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THE BIG BAD WOLF turns into a friendly little puppy!
Crossing the Gulf
Lowest bridge: None
Fuel range: 76-miles or 170-miles depending on route

     This is really not the "Big Bad Wolf" everyone fears. Least not if you pay attention to the weather forecast. You also need to know "your" limits as
well as your vessel's limits.
     Fact is, when someone brings up concerns over "crossing the Gulf" it always reminds me of my very first Loop in 1971. Back then, the Loop
didn't even have a name. That was long before books, blogs or anything else existed about it. I even remember some of the 'old salts' in the marina
telling us "it couldn't be done" and that we would be "swept over Niagara Falls". As a result, we never had any concerns whatsoever about crossing
the Gulf. The only thing that upset our stomach was worrying about being swept over Niagara Falls. LOL - We were never worried about crossing the
Gulf because no one every told us we were supposed to be worried about it.
     If you have been reading Looper blogs or forums, you probably have no idea there are actually four route options across the Gulf of Mexico  
from Carrabelle. The most popular of course is the 170-miles from Carrabelle to Anclote Key & Tarpon Springs. The 2nd most popular route is 76-
miles from Carrabelle directly across to Steinhatchee.
     Another route options are cruising the Big Bend Buoyage Route which curves around the Big Bend. Additionally, if one has a really shallow draft
(3-feet or less), one can “Hop-Scotch” their way around the coastline.
     Having attempted all four of these routes, we suggest and prefer cruising straight across from Carrabelle to Steinhatchee.
     Most Loopers, will "stage" themselves in Carrabelle until the weather forecast sounds good, and with great trepidation and anxiety, head out for
Tarpon Springs. While this is shortest distance to Tarpon Springs, it results in spending the farthest distance off shore for the longest period of time.  
On this route one is 'going out' to sea for 85-miles and then returning from the sea for another 85-miles. Which, is the cause for everyone's anxiety
in the first place.
     The 76-mile Carrabelle to Steinhatchee route however, means 'going out' only 38-miles and returning for 38-miles. Furthermore, the inlet to
Steinhatchee is near 5-miles long. Taking the Steinhatchee route will indeed add miles to your total distance to Anclote Key & Tarpon Springs.  From
Steinhatchee it is 56-miles to Cedar Key and (depending on your draft and resulting route) as much as another 51-miles from Cedar Key to Crystal
River and another 52-miles to Tarpon Springs. So, while the Steinhatchee route puts you in a safe anchorage or marina every night before dark, it  
adds 3-stops and 65-miles to your voyage to Tarpon Springs.
     Two of those three stops however, are great stops, and the other is a safe stop. Steinhatchee and Crystal River are tourist destinations very
worthy of a visit, where most of us spend an extra day or two. Cedar Key which is between the two, has a safe 9' depth entrance all the way in to a
safe anchorage near a large Fishing Pier, but it has no accessible Marina or fuel. It offers a small protected basin one can dinghy to and several
good restaurants, but does not have anything else to offer. Just be aware that the Marina charted in the Waterway Guides is totally unaccessible to
the Looper. We would not advise going to the Marina even in your dinghy. The entire 'out of the channel' area around Cedar Key is no place for a
Looper. It requires a hard flat bottom boat with about a 1-foot draft. So don't plan on buying fuel there. The channel into the anchorage however is
part of the Big Bend Buoyage route. We've found it to always be between 7 and 9-feet deep.
    The point is, that big bad wolf we know as crossing the Gulf,
will most likely NOT be the roughest waters you cross on this voyage. Least not
unless you really foul up the timing on your departure. Based on my experience, I believe if no one talked about their anxiety over crossing the Gulf,
it would not even get and honorable mention in most log books.
     For those insisting on cruising the 170-miles to Tarpon Springs, just keep in mind that during winter in Florida, daylight is much shorter. The
street lights are normally on by 6:pm in winter. It gets dark very early! We believe the only reason the 170-mile route is the most popular is because
most guide books and automatic navigational programs only reference the most direct routes. We take the 76-mile Carrabelle to Steinhatchee route
every time. Even at a 7-knot maximum hull speed, Steinhatchee has never been more than 11-hours away. We usually leave Carrabelle near
midnight and arrive Steinhatchee in the morning.
     From Steinhatchee, Cedar Key is 56-miles and while there is no accessible fuel, it provides a safe anchorage, a dinghy accessible boat ramp just
feet away from a couple of good restaurants. Next stop? Crystal River, a very touristy place with lots to offer and worthy of a visit.    
     It's true. . . Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is the
BIG BAD WOLF that everyone (OK, most
everyone), fears. But, if we take a closer look at
those that fear it. . . We see it is only those that
have never done it, which makes perfect since.
     While we can't blame anyone for being
nervous or anxious over crossing the Gulf, we
also can't help but relate it to our own experience,
as well as the thousands of Loopers that have
done it first time. Who, arriving safely in either
Steinhatchee or Tarpon Springs generally have a
comment similar to, "that was a piece of cake".
     For most everyone of us, it is not so much
"crossing the Gulf" that gets us all worked up and
bothered. It is "fear of the unknown". Fear of the
unknown can scare the pajamas off any of us.
     So, obviously, "knowing" is the key to crossing
the Gulf without having to reach for the Meclizine.
     I've said for years, the luckiest Loopers are
those that start this voyage south of Albemarle
Sound. Why? Because by the time they reach
Carrabelle, they have already crossed the
roughest waters on this entire voyage. It didn't
bother them because "crossing the Gulf" is the
area that gets all the attention.
     For sure however, the most dangerous of all
waters are near shore and Loopers do that every
day, day in and day out for about 140-days.
     Now, when we are about to cruise the safest
waters, we get ourselves all bent out of shape.