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A bit south from the Marriott, Hutchinson Island narrows to a stretch called Gilbert's Bar. Here, on the ocean side, you'll find the area’s best-known historic site, the House of Refuge. The oldest standing structure in Martin County and one of ten such shelters built all along the coast in the 1870s to provide a haven for shipwrecked sailors, it is now a museum, open daily from 10 AM to 4 PM (Sundays 1-4). There's a dock on the lagoon side for small craft and the museum's phone number is on Chart 6. However you get to it, by land or sea, it’s worth a visit for scenic as well as historic values. Gilbert's Bar is a ledge of eroded rock alternating with some of the finest strands of uncrowded beach to be found anywhere. Interestingly, especially considering the aims of the House of Refuge, Gilbert's Bar was named for Don Pedro Gilbert, a notorious pirate and slave trader of the early 1800s. It is said he sheltered his schooner Panda there whenever a natural inlet would open from the ocean to the Indian River.

Along the ICW inside lower Hutchinson Island are shoals, flats, sandbars and spoil islands interlaced with channels of varying depths, and the area is very popular with local fishermen for snook, seatrout and flounder, and with local boatmen for picnics, camping and watersports. Joining them in some of the better spots is tricky, and depths sometimes change on short notice, so you’ll do well to ask — or follow — the locals.

Be advised that from the Stuart Causeway south to Hobe Sound you may encounter occasional maintenance-dredging operations. This is important on two counts: First, you need to exercise caution in the vicinity of a dredge — there, or anywhere (you should hail them on VHF 13 for instructions). Second, you may be lucky enough to find that some shoals we've warned about are no longer a problem. But be careful anyway, just in case.

At Mile 987.5 the waterway crosses the St. Lucie River at a place called The Crossroads. And a crossroads it is — the waterway intersects with one channel leading eastward to St. Lucie Inlet and another leading westward around Stuart and into the St. Lucie River. (This is the actual beginning of the Okeechobee Waterway but it's still thought of as the St. Lucie River locally.) Traffic can be heavy, currents are strong, shoals are aplenty and move constantly. Markers also are moved in hot pursuit of the best water; but they seldom quite catch up. Shoaling has been reported in the St. Lucie Inlet between Lighted Buoys #2 and #3; in the St. Lucie River near Daybeacon #6 and in the St. Lucie Canal near Daybeacon #38.

No chart is likely to be current and even the markers should be followed with at least a bit of caution. But with caution, you should have no problems.

For all of its faults, The Crossroads represents a number of options to cruising boats, all of them good:

Option Number One is to go eastward out the St. Lucie Inlet to the Atlantic. The inlet has been improved of late, but still has a terrible reputation for changing almost overnight. We'd no longer say (as we once had to) you should avoid the inlet unless you have local knowledge, though we still suggest using caution — but then, that's not a bad suggestion for any inlet, even the “good” ones!

Option Number Two is to go westward into the St. Lucie River. The first point of interest on that route is the Manatee Pocket and Port Salerno on the south shore. One of the great hurricane holes, its character is more like a New England village than anything in Florida. There's a plethora of marine facilities and commercial and sport fishing docks, including the Hinckley yard, Mariner Cay, Pirate's Cove, Sailfish Marina of Stuart, with boat yard services and fuel, Finest Kind Marina & Tackle (their specialty), a boat yard named A & J and others, plus a nearly equal number of good restaurants and stopping-places, all with docks. Also, there is plenty of protected anchorage, with use limited to three days unless you’re registered at Sandsprit Park at the mouth of the pocket. (This may call for a dinghy trip; no dockage at the park.)

Above Manatee Pocket the St. Lucie deepens, turns northward, opens up into a wonderfully broad sailing area, then bends westward and past the city of Stuart. On the way, in a pocket on the west shore, is Whiticar Boat Works, long a first-class boatyard and repair facility.

A few Stuart facilities are opposite "downtown" on the north shore and around the north end of the Roosevelt Bridge, including St. Lucie Marine, Harborage and others.

The Roosevelt Bridge is a busy one, carrying U.S. Highway One, and is paralleled by a railroad bridge (7 feet closed clearance) that remains open except when a train is due. Unfortunately, the railroad schedule is known only to God and the railroad dispatcher, who is now actually a computer in Jacksonville.

A second span is planned for the US l bridge ... then the bascule bridge, with 14 feet closed clearance, will become a thing of the past. (It now carries local traffic.) The railroad bridge will remain, of course. Note also: the railroad bridge has considerably less horizontal clearance than either the old or new U.S. 1 bridges — beware! (Continue...


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