Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lake "O"

I am typing under way in the middle of Lake Okeechobee, the freshwater heart of Florida (map). Winds are NW at 20 and the lake is uncomfortably choppy. We'll be back in protected waters in a couple of hours, and in the meantime I'm making the best of it by catching up on email and updating the blog. The conditions on the lake are keeping the usual flotilla of weekend fishermen away, and we have the lake to ourselves.

Thursday morning we made the short run to Eau Gallie, dropped the hook right outside the harbor, and splashed the tender. It was a short dinghy ride through the harbor to the backyard dock of new friends Bill and Mary, who were hosting old friends Pauline and Rod as they made their trek from Miami to Green Cove Springs. We enjoyed meeting Bill, Mary, and her brother Larry and we spent the morning chatting in their home.

Vector anchored off Eau Gallie harbor, with the Eau Gallie causeway in the background.

By the time we finally got out with Rod and Pauline it was lunch time and we drove out to Long Doggers on the beach for lunch. We swung by Publix on the way back to the house to load up on provisions. It's something of a cruising maxim that you never pass up an offer of a ride to the supermarket. We enjoyed catching up with our Aussie friends. We may yet see them again, depending on how soon their boat gets splashed and how late we get back to the east coast. They are thinking about crossing the lake and taking the boat either to Destin or Demopolis.

As I was catching up on Facebook on our short cruise to Eau Gallie, I found a message from some other boating friends, Gayle and Bill, who had read my post and wanted to let us know they were in Eau Gallie harbor. After we left the dock we putted across the harbor to Spiraserpula, their sailing catamaran, and spent a short while catching up. We had already committed to a schedule for the west coast, or we would have stayed longer and perhaps had dinner. They're heading south after Eau Gallie, and we agreed to try to connect somewhere in southeast Florida later in the season.

We passed this spud barge in the ICW, being pushed by two small workboats on either side of its stern. It's doing derelict recovery, with several ex-sunken hulks on deck, and the still-floating white cruiser tied to the port side.

It was past 3pm by the time we had the tender back on deck and weighed anchor, and so we only made it another 11nm south, dropping the hook in the ICW off marker 24 (map), about the last place where depths outside of the marked channel permit us to anchor. The short day means a few longer ones on the rest of our trek to Tampa Bay.

Friday thus was a slog down the ditch. While the Indian River is quite wide through here, it's very shallow, and the ICW is a dredged channel only a couple hundred feet wide. Normally Otto-the-autopilot is quite capable of keeping us in a 200'-wide lane, but we had considerable crosswind all day, and I had to "steer" using heading mode rather than let Otto make the turns. He kept wanting to run us off into the weeds on the green side. The weather was otherwise perfect, and we ended the day at anchor off the Jensen Beach Causeway (map).

Approaching St. Lucie Lock. If you look closely you can see the water level in the lock chamber as it pours out through the slightly open gates. Opening the gates like this is how the Okeechobee locks are operated, rather than by valves.

Yesterday I had hoped to weigh anchor first thing and get a nice tidal push down to "the crossroads" before the tide change, and then an upriver push up the St. Lucie. Mother nature had other plans, throwing a huge thunderstorm at us, and we ended up staying put until it passed. We didn't weigh anchor until 9:45, and then I had over a knot of current against me on the ICW to the crossroads.

The late start and the adverse current aced us out of any chance of crossing the lake yesterday. Instead we tied to the dolphins outside the Port Mayaca lock for the night (map), our first time on a dolphin tie-up. It was a bit challenging catching two dolphins in 20-knot crosswinds, but we managed. That same wind held us off the dolphins all night, so we didn't have to go crazy with fenders. It was a relaxing cruise, other than the skinny bit just west of Stuart, over familiar ground. We did push against over a knot of current from lake runoff.

In the lock chamber after the lift. You can see the water pouring through the dam in the background.

In the time it's taken me to type and upload photos, we're now in the rim canal on the southwest side of the lake. In a couple of hours we'll be through the Moore Haven lock and into the town of Moore Haven on our downhill run. We'll stop for the night somewhere between the Moore Haven and Ortona locks. With luck, we'll be in St. Pete on the 14th, and I've reserved a mooring ball there.


  1. You seem to tie up on mooring balls fairly frequently. I think I can remember every time we ever took a mooring ball and it was definitely less than 5 times in 6 years. I simply never trusted the underwater gear so we only used them in perfectly settled conditions. You're more anal than me by a long shot and your boat probably weighs 5x what we did so how do you know you can trust mooring balls?

    1. Actually, I hate mooring balls, and we seldom use them, so I am surprised you think we do so "frequently." In five years I can probably count the number of balls on two hands, whereas we are in the hundreds on anchorages and the dozens on docks.

      We generally only use moorings when there is no other choice; I think we used two or maybe three in New England in harbors with no anchoring, and there are two on the west coast of FL, this one, and Sarasota. Both are due to anchoring bans; it's either a ball or a dock or no dice.

      This particular ball is in a small basin that is fully enclosed on four sides with only a narrow opening to Tampa Bay, so it gets no tidal forces and almost no wave action. It's also surrounded by wind breaks on three sides. So while I am always nervous on a ball, this one, which we've used before is pretty benign.

      We've also docked at this marina, when we've needed it. But at over $150 per night for the marina vs. $20 per night for the ball, I'll take the slight risk.

  2. Hey that's a pretty neat shortcut to the west coast of Florida. Safe travels and Happy Christmas.


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