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Old 05-11-2015, 20:13   #1
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Best Stops In Florida

Wife and I are newly-retired as of November 1, with plans to do some extended cruising thru Florida and the Bahamas next year. We moved the Seawind from Texas to Orange Beach, Alabama last month, where it will be for the winter. We plan to come back in late February and spend month of March working our way down and around Florida, and meet some friends on the east coast around April 1 to cross over into the Bahamas. Spend April thru early June in Exumas and Abacos, and then start back to be back in Texas by July 1.

So, to get to the point, I've done a lot of planning of the Exuma stops, but very little of the Florida leg. I know we can make it the distance in less than five weeks, but would like to make some stops at a mix of marinas and anchorages and hit some of the more-beautiful spots. Certainly catch more marinas than we will in Exumas, and ease our way into this cruising stuff (since we've never spent more than two weeks on the boat, but are both looking forward to it!) Maybe even some tourist destinations. Plus I have a new watermaker and the Florida leg will give me a chance to try it out and make sure it is all working before having to depend on it in the Exumas.

So what should we plan to see? We've spent some time in Pensacola on this delivery, so probably going to skip that. First stop maybe Destin, but wondering about marina. (Likely a bit chilly in late Feb, so prob best if we can be in a marina.) Beyond that, fully open to advice. Suspect we will be back in the Florida panhandle next year, so more game to spend time further south.

Thanks in advance for any advice. Would like to make this trip really nice. Happy wife = happy life and all that. (One reason I got a watermaker!) Have spent months changing out rigging, new electronics, maintenance on motors and systems, and am really ready!
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Old 05-11-2015, 20:24   #2
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Indian key., Bahia honda, Dry Tortugas, Cayo Costa, Venice,

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Old 05-11-2015, 20:37   #3
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Different folks have different "takes" on marinas.

Have you looked at Active Captain's reviews?
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Old 05-11-2015, 20:57   #4
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

The northern keys around Manatee Bay and Card Sound.

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Old 05-11-2015, 21:06   #5
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Yes, have frequented Active Captain. Good review of marinas, but not so much regarding why to stay there - i.e., local attractions if any. We stayed at Palafox marina last month and found the facility top-notch, and very friendly and helpful dockmaster. Also some nearby attractions in that historical section of Pensacola.

I have been to Cayo Costa, and agree that is something worth seeing again. Dry Tortugas is a little distant, and I fear a bit exposed that time of year.

Thoughts on the other recommended stops? Why there, specifically? Anything more than just a pretty place?
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Old 05-11-2015, 21:21   #6
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Best Stops In Florida

In Orange Beach GICW, just east of the pass at Mobile Bay, stop at Lulu's and Homeport Marina. Food is excellent at Lulu's and the Marina is great. Big Lagoon is a good anchorage before heading out Pensacola Pass.

Call Boshamps Restaurant in Destin. It is on the outside harbor and I stayed there in 2013. They are an excellent restaurant with a dock with power and water. No pump out or fuel. Depending on the height of your mast, you might be able to go inside at Destin. If you can, there are marinas on the GICW and bay.

Baypoint Marina in Panama City is nice. It is associated with. Wyndham Resort, but you need a car to get around to Panama City. Can rent one at the hotel.

In February, weather can be problematic in the Panhandle.

We crossed to Clearwater and just inside the bridge at the pass take a left to Clearwater Municipal Marina. We stayed there going and on the return. Lots to do in Clearwater and near Publix, restaurants and they have fuel. My wife doesn't like ocean waves, so we went down the GICW. (our winter destination was Fisherman's Village in Charlotte Harbor at Punta Gorda). She enjoyed the scenery. Next stop south for us about 5 hours south of Clearwater was Gulfport, in between the Pub restaurant At GICW 128.2 Indian Rocks was a good lunch stop. Floating docks, reasonable price but not much activity. Our next stop south was Venice Crows Nest. Good restaurant. Current Is strong in the pass and it can be tricky getting going from there depending on time of day. An alternate stop before reaching Venice is Marina Jacks at Sarasota. My next trip down, I'll definitely stop there. You are in the middle of Sarasota activity there and a beautiful Marina from the water.

South of Venice is Boca Grande, Charlotte Harbor, Cayo Costa at Pellican Bay is a must as is Cabbage Key just south of there for a cheesburger in paradise. Next stop could be South Seas Plantation. From there Fort Myers has several nice marinas. See Active Captain.


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Old 05-11-2015, 22:06   #7
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Tampa to Fort Myers is pretty terrible the whole way except manatee river. My favorite anchorage north of the keys is Shell Island by Panama City. Favorite marina is Port St Joe. I would spend time in the pan handle and the keys, but high tail it from Apalachicola to the keys.
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Old 05-11-2015, 22:23   #8
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

You will be facing some 50' fixed bridges between Pensacola and the eastern St Andrews Bay (Navarre, FT Walton, Destin, Dupont Bridge).

Destin Pass can be treacherous with wind and current in opposition over a 6ft bar. Weather windows will still be iffy that time of year. St Andrews Marina and downtown PC marina and a wonderful Bay to hang out here in Panama City. St Joe Bay is beautiful and a good marina. Gulf Co Industrial Canal to the ICW. A few days spent in Apalachicola will be a treat.

