Routes from the Florida Keys to Marco Island
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 4’6’³ and are looking for some local knowledge of the area.
Mark and Marlene