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Thoughts on Crossing Florida’s Big Bend Region in the Fall

The messages below have been copied from the AGLCA mail list. Captain Tom gives some very good advice about crossing the “waterwayless” Big Bend region of the Sunshine State, particularly his note about lower than normal tides during the fall months. Some of the other messages reproduced below give very specific info concerning some of the Big Bend rivers and ports of call. There is a wealth of good data in these notes, which is worth the attention of anyone planning on cruising these waters.

There are some good points made recently on crossing the Gulf and going around the Big Bend. Bob Stone has said it very well. One thing to not forget is that come October and November, the “winter tides” set in as the prevailing winds shift from the northeast and blow the Big Bend channels and the Panhandle dry. This is typically 1-2 feet below the charted low water level. High tides are essential for going in or out of channels and those are 14 hours apart when the daylight hours are less. My fellow Loopers aren’t mentioning what month they were successful in using these Big Bend channels, but today would be an excellent choice.
The folks at St. Marks may not agree that they are a good spot to be in a hurricane storm, even a small one. They certainly got beat up a few years ago. Most of the town was flooded as were the docks.
More as the typical “crossing time” approaches,
Meanwhile, stay safe,

Our boat draws five feet and we have been to Steinhatchie and Cedar Key. We need one foot above low tide to clear the Steinhatchee channel. The floating green channel marker is in the area of least depth. There was only one floating marker in the channel. The others were fixed.
We can not access Cedar Key via the North West channel. It has shoaled in. The Main Ship Channel is deep enough for us to access Cedar Key. Pay close attention to Skipper Bob’s directions for the Main Ship channel as you converge on the North West channel.
Suggest mid tide or better for both locations.
Jim & Pam Shipp
aboard Silver Boots

We will hopefully be crossing around November 7th. We draft 3′ 6″, but are still concerned about the depths if we take the big bend route. We would also like to do the crossing with someone else. We will be on our 3rd leg of a half loop (left from Illinois and will end up in South Carolina. Our 43ft. Wellcraft San Removed is currently at Demopolis Yacht Basin ready to depart on October 31st. We would love to meet up with anyone going that way. We plan on reaching Apalachicola by the following weekend for the seafood festival.

Can only speak for St. Marks. After you cross the center chanel, go north through 63 buoys (approximately 7 miles). The St. Marks River is well marked and maintained by the CG. The CG keeps it dredged to 10 or 12 feet (up to buoy 63). There are 4 tides a day and are usually in the 1.5 feet range. Both Lynns Marina and Shields Marina are friendly and can dock your vessel. Just up the Wakulla River is the St. Marks Yacht Club and Shell Island Fish Camp. Shell Island Fish Camp is too shallow for your draft. It is an easier walk from Shields to a small store and 2 restaurants. 4.5′ draft is no problem. Both Marinas & the Yacht Club are good places to get out of a Gulf storm.
Good luck.

We made this run with no problems in a boat that only goes 15 knots (but it’s bigger) and there’s nothing particular about doing it Northbound. You do want to arrive in daylight though.
Use PassageWeather – and click to get the Gulf of Mexico graphical forecasts, then scroll down to the bottom of the page to the wave height forecast and click “animate” so ti will show forecast wave heights for up to one week out, by segments of the days. I have found it to be better than NOAA or other weather sites for Gulf wave height forecasts.

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