The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Okeechobee Waterway in 1937, connecting Florida’s east and west coasts. Stuart is the perfect point of embarkation, and I suggest spending at least a night at Sunset Bay Marina & Anchorage. Whether dockside or swinging on a mooring, you are walking or rowing distance from “old town.” The small shops and restaurants range from quaint to upscale. Try the Black Marlin for exceptional tavern fare and Gusto for authentic Italian cooking. If you have more time to spend ashore, visit a few of the half-dozen custom tournament boatbuilders in town. Stuart is, after all, the “Sailfish Capital of the World.”
The St. Lucie lock is about six nautical miles from town, and we were on hand for the 9 a.m. opening. If you are crossing, checking the lake level is a must. In our case the channel was limited to about a five-foot draft and the St. Lucie lock (Stuart) and Franklin lock (Fort Myers) were on two-hour schedules. The three locks in between were all operating on demand. There are two routes across Okeechobee. The rim route around the southern edge of the lake is primitive (lots of gators) and scenic (lots of swamp) and worth the extra miles. However, since water was precious, we chose the deeper, more direct route across the lake to Clewiston.
If darkness falls during a crossing I recommend a stop at Roland Martin Marina in Clewiston. You will likely find an eclectic group of cruisers gathered around its country-and-western-flavored tiki bar. If you’re up early, guides are handy and the bass are enormous. We pushed on past Clewiston bound for the western half of the waterway. Along this stretch you will see the “other Florida” of cowboys and cattle, not condos and tourists. There are few transient berths on this leg, so timing is important. We were lucky, arriving at the Franklin lock for the 5 p.m. opening.
Navigate to Coyle’s next stop in Fort Myers on our map below, or click here.