Watch Out For The Cape San Blas Shoals Cruising Between Panama City and Port St. Joe
The cruise discussed below is clearly an offshore passage between Panama City inlet and Port St. Joe (or the other way around). The real message here is to stay hell and gone away from the shoals in and around Cape San Blas. After reading Captain Wayne’s description below, I say “Amen” to that!
Numerous boats have gotten into trouble on the Cape San Blas Shoals that are just a little southwest of Port St. Joe.
When going to/from South Florida from/to Port St. Joe or Panama City, FL, be sure to go within a couple of hundred yards – or less – of the sea buoy off Cape San Blas. Currents in this area can be treacherous. I have seen confused and/or standing 4-6′ waves over the shoals when the Gulf, in deeper water is virtually calm. Because of the currents, the shoals move constantly. One should not attempt any short cuts, using any charts, as the bottom simply is not like that on the charts. The charts indicate that there are several places one can take short cuts, or greatly cut the corner near the buoy. The last time I went via Cape San Blas, I was headed north, I ran to within about 500-600 yards or so of the buoy, all was well until the bottom came up, and up and up. The last solid depth reading was about 10′ (boat had a 6.5′ draft). Shortly, my fathometer read 0′ (because of sand in the water column close to the bottom), but the keel never hit anything solid that I could tell. The shallow area was only about 100 yards wide, but it sure got my attention!
The first time I went via Cape San Blas, I was also headed north. The Gulf’s seas were about 1.5-2.5′, with few breaking waves. The shoals looked to be no different. I foolishly cut the corner by over a mile (chart showed plenty of water) and seriously endangered the boat for what seemed forever (4-6′ confused seas, very strong currents – seemingly from all directions – so progress over the bottom was tortuously slow — all the while the fathometer indicated 0′ due to “blowing” sand. Fortunately, I was in my old sailboat, which had a rudder the size of a barn door, so I was able to keep from broaching and kept it heading in the right direction. It was really strange – looking UP at a wave front, as stern of the boat was in the bottom of a trough, and seeing king mackerel by the hundreds, swimming down the wave face. It looked like they would just swim into the boat. The next few times, I went all the way to the sea buoy, where there is lots of water. The last time, I got over-confident and was under pressure due to heavy weather closing in.
Both times I cut the corner, it was close to high tide, so I ‘knew’ that there would be plenty of water. After I moved back to Panama City, I became acquainted with several Gulf shrimpers, who advised me to never ever go over the shoals at Cape San Blas under any circumstances – primarily because of the currents.
Also, when approaching the shoals from the south, the water often looks calm, if the Gulf is calm. But what you can’t see are the breaking waves caused by the southeast-flowing current over the shoals, creating standing waves.
Port St. Joe is readily accessible from the GIWW via the Gulf Canal – a straight dredged ditch from the GIWW to Port St. Joe. When the seas
on the Gulf are reasonable, we often go via the Gulf Canal. I even did that with the sailboat because it could not go under the bridge
at Tyndall AFB, on the GIWW. The only ‘iffy’ place was Lake Wimico, where depths sometimes approached 6.5′ in spots. The keel never
actually hit bottom that I know of. That was about 10 years or so ago, so I do not know its depths now.
Take care and be safe.
Albin 43 Sundeck
Wayne wrote ” The only ‘iffy’ place was Lake Wimico, where depths sometimes approached 6.5′ in spots. The keel never actually hit bottom that I know of. That was about 10 years or so ago, so I do not know its depths now.”
We helped friends deliver their Krogen 42 from Port St. Joe to Clearwater just last week. We took the ICW down to Apalachicola and left from Government Cut the following morning. Our trip through Lake Wimico was uneventful. The chart shows the controlled depth to be 12′. Certainly, the SE portion of the lake is very shallow and any departure out of the marked channel would likely be a bit of an adventure.
I’m getting ready to cross for St. Pete to Panama City in a few weeks so I read this post with great interest as that route requires a turn around the shoals. Studying the charts I see two greens, numbers 1 and 3 that seem to mark the east and west sides of the shoal. My currently planned route keeps me south of these but very close to #3. The only other mark I see is one south of the saftey area. Is staying south of greens 1 & 3 sufficent or should I set my waypoint elsewhere?
I am preparing to depart Bradenton on Saturday, April 3, 2010 heading for New Orleans. Any idea on Your departure date planned?