After commissioning and sea trials at Sandy Hook Yacht Sales in Sea Bright, N.J., Peter Ferrara and wife Rachel were ready to bring their new 44-Foot Sabre motor yacht, Encore, down the Intracoastal Waterway to their homeport in Sarasota, Fla.
Starting off their journey from Cape May, N.J., they cruised south down the Chesapeake Bay, meandering inland along the ICW into the Sunshine State, eventually reaching Stuart, Fla., where they headed west through the Okeechobee Waterway —a man-made waterway that stretches across Florida from Stuart to Fort Myers. Before reaching their homeport, Encore passed through Fort Myers, Captiva Island and Boca Grande while cruising along the Gulf of Mexico.
During their journey home, Peter logged daily entries about Encore’s trip south. Here are a few excerpts highlighting their journey south including crossing the Okeechobee Waterway.
Georgetown, S.C. to Hilton Head, S.C.
There was something haunting me. I knew the weather south of us was about to change in the next few days. The forecast called for strong winds along the Georgia-Florida coast, which would coincide with our travel through some of the open sounds to the Atlantic Ocean that no doubt would be rough and unpleasant.
As we approached Beaufort, we opted to keep going for another hour or so, which landed us at Harbour Town Yacht Basin in Hilton Head. This is one of the best-run marinas anywhere on the ICW. They go out of their way to help you —from getting in your assigned slip and securing lines, fenders and shore power, to helping you get fuel, and also offering guests a free bottle of wine upon arrival! It’s all about serving the boater, and it’s nice to be able to enjoy their Southern hospitality.
Tomorrow we will try to beat the weather and head through Georgia to Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
Jacksonville Beach, Fla. to Cocoa Beach, Fla.
It seems the longer we traveled, the farther we wanted to go to get out of the worst of the incoming weather. We cruised past St. Augustine, Daytona, New Smyrna and Titusville, finally arriving in Cocoa Beach. We had a delicious steak dinner and a bottle of red wine at Ulysses Prime Steakhouse, an excellent restaurant in Cocoa Village.
Cocoa Beach, Fla. to Stuart, Fla.
We awoke this morning to a violent thunderstorm —winds at 30 knots and rain going sideways. It lasted about an hour (along with the power going out) before moving past us.
Things calmed down, the sun came out and the seas appeared reasonable. We fired up Encore’s engines and headed out, hoping that we could make it to Stuart and the start of the Okeechobee Waterway.
In just under five hours, we arrived at Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart. While the wind continued to build we were safely tucked in the St. Lucie River, the start of the Okeechobee Waterway, ready to head west.
Attempt 1 – Stuart, Fla. to Okeechobee Waterway
The winds were 15 knots early this morning which isn’t all that bad considering we would be in the Okeechobee Waterway canals for much of the trip. The main concern was running the actual lake, which is about 35 miles across the middle and an expansive and exposed body of water. We had to get through two locks on the east side first and then three more locks on the west side.
As we approached the St. Lucie lock, we were informed that they had just put the locks on restricted openings, only opening during the day at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Unfortunately, we had arrived at the lock at 8:30 a.m. The weather seemed cooperative so we decided to wait and dropped the anchor.
Within two hours, the winds started to pick up, and the forecast was revised from 15 to 20 knot winds to 20 to 30 knots and gusts approaching gale force (40-plus mph) with lots of rain. Mother Nature won out, and we returned to Stuart for another rocking night.
Attempt 2 – Stuart, Fla. to Okeechobee Waterway
The best way to understand what the locks do is “lift” you about 8 feet up toward Lake Okeechobee (Indian for “big water”). There are a total of five locks to get from the east to west coast (two “lifts” and three “lowers”). The timing was critical with the #1 Lock (St. Lucie) and the #5 Lock (W.P. Franklin) operating on a restricted schedule.
In order to make it from one end to the other, you have to do it in six hours (or wait for a total of 12 hours) So, this morning, we left Stuart at 5:45 a.m. in the dark, slowly and carefully working our way up the St. Lucie River.
We made the #1 Lock with about 10 minutes to spare. If there had been just one hiccup along the route and as little as 10 minutes delay, we would be spending the night among the alligators.
Six hours after we entered the first lock, we had reached the final lock on the waterway that would grant us freedom to the Gulf of Mexico. It was a very beautiful and relaxing day, as we saw scores of osprey, eagles, dolphins, manatees and even the occasional alligator along the water’s edge.
We cruised on past Ft. Myers and headed to Captiva Island, to one of our very favorite destinations, South Seas Island Resort & Marina. We docked where the bow of the boat faces the Gulf of Mexico and the stern faces the Intracoastal Waterway. We are going to stay here a couple of days to relax and unwind before heading to our final destination in Sarasota.
After 1,700 miles, 31 days on the water, and countless special moments, we have finally reached our homeport at the Sarasota Yacht Club!
Total Distance – 1,736 miles
Days on the Water – 31
Fuel consumed – 1,469 gallons of diesel
Average GPH – 18.7
- Sea Bright, N.J. —Cape May, N.J. 145 miles, 5 hours
- Cape May, N.J. —St. Michaels, Md. 148 miles, 6 hours
- St. Michaels, Md. —Annapolis, Md. 30 miles, 11/2 hours
- Annapolis, Md. —Norfolk, Va. 166 miles, 6 hours
- Norfolk, Va. —Coinjock, N.C. 55 miles, 5 hours
- Coinjock, N.C. —Beaufort, N.C. 152 miles, 7 hours
- Beaufort, N.C. —Wrightsville Beach, N.C. 82 miles, 6 hours
- Wrightsville Beach, N.C. —Georgetown, S.C. 119 miles, 81/2 hours
- Georgetown, S.C. —Hilton Head, S.C. 162 miles, 71/2 hours
- Hilton Head, S.C. —Jacksonville Beach, Fla. 182 miles, 8 hours
- Jacksonville Beach, Fla. —Cocoa Beach, Fla. 151 miles, 8 hours
- Cocoa Beach, Fla. —Stuart, Fla. 108 miles, 41/2 hours
- Stuart, Fla. —Captiva Island, Fla. 160 miles, 101/2 hours
- Captiva, Fla. —Sarasota, Fla. 75 miles, 41/2 hours