Taken from The Great Book Of Anchorages, Cape Sable, Fl to Mobile, Al, including the Okeechobee Waterway...
We begin coverage of Gulf Coast anchorages in Cape Sable, FL mainly because the major guide books and chart kits do this as well and you will be using them together. Although some of you will be Loopers using the book, you’ll simply need to work your way from back to front.
Some of you will be able to take the inside route north to reach the Marco Island area, if you draw 4-5 feet and can pass under the 55-foot bridge. If so, you have a few more anchorages available to you. In Gullivan Bay, take Coon Key Pass into the well-marked channel that runs through Goodland, then west under the 55-foot bridge connecting Marco to the mainland. There are some good spots to drop the hook in and around Goodland, then a few more in Factory and Smokehouse bays in Marco. If your draft will not allow you to take the inside route, you’ll need to take the long trek out and around Cape Romano, then back into Capri Pass to access these last few.
Not many boats can safely travel the shallow waters between Marco and Naples on the inside (the Old ICW), so most of you will have to head back out into the Gulf for the short trip to Naples. For very shallow-draft vessels, however, there a couple of cool spots near and behind the barrier island of Keewadin. Naples offers some anchoring choices relatively near their well-appointed town–a couple close to the Gordon Pass entrance and the other near Doctors Pass. Next heading north will be the Ft. Myers Beach area. A mooring field blankets much of the harbor, but you can still find a spot to anchor among the permanents boats farther down the harbor. There is also a good overnight spot outside in San Carlos Bay. Or, try anchoring in the lee of Sanibel, south of the bridge, for those of you with deep drafts who want an easy in and out stop.
The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW)–Merwin Key to Anclote Key (Mile 2 to Mile 151) The next area north is the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway which starts at Statute Mile 0 at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee in San Carlos Bay. This is also the end (or beginning if you’re headed east) of the Okeechobee Waterway. Those anchorages will be covered separately in their own section at the end of the book. Sailboats will need to come through the high-rise bridge at Punta Rassa to access the GIWW at Statute Mile (SM) 0, however powerboats can proceed to the west near Pt. Ybel, pass under the 26-foot bridge, then travel along Sanibel to enter the GIWW at around SM 3.
You will then enter Lemon Bay just before SM 40 where another group of great anchorages await. Thorton Key lies just next to Stump Pass for those of you desiring quick access to the beach or fishing. If you need a bit more protection, continue on to Englewood Beach to anchor in the channel that runs behind Manasota Key. If you’re in need of provisions, the mainland side anchorage near Englewood is your next choice. Walk to the nearby grocery store. There are no anchorages for the next 10-15 miles between SM 45 and 57. Your next opportunity to anchor will be in Venice. Over the years, Venice has gotten a reputation for being unfriendly to cruisers, but a local who has been visiting the free day dock there for the past 30 years told us that he has never been bothered or harassed by anyone and even stays overnight there on the dock. Your best bet might be to find a place to anchor for the night near the permanently moored boats after visiting the day dock, but remember, it is not a no-wake or even slow-speed zone and you are likely to get waked. The anchorage lies fairly close to the GIWW.
Then you pass through The Narrows at Indian Rocks Beach, where you can tie to the free day dock for a few hours, then move on in the evening to one of the anchorages in the Clearwater Harbor area. The anchorage next to Belleair Causeway has good easterly protection and shore access. Clearwater Beach also has a great free day dock in Mandalay Channel just across the street from the Gulf. You can tie here for the day to run errands and dine on the beach, then drop back across the channel and anchor for the night.
Part 2 will continue along the Bog Bend region, Florida Panhandle and portions of Alabama.