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Old 19-07-2013, 11:06   #1
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Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

Hi-

I just purchased a Catalina 27 and would need some advice on a cruise I would like to make.

Am thinking of launching in Houston, TX and then sailing to Miami via Key West. This has been on the bucket list for a long time.

I would be in no rush and the intent is to visit several cities along the way.

My question is a basic one. Assuming good weather windows from port to port, what am I going to encounter in terms of average winds and seas?

I am used to Southern California coastal sailing where most of the time the wind is light and seas relatively flat.

Would love to make this trip but am also at the age where I do not want a white knuckle experience.

Thanks, all!
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Old 19-07-2013, 11:18   #2
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

0 to hurricane, take your pick. B.s aside, good sailing wind usually brings 3-5' seas. Transition time in the spring and fall is the best time for that trip. Winter can be a bit frisky and the prevailing winds in the summer are southeast and east. Best winds for the Florida run are found by leaving with or right behind a cold front.
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Old 19-07-2013, 11:34   #3
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

You can take the Intracoastal Waterway all the way to Appilachicola, Florida. Makes for a very interesting trip and you don't have to wait until winds are sort of favorable, or not... You are sheltered from most weather and sailing may even be possible on some stretches of the Waterway. If you're going to require any work on the boat Pensacola may be a good place for it. It has been a long time since I was there but a low cost yard existed back in 2005/06 where I hauled.

Check Active Captain for anchorages along the ICW. Better yet, send me a P.M. and I can share my OpenCPN .gpx file that shows all of the anchorages I found myself on Active Captain. Most have minimal access and services but on the other hand there are opportunities to see places along the way.

Wind is generally favourable from Appilachicola to St. Petersburg. Probably as far as the keys too. Depends on when you leave St. Petersburg.
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Old 19-07-2013, 11:39   #4
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

from texas to lake pontchartrain, use icw.
ponchartrain thru rigolets--must use radio to get csx rigolets to open...then missisippi sound and barrier islands across to mobile alabama...go thru mobile bay to icw--is all icw--marked in gps and charts--to lulus,$$$$, which is before ocean springs... we stopped in ingrahams bayou, we stopped in wolf bay--both are excellent anchorages for waiting out storms...our gps and charts told of submerged piles exiting wolf bay toward pirates cove and then pensacola, but we didnt encounter em or know their depth .. pirats cov spozed to have est hamburgers in life..not as pricey as lulus..
there is a nice new fuel station in there,now..and a marina wa s created as well....(2010)
lulus is a good place for lunch...cheeseburger in paradice...fuel stop and a dock fro a day usable for reprovisioning...sister to jimmy buffet
ingrahams and wolf are after lulus....pirate cove, another popular place we didnt attend is on the way to pensacola -- i was advised i was not smart for having missed it--

pensacola was nice--we anchored in great harbor? just before the cut to gulf and south to more icw...as we were too tall )over 50 ft height ) we couldnt do icw--if you are not too tall for bridges, go for it--is gorgeous...
destin was a pita--strong current in a very iffy shoaling entrance--very trendytouristy
apalachiacola is not to be mised with your size boat. good provisioning--hve a bicycle.
port st joe--marin was winter rates 1 usd per foot ... good provisioning, free use of bicycles for shpping, good food, excellent thrift shop, and much more--dont miss this --lulus here is for ie cream and cake to absolutely kill for...awesomest bestest i ever tasted, ice cream and cake , including my family baking experts..

there are many places to see and sail and explore in the icw as well as the gulf sailing on the outside--storm hiding holes and other interesting stuff..beautiful area.

bring skeeter kill and repellent..gallons of it..ditto black flies stuff---the beauty of those places is offset a tad by the insect population and its desire for fresh blood....

fishing is good. have a fla license. they are for real. the catch was yummy each time, and good variety from small tuna relations to dorado to sierra/spanish mackerel...king mackerel--conch....more...

we went from slidell louisiana to fort jefferson and back a few times...beautiful no matter how or where you go or route you take.

remember-if you see tugs and tows wharfed or still-- go drop anchor in the absolutely closest and safest place you can find. do not again move until they do...they know when it will be bad, yes BAD weather.
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Old 19-07-2013, 11:40   #5
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

It is beginning to sound like this is doable for me.

