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No Bagels, Just Locks – Crossing Lake Okeechobee

No Bagels, Just Locks – Crossing Lake Okeechobee

Stuart to Clewiston

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.

Of course, before we could get underway, Jasper has his morning walk. Our friend Andre came by for a quick visit and while Jasper loves meeting all people, he unquestionably has a different reaction when he sees people he knows.

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.

The rain came down hard, but we were comfortable in the wheelhouse.
We came to the St. Lucie lock around an hour into the trip and only had to wait about ten minutes for the green light to enter.  The whole process from the time we enter the chamber until the time we pull out is around thirty-five minutes, so had we just missed a westbound lock-through we could have easily waited for more than an hour for the next opportunity.  And of course, the sky opened up again as we entered the lock with two other boats so out came the foul weather gear.  While we can certainly handle the locks with just the two of us aboard, it was very helpful having Sean to help manage the process.
Not even a downpour in a lock could dampen Sean’s spirits after the nail-biting LSU championship victory the night before.
Reflecting on a name: How about HOJO?
Sign of the time: 139 miles until we are officially in the Gulf ICW.

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…

The 93-foot wooden yacht was originally built in 1931 by Defoe Shipyard in Bay City, Michigan and purchased (some think it was expropriated) by the government in 1942 and used in the Coast Guard. It was used by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Kennedy renamed it, Honey Fitz, after his grandfather and apparently JFK spent his happiest times with his family on the yacht.  It was purchased by a private entity and is undergoing a restoration to reflect its former Camelot days.
Little pink houses for you and me…
Blue skies ahead – cruising the St. Lucie Canal.

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 Port Mayaca Lock. Lake levels were such that it was wide open.

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.

2:42 pm: Sean prepares lines as we leave the lake and pull into Clewiston, Florida.

Captain Sam has been the Dockmaster here for years.

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.

Sean really wanted to participate in one of Roland Martin’s renowned fishing tournaments – this is as close as he got!

We never miss an opportunity to grab a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant. We love the laid back vibe and the fun, friendly staff. Sadly, it wasn’t Cowboy Karaoke night – which was a blast the last time we passed through!

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

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. As always a great write up!! Btw, reflecting on this story, and you know Beans well, she does not like the name HoJo. Ha Peace and Love
  2. Glad to see the jump across the lake went well. Even though it's dry season for us here in FL, the USACE has kept the lake level high (which I won't get into because it's one of those prickly political issues) which make taking route 1 real easy - and route 2 comfortable for shallow drafted vessel too. The 'just hold on to the lines' locking requirement is a great time saver, and as you mentioned makes it super easy for a two person crew since the helmsman can just reach out and grab a line while the crewmember can grab a bow line.

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