Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lake "O"

As I type this, we are somewhere in the middle of Lake Okeechobee. This vast, freshwater lake constitutes the headwaters of several rivers, provides the operating water for the locks of the Okeechobee Waterway, and is the sustenance of the sugar industry and other agricultural interests in central Florida. The lake is so large that it has its own wave forecast; today we have quite a bit of chop, from north winds with some 25 miles of fetch.

Lake O.  The north shore is over the horizon, and only a navigational marker is visible.

We've spent the last two nights at Roland Martin's Marina in Clewiston, FL (map). Long-time readers may remember that we've passed through Clewiston many times in Odyssey. On this visit, Steph and I ran out to Walmart in the marina's courtesy car, and I noticed that signs now only prohibit overnight parking for trucks; there were several rigs in the lot that looked to have spent the night.

Blossom locks through behind us.

We had a pleasant cruise Sunday from Calusa Jack's. The western half of the Okeechobee canal system is quite picturesque, passing through state parkland and pastoral farms and ranches. We did transit three locks, with the familiar W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam first up. We remembered staying in the Corps of Engineers campground there.

A familiar campground, as seen from the lock.

This was a good first lock to tackle, with a lift of just a couple of feet. The Corps here floods the lock chambers by opening the upstream gates a bit, so the higher the lift the more turbulence there is in the chamber. That makes for a bit of swinging around, but with such a short lift, Louise was able to tend both lines while I remained at the helm.

Locking up.  If you zoom in you can see the water rushing in, between the slightly open gates.

Between the locks the canal was wide, with good depths almost all the way across. At times the water was glass calm. We saw virtually no other boat traffic at all, apart from the occasional skiff or bass boat out fishing. We passed through the communities of LaBelle and Fort Denaud, and a pair of drawbridges.

Glassy water.  For us, anyway -- Blossom was behind us.

For the most part, I drove visually. The charts are off enough here that the plotter showed us driving on land for a good part of the day. At one point we were cruising along in 20' of water in the north half of the channel when, all of a sudden, the depth alarm screeched and we could feel the boat slow considerably as we ran over something, we knew not what. I immediately shifted to neutral and chopped the throttle, but by the time I could even react we were over and past it and drifting forward again in 20'.

At that point I looked at the chart and we noticed we had passed about 50' north of a red marker, that should have directed us to pass to the south. We both looked back, and saw no marker at all. In a panic and thinking that, perhaps somewhat distracted, we had actually run the marker over, we went to have a look at the bow, but there was no evidence of an allision. Discovering no damage or issues with stabilizers or other gear, we shrugged and continued on.

I learned later that the marker had been removed in September and deleted from official charts in November, and my raster charts show it absent. Apparently the NOAA vector charts have not yet caught up. Presumably the marker was there in the first place to mark whatever we hit, so I'm not sure why it was removed. I'm guessing all we lost was a little paint, though.

Islands in the stream...

At one point we came upon an "island" dead ahead of us, in the middle of the channel. Great rafts of this sort of vegetation break free in the lake, meander down the channels, lock through downstream, and end up in the canal. They can tangle props and stabilizers, so we passed this one to port; fortunately, it had drifted away from center by the time we reached it.

A little closer view from our port side as we passed it.

The Ortona lock had a lift of over eight feet, and we had a much more turbulent ride. With that much lift and turbulence it took both of us to tend the lines, so I did not manage to get any photos of the impressive influx of water as the gates opened. Neither did I capture the faces of the two folks on the tiny bowrider in the lock ahead of us as Vector and Blossom maneuvered in. Priceless.

Sign adjacent to Moore Haven lock.

We made it to Moore Haven by 2:30.  The city docks were completely empty, as was the marina next door, and we could easily have stayed. But on the way we learned the one decent restaurant in town, a Mexican joint, was closed Sunday, and Blossom had already decided they'd like to press on to Clewiston to have a full day off of cruising on Monday. So we headed straight into the lock and emerged into the lake.

The gateway to Lake O, ahead of us.

I say the lake, but, really, from Moore Haven to Clewiston you are in a channel, with the CoE having dumped the dredge spoils on the inside of the route and built large dikes on the outside. Depth in the channel depends on the lake water level; right now the "controlling depth" is just 8.6', which makes for some tense moments. We wandered all over the channel at times looking for the best water.

It did not help that right in the middle of the route is a giant construction project that has a structure coming right out to mid-channel. In order to pass safely it is necessary to navigate immediately adjacent to the structure, and even then we passed over one shallow spot of about 9' depth.

Blossom, a much larger boat than Vector, passing the construction behind us. She's dwarfed by it; if you zoom in you can see she has fenders out, just in case.

We made it to Clewiston with plenty of daylight to spare. Clewiston is actually outside the dike, and it is necessary to transit yet another lock to reach the marina there.  This lock, however, is typically open at both ends when the lake is at normal levels, as it was this time. Still, it is the narrowest of the locks, at under 50' wide (about 15' either side of Vector), and, coming from Moore Haven, requires a
sharp right turn to enter. I was too busy keeping the boat away from the lock sides to take any photos.

After we got the boats squared away, we headed over to the Tiki Bar for dinner. Ever since the dining room at the U.S. Sugar Company's Clewiston Inn closed, this is the only dinner restaurant in town. They were expecting a big crowd for the Superbowl, which was on every TV (perhaps a dozen), but it was relatively quiet and we enjoyed having the game, and the ads, in the background over drinks and dinner.

In the tiki tiki tiki tiki Tiki Bar...

We knew that mutual friends Moose and Kathy were crossing the lake westbound yesterday, which is why we all stuck around an extra night, and so we took yesterday to catch up on some maintenance. Louise washed the boat and cleaned some rust stains from the starboard  side, and I touched up the Rustoleum on the starboard rub strake that I had put there after our tangle with the dock in Morehead City last year.

It was great to see them, and Moose generously picked up dinner at, you guessed it, the Tiki Bar. They're headed to Key West, and perhaps we will run into them again in the Bahamas.

Vector from the Tiki Bar this morning.

This morning we shoved off at 9am. We could have pushed the 50 miles to Stuart today with an early start, but Blossom is actually a day ahead of schedule for their service appointment in North Palm Beach, so we decided to make it a shorter day and stop tonight in Indiantown, about half way. Unfortunately our friends Lou and Renea, who have a house there, and Steve and Harriet, who keep their boat there, are all in Virginia this week.


  1. Are you spending a night in Stuart? I'll keep an eye out for you on Thursday morning -- I live right at the "crossroads" where the ICW/Indian River, St. Lucie Inlet and St. Lucie River intersect.
    I crossed the Okechobee in a much smaller boat last year -- 32 foot express with twin outboards -- it must have been a very tight squeeze for you in the construction areas!
    How hard was it to maneuver around the Roland Martin marina in Odyssey -- there is not a lot of room there to turn around.

    1. We'll be passing the crossroads tomorrow (Wednesday), probably some time between 10 and 11 am. We've had a lovely week here in Stuart.

      We did not take Odyssey to the marina. We did bring it through Clewiston more than once, and we've tooled around the south lake area on the scooters, including coming up to Roland Martins to scope out the lock.


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