Just south of the Indian Rocks Bridge at Mile 129, and just before the passage begins to widen, you'll find the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Harbourside/Marina — with a good restaurant and a short walk to the beach. The narrow waterway begins to open up at Mile 130, then fully opens into Clearwater Harbor about mile 132.
The harbor and the waterway to the north are dotted with spoil islands formed when the channel was dredged, and they provide pretty good beaching and anchoring. Some have fairly deep water around them; others don’t. Pick your way with a bit of care.
Clearwater starts at Mile 135 and has a very good pass to the Gulf. It is home to a diminishing number of marine facilities, but surely enough to keep cruisers happy. Remaining is Clearwater Municipal Marina, an excellent city-owned facility on the barrier island at the foot of the causeway. (Shoaling has been reported between Clearwater Marina Channel Daybeacons 2 and 3.)
To the south, the Port Vue Hotel, with small marina, is currently closed for rebuilding, but the Chart House Suites, a bit farther south, has studios, suites and docks. There are still plenty of restaurants, shops and hotels in the area. New Downtown Boat Slips across the harbor on the mainland side are now open.
If you're stopping in Clearwater Beach, try riding the “Jolley Trolley.” It will take you around Sand Key, North and South Beach and Island Estates. You can flag down one of their red and gold trolleys wherever you see one! (On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays they go into downtown and up to Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs! Prices are great ... and so is the scenery! A ride is only $2, and if you're a "Senior" your cost drops to $1. All day passes are $4.50 ($2.25 for Seniors). Phone 727-445-1200 or visitwww.clearwaterjolleytrolley.com for more information.
Residents and visitors gather to watch the sunset on Clearwater's beach at Pier 60 every night ... (a la Key West's, which has been a treat for many years). There are minstrel-type shows (often with the passing of the hat at the end) and booths with things to eat or buy or just fun to look at, even if you're not in shopping mode. The sunset is the main attraction and it's all a lot of fun.
North of Clearwater is the pleasant town of Dunedin with a fine municipal marina inside a sheltered basin. Marker 1 Marina is just south of the causeway bridge. The first settlers here (about 1870) from Edinburgh, Scotland chose the name Dunedin (from the Scottish words for castle, as in Edin-burgh, and rock). Today the town is a sister city to Stirling, Scotland.
A couple of miles farther north, on the Gulf side at Mile 140.5, is Caladesi Island State Park, one of the few remaining unspoiled barrier islands in Florida and ranked as the sixth best beach in the United States. Caladesi Island can only be reached by boat or by the park ferry that departs hourly from Honeymoon Island. There's a nice state-operated marina which welcomes transients and it's an easy walk to the island’s famous shelling beach. The phone number for marina information is 727-469-5918; for reservations call 1-800-326-3521. Dockage costs are $1 per ft. per night w/30 amps; double the cost if you need more amps. For ferry information call 727-734-1501.
Honeymoon Island is a state recreation area with a nice beach. The causeway area is a favorite gathering place for windsurfers and other watersportspeople. The Hurricane Pass area between Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands is superb cruising and offers any number of opportunities for anchoring and beaching, although the pass itself is shallow and subject to constant shoaling.
Just north of Honeymoon Island is one of the world’s largest sandbars with the interesting name of Three Rooker Bar. The shelling and fishing are among the best in the area, and there are any number of places to beach or anchor off and wade in. The entire area is popular with local boatpeople, but there's enough water and shoreline to accommodate a lot of boats and picnics.
Five miles north of Three Rooker Bar an old lighthouse marks Anclote Key, the northernmost of the barrier islands protecting the waterway. They say that navigating Anclote is a snap, but boats do go aground there. There is a swash channel around the south end of the island, but between that channel and the main body of water is a semicircular shoal. To get into the swash channel from the south you have to stay in the ICW until you get to Marker #7X, then do a 180 around the marker and into the deeper water.
Anclote Key is a state preserve, so leave the wild things alone. It also has the reputation of having a lot of snakes, which tends to make leaving the wild things alone no problem. Snakes or not, it is a lovely wild place.
Just inshore from Anclote Key is the mouth of the Anclote River and Tarpon Springs, which has to be one of the greatest places in Florida to visit any time. The town was settled almost entirely by Greeks, led by sponge divers who came from the old country in search of the Golden Fleece. Their Old World values will be evident in their gracious hospitality and extend to marine service and repair work that is excellent.
One of the best things about Tarpon Springs for cruising boatmen is that it’s easy to find. The entrance to the Anclote River is marked by a tall powerhouse smokestack lighted by strobe lights at night. If you stay well off until you reach the lighted marker at the beginning of the entrance channel, you can then follow the Anclote River upstream and to the picturesque sponge docks right along the main street of the city.
Tarpon Springs is called “the sponge capital of the world.” The waterfront is lined with shops, restaurants, and lots of bakeries and there's a statue dedicated to the memory of the Spongers of Tarpon Springs.
The sponge docks are a big attraction in Tarpon Springs, as is the Greek food. And there's the Spongerama Museum with its own cruise line. Phone is on Chart 20.
Also right there is the downtown riverfront Tarpon Springs' Municipal Marina, another of the Gulf Coast's excellent municipal facilities with friendly service. There are others on the opposite bank, including a new, squeaky clean boatyard called Tarpon Springs Yacht Services. Also there's Port Tarpon Marina (home to a number of services including Brown's Marine and Seebird Canvas), Anclote Harbors, Anclote Isles, Tarpon Landing (with a restaurant) and Belle Harbour, owned and operated by Pinellas County. (All are listed on Chart 20.)
The Sun Coast ends above Tarpon Springs, and so does the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway — at least for the roughly 140 miles from here to its continuation again off Carrabelle in the Panhandle. But for the moment, there’s no way north but offshore by your choice of three routes through what we call The Other Florida. Coverage of that begins next.
More about the new Pinellas Bayway bridge ...
During the construction of the over $40 million new Structure C — and demolition of the old — periodic channel closures will occur. Planned advance notice will be given to the public prior to the closures and none should be longer than 8 hours. Google "FDOT Pinellas Bayway Structure C Public Information" or call 813-975-6060.
Construction began in February, 2012; completion is scheduled for Fall, 2014.
Cover Photographer, well-known artist – Bruce Bingham,
was born into a yacht-design and boat-building family and started sailing as a little kid. He has a live-aboard experience — almost all on sailboats — for over 26 years and has cruised and raced for several hundred-thousand miles.
A retired yacht designer (like his dad) he has over 40 creations both sail and power from 8-feet to 270. He has been a prolific writer for many major boating magazines in the US and England, including Cruising World, Sail, Yachting World, Good Old Boat, and Boating. He also has written, edited and illustrated eight books including his best seller, Sailor’s Sketchbook.
Currently, Bruce lives aboard his Cape Dory 28, Nikki, which won Suncoast PHRF Cruising Boat of the Year in 2010.
He now produces presentations on a wide range of boating topics, and writes for Cruising World.
The beautiful little sketches you've been seeing in this book are also among Bruce's creations.