East Pass between Dog Island and St George Island reliable. Overnight and then stop in Tarpon Springs. Marina in the heart of a neat Greek downtown (up the Anclote River). Downtown St Pete also a great stop (walking distance to several galleries). Sarasota good stop, Gasparilla Island (north side of Boca Grand) rent a golf cart and see where the well off hang out.

By now you will be out of time and high tailing it on to the Keys.

Good luck but watch the weather. Most of the female persuasion don't like to get their butt kicked. Push it and you might be enjoying the Exumas alone.
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Old 06-11-2015, 01:28   #9
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Another vote for Venice and the Crow's Nest Marina. Love their restaurant. Call ahead for dockage, like many marinas they don't have too many spots for cats.
We aim to spend the first part of the year in the Exumas and the out islands, then stop in the Abacos for race week the first part of July on our way back to the states.
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Old 06-11-2015, 07:13   #10
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

I should have mentioned that our mast clearance is 54 ft. Boat is currently at Ono Island, so around mile 165. And fully understand bad weather is probably common that time of year, as well as don't want to burn the wife out making Florida runs and never get to the Exumas destination. From Ono, we can target back to Palafox marina in Pensacola again (GIWW mile 183 plus 5 miles north). Or if we catch a nice opening in the weather, offshore at Pensacola Pass and onto Destin (GIWW mile 228) - which at 65 mi is pretty long day at 6 mph if motoring. And not a fan of coming into a new destination after dark. The fixed bridge at Destin will keep us out of Choctawhatchee Bay.

Panama City is at GIWW mile 290. (I know its an offshore run instead of GIWW, but the mile marker reference puts distance in perspective.) So that would be 62 miles from Destin. Looks like some things to do in PC.

Looks like there is a Dupont fixed bridge with only 50 ft clearance on GIWW mile 295, so we would have to go back offshore from Panama City.

Apalachicola is around mile 351, or 61 miles from Panama City. Port St Joe is around 330, so only 40 miles from Panama City. Next jump would be to Carrabelle (GIWW mile 380), to set up for an overnighter to Tarpon Springs (which is 182 statute miles from Carrabelle). Tarpon Springs looks like a good stop for a couple of days to recover, with sponge dock, restaurant, and stores for provisioning.
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Old 06-11-2015, 07:30   #11
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Best Stops In Florida

On your crossing from Panhandle, I got good local advice to watch the West Tampa Buoy 42036. My wife doesn't like waves and I wanted to make sure it was comfortable for her. If the forecast at the buoy is for 10 knots or greater or waves over 2 feet, I was advised to stay put. We used that advice, along with Sailflow and had two great passages across and back. Our November 31 crossing from Panama City to Clearwater was 35 hours, 35 minutes and we had some winds in the 15 to 20 and some 2 to 3 foot waves for periods, but she was not uncomfortable for the trip and that made the entire remainder of the trip good. On our return in early March, we went direct from Clearwater Pass to Pensacola Pass then on to Homeport. Total crossing time of 50 hours. We had a smooth crossing for that one too.

You can easily make Destin from Big Lagoon (9:38 for us) or Palafox in one day. Just watch the pass if winds are against the tide. I had some concerns over that pass, but when I got there it was well marked and I had no problems using the buoys and my chartplotter getting into it. Destin to Panama City (9:51 for us) is also an easy day. We started at daylight both days and arrived well before dark. We were in October, so the days were longer.




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Old 06-11-2015, 07:54   #12
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Clearwater is a nice place. When I was there in the spring, there were concerts on the beach. There's a nice marina just south of the harbor entrance fairly convenient to public transit and publix. Beware that the water is thin outside the channel and during low tide even in the channel.

Panama city is also nice, except for the paper plant that stinks up the place. There is a used book store right by the city dock. It was handy for getting stuff to read while on the boat. There seem to be plenty of places to anchor although the bridge on the east side of the bay isn't high enough for many sail boats. I could drop my mast so not much problem for me.
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Old 06-11-2015, 09:00   #13
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

I'd say buy a cruising guide? Not much money, but does give some idea
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Old 06-11-2015, 09:34   #14
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Let me know if you would like to have stops in the Tampa Bay Area information... You do realize that there is not much between Tarpon Springs and Panama City.

Have you discovered Salty SouthEast Cruisers Net they have Google with chart overlay along with Marinas, fuel, and anchorages. Along with alerts in the area.
https://www.google.com/#q=salty+southeast+cruisers+net
Cruisers’ Net Marine Map | Cruisers' Net

If you get into the Tampa Bay area PM me and we (Family) can take you around.
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Old 06-11-2015, 10:11   #15
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Re: Best Stops In Florida

Cedar Key is a great destination but there's some shoaling in the channel. Crystal River is a fun old Florida destination where you can anchor up by the springs & swim with the Manatees. Tarpon Springs usually has an open slip at the municipal marina located right on the historic sponge docks. Just south of that is 3 Rooker Island which can only be reached by boat is a great anchorage if you like waking up & walking on a beautiful beach. South of that is Caladesi Island which is a state park with a marina that also can only be reached by boat. Just south of that is Dunedin which has a municipal marina that always has open transient docks & is 1 block from downtown Dunedin, a very quaint small town with a bunch of great restaurants. South of that is Clearwater Beach, a major tourist destination but still fun. The municipal marina always has open transient slips available. After that I'd head for downtown St Petersburg. You can anchor in the Vinoy Yacht Basin or get a slip at the municipal marina. The fort at Eggmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay is also fun to check out. After that I'd head for Sarasota.
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