Ray... In the boat you are talking about - 4' / 25 knots, unless you really want to take the extra time to visit the keys, I highly suggest taking the waterway. HyLyte has some good advice, but it mostly pertains to S/Vs. In your case, you could easily make it from St. Pete to City of Ft. Myers Yacht Basin in a day. You could even make it up the waterway a bit depending on how early you left, and how long you travelled. And in two days, be on the other side headed N.
In your boat, don't worry about BG Pass. Yes, it gets strong current
, but you have the power to deal with it no problem. As mentioned, don't try the swash channel unless you know it. And the miserable mile - IMO go through it whenever you want. Just be sure to look behind you and make sure you're not getting set. The cross currents in there are strong, but just be attentive and you will be fine.
The waterway allows for a much faster passage
- saving on average a day and a half to two days in a boat like yours. More if you're sailing. It also gets you around going through the mess that is Lauderdale etc... and all the traffic/no wake zones etc. if the weather
hits and you have to stay inside. Coming out at Stuart gets you N. of most of that stuff.
I tend to always think in terms of efficiency / speed as I'm always delivering rather than cruising, so my apologies if that isn't your goal. But your trip can be done much faster by going through the lake. Just wanted to throw that out there.
P.S. if you do the lake, always tie a fender
just a little bit forward, just around the curve of the bow a bit, when transiting the locks. When the current
hits you, and kicks your stern out (because the lines in the locks are straight down, and not long enough to reach to the outboard
, you and your new boat will be glad you did.