Great Loop Cruisers

Crossing the Big Bend of Florida while on the “Loop”

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George and Pat Hospodar

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway ends just past Mile Mark 375 in St. George Sound, Florida, and doesn’t begin again until Tarpon Springs, Florida at mile marker 150. When this section of the GICW ends, you have two choices, both of which involve heading out into the Gulf of Mexico. You can leave the Waterway at Mile Mark 355, and then head south and enter the Gulf of Mexico through Government Cut, or you can leave the Waterway at Mile Marker 375 near the Saint George Sound anchorages, and enter the Gulf through East Pass. It is about a 170 to 175 statute mile trip from East Pass to either Tarpon Springs, Florida, where the Waterway begins again at Mile Marker 150, or to Clearwater, Florida, which is farther down the Waterway near Mile Marker 135. If you choose to go to Tarpon Springs, be careful because the entrance channel is prone to shoaling.

The longest route traveling from the south is along the northeast Atlantic coast sailing past the spectacular sites of Nova Scotia. On arriving at this famed seagoing area of the world, you will then enter the Saint Lawrence Seaway north of Quebec, Canada, and follow the Seaway directly to Lake Ontario. The enticements to take this route are that you would view the beautiful sites of the New England coast topped off by the quaint ruggedness of Nova Scotia and be able to visit the old city of Quebec and bustling Montreal. However, following this “Down East” route will also add additional time to the trip compared to other options, as well as more days on the open and unpredictable Atlantic Ocean.

loop-florida-big-bendThe Gulf of Mexico is wide and deep with no obstacles in this area. Marine traffic is almost nonexistent except for the occasional shrimp boat. When you are approaching the west coast of Florida, time your arrival for after 10 a.m. There are crab pot floats that can appear as far out as 10 to 20 miles off the coast. With a low morning sun angle, seeing these floats can be difficult, and running over one of them can ruin your whole day!

You also have the other option of making the trip in short jumps around the Gulf by first heading to the Steinhatchee River with a controlling depth of 5-1/2 feet, continuing on to the Crystal River with a controlling depth of 4-1/2 feet, and then finally ending in Tarpon Springs. However, this route will take you three days of good weather on the Gulf to complete as opposed to your needing one day of good weather, if you take the direct route. Taking this option will also add between 55 and 60 miles to your crossing.

To add some safety and comfort to the crossing, consider the following:

  • Travel with other “Loopers”, as there is often safety in numbers. Knowing that there is at least another boat nearby in case something goes wrong, will add to your confidence when making this passage.
  • Travel when seas are 2 feet or less.
  • Speak to a meteorologist about sea, wind, and weather conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, prior to your crossing of the “Big Bend of Florida” call: the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Florida at 850 942 8833.
  • If you are not used to traveling through large bodies of water, take sea sickness medications before you start out.

Stay safe out there, and enjoy the journey!

George and Pat Hospodar, authors of “Reflection on America’s Great Loop” published by Atlantic Publishing.

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