst-case. Florida Bay tides are in the range of 6″ – 9″, so do not help much.
Overall, westbound, we found that depths in the area between StM1149 and StM1162, and the cuts in that section (Cross Bank, Ramshorn Cut, Peterson Key Bank) were more marginal than depths in the Yacht Channel itself. Watch in particular the turn from south to west at StM 1149.5. We got very slightly – and I mean ***very*** slightly – off the line there and found 4-1/2 ft of water. In that whole stretch, we saw mid-channel depths as low as 5-1/2 ft. And, for at least 10 miles, we left a pronounced, obvious “sand trail” from our prop wash.
At StM 1170, westbound, the ICW divides. The main ICW route proceeds west inside Florida Bay, and the other goes SW to the Hawk Channel via Channel Five. Starting at that divide, the Florida Bay route is completely encrusted in crab traps. We departed the magenta line, diverted to the north, and ran along and inside the the Everglades National Park boundary in 7 – 8 ft of water. Crab pots are not allowed within the park.
We stayed inside the Park boundary at StM 1173, and made the turn NW into the charted “Yacht Channel.” Minimum depths there were 6 ft, but mostly in ‘humps’ that could have been sea grass. We saw no sand trail from our prop wash. Northwest-bound from the main ICW channel at StM 1173, The first set of lateral nav. markers on the Yacht Channel are at Arsenic Bank, at the pair G”1″ and R”2.” That cut through the Arsenic Bank is oriented approximately east/west. Approaching the cut from the “recommended sailing line” requires a “slalom-like” approach. Both northbound and southbound on the “recommended sailing line,” markers G”1″ and R”2″ can create a deceptive impression; follow ICW marker rules here, and keep red to the inland side of the channel and green markers to the seaward side of the channel. If approaching them in a NW direction from inside the park boundary, they appear visually correct (Green left, Red right), but if approaching them from the Yacht Channel’s “recommend sailing line,” they appear backwards; the unwary could easily try to go between them the wrong way. There’s no doubt that that unfortunate soul would run hard aground.
At Sprigger Bank, 3 miles NW of Arsenic Bank, is G”5.” The shoal in that area ***APPEARS TO ME*** to have grown very substantially east of the marker and east of the charted sailing line – perhaps 1/2 mile in the SE quadrant off the G”5″ marker. We had a bright sunny day with the sun behind us (to the S and SW), and we could see fingers of the shoal way further east than charted. I stayed east of that marker by 1/2 mile, and saw 7 – 8 ft of water. Similar story at R”6,” Spooner Bank; give it lots of seaway ***to the west.***
IMPORTANT NOTE: it appears that some chartplotters contain proprietary electronic charts that are missing the recommended sailing line for the Yacht Channel. That discrepancy between the paper and electronic charts is just another reason to ***always*** run with both electronic and paper charts at the helm.
Sanctuary’s Garmin chartplotter ***does not*** show a recommended sailing line” for the Yacht Channel. However, our paper charts of the area (NOAA 11451, corrected to April 18, 1998, Maptech, Region 8, “Florida West Coast and the Keys,” Eleventh Edition), show the Yacht Channel as a dotted magenta line that runs from G”1″ at A-ICW StM 1173 NW to R”4″, the “East Cape Light.” From R”4″, it then diverges N and ends in what appears to be an anchorage at East Cape on the Florida Peninsula. I have verified that the ***raster*** chart I have for use with Offshore Navigator and Coastal Explorer (11451_14, “MIAMI TO MARATHON AND FLORIDA BAY PAGE G RIGHT SIDE”) and the ***vector*** chart I have for use with Coastal Explorer (a1508645.vc) both ***do*** correctly show the recommended sailing line.
The Yacht Channel “recommended sailing line” is shown on the “official” NOAA 11451, and S-57 versions, in the same manner as “alternative ICW routes” are shown in other geographical areas of the A-ICW. In the areas of the cut through Arsenic Bank, and at Sprigger Bank, Schooner Bank and Oxfoot Bank, the recommended sailing line runs through or near and through the shoal areas. Sanctuary ignored the sailing line, and diverted widely around the areas of Sprigger Bank, Schooner Bank and Oxfoot Bank to clear the shoals with plenty of seaway. That is the approach which I am recommending to others, and particularly those with drafts of 4′ or more.
Finally, there are several extensive fields of crab pots along the Yacht Channel, and some areas without pots as well. We found that they run in 1/2 mile wide strips along the Park boundary. There are no pots inside the park (except occasional rogues) and mostly no pots a mile of so off the park boundary, but in that narrow strip, there are thousands. Yes, you can pick your way through them, but it’s very tiring.
Sanctuary and crew hope this is helpful.
Peg and Jim Healy aboard Sanctuary
Currently at Everglades City, FL
Watching our plotter and depths, we usually run inside the park boundary marker, there are usually less pots.
Although it’s illegal to trap in the Everglades National Park , on several occasions ( I even posted a fisherman on my web page) I have witnesed traps being pulled and set in the park.
See you on the waterways!
