Cruising the Sun Coast--Page 2

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Marco is rich in facilities and waterfront restaurants. The marinas are largely concentrated in the Factory Bay area on the north end of the island, and include Marco Island Marina (which accepts transients and welcomes groups), Marco River Marina, the Marina at Factory Bay and the very popular Snook Inn.

The inside waterway from Marco to Naples is well marked (though it is not officially a part of the Gulf Coast ICW, which starts farther north), and we are told that you can carry five feet through the entire route. Much of the way, particularly the southern end, is marked by lovely coves and cul-de-sacs that you can sneak into although most of the beaches are a little too steep for easy beaching. On the other hand, this means you can anchor close to shore without fear of grounding. Of note are anchorages at Johnson Bay and Little Marco Island.

If you elect to go offshore, note that the sandbars in this area extend well out into the Gulf. Distance from shore and water depth are not necessarily related.

The next port of call is the beautiful city of Naples, long a winter retreat of the rich and still one of the classier destinations anywhere. If you enter from the open Gulf through Gordon Pass, follow the markers and note that the deep water lies on the south side of the pass. Once inside you can wind your way up the waterway past the many proper and prosperous properties and several good anchorages. Up Haldeman Creek (the side channel off to starboard at flashing red #24), you'll also find facilities at Royal Yacht Services. If you follow the main channel to the town itself, you'll discover Naples is still a worthy destination with several marinas clustered right downtown. There's an excellent municipal marina where you can dock and find full service and repair facilities plus other shore attractions within easy walking distance. The Naples Ships Store is at the end of the dock and offers used equipment and marine collectibles as well as gifts and a complete selection of marine hardware. Nearby Naples Boat Club is in full operation with in/out storage. Gas and diesel there are available through America Marine & Fuel Dock.

All this waterfront convenience will only serve to reinforce the city's image as a coastal community with a water-oriented lifestyle. But for a stop-over, there's much to see and do ashore. Naples has its own Fifth Avenue, with boutiques and galleries. And there's another upscale shopping district just a few blocks away in the Third Street and the Avenues district. For evening and night time pleasure, there's a choice of activities that range from fine dining and dancing to live theatre and concerts. And Naples is small so that everything you could possibly want is not too far from any of the marinas, although not necessarily within walking distance.

If you plan to cruise northward from Naples, you have to go outside — the short inside passage runs only from Coon Key Pass to Naples and there is no inside channel to the north until you reach the southern end of the Gulf ICW at San Carlos Bay. It’s a pleasant 40-mile passage in good weather, but good weather is essential — it’s a rough one in an onshore wind and there is only one viable port in case you change your mind.

Twelve miles up the coast, Wiggins Pass, at the mouth of the Cocohatchee River should still offer decent depth, plus shelter and good anchorage inside. Shoaling has been reported, however, in the Inlet between Daybeacons 1 and 2. Click HERE for updated information provided on the Pass by local boating industry leader, John Findley. Findley has been updating us each year in the Dockmaster Speaks feature. He has been a member of the no-longer-active Wiggins Pass Advisory working group and Past Commander of the Sanibel-Captiva Power and Sail Squadron. He is associated with MarineMax Fort Myers (on the Caloosahatchee at Marker 72/McGregor Blvd.).

Pelican Isle Yacht Club, inside the pass, has dockage for members of other yacht and country clubs and the small Cocohatchee River Marina has fuel. (They say they're too small for our chart listing, but they have gas, diesel, a pumpout and phone — 239-513-7919.)

The next place of interest is Estero Island, better known as Fort Myers Beach. There are passes at both ends of the island. The southerly one is Big Carlos Pass, less used because of shoals offshore and better left to the fishermen and smaller boats. For boats of shallower draft, however, the southern side of the pass has deep water close to a wonderful stretch of white sand beach. With all Gulf coast passes, be aware that good water rarely runs perpendicular to the beach and each pass has its own peculiar angle(s). Pay attention to the markers and even then, keep your “eyeball” navigation sharp, too.
 

The more popular entrance to Fort Myers Beach is Matanzas Pass at the north end of the island. (Yes, there’s another Matanzas Pass on the east coast south of St. Augustine. Matanza is Spanish for massacre, and there were muchas matanzas in pioneer Florida!) Deep and well marked, Matanzas Pass is restricted only by a fixed bridge with 65-foot clearance.
 

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Inside, you’ll find Fort Myers Beach, a well-protected harbor with marinas and repair facilities on both sides of the bridge, including Olsen Marine Service, Salty Sam's and Myers Beach Marinas. The town provides moorings and the harbormaster who handles that is based at the Matanzas Inn. Snook Bight Yacht Club Marina is about halfway down the island.(Continue...)
 

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