My Magical Florida

Jay Coyle finds paradise along his 500-mile "Little Loop" in Florida.

stiltsville structure

A historic stiltsville structure, off Cape Florida in Biscayne National Park.

It’s as predictable as Florida’s fall migration of snowbirds. When committed yachties retire, many feel compelled to take a slow boat in a “Great Loop” — up the East Coast, through the lakes and down the Mississippi. While I have not yet developed a taste for early-bird specials, this winter I had the urge to wander in a loop without the risk of another adventure at sea. Since dodging barges and stumps in fog on Ol’ Man River had no appeal, I began noodling a short cut — a “Little Loop”!

We would depart Stuart, Florida, heading up the St. Lucie River to transit the Okeechobee Waterway across the lake to the Caloosahatchee River and Fort Myers, 115 nautical miles. We would head north into Pine Island Sound to Captiva, another 25 nautical miles. From Captiva we would head down the Gulf of Mexico to Key West, 125 nautical miles; Key West to Islamorada, 82 nautical miles; and from Islamorada back to Stuart, 160 nautical miles. The route crosses some of the finest cruising waters in the United States, and there are so many great destinations along the way that my crew began debating the possibilities. Aboard Anhinga "the Captain" (me) steers and "the Admiral" (wife Nelia) chooses the direction. My son Casey chose to follow (most of the time) in our 18-foot Hewes skiff.

_Navigate Coyle's route on our map, or find all of the links below. Plus, check out the complete photo gallery here.

Part I: Stuart

Part II: Fort Myers

Part IV: Key West

Part V: Islamorada