Okeechobee Waterway to Fort Lauderdale, FL


As we learned more about The Great Loop we saw that you can actually take your boat right across Florida using the Okeechobee Waterway. Last year we wanted to visit the Keys so stayed on the west side of Florida and did not take this waterway. This year we wanted to do something different and as a bonus the Okeechobee also gives us a more direct route to the Bahamas. 

The pink line shows our path along the Okeechobee Waterway (approx 155 miles). We started in Fort Meyers and ended up in Stuart. 

Some interesting fun facts – 

  • The waterway was finished/built in 1937. 

  • Lake O is the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the US (first is Lake Michigan). 

  • Lake O is 30 miles wide. In order to move through the waterways and across the lake there are 5 locks.

We left Fort Meyers with Gyp C (Jacques & Karen) whom we had met while on the Edison & Ford Winter Estate tour. Turned out they were planning to transit the waterway the next day at the same time we were planning to leave so we took off together. The first day we covered 55 miles, went through 2 locks and spent the night on the wall at Moore Haven. While there is not much to do/see here the wall was nice and there was power & electricity. 

With very little commercial traffic we had no wait times getting in/out of each lock. 
3 locks up and 2 locks down for us moving west to east. 
 Approaching lock 1 on the Okeechobee waterway. 

Motoring along the Okeechobee waterway. Staying in the center of the channel at all times, it is narrower than the picture makes it look. 

 Stopped for the night in Moore Haven – their town slogan sums it up nicely “Small Town Big Lake Great People”. 

After 15 months on the boat Moore Haven is where Penny dog had a first – she fell off a dock. Oddly enough it was not when she was getting on/off the boat. She simply misjudged where she was in relation to the dock and dropped 7 or so feet down into the water (luckily not onto rocks). Kent saw it happen and coaxed her to swim under the dock and over to Gyp C where he pulled the onto their swim deck. She was pretty wet and grumpy about what happened. 

Our second day we passed through lock number 3 and went directly across Lake O covering 62 miles. The weather was perfect meaning there was no wind to be felt and the lake was completely flat. On the day we transited we saw 7' under our boat. With a shallow lake it is not advisable to transit when there are strong wind and waves. There is a clear channel across the lake and you make sure you stay between the green and red channel markers to avoid the very shallow areas. 

Calm water crossing Lake Okeechobee. 

As we crossed the lake we could see a large plume of smoke on land. Even through we were still 15 miles from land we started to see large pieces of ash coming towards us. These were big black pieces of ash perhaps 2 inches in length. Before we knew it our white boat was covered in black ash. Turns out the nearby sugar cane fields were being burned prior to harvest. 

After crossing the lake we motored through lock 4 as there was no difference in the water level here so no need to be locked up or down. We tied up to a dock at St Lucie State Park for the night which was a few hundred yards before our final lock 5. Gyp C cruises faster than we do and they were hoping to get through the final lock but apparently it was closed for some maintenance on the manatee pass gates (which prevent a lock gate from injuring or crushing a manatee). 

State Parks are great stops for us – typically they are quite, scenic, have trails for getting in some exercise and are reasonably priced. When we arrived there were a few other boats planning a bonfire that evening so we and Gyp C joined in. The campfire smoke did a decent job of keeping some but not all of the no see ums and mosquitoes away because Kent and I both woke up the next morning with a lot of little bites. It was worth it though, simply for the fun of swapping stories with fellow boaters.

Happy hour at St Lucie State Park. 

After passing through lock number 5 the next morning we were keeping our fingers crossed for an open mooring ball at Sunset Bay Marina and Anchorage in Stuart. We visited Stuart back in April when we had returned from the Bahamas and had liked it. The challenge with Stuart is it is very very expensive so a marina was not in our budget. Even mooring balls are $45/night, they are first come first served and in high demand. Luckily when we arrived there were 2 open moorings. 

The large mooring field at Sunset Bay Marina. 

We hit a few favorite restaurants from last year, walked the town and stopped twice at one of the best music venues we have found on our loop trip. 

Live music at Terra Fermata – one of our favorite music venues on our loop. 

Some good news and bad news happened while we were in Stuart – 

  • Bad news – A leak I had been watching was getting worse and Kent realized we needed to figure it out before leaving for the Bahamas. 

  • Bad news – Turns out we needed to replace the rudder seal and bearings.

  • Bad news – We needed to haul out the boat to do this work.

  • Bad news – High season in Florida for boaters means boatyards are slammed.

  • Good news – We already knew this but American Tug customer service is amazing. They helped Kent troubleshoot the issue and got replacement parts in the mail overnighted to us. 

  • Good news – By some sort of miracle Kent located a boat yard that could haul us out 2 days later. 

  • Bad news – The overnighted parts were delayed a day which means they were arriving a day later in Stuart when our boat would be south of there at the boat yard in Riviera Beach. We needed to rent a car, drive back up to Stuart get the package and drive back to Riviera Beach (approx 1 hr drive each way). 

  • Good news – Jan from Ceci Kay happened to be in the area visiting is mom and helped do the work with Kent. Jan is a great partner for Kent on these sorts of projects. 

  • Good news – The haul out, replacement work and dropping back into the water was a success and we now have earned many many more airline miles on our credit card.

Jan and Kent with the rudder off and starting to replace the seal and bearings. 

Jan is a great partner for these sorts of projects, we were lucky that he happened to be in town from Seattle. 

Heartbeat on the hard. This was the first time we spent the night on the boat in a boatyard. 

Some pretty cool boats in the boatyard – see Jan with his arms raised below this boat?

Video – Heartbeat going back in the water less than 24 hrs from being hauled out. 

Once back in the water we kept making our way south toward Ft Lauderdale. We spent a night at a marina in Pompano Beach so we could catch up with Mike and Tobin (INNTW) who live in Michigan but were in town vacationing with Mike's parents. 

Mike, Kent and Tobin are all smiles. 

Seeing both Jan and Mike/Tobin was a wonderful treat. Both boats have completed the loop at this point and they are back to “normal life”. We always knew we would catch up in person somehow but didn’t think it would be this soon. Next time we will have to make sure we connect with Stacy (Jan’s wife) and the rest of the INNTW family members. 

The following day we we headed for Sunrise Bay. This is a great anchorage across from a State Park and where we connected again with Jacques & Karen (Gyp C) again. We walked the trails here and and found some live music at a beach restaurant. Next time we see Gyp C we expect it will be somewhere in the Bahamas. 

Heartbeat at Sunset Bay. 

We kind of knew this would happen but the east side of southern Florida is not our favorite place. The ICW is congested and slow, much like rush hour traffic on the roads. Traveling through here the VHF radio has constant chatter as boaters communicate with bridges and each other. Anchorages are not very plentiful. Marinas as well as everything else in this area is expensive. 

Condos, condos everywhere. 

Mansions, mansions everywhere. 

 Mega yachts, mega yachts everywhere. 

Bridges bridges everywhere, we passed under 15 in one day. 

We made our way into Ft Lauderdale and up the New River successfully to a dock spot for the next few weeks. 

Entering the New River in Ft Lauderdale. Large yachts often transit this narrow river making it a bit stressful to try to get under bridges when they open at scheduled times and stay out of the way. 

Next up for us – 

  • The generator will be diagnosed. Yeah to reliable mechanics.

  •  Kent and I will travel to Arizona. We are able to see Kent's parents, my sister and her boyfriend as well as my mom will fly in from California.

  • Penny dog will get spoiled at a Rover dog sitter. 

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and festive/fun holiday season.