Today the waterway has a project depth of 12 feet from the Georgia line to Fort Pierce, ten feet from there to Miami, and seven feet from Miami south. Controlling height is 65 feet everywhere but under the 56-foot ]ulia Tuttle Causeway Bridge in Miami. Please note that while we have credited both geology and technology for the creation of this marvelous waterway, these two elements are most often at odds. Nature likes things balanced, so she’s constantly refilling the places we’ve dredged out. On the other hand, we need some parts deepened enough for easy and safe passage so we go back and dredge again. It’s a constant battle we don’t always win. (In fact, we rarely do!) That’s why you’ll find our narrative text occasionally referring to recent shoaling. These are places where the waterway is NOT at project depth. But don’t panic! Often, all it means is that you should take a closer look at the tide tables and/or the markers to make sure you’ll clear. In fact, whenever we call your attention to any area of special caution, please don’t let our warnings scare you. That's not our intention. To the contrary, these "red flags" are included to alert you, in advance, to those few places that require extra diligence. In addition to shallow water, or a shifting shoal, the note might warn you of stronger-than-average currents, a nasty rock or two close to the channel, a tricky turn, or a combination of the above. But most important: PLEASE DON’T read these warnings as "avoid the area," but rather as simply "pay attention" We want to alert, not alarm.
The ICW is still owned by FIND, maintained by the COE, and managed jointly by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Incidentally, FIND has a plethora of info on the waterway and its attractions (far more than we could ever include in these pages in either print or electronic form). Better yet, they’ll gladly share the info in the form of pamphlets and brochures, so call them if you wish at 561-627-3386 or visit www.aicw.org. While those listed organizations control the waterway and its operation, it remained for the Chambers-of-Commerce along the way to add some glamour by giving distinctive names to their respective sections of coastline: the First Coast, from the state line to Titusville; the Space Coast, from Titusville to Sebastian; the Treasure Coast, from Vero Beach to Jupiter; the Gold Coast, from Palm Beach to Key Biscayne, and the Florida Keys, which needed no new name to beckon cruising boatmen from around the world.
Not to be outpromoted, Chambers-of-Commerce on the Gulf Coast proclaimed the 175-odd miles from Marco Island to Tarpon Springs, The Sun Coast. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway through that area is largely natural bays, with only a few short landcuts needed to connect them. The many barrier islands provide lots of protection. The Big Bend and Panhandle didn't need renaming, but the Panhandle did need a lot more work: to dig and dredge landcuts connecting Apalachicola Bay to Choctawhatchee Bay by way of St. Andrews Bay at Panama City. The result is nearly 200 miles of protected cruising from Carrabelle to the Alabama border. The name ”Nature Coast" has been given to the Big Bend and the Panhandle area is also called the Emerald Coast.
Inland, two unique freshwater waterways also beckon — the beautiful St. ]ohns River, winding deep inland for a third the length of the state, and the Okeechobee Waterway, crossing the peninsula from Stuart to Fort Myers by way of Lake Okeechobee.
Offshore, the Bahama Islands offer Caribbean cruising to exotic foreign ports as close as 42 miles from Florida's east coast and stretching 800 miles to the Turks and Caicos — that’s nearly halfway to Trinidad!
So much beautiful cruising water, so little space to describe it.
Let’s get going first to the First Coast.
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July 4, 2014