Thursday, October 22, 2020

Cruising the West Coast of Florida – Marco to St Petersburg

St. Armands sidewalk shops. Submitted

St. Armands sidewalk shops. Submitted

The West Coast of Florida is a really great and varied coastline for cruisers. There are bays, sounds, rivers, islands, protected harbors and towns along the way. One could spend a whole season cruising along the Florida West coast and you would never get tired of the trip. Since we live on Marco Island, where our boat Grendel is kept, I will use this as reference point on our journey along the West Coast.

I know that many of you who live in this area have cruised to Naples, Fort Myers, Pine Island, and Boca Grande, for example. However, there are many more great places to cruise along Florida’s long and varied west coast. For those who have not sailed there yet, I will start with Naples and work my way northward.

Naples is a great place to cruise for overnight or, better yet, a week-end. There are slips available, mooring balls, and an anchorage. You have your choice. Call Naples Harbormaster on Channel 16 and discuss the different options. Within walking distance there are several great restaurants, interesting shops, and a covered outdoor seating area to have a group lunch, dinner, or just sit and watch the boats go by. Even though we all live here, you get a totally new perspective from the water.

Continuing northward

Scene from St. Armands Circle. Submitted

Scene from St. Armands Circle. Submitted

you have Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach which I have written about before. You can continue northward to Glovers Bight, Sanibel Island, Ussepa Island, which has a historical museum, Cabbage Key Inn which servers the best “Cheeseburgers in Paradise”, Cayo Costa State Park, and Boca Grande on the south end of Gasparilla Island. Each of these islands has its own particular “must see” enticements. Boca Granda to me stands alone. It is a beautiful town that has a long history as being a special place for Americans looking for a piece of solitude at sea. It was a favorite of Presidents as well as a favorite pirate hideout for Gasparilla. It is presently a very well cared for resort for people looking to get away to a quiet place for a while. There is dockage available for transients. Keep in mind that it is shallow, probably about 5 feet at the entrance at MLW.

As you continue traveling northward throughout ICW you meander from one port to another. There are many bridges there where you will need to call on the VHF and alert them of your arrival. You may need to circle around a bit before the bridge master can raise the bridge. As you proceed northward, you come to a great harbor at

Harbor in Sarasota facing Marina Jack's. Submitted

Harbor in Sarasota facing Marina Jack’s. Submitted

Venice. Here is a lovely city and respite which has both moorings and fixed docks. There is also a yacht club with reciprocal privileges. You can walk to the corner bus stop and get a bus to town if you want to walk around and spend some time in the city of Venice.

I loved it. We spent some time in town and went to a great bakery and window-shopped as well as buying assorted wines from a local vender. As we continued north, we were anxious to arrive at Sarasota. Here we found a large anchorage and a marina. We anchored and quickly launched our dinghy and headed for shore to Marina Jack’s.

Marina Jack’s is a large facility with full dockside amenities and a great restaurant.

Sarasota is quite a sophisticated city with many art galleries. We first walked along the perimeter of the park along the water’s edge. It is rimmed by statues and lovely gardens. In town you can find many art galleries that are exhibiting a particular artist’s work. Also there is a really great supermarket that is within walking distance of the marinas. Dining, sightseeing, and shopping were our most enjoyed activities while in Sarasota Harbor. From here, you can rent a car or find transportation to the Ringling Museum. This is

Museum at Ringling Brothers' Circus.

Museum at Ringling Brothers’ Circus.

truly unique and a must-see when you are in Sarasota. I have collected Christmas ornaments from all over the Caribbean. Now, I am collecting them from significant places near home. I bought two from the Ringling Museum for my collection. Nearby is St. Armand’s Circle on Armands Key. The Key is ringed with chic shops, great restaurants, and pleasant walking areas.

Once we left the multi-cultural city of Sarasota, we continued northward to wonderful St. Petersburg, or St. Pete as it is commonly known. Once again, we were treated to the culture, sites and restaurants of St. Petersburg. St. Pete is another great destination for cruisers. There are full-service marine facilities at St Petersburg Marina. St. Pete Yacht Club, is one of the oldest registered yacht clubs, with reciprocal privileges to members of other yacht clubs. Slips are also available at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club. Last time we were there, anchoring was permitted in the Vinoy Basin. Call ahead if in doubt. There is even a free bus that tours around from the dock areas throughout the town. You can get on and off at will. St. Pete is a very cruiser-friendly town.

Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.

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