The gusty winds abated overnight to around seven knots out of the east/southeast by the time we were ready to shove off at 7:50am under ominous, gray skies with the temp at seventy-one degrees. The lake crossing is one of those highly anticipated days as it is, in many ways, a very different experience from the typical rhythm of what our travel days have been like so far. Most of our time would be spent in a relatively narrow canal and we travel through two locks on our way to Lake Okeechobee which is twenty-six miles across, a little less than half of the fifty-eight miles we would be underway for the day.
The sky opened up just as we shoved off! We were also departing at near low tide and the first three miles before you enter the St. Lucie Canal has some pretty shallow spots. So, with the windshield wipers slappin’ we navigated slowly through on our way to the Okeechobee Waterway. We transited the area without issue but would not have felt comfortable with more than our five-foot draft. Fun Fact: Geologically and geographically, the north bank of the canal is the official southern limit of the Eastern Continental Divide.
Once clear of the first lock it’s a straight forward run to Port Mayaca where the second lock is located, just before you enter the lake. At our cruising speed of around ten knots, this took about two hours. Some of the sights along the way…
We had heard from friends, who went through the day before, that the Port Mayaca Lock was open, meaning you can go straight through. We were hopeful that this would be the case for us, which it was. That’s a big time saver. And, on hailing the Port Mayaca Lockmaster, he was kind enough to share local knowledge as to which side of the channel to favor for better depths as we departed the lock. Gestures like that are always appreciated.
The lake crossing itself is really the most uneventful part of the trip with only three turns to make and not much to see before you arrive at the lake’s southwest side. An eight-knot breeze out of the southeast put a light chop on the water which was a non-issue and, most importantly, the sun had come out to warm the day so we were happy to move operations to the bridge deck. Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the second-largest natural freshwater lake (the largest being Lake Michigan) contained entirely within the contiguous forty-eight states.
Once through the main body of the lake, we hailed Roland Martin Marina on the VHF and were promptly answered by the welcoming voice of Sam the Dockmaster. He told us where we’d be tying up and asked that we hail again once we were just outside of the marina’s entrance. On that second radio call, like an air traffic controller speaking with a pilot on final approach, Sam informed us of the wind speed and direction and the state of the current in the marina. So simple and so helpful. We wish every marina would impart that critical information on arrival. The sun was shining, it was now eighty-two degrees and after six hours forty-eight minutes underway we were safely tied having averaged a speed of 8.5 knots, maxing out at 18.5 knots and burning sixty-three gallons of fuel.
This is OLOH’s second time at Roland Martin’s having stopped there on our first Southbound Adventure two years prior. We like it here. It’s seemingly in the middle of nowhere which gives it a certain charm (we often refer to it as the Coinjock of the south). It’s easy-in, easy-out on their long, floating face dock. Their very nice, large and modern ship’s store belies expectations and the big restaurant on their screened-in deck is a lot of fun. Plus we had our first alligator sighting so there’s that.
We officially enter the Gulf Coast next. See you out there…
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And that concludes your OLOH instructions. M/Y OLOH back to 1-6