Below is a GREAT discussion copied from the GL (“Great Loop”) mail list about cruising the waters from Marco Island on the Western Florida coastline, south of Marthon in the Florida Keys. There were so many contributors to this string that it was not practical to seek individual permissions, so I’ve just used first names.
Looking for a crossing buddy & or advice for the best route to Marathon. Lots of skinny water, a long passage at 9 kn & navigating shoals at the end in fading light leave me a bit nervous. Any advice or company appreciated.
We prefer to duck in at Little Shark River and anchor for the night. It is a wild, desolate and beautiful place. Take a run up the river a ways to sightsee. Leave early in the morning when the seas are down a bit. The trip from there to Marathon is only about 35 miles, if my memory is correct. Its an easy morning run and you will have lunch in Marathon.
If you have the time, instead of going from Marco to Marathon in one long run, stop at Everglades City along the way, and if you like anchoring out, too, try the Little Shark River. (No place at Little Shark for animals, if you have a dog aboard, but otherwise a beautiful, remote area.)
From Marco, you have two choices. You can go inside down through Goodland, or outside around the Cape Romano, I think the name is, shoals. Inside, there’s only one trick, and that’s immediately south of Marco. There’s a bridge there, where if I recall correctly, the marker colors reverse sides. As you come under that bridge, you have to turn hard to stbd to catch a red marker that’s difficult to pick out on the south shoreline. Don’t miss it. Little fishing boats skip it and go straight across that bay to the green, but you can’t. That red is correctly charted, but confusing on the water. Thatchannel is shallow, but it carries 7′, so you should be OK. You come out of the inside passage in the 10,000 Islands region inside (east) of the Cape Romano shoals, and can run across the bay there in 6 ft or water until it deepens to the 10 ft range. The channel up to Everglades City is deep, and the river currents can be swift at peak ebb and flood. The dock there is old, but adequate. Dining ambiance is fun. Old Florida. Make your run from EC to Marathon (or Little Shark) the next day.
As you run south, say just inside the Everglades National Wildlife Sanctuary and you’ll be clear of crab pots. Outside the park boundary, there are lots of them. That run carries 6′ or slightly more water all the way.
At Marathon, sea conditions may change when you go under the Seven Mile Bridge into Hawk Channel. We made the trip in rather calm conditions in Florida Bay, but found 4 ft rollers in the Hawk Channel. Use the charts and run in shallower water north of the channel for a smoother ride.
Hope this is useful.
I’ve done Marco to Marathon (and vice versa) several times in my 4.5 draft vessel. The only spots to be concerned about are on the Marathon end where you have to make a few zigs and zags to by pass some shoals. They are well marked on the chart. Plot a course through there then line up on Seven Mile bridge and you will have it made.
I agree with everythin Jim says about Everglades City. I’ve done the “back door” from Goodland and out Coon Key Pass to avoid the long trip around Cape Romano Shoals, but I’d be VERY cautious with 5 ft. draft. Also, unless they have changed, the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City doesn’t take plastic.
Bring cash for your dockage.
Because of very strong easterly winds in March 2009, we enjoyed several relaxing days at the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City and then an additional night at anchor in nearby Russell Pass because a pre-arranged boating club visit ran us off the quay wall at the R&G Club. We were offered a short section of the quay at is southern end just beyond a slight jog in it, but upon sounding it with my lead line, I discovered I had about an hour to vacate it before I was aground – off to Russell Pass where we were in the company of 11 other vessels.
An easy day to the Little Shark River headed into the seas saw us well up into the river beyond the last nav marker because several sailboats were occupying the more generally used open area inside the mouth of the river. The wind funneling down the river and the severely reversing currents made that a bad decision for us, and the second night was spent much more comfortably at anchor off the coast a mile south of the river’s mouth. The wind was howling right out of the east making the area close in flat calm.
My chart plotter shows the route I took to be 60 NM to Boot Key Harbor at Marathon from the Little Shark. I stayed just inside the National Park Markers until the jagged coral bottom began to look too close to my 4.5 foot deep keel. Even after going south of the markers (before Oxfoot Bank), I was clearing it by less than a foot. This all may well have had to do with that strong wind blowing the water out of the bay.
Another option if the weather turns on you and you don’t want to push on is behind New Turkey Key ( 25038’52.36″N x 81016’47.50″W) Protected from anything but wind out of the south. Easy to get in and out. There’s a nice beach you can go ashore. There were tent campers there when we passed thru.
What’s the status of Flamingo? We spent a week there Feb 2008. They were still recovering from storm damage, but it is one of the highlights of the loop for us. We finally left when we started running low on food.
Mike & Tammy
My route plan shows 37.5 NM from the mouth of the Little Shark River to North West Cape on Cape Sable, to the N side of the span at the Seven Mile Bridge. You will need to add extra mileage if you don’t go direct from NW Cape to Marathon. If you take the “Yacht Channel route, which is what I suspect Rich did, you wind up almost 20 miles east of Marathon at about Long Key. This is a good strategy if the wind is strong out of the east because you can hug the shore at Cape Sable and then you get somewhat of a lee from the shallow waters of Florida Bay as you run down past First National Bank, Oxfoot Bank and Schooner Bank.
Randy is exactly right. Lots of wind that day, and I was looking for the most water I could find for my 4.5 foot draft.