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From Key West it’s an 80-odd-mile run northward, either direct or coastwise via Cape Sable, to Cape Romano and the beginning of Florida's Sun Coast. Depending on their boats and navigational skills, some cruising skippers make the passage directly. Others retrace the waterway 65 miles back up the chain to Vaca Key or Long Key, and then pick up the marked route that skirts the shallows of Florida Bay to Cape Sable.
The flats inside Florida Bay are impassable to all but the shallowest craft and the most-experienced skippers who have local knowledge. But up the Gulf side of the Bay, into Flamingo in Everglades National Park, and northward up the Everglades shoreline and the Ten Thousand Islands is a wilderness cruise to be remembered and one that encompasses some of the finest fishing in North America.
The phone number for Everglades National Park is listed on Chart 16. The park remains open, as does the marina at Flamingo. The ten mile side trip in is one of the finest in Florida for nature lovers. West of Flamingo the beautiful wild beach at Cape Sable offers wonderful beachcombing and camping to those willing to anchor off and dinghy in.
But this is wilderness! All of it. If you wish to explore its beauty, keep in mind that aids to navigation are few, look-alike sloughs and indistinguishable mangrove islets are many, and if mosquitos were a cash crop, this would be the richest region in the land. But armed with up-to-date charts, a good GPS, a working knowledge of modern navigation techniques, an ample supply of insect repellent, and a healthy respect for the realities of wilderness cruising, you'll find a trip to the southern tip of mainland Florida to be a remarkable experience.
Heading northward from Cape Sable, the coastwise route skirts the wilderness for 50 miles to the next facilities, at Everglades City, and another ten to Marco Island and the southern end of the Sun Coast proper. (Shoaling has been reported between Indian Key Pass to Barron River in the vicinity of Everglades City.) Along the way, Ponce de Leon Bay at the mouth of the Shark River offers sheltered anchorage among many mangrove islands once inside the shoaling entrance — and no end of opportunities to explore the Everglades for those so inclined.
Thirty miles above the Shark River, Daybeacon #1 on Indian Key marks the entrance to Chokoloskee Bay and the facilities at the Rod & Gun Club in Everglades City. Five miles farther up the inland route, or in from Daybeacon #3 off Gomez Point, you can take the channelized Faka Union River into Port of the Islands Resort and a full-service marina. Our Chart 16 does not show this region but the area's facilities are listed lower left as "Not shown on chart ..."
Cruising northward, you enter Gullivan Bay and at Coon Key you have the option of taking an inside passage to the hospitable fishing village of Goodland, from where a well-marked channel of the Big Marco River leads to Marco Island and Naples. Vertical clearance is set by the 55-foot fixed bridge. Goodland facilities include Walker's Coon Key Marina and Calusa Island Yacht Club & Marina (which welcomes cruising clubs). There are also good restaurants with docks and an Old Florida scene that contrasts sharply with the highrise development farther north.
The alternative is to go around Cape Romano to Marco Island or farther north to Gordon Pass below Naples. Shoaling has been reported in the vicinity of Gordon Pass Daybeacons 2 and 3. Local boatpeople warn that the decision to turn inland at Coon Key or head outside around Cape Romano must be made well south of Coon Key to clear the extensive shoals south and west of Cape Romano. They also suggest deep-draft boats use the channel from Coon Key to Caxambas pass with great care and get up-to-date local knowledge if at all possible.
To visit Marco Island, bypass the island and the shallows around Big Marco Pass well offshore, enter through Capri Pass and double back to Marco. Shoaling has been reported in the vicinity of Capri Pass Light 2 and between Capri Pass Lights 3 and 4. This route has the advantage of near-ten-foot depths in contrast to the shallow inside course around Coon Key. (Continue...)
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