I would like to sail as much as possible. Based on the charts I purchased, it doesn't seem like there are many areas in the ICW to do so.

One big question I have is coming up with a leg to get me to Key West. The charts look downright scary.

Do you folks have any advice on what city to depart from along the coast?

Thanks!
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Old 19-07-2013, 12:34   #6
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

Maybe leave the Florida panhandle from St Marks or Panama City and go direct to Anclote Key (Tarpon Springs) once you make Anclote you can sail inside or outside with an inlet every 10-20 miles all the way to Ft Myers Beach. You could stop along the way at Cedar Key (not much for protected anchorages) or the old Cross-Florida Barge Canal or the various river entrances but I'd probably opt for the direct to Anclote route. From Anclote south, the prevailing easterlies make for great sailing if you hug the beaches.

There are good anchorages behind Anclote Key or in the Anclote River and just to the south on the ICW behind 3 Rooker Bar. Clearwater Pass is all weather and good anchorages inside the bay there. Johns Pass is ok but has a drawbridge. Pass-a-grille is usually passable except when the wind is anything west and the tide is opposed.

Crossing Tampa Bay on the inside can be quite rough depending on tide and wind but you need to go well outside to clear the bars around Egmont Key. Longboat pass is useable but has a drawbridge. I'd avoid the Sarasota Passes but New Pass is better than Big Sarasota Pass (3ft draft is risky in Big Sarasota). After Sarasota your next good shot at getting inside is Venice Inlet, good pass but the current can be swift either way. Boca Grande Pass is all weather but can be very nasty with wind and tide opposed. Nice anchorages inside along the ICW to the south. You can sail the inside passage from Placida south across Charlotte Harbor & Boca Grande Pass and all the way to Sanibel but watch the current. There's some very narrow channels where the current runs crosswise. Tow boats hang out near the bars waiting for the inexperienced. From Tampa Bay to Sanibel you can stay inside with a fair amount of stretches that can be sailed if you don't mind the draw bridges and boat traffic.

Then from the Sanibel drawbridge you go outside to Naples where there's a very nice inside route via Goodland to the Ten Thousand Islands area (suitable for 4ft draft if you watch the tides). Gordon Pass is useable but watch the tides and winds. Nice anchorages inside the canals by the fancy homes of Port Royal.

OR go outside from Ft Myers Beach around Cape Romano direct to Marathon or Key West. I have anchored in Little Shark River (very protected but buggy)in the Everglades National Park and off Cape Sable. At Cape Sable go right in off the beach, very nice if the wind is easterly. Nice deserted beach too.

Generally you can anchor almost anywhere along the Gulf ICW so long as you have water enough to get out of the channel. There's lots of little spoil islands to shelter behind.

At Marathon on the gulf side you can snug up against the islands or go through to the ocean side and go into Boot Key Harbor which is very protected but you probably need to take a mooring there although they do allow some anchoring, or so I'm told.

In Key West we usually anchor off Tank Island or Wisteria Island but many prefer Garrison Bight.

Just remember if you go inside, watch the markers both in front of you and behind you. You need to see how the current is setting you and there are many shoal spots if you miss the channel even by a little bit.