We last transited that area on a low tide in 2007. We realized just how shallow it was when the autopilot had a hard time steering. Switched over to hand steering and still had a hard time steering. Slowed down a bit and things got markedly better. The pressure wave under the hull was reflecting back and pushing the hull around. Our boat doesn’t like to run aground and really tries hard to stay out of trouble! Like you, we left a sand trail in our wake.
We came down through Hawk Chanel into Marathon and that way is also almost blocked with traps. What a pita steering through that area. It extends all the way into the boot key channel.
The two messages below were copied from the “GL” (Great Loop) mailing list. Both were in response to a question about what cruisers could expect while cruising through the Florida Bay waters between the Florida Keys (Marathon or Channel Five) to Cape Sable (south of Marco Island and Everglades City).
Florida Bay usually isn’t too bad with an east wind because there is so much shallow water upwind of you. There are two strategies that you might consider.
1. Leave early in the morning. Like at first light. The wind is usually less in the morning.
2. From Islamorada, go to Old Dan Bank, then Through the “Yacht Channel” at Arsenic Bank and then past Sprigger, Schooner and Oxfoot Banks on your way to East Cape at Cape Sable. It only about 15 miles from Islamorada to Yacht Channel and then less than 20 miles to East Cape. The course is generally NWish so you should have a good trip, even in 20 kts.
The water will be choppy but doable. The biggest problem between Islamorada and the southern tip of FL will be seeing the crab pots in the choppy water. After you get off the southern tip of FL you can hug the coast and have smooth water all the way into Shark River. From Shark to Goodland should also be fine in those east winds, you will run out of the crab pots for the most part and have pretty smooth water.
Been there, done that,
Todd & Brenda Lanning
1985 40′ Oceania Trawler
Any of you who have perused the Net’s “Western Florida Anchorage Directory,” which lists overnight havens in a south to north format, may have noticed that the first anchorages listed lie off Cape Sable. These are TRULY wide open anchorages, and I’ve always wrestled with the thought of whether I should even list them as potential havens at all. I would value the input of any cruiser on this subject. Just click the “Comment on This Posting/Marina/Anchorage/Bridge” link below, and share your thoughts!
Miles of Great Beaches and shelling!
Pick you [fair weather] day as you are exposed, and you also in the Everglades National Park.
I single-handed Wu-Hsin along the Gulf coast of FL some years back in late August. I found the holding off the north cape at Cape Sable to be solid and protection from the prevailing SE winds excellent. We are home ported in Punta Gorda now with plans to sail south to the Keys and beyond. The Cape Sable anchorages are on our list of preferred anchorages assuming the winds are from the East-anything.
I forgot to mention that in the summer time the mosquitoes are thick as pea soup but if you get some way on they are not a problem
Louis F. Spagna
Below, Captain Jean issues an invitation to explore upstream on Shark and Little Shark Rivers. I join with her, BUT there are a few charted, but not marked, shoals along the way that must be carefully avoided!
We usually just make the loop from little Shark to Shark back to Little Shark as we did yesterday 3-18-2010. We have usually anchored near Gunboat Island but this time just dropped the hook east of the green 69 for a quiet night and an early start the next morning. However, next time, we may venture farther – we have taken the dinghy on the North Harney-Harney River loop and I don’t see why one couldn’t go all the way out the Harney to close to the gulf, then turn around and come back. We draw 3.5 ft. We have visited the Shark River area in the winter several times and mosquitoes have not been much of a problem. If your experience of the Little Shark is limited to anchoring near the mouth, consider a nice cruise among the mangroves (be sure to keep track of where you are on the chart) before dropping the hook for the night.
Jean Thomason (DOVEKIE)
For the last week or so, there has been a lively discussion on the T&T (Trawlers and Trawlering) list about crab pots and fish traps as navigational hazards while navigating the waters of southwestern Florida, between Marco Island and the Florida Keys. I’ve copied some of this discussion below.
As usual, with a copied discussion with this many contributions, it is impractical to obtain individual permissions, so I’ve just used first names.
Sunday we arrived Marathon, FL from Little Shark River after navigating the minefield of crab trap floats through much of Florida Bay There was even a string right down Moser Channel to the Seven Mile Bridge. After a couple of hours of dodging traps I remembered a land clearing project I visited in Africa in the 70s. They were clearing light trees and shrub growth using a piece of ship anchor chain about 100 feet long with a Caterpillar D-8 ate each end. The Cats would move along in the same direction and the chain stretched out between them would knock down anything standing between them. How about a couple of trawlers with a chain between them clearing the way through the traps?
Please no flames, I know the crabbers are out there working hard making a living for their families while we are just playing. I wouldn’t do this and am not advocating anyone doing it either, just recounting a memory and one the evil thoughts that came to mind as I dodged the traps for a couple of hours. Driving around Marathon I see several storage areas where I’d guess many thousands of traps are neatly stacked. Like an old Cajun friend of mine used to say “A crab don’t stand a chance around here!”
