Site  Updated:
June 13, 2013

Cruising the Big Bend

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Hopping northward along the coast: The resort city of Gulf Harbors occupies a peninsula that juts into the Gulf just north of Anclote Key. At the end of the two-mile canal that serves as its harbor there’s dockage at the Ramada Inn.

The Pithlachascotee (they shorten it to “Cotee”) River at Port Richey, just north of Gulf Harbors, has fairly comfortable depths, good channel marking, and several marinas and shore facilities although it lacks the cruising and exploring aspects of rivers farther north. There are a couple of marinas, but they are more set for small boats. Shoaling has been reported extending approximately 30 yards channelward between Pithlachascotee Daybeacons 36 and 38. Water depth is 3 feet MLW.

Hudson, just up the coast and home of Port Hudson Marina, with a restaurant, offers a good small harbor once you're inside the entrance, which can be shallower than four feet at low tide. Dockage and full service is also available at Skeleton Key Marina and restaurants and shore facilities are nearby. There's also Hudson Beach Marina, mostly in/out, with fuel.

Hernando Beach lacks a major river but makes up for it with a well-marked approach channel into a good harbor, though it's narrow and shallow and best entered at high (or, at least, on a rising) tide. There are full services at Snapper Marina with a restaurant and shopping nearby.

The mouth of the Chassahowitzka River has great fishing and shallow gunkholing in the coastal wilderness of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, but is  more outboard than cruiser country. The four-mile run upriver to the town is pretty much limited to outboards and stern drives and there are no cruising facilities.

The Homosassa River offers world-famous fishing for huge tarpon at its mouth and world-class scenery for those willing to wend six or seven miles upriver to Homosassa Springs. Facilities in the area are mostly geared to smaller craft, but MacRae’s and the Homosassa Riverside Resort can accommodate cruising boats. There are also several waterfront restaurants with dockage.

Among shoreside activities you might visit the Homosassa State Wildlife Park and see deer, bears, bobcats, egrets and flamingos in their natural habitat. This is truly “old” Florida at its best. Or, make the most of the Homosassa's legendary fishing potential by hiring a local guide — most marinas can help you find a good one. With someone aboard who really knows the local waters (and best techniques), even novice anglers can discover, first hand, the reasons the area is so widely known for great fishing in general, and monster tarpon in particular.   

The route northward from Homosassa is a 15-mile end run around the shallow wilderness shoreline of the Chassahowitzka Refuge to Crystal Bay and the mouth of the Crystal River, a beautiful spring-fed stream largely protected from development at the mouth, with comfortable approach depths around six feet in the channel and a good sheltered harbor. Aquamarina Twin Rivers, near the river mouth at the confluence with the Salt River, has full service and overnight dockage. The cruise upstream is pretty, and at the end, where the river widens into King's Bay, you'll find the village of Crystal River and Pete's Pier, where fuel and limited dockage are available, and Crystal River Watersports, also with overnight dockage. Some basic supplies are within walking distance of the waterfront, though major shopping is mostly a mile or so away. There are some waterfront restaurants and shops with docks along the banks and coves of King's Bay, but most have approach and/or dockside depths of four feet or less. If you decide to visit any of them, whether you go directly or by dinghy will depend on your draft.

King's Bay also surrounds a number of uninhabited islands that make great dive sites and there are some spectacular underwater caverns. Diving anywhere in the ultra-clear waters of this aptly named river is excellent and Crystal River has dive shops where you can get both air and advice. If you’re nervous about big nuclear power plants, the one on the north shore will make you uncomfortable but its warm outflow makes for one of the great manatee watching spots in Florida, which is perhaps why the village of Crystal River hosts The Florida Manatee Festival every February. The area is so attractive to manatees, you'll often have a number of them for company when you dive or swim in the Crystal River. (Continue...



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