I'd use Claiborne Young's cruising guides and have a good set of ICW charts. The thing is along the west coast of Florida the shallow water is usually mud or sand with an occasional oyster bar but in the Keys it's all coral and rock. Run aground there and you'll damage your boat for sure. Channels are well marked though so if you're diligent there's no problem. I've been in and out of Northwest Channel into Key West in the dark, in storms, in daylight etc. The charts are right just make sure you pick up the next marker and stay in the channel.
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Old 19-07-2013, 12:37   #7
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

florida sound is very shallow and can be treacherous in weather. know what is coming.

we went from fort myers beach to fort jefferson and didnt go the other 70 miles from ft jeff to key west....

btw--fort jefferson has nothing for boaters except a tour of the fort. no water, no foods no nada...oh they do have batteries for cameras, so you get all the pix.....and post cards in case you forgot the camera...
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Old 19-07-2013, 13:18   #8
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

Quote:
Originally Posted by christoperrobin View Post
Hi-

I just purchased a Catalina 27 and would need some advice on a cruise I would like to make.

Am thinking of launching in Houston, TX and then sailing to Miami via Key West. This has been on the bucket list for a long time.

I would be in no rush and the intent is to visit several cities along the way.

My question is a basic one. Assuming good weather windows from port to port, what am I going to encounter in terms of average winds and seas?

I am used to Southern California coastal sailing where most of the time the wind is light and seas relatively flat.

Would love to make this trip but am also at the age where I do not want a white knuckle experience.

Thanks, all!

If I were you, I would allow for plenty of time and sail along the coast. You don't mention any crew. You can hopscotch along the coast all the way down except between Fort Myers/Naples to Marathon, and you can pick your weather window for that.

Hurricanes you get plenty of warning on, although you have to do a LOT of homework to figure out what you're going to do with your boat should one develop. But by yourself in a smaller boat, I wouldn't want to just cross the Gulf. Even going along the coast, IMO you should be pretty confident regarding your ability to read the sky and see if a storm is likely to develop in your path. The Gulf is shallow and it can get very rough (for a boat that size) very quickly. Be very confident in the state of your standing rigging, running rigging, and sails. Make sure you have a good reefing system and that you can do it yourself safely and efficiently.

This isn't the best weather window for such a trip. Most people would do it in late April or mid-October. You're still never guaranteed no storms, though.

A word about hugging the coast, though -- you don't want to be caught on a lee shore in a storm, and since wind direction can shift tramatically in a thunderstorm, that means you're smarter to stay some distance out and head in when you're headed to wherever you're going to berth at the end of the day. Those aren't great waters to sail by yourself at night with no watch relief, between the oil rigs and the shrimp boats ... and the other heavy traffic.

Read up on how to read boats' lights and what they tell you -- whether they have barges in tow, for instance.

If a fair amount of this causes you to think "Hmmm... I hadn't thought of that ..." are you sure you have enough time on the water to do this ..
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Old 19-07-2013, 13:22   #9
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

Quote:
Originally Posted by christoperrobin View Post
It is beginning to sound like this is doable for me.

I would like to sail as much as possible. Based on the charts I purchased, it doesn't seem like there are many areas in the ICW to do so.

One big question I have is coming up with a leg to get me to Key West. The charts look downright scary.

Do you folks have any advice on what city to depart from along the coast?

Thanks!

Fort Myers or Naple, and go to Marathon. Shortest route, and it will minimize any extended time at the helm you have to spend. In a pinch you can go in at Shark River, but you may be carried away bodily by the mosquitoes, and we have mosquitoes in Florida this year who laugh at DEET. However, there's good shelter in there in a storm if you can get to it. THere is an open stretch of water there you just can't skip. The charts are right -- it's very, very shallow, very very far out there.
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Old 19-07-2013, 17:31   #10
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

Sailormantx is right.

Fall would be good. Just hold on a little longer.
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Old 19-07-2013, 17:34   #11
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

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Maybe leave the Florida panhandle from St Marks or Panama City and go direct to Anclote Key (Tarpon Springs) once you make Anclote you can sail inside or outside with an inlet every 10-20 miles all the way to Ft Myers Beach. You could stop along the way at Cedar Key (not much for protected anchorages) or the old Cross-Florida Barge Canal or the various river entrances but I'd probably opt for the direct to Anclote route. From Anclote south, the prevailing easterlies make for great sailing if you hug the beaches.