It was a beautiful day, sunny, light winds, maybe 2′ seas and finally warm, and that made it all well worth while.We found water depths at least 8′ leaving Little Shark and most of the way down to Marathon where we are at Marathon Marina and Boatyard which is quite nice.
Serious question with probably an easy and obvious answer that I don’t know:
If crab pots are in a charted channel, can they be moved/removed by a pleasure cruiser because they constitute a “hazard to navigation?”
I don’t know the legal answer but I suspect that an angry waterman, who thinks you are intruding on his source of income, could be a real problem that might be more difficult to deal with than the “authorities”.
You could probably legally move them but:
1. There are so many of them that it would become your life’s work…at least until the season closes in May.
2. You’d likely get shot at.
On my trips down the gulf past Flamingo, I usually run inside the Park boundary, it’s shallower but doable, and less traps
It is illegal to trap in the Everglades National park, but on SEVERAL of these occasions, I was inside the park boundary south bound, watching trappers working their line inside the park boundary.
Guess those park rangers have better things to do.
See you in Paradise!
I had a fin keeled sailboat with completely exposed prop that twice got a pot line wrapped on it.
When I changed boats I knew I needed a full keel boat with a protected propeller.
We bought the boat in Charlotte Harbor and motor sailed it non stop to Marathon. And I was so happy watching the pots go by under the moon light at 3:00 am in Florida Bay. I didn’t try to avoid a single one.
That problem is solved, for me anyway.
Coming to Marathon from the East, we observed hundreds of traps and every trap was right in the charted channel. The water depth is the same north of the channel so we dodged the traps by moving a hundred yards north where no waterman bothered to drop a trap. Needless to say, I couldn’t set the autohelm.
I hope that prudent mariners will resist the temptation to mount spurs on their prop shafts. The spurs cut any lines that might wrap the prop but these spurs also might leave behind un-bouyed traps that will roam the waters for years attracting and killing thousands of crabs as they move.
The watermen of Florida don’t capture and kill the stone crab; they just remove one claw and return the creature to the sea to grow another claw. (am I correct?)
Let’s do all we can to preserve these tasty little critters and let the watermen continue to make a living even if they can’t tell a channel from open water.
Below is a very informative and interesting string of messages copied from the T&T (Trawlers and Trawlering) list about cruising from Marco Island in southwestern Florida, to either Marathon or Key West, then north to Miami or possibly even the Okeechobee Waterway. There’s tons of useful cruising tips here, over a wide ranging swath of waters.
I am interested in information related to leaving Marco Island and rounding the bottom of Florida, possible crossing over to the Hawk Channel at Seven Mile bridge. Anyone with experience, ideas, help? Thanks.
“Cavalier” Island Packet SP Cruiser
We did just that about 2 years ago. It seems like yesterday but unfortunately that is a long time ago in cruising days. Our boat draws 4.5 feet and I would love to leave again tomorrow and do it in the same boat.
We made our way from Marco to Little Shark River, anchored there and left for 7 mile bridge. The water is skinny but you will get used to 9-10 feet and you will make it. Picking good weather is important. Many crab traps but just work your way through them. Go slow in places where dodging them is difficult and faster in open areas. Uneventful in crossing under 7 mile bridge. We had no tidal problems but I have heard of significant tidal flow so you probably should check the tidal flow times before leaving.
We did Hawk Channel to and from Key West. Plenty of water, of course, but we experienced extraordinarily rough water. When the wind direction is from off shore the long fetch can make things uncomfortable. Hawk Channel provides easy access to the Key West area but in my opinion, it is not worth it if the water is rough. Hawk channel is not close enough to land to say you saw any local color of the keys.
Now, if I had it to do again, I would take the bay side to key west. I have never been that way so do not have any direct experience but have heard many good things. Also have traveled by car to many places on the bay side and easily see why others rave about the “local color”.
You didn’t say what your draft is and that can be a factor in this part of the world. Also, you didn’t say how long you plan to be gone or when you want to leave.
Morning Star only draws 3-1/2 ft and we regularly leave Marco via Coon Key Pass. That makes a stop at Everglades City a short hop. Or you can continue on to Little Shark River for an overnight. The run from Little Shark to Marathon is not long and we have never found it to be particularly shallow. There are a few “banks” to avoid but they are well marked and if you are paying attention there won’t be a problem.
From Marathon, you can pass under the Seven-Mile Bridge at Moser Channel or you can go east up the ICW on the Florida Bay side or you can head west to Key West via Big Spanish Channel.
If you are contemplating Florida Bay, know that a strong northerly will blow a lot of water out of the Bay.
Finally, if your goal is to do the “South Florida Loop”, a trip we highly recommend, I would do the Okeechobee leg first and head south from Stuart. That way when you leave Miami and head down the Keys the prevailing wind will be at your back.
We traveled directly from Naples to Key West on the Gulf. It was 122nm dock to dock and an easy run, although we did travel at a faster speed than usual. We left Naples at 7AM, navigated the crab pots and then never saw another pot nor another boat until we neared Key West! Took the Hawk Channel from Key West to Marathon.
ONE OLIVER II