Site  Updated:
June 13, 2013

Cruising the Panhandle

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Eight miles upriver in the historic city of St. Marks you'll find full services available at Shields Marina and Riverside Marina, with shopping and restaurants within easy walking distance. You can anchor off and visit Fort San Marcos, which is on a site first explored by the Spanish in 1528. A short distance up the St. Marks River there's a pretty anchorage. Lined with tropical plants and full of wildlife, this spot is well away from everything and quite different from most gulf coast anchorages. But you'll definitely need screens and insect repellent; some of the abundant wildlife is very small — and loves to bite!

Heading westward from St. Marks, Shell Point extends into the Gulf. Marsh Harbor Marina still welcomes transients and the former Shell Point Marina is still undergoing a rebuild. At Panacea, on Dickerson Bay,you'll find Rock Landing Marina with a restaurant..

Then you'll cross Apalachee Bay to Ochlockonee Point. Here you have a choice: enter Ochlockonee Bay which lies between Ochlockonee Point and Bald Point, or pass it by and round Bald Point. Initially, two well-marked channels enter the bay, east and west of the broad shoal that lies between them. The channels become one at marker #14 and proceed under a fixed bridge (35-foot clearance) well up into the bay where there is little more than wilderness.

Down from Ochlockonee Bay, around Bald Point and Lighthouse Point and west past Alligator Point (none of which is particularly pointy) is Peninsula Point. This is a true point, the end of a long spit of sandbar that separates Alligator Harbor from the Gulf of Mexico. Here, on the inside, in Alligator Harbor, you’ll find both shelter and welcome at Alligator Point Marina although only after you circle South Shoal, negotiate Bay Mouth Bar, and approach from the west.  On the approach, South Shoal, which extends north well beyond the visible point, is marked by a series of pilings numbered 2 through 8. Marker #2 is a tripod (at 29 55.281' N, 084 27.126' W, if you're using GPS), the others are all single piling markers which you should take on your starboard side. Turn southeast after marker #8 and follow the marked channel into the marina. Beware, this is one of those ubiquitous shifting shoal areas, and the channel is subject to continual change, but it is generally well marked  and up to date. Having local knowledge isn't mandatory but as always, if you can get it, use it.

Alligator Harbor is part of the Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve which actually extends a considerable distance west of the sheltered harbor itself. The preserve is home to a number of species often sought by recreational anglers, including spotted seatrout, redfish and flounder. Birdwatchers may spot an occasional snowy plover or peregrine falcon within the preserve's boundaries. And from time to time you may find yourself sharing the waters with an endangered loggerhead turtle. They're also regular visitors.

Carrabelle, about ten miles farther west, is at the mouth of the Carrabelle River and sheltered by the most easterly barrier island, Dog Island. There are facilities at C-Quarters Marina (where you can sit on the porch in a rocking chair!) and The Moorings inside the harbor.

There is good anchorage on the inside of Dog Island, notably at Tyson’s Harbor on the east end. Keep a watch out for the Dog Island Ferry that runs between Carrabelle and Tyson's Harbor.

Just west of Dog Island, East Pass connects the Gulf with St. George Sound via a rather straightforward, well-marked channel that runs between ever present shoals. If you're headed west from Carrabelle, you'll already be in St. George Sound. But if you're coming in from the Gulf, East Pass is one of your options. It's a good one, and brings you to near the starting point of the Gulf ICW. But beware that currents in East Pass are strong; constantly around one knot and often reaching three to four. Since they usually set across the shoals at an angle to the channel, you can be pushed off course and onto the shoals if you don't watch, and allow, for leeway.

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway officially begins again west of Carrabelle, protected by the barrier islands of St. George, Little St. George and St. Vincent. Only St. George is connected to the mainland; the others are isolated and very much worth exploring. Little St. George is separated from St. George by Government Cut, the main channel into Apalachicola, and the shortest and most navigable route from the Gulf to Apalachicola Bay. West Pass, between Little St. George and St. Vincent, also connects the Gulf to Apalachicola Bay, but it takes a more circuitous route around and between numerous shoals. Since West Pass is changeable and subject to shoaling, and has strong currents as well (particularly on an ebbing tide), it is not recommended for comfortable cruising. If you use West Pass, local knowledge is strongly advised. (Continue...)

 

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