Site  Updated:
June 13, 2013

Cruising the Panhandle

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Most cruising folk will approach Apalachicola Bay via the Gulf ICW which starts in St. George Sound, inside St. George Island. About five miles or so after passing under the St. George Island Bridge, which connects St. George Island to the mainland (Eastpoint), the ICW makes an abrupt 90-degree turn to starboard, as it heads toward Apalachicola under the Gorrie Memorial Bridge (fixed, 65-foot clearance). Shoaling has been reported in the vicinity of #48 Apalachicola Bay, and the buoy has been moved to accommodate it.

Apalachicola is well supplied with marinas. There's a municipal marina plus Apalachicola Marina, Scipio Creek Marina and Water Street Hotel & Marina. They're all pretty much clustered at the western foot of Gorrie Memorial Bridge. Dr. John Gorrie is well remembered; it was he who took the first step toward making Florida habitable, developing the first mechanical air conditioner.

Apalachicola is a delightful trip back in time. To stroll the town’s oak-lined streets is to go back more than a hundred years to the gracious Victorian times of the 19th Century. The city has maintained its many historic homes and buildings, more than 250 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Outstanding among the remarkable buildings is the Gibson Inn, a fully restored and expanded hotel and restaurant.

The whole area specializes in seafood, especially the wonderful local oysters, and if you’re there in early November for the Seafood Fest or early May for their Spring Fiesta, you can join the tens of thousands of other seafood lovers who come from all over the southeast.

From Apalachicola, which is at Mile 350 EHL — or 350 miles east of Harvey Lock at New Orleans — the Gulf ICW leaves the Gulf and travels up the Apalachicola River, a beautiful wild stream with many anchorage opportunities along its banks. Three miles upstream, Bay City Lodge lies on the south shore. Be sure to fill up and stock up somewhere before leaving "Apalach" — there are no facilities and no fuel docks on the 55 miles of waterway between there and Panama City.

About five miles upstream, the Apalachicola River turns northward while the waterway turns west into the Jackson River. Adventurous boatpeople can follow the Apalachicola upstream for several miles through heavily wooded swampland to the St. Marks, East and Brothers Rivers with good depths. And thereally adventurous can follow it all the way to Jim Woodruff Dam on the Georgia border. The river is famous for its saltwater striped bass and for big flathead catfish, an introduced species that is thriving in its swift, fertile waters.

If you're ecologically minded, you may be pleased to learn that Apalachicola Bay and its drainage basin encompass one of the least polluted, undeveloped, resource-rich systems left in the United States.  It drains an area covering about 19,800 square miles.

Back on the westbound waterway, you cross Lake Wimico, a beautiful, if a bit shallow, five-mile-long body much favored by local fishermen. There’s good sheltered anchorage in an oxbow loop of an old river bed at the west end of the lake.

The head of Lake Wimico is at mile 335 EHL and from there to mile 312, you’ll be in either landcut or canalized creeks and rivers, whose canalization has created a number of sheltered oxbows that provide good anchorage. The only stopping place on this route is at White City, where there is a gas dock but no facilities for cruising boats. White City is best known as the spot where you change from Eastern to Central Time or vice versa.

A mile or so farther west, at mile 328, you have the opportunity to turn off to the southwest on the Gulf County Canal. This will take you five miles to Port St. Joe and St. Josephs Bay, a side trip you ought to take if you like beaches and scallops. The Port St. Joe Marina has an on-site restaurant, and remains a welcome addition to the area. This professionally-managed facility has slips capable of handling boats up to 65 feet. It's worth checking on; the area is beautiful — and, of course, there's the scallops!

Just ten miles to the west at Mexico Beach, there's a friendly and hospitable beach community where you will find Mexico Beach Marina, and the recently rebuilt city docks. Phone numbers for both are on Chart 22. (Continue...


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