Cruising the Gold Coast

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Gold Coast cruising covers 85 miles of the best or worst waterways in the world, depending on your attitude toward urban cruising. The ICW goes past some of the finest marine and shore facilities in the country, through — or blessedly under — more than three dozen bridges, past three major seaports, and through some of the heaviest commercial ship and recreational boat traffic imaginable. Some people spend their free time exploring its endless waterways with pleasure, and others make a long offshore detour to avoid it altogether. Of the two, the former are definitely the more favored, for theirs is perhaps the most diverse and interesting cruising to be found anywhere.

While this region as a whole undoubtedly contains a greater number of boat slips than you're apt to find in any other similarly sized locale, we have to admit that's the good news. The bad news: it often seems that most of the slips are already taken, especially “in season” (roughly from Thanksgiving through Easter) when the largest number of transient cruisers make their annual visits. But there are some practical solutions you can employ to help guarantee some dock space. The most obvious is to reserve in advance. While the structured life of rigid itineraries and strict schedules is perhaps one of the things we try to escape in cruising, a little bit of planning can save a lot of disappointment. Call ahead! Second, be flexible as to where you stop. Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach are the major cruising destinations along the Gold Coast and these cities' marinas tend to fill first. But between them, and on their fringes, are some equally fine (though not as well-known) stopping places that often do have available space. Give 'em a try. You'll get all the advantages of Gold Coast cruising and less potential hassle. Third, persevere. Many marinas that do not keep “transient slips” will nonetheless rent available space for the short term when the slips' usual occupants are also off cruising. But you won't know unless you ask. One option you often do NOT have throughout much of the Gold Coast is anchoring. Until you reach Biscayne Bay (where anchoring remains largely unregulated, except for Miami Beach) most communities along the route either have outright prohibitions or place severe restrictions on anchoring. And where anchoring is allowed, there's often a fee attached. And where anchoring is allowed, there's often a fee attached. There's more (but not much more) on anchoring in What's Happening. The situation deserves watching.

The Gold Coast sort of sneaks up on you after you turn southward at the mouth of the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter. (If you'd like a close look at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and its museum, phone 561-747-8380 for information. It's open six days a week — closed Mondays.) You may notice that here the water changes from clear aquamarine to opaque brown and the shoreline scenery begins to take on a strong resemblance to a tropical river. Between Jupiter and Lake Worth you'll find a few marinas with transient dockage, including the newest Loggerhead Club & Marina - Jupiter and the beautiful and well-protected harbor of Loggerhead Marina - Palm Beach Gardens at mile 1010.

The waterway continues south to the PGA Boulevard bridge, where the beginning of a jog to the east marks the north end of Lake Worth. At that point a large complex of marine facilities, several waterfront restaurants and a cluster of highrise developments appear to mark the unmistakable gateway to the Gold Coast. Several facilities are clustered at, above, and just below the jog including Seminole, Soverel Harbour, Old Port Cove and others.

South of where Lake Worth opens up, on the west shore, the town of Lake Park has its own marina.

Southward, 22-mile-long Lake Worth is not unlike the Indian River — wide and fairly shallow with the waterway channel dredged down the center (and good fishing on both sides). Similarly, the depths you'll find outside the dredged channel can vary from naturally navigable to too shallow for dinghies. Since sandbars can and do shift from time to time, it's best to follow both the chart and the example of local boats if you decide to leave the marked waterway. The area is full of no-wake and manatee zones, but the channel is mostly clean and green except for several bridges, some quite low, which open for boat traffic, usually on restricted schedules.

Palm Beach Inlet, aka Lake Worth Inlet, near the north end, is classed as all-weather and is definitely the best for ocean access between Port Everglades and Fort Pierce. Shoaling has been reported in the vicinity of Singer Island Daybeacon 1, also along the north side of the Entrance Channel and in the Entrance Channel. (Continue...)

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