America's Great Loop
The route from Mobile to Carrabelle takes you (surprisingly to most) into and across some of the most beautiful beaches in America.
In season, this area becomes the boaters playground. Heading south along Mobile Bay's Eastern Shore; there are several Marinas to choose from,
including the Marriott's Grand Hotel Marina, Fly Creek Marina and Fairhope Marina, all three of which are located near Fairhope.
From Fairport, it is a short distance to the Gulf ICW or GIWW as it is most often referred to, and your first stop on the Gulf ICW is most
likely to be LuLu's.
For Great Loopers the Gulf ICW starts in at the Harvey Lock just south of New Orleans, on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Here, the
miles are also defined in terms of statute miles as opposed to nautical miles and are measured east and west of Harvey Lock. The Hathaway Bridge
in Panama City, Florida, for example, is at mile 284.6 EHL (East of Harvey Lock). The Harvey Lock is mile 0 (zero) on the Gulf ICW just as Norfolk,
VA mile 0 (zero) on the Atlantic ICW. While heavy barge and commercial traffic can be very stressful near the New Orleans and Louisiana and
East Texas portion of the Gulf ICW, at least you can boat the full length of will make your journey successful. As a Looper, the Gulf ICW provides an
inland protected passage for all of us voyaging from New Orleans and Mobile Bay to Carrabelle, FL.
Cruising the Gulf ICW (especially in a sailboat or deep draft vessel) can be very stressful. (I am not holding back any punches here.) The
commercial traffic, narrow channel shallow banks around New Orleans simply does not give a pleasure boater much time for carefree boating in this
area. Since the commercial traffic does NOT move out of your way... You must move out of theirs. At times, this may seem difficult if not impossible
to do - but it is - as long as you plan your voyage and always plan ahead for your escape from on coming or passing traffic.
Sometimes the GICW runs along the Gulf, other times it will take you a surprising distance inland.
where you started
your Loop, this
may be your
second 'hop' in
the ocean. The
first one of
course is at the
end of the New
This leg of your journey is 218 miles from Mobile Bay to Carrabelle. Aside from the brief trip down Mobile Bay's
eastern shore to the Gulf ICW, your next 200 miles is on a well protected inside route.
The area has been described as the "Forgotten Coast" and "the road less traveled", but that translates into fewer
tourists, where you would think more tourists would be. Fact is, you are about to cruise through some shockingly beautiful
beaches with astonishingly aqua-tinted gin clear waters and white pristine sandy beaches this side of the Caribbean.
Apalachicola is a small Florida town, known in modern times for its oyster industry. It used to be one of Florida's largest ports in the 1800s, due to
cotton shipping. It's along the western bank of the Apalachicola River
Apalachicola Bay is wide, runs approximately east-west, but is very shallow in parts, so pay special attention to your chart. Getting into and out of
Apalachicola from the bay almost invariably requires motoring, because there's a good half hour's worth of dredged channel you have to motor down,
with depths of only a few feet on either side. Watch your depths, and your markers. Very few sailors who home in Apalachicola haven't run aground
from time to time.
There's a very protected anchorage spot just north of the US 98 bridge, east of the intercoastal waterway, dinghy distance from the
You can anchor really just about anywhere in Apalachicola Bay, but very little of it is well protected, especially from a north easterly or south
westerly blow. Your best bet for anchoring in the bay is to pay attention to the weather and anchor leeward of a barrier island. Also, the whole bay is
tidal, so dropping a second hook is a good idea, and pay attention to dragging. Bottoms are pretty uniformly mud, with some oysters. The Cove offers
some of the best anchorage in the area, with 20 foot depths swimming distance from shore, and a view of the gulf over very low dunes.
Your route along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway will take from Mobile (mile 134 EHL) to the Gulf ICW where your first stop will most
likely be Lulu's which is mile 155 EHL. From Lulu's and Homeport Marina, it is 12 miles to Orange Beach Marina.
If you want to visit the beach at Orange Beach, between mile 167 and 168 there is a marked channel off the GIWW through Bayou St. John
to Perdido Pass, on the way you will cruise past a gauntlet of marinas, and waterfront restaurants. The area is a great place to visit, and of course
(as you will see) the beaches are pristine sandy and beautiful.
Blalock's offers local seafood, oysters, shrimp and crayfish.
Ft. Walton Beach (mile 224) is another beautiful area with a lot of charm. Sandy beaches and crystal clear waters are a delight. All the water
and the beaches from Pensacola, Orange Beach, Panama City, Ft. Walton, and Destin are simply great.
If you are in the mood for some great off shore fishing, all the area from Pensacola to Panama City offers simply fantastic charter fishing.
So, while you might not be so excited as all those "land-lovers" over the boat ride, the fishing makes for a fantastic day. Just remember to give away
the fish you can't eat or can't safely store until you can eat it.
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