The waters to our south must be carefully monitored as they shoal up quickly as you try to enter the harbors. For all sailboats, be sure you have current charts into Indian Key, Everglades City, and Little Shark River. These are the best and only places to anchor up while you are cruising on your way to Marathon, Key West, and the Keys. Secondly, Indian Key is a great anchorage and it has a channel that leads shoal draft boats to Everglades City. Deeper draft boats can take their dinghies. Once up there, you can tie up along the wall at the Rod & Gun Club. You can call and find out the availability and water depth at dock. Russell Bay makes great anchorage east of Indian Key.
Little Shark River is a longer sail, but some boats can and do make it in one day. It’s about 50nm. There are several places you can anchor. Check your chart. One point to note is that Little Shark River is notorious for its bugs such as “no-see-ums” and mosquitoes in the summer seasons. Bring bug spray and keep your screens in or hatches closed. This is a favorite and convenient stopover if you are continuing south to the Keys.
Now, if you are heading northward there are many more populated anchorages and harbors. You could sail a day sailor, or take a shallow draft cruiser, to Keewaydin Island. You can get there from Capri Pass. It is a short run and protected from the Gulf and NW winds. We have taken a 26’ runabout there many times. This is a great place for a quick day sail. There is nothing there except you, your boat, the Gulf, and what ever provisions you bring. It is really a great place to go if you have a shallow draft and just want to chill out.
Of course, Naples is really the next port north to go if you are under either sail or power. The Naples Yacht Club or the Naples Sailing and Yacht Club are there with slips if you are from a reciprocal yacht club. Naples City Dock has both slips and moorings. It is best if you call ahead to all these facilities while you are underway, to reserve either a slip for overnight or a mooring ball. We, here on Marco, are really fortunate to be able to day sail to Naples or Fort Myers to stay overnight, and sail or power back to Marco. If you day sail or power to Naples, you should call the Naples City Dock ahead on your radio, or phone at 213-3070 to ask for a slip or mooring ball. This is a very delightful way to spend an overnight. There are restaurants available nearby that you can go to either by foot or dinghy.
To get to Naples, go northward from Marco to Gordon Pass. This is a deep, well-marked channel that will lead you to Naples Harbor. Stay in the channel as it is quite shallow and you could easily run aground. Continue up this sinuous path to Crayton Cove, home to Naples City Municipal Marina, which has slips and mooring balls for rent overnight or longer. As you continue northward there are two other inlets: Doctors Pass and Wiggins Pass. These inlets shoal up quickly and you should check for current information regarding the water depth before entering.
For a longer sail or motor trip you can make Fort Myers Beach in a single day sail or power trip. Once in Matanzas Pass, you have a choice of either a slip for the night or a mooring ball. As you enter, there are several marinas which you can call by phone or call on VHF radio. Some of the more popular marinas are Moss Marine, Salty Sam’s and Matanzas Inn. For a mooring ball, call Matanzas Mooring Balls at 239-463-9258. If you know for sure that you want a mooring or a slip, it is best to call ahead. Check the current guide books for the up-to-date contact numbers. They seem to change frequently. Use your dinghy to get around the harbor quite easily and to go from one place to another.
As you enter the harbor, and this goes for any harbor, call on the VHF radio asking for the facility by its name and see what the procedure is. This is true wherever you go. Have a bowline and a sternline out, secured on a cleat and ready to throw to the attendant who is coming to meet you and guide you into the slip. It is most helpful if, when you call, you ask the attendant if it is a port or starboard tie up. This way you can be ready when someone comes to your aide.
Your choice of restaurants for dining ashore is really great. There is the Matanzas Inn, Parrot’s Cay at Salty Sam’s, Doc Ford, and a place at the town dock near the Matanzas Inn to tie your dinghy so you can walk into town.
Lastly, let us not forget Marco’s own anchorages which we may sometimes take for granted. Factory Bay and Smokehouse Bay are real gems to be experienced at anchor. Instead of going home or to your slip, anchor up in one of these two delightful areas. If you follow the markers coming into Collier Creek, they will lead you safely into Smokehouse Creek. Once settled, you can dine at one of the three great restaurants, Guy Harvey’s, Tara’s Steak House, or CJ’S on the Bay or enjoy a coffee at Starbuck’s or ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. After dinner, you can walk around the Esplanade and experience a whole new perspective from you own boat. Factory Bay offers a local favorite-the Dolphin Tiki. All of these great places can be reached by dinghy. This experience gives you a totally new perspective of Marco from the water.
These short trips can be made in a day. You can stay overnight and return home the next day. Some of these stopovers involve anchoring, some picking up a mooring ball and others tied to a slip. Nevertheless, the ones I listed can be done in one comfortable day. You then can spend the night and enjoy your evening, the sunset, dinner aboard or ashore, and sail home the next day. You’ll be lulled to sleep as the water rocks your boat. True, this is the ideal and what you hope to expect. Listen to the weather report and find your weather window. However, and there is always a however, true cruising does involve nights that are far from peaceful. I’ll save those for another time.
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island.