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Old 11-04-2011, 15:20   #1
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Tampa Bay to Key West

Hello, I am thinking of bareboat chartering a boat and sailing to Key west from Tampa Bay (st. pete area). What is the best time (easiest weather condition) for that trip and what to watch out for? I read that a good course would be from:
St Pete using intercoastal all the way to Marco Island and than make a jump to Key West then to Dry Tortuga and cross back to around Port Charlotte and finally head back towards Tampa Bay. I'd like to make this trip this summer but as this being my 1st longer sailing trip I want to make sure that I choose the best route as well best time of year to make this trip.

Thank you for all suggestions and recommendations!
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Old 11-04-2011, 15:31   #2
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

There is no intercoastal, per se. There are sections you can duck inside if needed, but sailing offshore on the west coast of Florida is pretty easy. I would recommend daylight passages and duck in at various places to anchor for the night. Maybe Sarasota, then Boca Grande (Cayo Costa), Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Marco Island, Little Shark River, then jump to Key West and on to DT. Dry Tortugas back to Charlotte Harbor would be a 20-24 hour run, not bad, but it requires a good watch for the shrimp boats during the night.
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Old 11-04-2011, 15:56   #3
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

Last year in mid-May my son, his wife and I sailed from Tampa Bay straight through to Matecombe Bight. The weather was great. We didn't catch any fish for dinner, but otherwise it was a fun, uneventful trip. The sailing was better on that leg than on the rest of the way around to Chesapeake Bay.

For weather averages over your proposed route and time of year take a look at the pilot charts.

Have fun.
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Old 11-04-2011, 16:26   #4
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

Quote:
Originally Posted by DotDun View Post
There is no intercoastal, per se. There are sections you can duck inside if needed, but sailing offshore on the west coast of Florida is pretty easy. I would recommend daylight passages and duck in at various places to anchor for the night. Maybe Sarasota, then Boca Grande (Cayo Costa), Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Marco Island, Little Shark River, then jump to Key West and on to DT. Dry Tortugas back to Charlotte Harbor would be a 20-24 hour run, not bad, but it requires a good watch for the shrimp boats during the night.
HUH? Last time I checked there were MILES of it on the West Coast! It does end in Ft Myers Beach though.

To the OP: I've done the trip from Venice to KW at least 100 times and in every season.... Pick your weather window and go. Winter cold fronts are daunting but predictable; Summer t-storms are viscous, but short lived; hurricanes suck but they aren't hard to miss coming.

Hugging the coast and gunkholing adds about 50-75 miles to the trip, but is much more relaxed (and takes a lot longer). Regardless, even leaving from Egmont the trip is less than 200nm rhumb line to KW or Dry Tortugas
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Old 11-04-2011, 16:26   #5
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

This is the prime time right now. Follow a cold front down and you will be there in no time. Ive done this trip at least 30 times. My favorite is a straight shot from egmont to the tortugas light my fastest trip was 28 hours. For the winds the meandering gunkholing is best done on the way back as the winds dont often blow from favorable direction for long passages heading back up. I typically head towards Key west after torts , then boot key, then start hitting the many gunkhole options after going under the 7 mi bridge. This is typically a two week trip unless you plan on a lot of motoring or a very short stay. Im heading that way in a month or so beginning my annual trek up the east coast.
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Old 11-04-2011, 16:30   #6
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

Timing wise, any time between late April and mid-June works.

Assuming you can get a charter boat company in St. Pete to agree to allow you to take a boat all the way to the Dry Tortugas, taking the ICW all the way to Marco Island would be about as much fun as a root canal. Frankly, you'd do better to charter a boat in the Keys for that or, charter a boat in Ft. Myers for crusing there abouts.

N'any case, absent experience on the West Coast of Florida and particularly negotiating the passes, your best course from St. Pete would be to the north side of the Manatee River or Jewfish Key the first day; departing there early the next morning going outside to Venice the next day, spending the night at the Crows Nest; departing there the next AM and going outside to Cabbage Key via Boca Grand, timing your departure from Venice so you can make it through the pass at slack water (or if that timing doesn't work, going inside on the ICW through Lemon Bay and Gasparilla). You can spend the night either at Cabbage Key or on the hook at Useppa directly across from Cabbage Key. In either case, leaving early from there you can make the run through Pine Island Sound, across the miserable mile, and blow through the Sanibel Island Bridge and down to Naples or Marco if you can't handle night sailing (or directly to Key West if you can). From either of these you can go direct or head down to the Little Snake River for a night on the hook and then make an easy passage to Key West (we like the Galleon Resort for it's amenities but there are other somewhat less costly places to stop). From there its a long day trip to Garden Key but doable so long as you leave KW at sun up an don't dilly dally. Otherwise you can stop at Marquesa Key and spend the night on the hook on the West side in 13-15 feet of water. From there it's an easy sail to Garden Key.