There are good anchorages behind Anclote Key or in the Anclote River and just to the south on the ICW behind 3 Rooker Bar. Clearwater Pass is all weather and good anchorages inside the bay there. Johns Pass is ok but has a drawbridge. Pass-a-grille is usually passable except when the wind is anything west and the tide is opposed.

Crossing Tampa Bay on the inside can be quite rough depending on tide and wind but you need to go well outside to clear the bars around Egmont Key. Longboat pass is useable but has a drawbridge. I'd avoid the Sarasota Passes but New Pass is better than Big Sarasota Pass (3ft draft is risky in Big Sarasota). After Sarasota your next good shot at getting inside is Venice Inlet, good pass but the current can be swift either way. Boca Grande Pass is all weather but can be very nasty with wind and tide opposed. Nice anchorages inside along the ICW to the south. You can sail the inside passage from Placida south across Charlotte Harbor & Boca Grande Pass and all the way to Sanibel but watch the current. There's some very narrow channels where the current runs crosswise. Tow boats hang out near the bars waiting for the inexperienced. From Tampa Bay to Sanibel you can stay inside with a fair amount of stretches that can be sailed if you don't mind the draw bridges and boat traffic.

Then from the Sanibel drawbridge you go outside to Naples where there's a very nice inside route via Goodland to the Ten Thousand Islands area (suitable for 4ft draft if you watch the tides). Gordon Pass is useable but watch the tides and winds. Nice anchorages inside the canals by the fancy homes of Port Royal.

OR go outside from Ft Myers Beach around Cape Romano direct to Marathon or Key West. I have anchored in Little Shark River (very protected but buggy)in the Everglades National Park and off Cape Sable. At Cape Sable go right in off the beach, very nice if the wind is easterly. Nice deserted beach too.

Generally you can anchor almost anywhere along the Gulf ICW so long as you have water enough to get out of the channel. There's lots of little spoil islands to shelter behind.

At Marathon on the gulf side you can snug up against the islands or go through to the ocean side and go into Boot Key Harbor which is very protected but you probably need to take a mooring there although they do allow some anchoring, or so I'm told.

In Key West we usually anchor off Tank Island or Wisteria Island but many prefer Garrison Bight.

Just remember if you go inside, watch the markers both in front of you and behind you. You need to see how the current is setting you and there are many shoal spots if you miss the channel even by a little bit.

I'd use Claiborne Young's cruising guides and have a good set of ICW charts. The thing is along the west coast of Florida the shallow water is usually mud or sand with an occasional oyster bar but in the Keys it's all coral and rock. Run aground there and you'll damage your boat for sure. Channels are well marked though so if you're diligent there's no problem. I've been in and out of Northwest Channel into Key West in the dark, in storms, in daylight etc. The charts are right just make sure you pick up the next marker and stay in the channel.

DUH -- get a copy of FLORIDA CRUISING GUIDE!!! Packed with great information about cruising all around Florida
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Old 25-07-2013, 10:29   #12
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

You can poke all the way down to Naples then Marco Island. From there definitely go up the Shark River, really pretty but leave a crumb trail going in as there are several channels once you are inside. Then it is an easy shot to either Marathon or Key West.
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Old 25-07-2013, 11:14   #13
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

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.....

Then from the Sanibel drawbridge you go outside to Naples

........
Sanibel bridge is a fixed bridge (70') opened in 2007.
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Old 27-07-2013, 15:20   #14
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Re: Advice Needed: Florida Gulf Coast

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You can poke all the way down to Naples then Marco Island. From there definitely go up the Shark River, really pretty but leave a crumb trail going in as there are several channels once you are inside. Then it is an easy shot to either Marathon or Key West.
Go directly from Marco Pass south of Ft Myers to Key West. Watch weather in open gulf. It kicks up quickly and avoid a head sea.
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