America's Great Loop
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Fort Myers to St. Lucie Inlet:
Lake Okeechobee is the second largest fresh water lake in the US. The lake covers over 730 square
miles and is connected to both of Florida's coasts via the man made Okeechobee Waterway. The Lake
is 33 miles wide from north to south, and 30 miles wide from east to west. A series of 5 locks helps boats
through the 152 mile long waterway. The canal depth of the waterway is approx. 8 feet, and the width of
the canal varies from 80 to 100 feet.
For Loopers, access to the Okeechobee Waterway is at Ft Myers, and takes you to the Atlantic ICW
at St. Lucie Inlet at Stuart. This is not only a protected inside route, it shortens your journey to the east
coast of Florida bypassing the Florida Keys.
Fishing is among the most popular activity on this Lake. Largemouth bass, blue gill, catfish, and
crappie are some of the species of fish that can be found in the Lake. Birds, beautiful scenery and the
water all combine to make this a nature lover's paradise, as well as a mecca for boaters.
However, the Lake is very shallow, and since we can't control the rain, the lake levels vary
seasonally to levels as low as 5 feet (or less) in the main navigational routes.
A series of 5 locks operate from 6 am to 9:30 pm daily, unless otherwise noted in Coast Guard
published "Notice to Mariners." Hail locks on Channel 13. Pursuant to operating procedures, once Lake
Okeechobee reaches 12.5 feet the Corps will begin implementing lockage restrictions on the
Okeechobee Waterway at the W.P. Franklin Lock (west) and the St. Lucie Lock (east). This means the
locks will be closed to all traffic.
As beautiful as it may be on a nice day, this little lake is no cake walk to cross for anyone sailing or
with a draft of 4' or more in anything other than near perfect weather. We've sailed it when winds kicked
up a 2' chop and our keel came down and hit the sandy bottom on many more occasions then I could
count. Very much a Pogo Stick ride, we bounced our way across the bottom, I had visions of my boat
ripped to pieces with me and my crew wearing USCG approved PFDs in a pool of hungry alligators
flashed through my mind the entire time across.
Therefore, while we don't want to scare anybody off this waterway, (seriously) wind & weather.
If your vessel's draft is 4 or more feet, t is certainly best to wait for lake levels to be up and the
day's weather to be nice. Do this, and your journey will be a carefree and beautiful one.
1.) Tarpon Point
Full Service Marina
26° 32" 14' North
2.) Cape Coral Marina
Full Service Marina
3.) Fort Myers Yacht Basin
Mile Marker 135
on the Okeechobee Waterway,
15 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico,
4.) Roland Martin Marina
Mile 75.6 (about halfway point)
Latitude: N 26 45.450'
Longitude: W 080 55.130'
Full Service Marina
5.) Indiantown Marina
located on the St. Lucie Canal
which links Stuart to the Atlantic ICW
Latitude: N 27 00.500'
Longitude: W 080 28.080'
This leg of your journey is 154 miles and extends from the Gulf of
Mexico at Ft. Myers to the Atlantic ICW at the St. Lucie Inlet at the Atlantic ICW.
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All along your route, on the West Coast of Florida to the Atlantic ICW, and especially on the Okeechobee Waterway, you will want to keep a
good look astern (not so much for traffic) but for keeping in line with the channel markers.
From Tarpon Springs to St. Lucie, it is very wise to throttle down to a slow cruise (8 knots or 10 mph) and keep a concentrated effort to stay
in the middle of the channel. In many (most) areas a foot either way to the side of the channel and you will run aground.
All along this route, including Lake Okeechobee, the bottom is mostly soft mud or sand, running aground at a rising tide and at a slow speed is
much more damage proof than getting stuck on a falling tide. Even with my 3' draft, I often find myself holding my breath across shoals.
For sailors, the lowest fixed bridge from the Gulf to the Atlantic is 49 feet. For the exception of crossing Lake Okeechobee in bad weather,
navigation is simple, piloting is easy, and all your navigational aids are better than in many areas with Bays and Sounds. So have no concern for
getting lost, just stay in the channel.
Mile 0 of the Okeechobee intersects the Atlantic ICW at mile 987.8. If you plan on boating the Florida Keys, or crossing the Gulf Steam
to Bimini (our favorite) we suggest you take the more protected Okeechobee route to St. Lucie, then head across the Gulf stream to Bimini (only
50 miles away).
Surprisingly, Lake Okeechobee is
the second largest freshwater lake
entirely in the US. That's right - it is
second only to Lake Michigan. Of
course, this is because the other
Great Lakes share borders with
There are two routes across Lake
Okeechobee. The most direct is the
"Open Water Route" and the other
being the "Rim Route".
If you're not in a hurry (and you
shouldn't be n a hurry) the Rim Route
offers more protection from winds and
choppy waters. It only takes about an
hour longer, and the site-seeing
opportunities are much better.
On either route you take, Clewiston
(Mile 75.7) is a very worth while stop.
It offers Anglers Marina and Roland
Martin's Marina with groceries, marine
store, and restaurants. In addition, the
Clewiston Inn provides free
transportation to and from the Marinas
|(from West to East)
Notice: Lake Okeechobee can get both windy and shallow. When to get to Steinhatchee,
you will need to pay attention to the USCG reports for the conditions on the Okeechobee
Waterway. They will close the Locks if the Lake is too shallow. My last time through, the Lake
was a bit rough and we
bumped the bottom with a 4' 6" draft many times on our way across.
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