Heading back we usually shoot directly from Ft. Jefferson to Sanibel Island and spend the night tucked up under York Island if the tides permit an easy crossing of the Miserable Mile or, if not, at a spot just north of Punta Rassa out of the main channel at N26 30.096 W82 00.711 or abouts. From there back to Venice (long day); and from there back to the Manatee River (another long day).

The foreoging itinerary works but you're looking at quite a few stops and a fair amount of especially if your weather window's are not favorable every day. When we simply want to get to KW without fooling around we just go direct. From the Tampa Bay sea bouy to the Galleon is about 200 miles and that usually takes us about 30 hours. We try to pass the TB sea bouy at first light and figure on getting into KW around early afternoon the next day. The advantage of this is that we can usually figure on a pretty goood wearther window for 36 hours and we're usually far enough off to avoid the squalls that plague the coast in the early evenings. Not always, but usually.

There's a lot more to the story but this should keep you thinking, eh?

FWIW...
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Old 11-04-2011, 16:39   #7
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

May is probably your best bet. Pilot charts show winds should be pretty much easterly. If you wait until June then figure on squall lines and thunderstorms, some of them pretty hairy. June begins the rainy season and the hurricane season although a hurricane in the Gulf is more likely later in the season, like September or October. There is generally plenty of warning. This isn't to say you are guaranteed good weather, we recently had some really nasty stuff. Still, the odds are in your favor and listen to the weather forecasts. Be prepared to alter your plans to accommodate the weather.

Personally, if I had a couple people on board that could stand watch, I would leave St Pete and head due south to Key West. The ICW is a pain in the butt due to shoals and speed boats. From St Pete, I'd guess maybe 30 hours. From my port of Tarpon Springs it is about 40 hours. From Tarpon, Key West is about 240 nm from St Pete maybe 200-220 depending on where you leave from. The return from the Dry Tortugas to Tarpon is a bit shorter, 215 nm. As a rule, we just go from the Tortugas to Venice. Spend the night and finish the trip the next day. Remember, in the Tortugas the only things you can buy consist of T-Shirts, film, and a guide book or two. There are no other supplies or water but what you take with you. Nevertheless, it's a neat place and the snorkeling is fine. It is also a breeding ground for nurse sharks which are harmless but scary if you are not expecting them.

Personally, I'd consider the trip a good way to get an intro into cruising. Watch your charts and your position. The northwest channel into Key West has submerged jetties near the entrance. Still it is a nice wide channel.

In any event, be safe, have fun,
Rich
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Old 11-04-2011, 17:41   #8
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

Thank you all for great feedback. It seems more and more that doing a straight shot is the best way to go. The 3 companions are very experienced motor-boaters (2 of them crossed gulf stream several times on their fishing trips to Bahamas) but never sailed before and hence as the only one with sailing experience I was thinking that following the shore line south would be better. I might do a shorter weekend trip to show them the ropes of sailing and decide how I want to proceed. I'd like to do the trip in 10 days but since this is a sailing trip I already planned on spending couple extra days pending the weather condition.
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Old 11-04-2011, 17:56   #9
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

I'd also suggest the Spring, but with a look at what you're avoiding. Summer can be ok, but often little wind and extra heat. By late August the hurricanes are an increasing threat. You coud fit in a great cruise in October (if the tropics have settled) and November before the harsh northers of Winter set in and then it back to good cruising time from March to June.
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Old 27-04-2011, 19:16   #10
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

We are making this same trip in 4 weeks. Pretty sure we are going to push straight through unless weather is unfavorable. If anyone has great reasons why you shouldnt sail at night let me know. We will have someone on watch and work shifts.
We are planning 3- days in KW, then off to Dry Tortugas if weather window looks good, 2 - days there then make our way home towards Tampa. If weather is unfavorable we may head to marquesas Keys. Has anyone spent much time there? Any tips would be appreciated. If that doesnt work we will spend more time in KW then head back.
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Old 09-07-2011, 22:37   #11
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Re: Tampa Bay to Key West

Planning on taking a trip from Tampa to Key West Sunday July 24 coming back on Saturday July 30. Anyone else going that way?
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