It was really great to spend a day with our good friend and rest up a bit. Even with the requirement to hose off the decks 3 times a day to clear the love bugs. In all of our years of traveling the ICW and driving back and forth to Florida, we have never encountered anything like this. Even the locals said the same thing. We caught up on the time that had passed with our friend, ran some errands, played with the dog and cat and restocked some supplies. But we needed to move on in hopes that the great weather we were experiencing would hold until we made the crossing on the Lake Okeechobee.
The Indian River is another of those wide and shallow bodies of water. It would appear that there are many places to anchor, but once south of Melbourne, the anchorages are few and far between. We had a couple of possibilities in mind, but once we reached them, we found they were full of local boats. This is one of the problems Florida faces and why they have been so aggressive about anchoring regulations. It is not hard to understand the state’s position, however we have always felt there are other alternatives to regulating boaters that were out to enjoy the waterway with no plans to move in permanently. But that is a subject for later discussion. Our possible anchorages did not work out with one exception, but we decided to bypass it anyway and pick up a mooring at Vero Beach.
The Vero Beach City Marina has some slips and lots of moorings. They also have a fuel dock and ship’s store. There is public transportation and a courtesy van to take folks into the shopping areas if your plans are to stop for a while. we know some cruisers that stay in Vero for the entire winter and then head north in the spring. We only planned an overnight. One small irritant was the fact that the marina would not accept our credit card over the phone. That left two options. We would have to rig our dinghy and outboard just to go in and pay the fee, or tie up to the fuel dock, pay the mooring fee and then go out and pick up a mooring. We found the marina to be less friendly than we have in the past. The credit card issue and the staff that seemed to have the attitude that we were a bother. This is in stark contrast to years past. But we only planned to stop overnight.
After we picked up our mooring and prepared dinner for the evening, the cell phone rang and it was an acquaintance from MTOA (Marine Trawler Owners Associations) that was on the mooring just two boats away. We chatted a bit. They had been there for a few days and were heading north. We gave them the brief rundown of our trip so far and where we were heading. The rest of the night was very quiet and after a movie, we turned in early. The plan was to get under way as soon as the sun came up and we had enough light to navigate. Our goal for the next day was an ambitious one; to get to the St. Lucie Lock, on the other side of Stuart, to begin our crossing of Lake Okeechobee. We had some concerns about crossing the Lake because a severe drought in south Florida had lowered the Lake levels from the normal average of 12 1/2 feet to just over 10 feet. There had been many reports of very shallow spots along the Lake route, and the St. Lucie and Franklin Locks were on twice daily schedules, at 9 AM and 4 PM, because of the low levels.
We left Vero at 6:40 AM and made really good time to Stuart. Because the St. Lucie Lock would not open until 4 PM, we made a stop at the free dock in Stuart, just before the Roosevelt Bridge. This is a combination high rise, railroad and bascule bridge that are all in the same spot. We turned off the channel just before the bridges and headed to the Stuart City dock in about 6 feet of water right up to the dock. It was a floating dock with power posts but no power, and it does not appear to have regular maintenance. The St. Lucie River is very wide and open here, and the wind waves and the boats flying up and down the river make this a very rolly stop. We didn’t stay long, had lunch and left way earlier that we wanted to. By 3 PM we arrived at the St. Lucie Lock along with 4 other boats also locking through westbound. We dropped the anchor in the middle of the channel and waited the hour for the lock to open.
As we entered the lock at 4 PM, the port side quickly filled up and we had the misfortune to be the first boat tied to the starboard side, directly in front of the gate. The lock fills by opening the gate and letting the water in from the Lake side. They only crack the gate open initially but the volume of water that comes in is considerable and the current it generates is also considerable. Since we were sitting right in front of the gate, we took the full force of the water. To say that keeping the boat off the lock wall and under control was difficult is putting it mildly. Add to that the fact the large motor yacht tied to the wall directly across the lock from us kept kicking on his stern and bow thrusters, and it made for a very unpleasant hour. The lock brought us up about 6 feet and they finally opened the gates fully so we were able to move out.
Once out of the lock, we immediately turned out of the channel and onto the side near the flood gates, opposite a campground across the canal. This was to be our anchorage for tonight. It was wide enough for us to be out of the channel and the anchor grabbed right away. There was no danger of the flood gates being opened with the Lake levels so low, and the lock would not open again until 9 AM the next morning. We would be long gone by then. We shared the anchorage with a couple of very large alligators, so swimming was out of the question. 7 AM the next morning, the sun was shining, the winds were light and we were heading for the crossing of Lake Okeechobee.
At 10 AM, we were at the Port Mayaca lock. The lock was opened for us as we approached and the lock tender informed us that we could just power through and did not have to tie up. This was a very pleasant surprise after the day before. As we passed him on the lock wall, we asked if he had any advise on the shallow spots on the lake. He stated we should just keep to the green side going out of the lock and that with our 4-foot draft, being loaded down as we are, we might kick up a little mud. We followed his instructions and found one spot at 5.1 feet just as we left the lock and headed out onto the Lake. The depths increased to 6 feet, then 7 1/2 feet and then we had 8 to 10 feet most of the rest of the way across. That is until we reached the other side of the route across the Lake. Just before marker green “1,” and between there and red “4,” we found some depths to be 5.9 feet and then 6.4 feet. Past red “4,” the depths went back to 7 1/2 feet and 8 feet. We did feel the boat bump something under the keel at statute mile 60, even though the depth sounder showed 6 1/2 feet. Another mystery.
Once we crossed the Lake and entered the Rim Route, the depths for the most part were 13 to 17 feet. We did find a few 9 1/2 foot spots at a couple of turns, but they were brief. At 2:50 PM, we approached the Moore Haven Lock and once again, the lock opened and we were able to motor directly through. The lock tender joked as we passed him that he opened just for us. Once through the lock, we motored into the town of Moore Haven and tied up at the City Dock. This appears to be a new dock in excellent condition, with heavy fenders on the pilings and power posts with water hook-ups. City Hall is across the street and we walked over to pay the dockage. The cost was only $1.00 per foot including water, electric, heads and showers. Such a deal. We will spend the night here and leave late in the morning (late for us–9 AM) to make the Franklin Lock by 4 PM.