Seaward’s Operations Manager, Jeff Mack, had always been curious about the capabilities and comfort factor of sailing a Seaward through Florida’s Lake Okeechobee Waterway. That curiosity proved irresistible when a Seaward 32 RK needed to be delivered to Florida’s west coast. So he set sail from the former Seaward plant in Stuart on May 15, taking along crewmember Mark Hayden – a long-time friend and former Coast Guard member, and set a westerly course through the waterway.
We took the south fork from Stuart to the St. Lucie River, all the way down to the Okeechobee Canal.
If you average 5-6 knots, you can make it to the west side of Lake Okeechobee in one day. We navigated through multiple bridges and finally made it to the dreaded Railroad Bridge before Port Mayaca. The bridge is 49’ tall, but with a 45’ mast height to the waterline, the Seaward 32 slipped seamlessly through.
There are two routes you can take to the Caloosahatchee Canal. We chose Route One, which took us straight across Lake Okeechobee. We started off under a radiant blue sky, but by afternoon, thunderstorms were rolling in across the lake. There were 3’ waves, and we found ourselves paying more attention to the storm than our chart plotter. We suddenly found ourselves off course as we entered 4’ shallows and in danger of running aground, since we had the keel all the way down. We immediately retracted the keel to a draft of 3’ and made it to Liberty Point on the Southwest side of Lake Okeechobee, stopping to anchor for the night.
Another brilliant sunrise greeted us at the crack of dawn. While we sipped our morning coffee, we began to see multiple alligators milling about our boat. They appeared to be curious as to what this big object was doing in their canal. Mark and I were shocked at how many alligators we saw, and stopped counting after 20, when we decided to take a rain check on our morning swim.
We made it to through the Moore Haven lock into the Caloosahatchee Canal through two more locks. After leaving the last lock and coming into Ft. Myers, there are shallow waters around 3’. With the Seaward, however, we were able to lift our keel and finally made it to the eastern side of Ft. Myers and stayed at the Ft. Myers Yacht Basin. We decided God was on our side just as we made it into the marina, as a huge lightening storm rolled in with 50-knot wind gusts. This was perfect place to stop, as we were right in downtown Ft. Myers. We celebrated with a steak and a drink at Firestone after the storm subsided.
With fair 8-knot winds the next morning, it was time to raise our self-tacking jib and mainsail. We sailed south, down into the Caloosahatchee River to San Carlos Bay. As we sailed around Sanibel Island to the Gulf of Mexico, we were glad to have our retractable keel, because we were able to reduce our trip to the Gulf by a half hour. Most sailboats have to stay within the marked channel, but we were able to travel across the sandbars with ease.
On Day 4, we sailed in the Gulf to the Venice inlet. Luckily, the end of our trip delivered great sailing weather, with winds of 10-15 knots. We sailed a beam reach all the way to the inlet. At times, we were able to trim our keel, creating less drag and enabling us to sail well over 8 knots. We stopped in Venice for the night. When we woke up early the next day, we sailed back out of the inlet to Clearwater. Reaching our final destination brought us both an overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment.
One item that was particularly useful to have on board was the cockpit microphone. It was helpful to have a remote cockpit mic to communicate with the drawbridge and the lock tenders. The bridges are on channel 9 and the locks are on channel 13. We didn’t have to leave the helm to communicate with anyone, which made our trip smoother.
Sleeping aboard the Seaward 32 RK was quite comfortable for the two of us. I stayed in the port side quarter berth and Mark stayed in the stateroom. I have stayed on the 32 multiple times, and personally like sleeping best in the salon area where the table converts to another comfortable berth.
We only used one tank of fuel from Stuart to Sanibel Island, demonstrating the efficiency of the Yanmar 3YM30 29HP.
For a limited time, Seaward is offering a free remote cockpit microphone
if you order your boat before July 1 – a $500 value.
Contact us http://www.seawardyachts.com/contact-us/, complete the form,
and we’ll happily answer any questions about Seaward and this special offer.