April 2, 2017
Cruising across the state by boat
By Bill Jefferson
The 152-mile Okeechobee Waterway is not only a convenient link between Floridaís west and east coasts, but itís also a great cruising area for recreational small boaters. The trip across Floridaís heartland is a relaxing scenic trip that covers three sections: the St. Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee, and the Caloosahatchee.
For the boat traveler there are many anchorages along the way as well as marinas, camp sites and overnight accommodations.
During the passage from Fort Myers to Stuart, there are five locks you pass through. The locks raise your vessel from the sea level to the level of Lake Okeechobee. They are controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers and operate daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The locks from west to east are: Franklin (400 feet by 56 feet), Ortona (250 by 50), Moore Haven (250 by 50), Port Mayaca (400 by 56) and St Lucie (250 by 50). There are also 26 bridges along the way. Fortunately many are standing open, but you can reach the bridge tenders on channel 09 of your VHF marine radio.
If you have never traversed the locks on the Okeechobee Waterway there are several things of which you must be aware. The locks are controlled by a lockmaster and he can be contacted on channel 13 of your radio.
There is a boat traffic signal on each end of the locks and when the signal turns green, boats enter the lock at slow speed. The boats proceed to both sides of the lock, where there are mooring lines extending to the waterline. Itís best to have one crew member on the bow and another at the stern of the boat to hold the lines. Itís also a very good idea to use a boat hook and fenders to keep the boat from the rough, dirty sides of the lock. When the lock gates open, all the boats exit at slow speed.
Boaters often stay overnight at Clewiston or Moore Haven to break up the voyage before entering the lake. Both cities are picturesque and a marina and motel at Clewiston (Roland and Martins) is the destination of many boaters.
When crossing Lake Okeechobee there are two marked routes Ė straight across and the rim canal. A bit of trivia that might confuse your northern friends Ė Lake Okeechobee is the second largest fresh water lake in the U.S. (730 square miles). Lake Michigan is the largest. All of the other Great Lakes are partially in Canada.
If you plan a trip across the state make sure you contact the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Jacksonville (904791-2539) to ascertain if all five locks are operational. Itís good to make reservations if you plan to stay overnight.
Come by, call or visit our website and take the opportunity to enroll in Americaís Boating Course, offered monthly by the Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron. (The Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron, 917 SE 47th Terrace, Cape Coral, 549-9754, www.ccsaps.org, Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. Fort Myers Power Squadron (239-334-6650), San Carlos Bay Sail and Power Squadron (239-466-4040) and Sanibel Captiva Sail and Power Squadron (239-395-9409) are area squadrons that also schedule boating classes.
Choose the one closet to you.
Bill Jefferson is past commander of Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron.