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Crossing Lake Okeechobee safely and comfortably requires a decision at Port Mayaca: You can follow the shorter direct route to Clewiston (Route 1) or usually, you can choose to take the more circuitous and better protected rim route (Route 2) which essentially parallels the edge of the lake. Prevailing wind and other weather factors are often the basis of your decision. Remember that there may not be enough water to change your mind and cross between the two routes, so your initial decision can be final.

Because Lake Okeechobee is wide and shallow, it can be mean when the wind is up. The direct route has a controlling depth of eight feet and is a straight run except for a channel which must be used to get safely through Rocky Reef in the middle of the lake. The reef, part of the coral limestone spine of the peninsula, has taken a terrible toll of propeller blades through the years, but the channel is safe enough if you follow the markers.

The alternate rim route channel is a fringe benefit of the building of Hoover Dike to prevent recurrence of the terrible flooding caused by the hurricane of 1928. It’s 11 miles longer than the direct route to Clewiston and has a controlling depth of only 3.8 feet at a lake level of 12.5 feet as mentioned earlier. It's quite scenic, running around islands and through cuts that offer both shelter and anchorage possibilities.

The marina (with campground) at Pahokee is scheduled to reopen as Lake Ockeechebee Resort at our press time. Fuel is expected to be available by Spring 2013. There are two boat ramps on site-and plenty of parking space. Down toward Belle Glade, Slim's Fish Camp — best suited to small boats — is near the town and is a welcome sight in wind or bad weather. (The sometimes-cranky manually operated bridge at Belle Glade clears only 11 feet and keeps short hours — 0600 to 1800 everyday.

If you leave the rim route channel, go slowly and eyeball the water carefully for snags and shallows. Anchoring bow and stern is a good idea to prevent swinging into trouble in the night. Some of the best bass fishing in the area used to be found between the rim route channel and the boulders piled along the lakeshore between Canal Point and Kreamer and Torry Islands.

The two routes meet again about Mile 65 at Clewiston, the largest town on the waterway, which bills itself as “America's Sweetest Town.” The description is derived in part from the community's heavy involvement with the sugar industry, but also from the charm and beauty of its friendly, small-town atmosphere — a quiet way of life not often found in today's busy world. Clewiston offers ample facilities up a short canal, particularly at a nice marina and fishing resort complex founded by Roland Martin of video fishing fame. The former Angler's Marina has become part of the Martin complex, specializing in boat sales and tackle. Another attraction is the Clewiston Inn in town, lunch or dinner 863-983-8151

There is a hurricane gate and lock between the lake and Roland Martin's. It does not monitor VHF, but is well attended and opens to two long and two short blasts. (Some restrictions may occur from time to time due to water level, high or low. Checking ahead is always a good idea!)

From Clewiston, the channel makes a sharp turn westward and runs along the dike to the Moore Haven Lock at Mile 77, then through the lock. The railroad bridge has only 5' clearance, the highway bridge has 55'. The town of Moore Haven has a few facilities including the municipal dock and the next door RiverHouse for transient boats. There's a big park/launching ramp and limited shopping nearby.  (Continue...)

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