The West Coast of Florida stretches 550 nautical miles from Cape Sable, at the southern tip of the Everglades, to Perdido Key, which is the western border of the state’s panhandle. Florida’s west coast, including the Panhandle, offers boaters amazing cruising opportunities. Except for the open water passage across the Big Bend, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway provides a protected route from Sanibel Island to Perdido Key. Below find an itinerary for boating on the West Coast of Florida:
Everglades City, as the name suggests is surrounded by Everglades National Park, the second-largest national park in the country. Navigating through Indian Key Pass surrounded by innumerable mangrove islands has a wilderness feel about it. Airboats are plentiful, and strapping in for an airboat tour complete with alligator sightings and high-speed drift turns are in store.
Leg 1-Estimated Mileage: 30 nm
Marco Island began as a developer’s dream in the 60s. Today, modern mosquito control has made Marco Island a premier vacation paradise with a two-mile Gulf beach fronted with high-rise condominiums and high-end resorts. Marco’s numerous marinas are best accessed through Capri Pass. Pay close attention to the channel marks, as the sandy shoals are constantly changing in size. Dinghy over to Snook Inn for a fun Old Florida lunch or dinner.
Leg 2-Estimated Mileage: 15 nm
Nestled up the Gordon River, Naples is known as the “Palm Beach of the Gulf Coast.” A wide array of luxury boutiques, art galleries and couture await the shopping aficionado on both Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South. Many of the best restaurants in southwest Florida are located in both these shopping districts. Meander through Tin City and try Sea Salt for dinner.
Leg 3-Estimated Mileage: 55 nm
Watching a fabulous sunset from Captiva’s beaches is what captivates vacationers these days. Take a day trip to Sanibel for shelling. If you are new to shelling, you will soon learn the “Sanibel stoop” as you walk along the beach bending down in hope of finding that rare junonia shell. A visit to Captiva is not complete without dinner at e Bubble Room.
Leg 4-Estimated Mileage: 74 nm
Sarasota has consistently been rated as one of the top places to retire. It has the benefits of a big city while keeping the atmosphere of a small town. John Ringling, of the Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, made Sarasota his winter home. Along with his wife, they became the pre-eminent patrons of fine arts in Sarasota. Their legacy, The Ringling, includes their restored 56-room palazzo, the State Museum of Art, the Circus Museum and Bayfront Gardens.
Leg 5-Estimated Mileage: 44 nm
Downtown St. Petersburg, on Tampa Bay, has been a popular snowbird destination since the 1920s. Today, it offers arts, music and a restaurant scene near and along the waterfront. The marina at the Vinoy is located in the Historic Old Northeast neighborhood, a beautiful residential area with colonial revival and Mediterranean- style homes, as well as Craftsman-style bungalows.
Leg 6-Estimated Mileage: 65 nm
Back in the first half of the 20th century, the Gulf of Mexico was home to a booming sponging industry, which was centered at Tarpon Springs. Sponge divers from Greece were recruited to harvest sponges wearing hardhat diving suits while walking along the seabed. Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S.
Leg 7-Estimated Mileage: 60 nm
Breaking up the long passage across the Big Bend of the Gulf of Mexico into shorter hops provides for peace of mind should the weather forecast call for strong winds. It also allows for exploration of Florida’s Nature Coast with a step back in time to the real Old Florida. Crystal River is a well-known manatee haven thanks to the clear warm water that flows from numerous inland springs.
Leg 8-Estimated Mileage: 80 nm
Steinhatchee is best known as Florida’s hot spot for recreational bay scallop harvesting. The season runs from June through September, with a daily bag limit of two gallons of whole scallops in shell per person. Mullet is another Steinhatchee favorite, and there is no better place to have it prepared then at Fiddlers Restaurant. Make sure to order it fried, as it is the tastiest way to eat mullet.
Leg 9-Estimated Mileage: 57 nm
Originally an important shipping port for the cotton trade in the 19th century, St. Marks became popular for both commercial and recreational fishing. Surrounded by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Apalachicola National Forest, St. Marks is at the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers. The town caters to the nature lover and paddling enthusiast. There is also an abandoned railroad line that serves as a popular bicycling and horseback-riding trail.
Leg 10-Estimated Mileage: 70 nm
When you think of Florida oysters, you think of Apalachicola. It harvests almost 90 percent of the oysters eaten in Florida. Fresh oysters are gathered from the bay, chilled and brought by boat directly to the restaurant and served on the half shell. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.
Leg 11-Estimated Mileage: 80 nm
Located on the Grand Lagoon on the bayside of Panama City Beach, Bay Point Marina is wonderfully suited to explore this popular Spring Break destination. Beach events, scheduled throughout the year, make it a fun spot to visit whether you are 7 or 70 years old.
Leg 12-Estimated Mileage: 50 nm
Aquamarine waters, sugary white sand and a laidback vibe make Destin the location of choice for beachgoers. Use caution when entering East Pass to proceed into Destin Harbor due to strong currents and frequent shoaling. Negotiating the tricky entrance is well worth the effort to enjoy walking along the Gulf at Henderson Beach State Park that includes sand pines, scrub oaks and dune rosemary.
Leg 13-Estimated Mileage: 55 nm
When entering Pensacola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, Fort Pickens stands to starboard on the western end of Santa Rosa Island. is pentagonal fort was one of the few U.S. forts in the South to remain in Union hands throughout the Civil War. Taking a tour through this brick fort makes history come alive. However, the must-see attraction in the area is the National Naval Aviation Museum at the Naval Air Station.
Leg 14-Estimated Mileage: 30 nm
Boaters have made Orange Beach the most popular cruising destination between Pensacola and Mobile Bay. e annual Fishing Rodeo and National Shrimp Festival are big draws for visitors. No cruise here would be complete without spending an evening at the Flora-Bama. is famous bar is built on the Florida- Alabama state line on Perdido Key.
Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht’s fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.