This week’s installment of our Florida Cruising Guide features Florida’s “Big Bend.”
The “Big Bend” is the “unofficial” designation of the region of Florida that generally includes the counties of the Florida Panhandle east of the Apalachicola River. The region gets its name as the marshy coast “bends” or more accurately curves up the peninsula from Tarpon Springs to St. Marks and the Panhandle.
The many rivers and bays, and the fishing villages and rural towns among them are the main attraction of cruising the Big Bend. The area is known for its rustic shorelines, unspoiled rivers and estuaries, fishing and charming ports – this is “Old Florida,” at its best!
Navigation and Nautical Details Tarpon Springs and Carrabelle
Two of the most popular places to cruise along the Big Bend Coast are Tarpon Springs and Carrabelle. Tarpon Springs is a winter resort and commercial fishing center on the South bank of the Anclote River, 3 miles above the mouth. Tarpon Springs is the headquarters for the sponge fishing fleet of Florida. Carrabelle is a small town at the mouth of the Carrabelle River that is known for its seafood. Three pristine rivers converge at Carrabelle and connect with the Gulf of Mexico, providing access to a trove of salt and freshwaster fishing grounds. Tarpon, Redfish, Grouper, Snapper, Trout, and Cobia are just a smattering of the species that abound in the waters around Carrabelle.
According to US Harbors, to access Tarpon Springs, there is a dredged channel, with its entrance about 2 miles SW of the south end of Anclote Key, which leads from the Gulf to a turning basin at Tarpon Springs. In 1999, the controlling depth from the Gulf to the Anclote River Entrance Light 1 was 8.3 feet; in 2008, the controlling depth was 7.5 feet (8.4 feet at midchannel) in the entrance channel to the turning basin, and 3.4 to 8.8 feet in the turning basin. The channel is marked by lighted ranges and numerous lights and day beacons. Above Tarpon Springs the river is navigable for drafts of no more than 2 to 3 feet. A draft of 3 feet can be carried from Anclote River through Whitcomb Bayou, which is centrally located in the town of Tarpon Springs.
Access to Carrabelle is achieved through Carrabelle harbor whose principal entrance is through East Pass between Dog and St. George Islands, which is about 31 miles SW of St. Marks Light. The town is on the main coastal highway, U.S. Route 98, and a good road leads to the interior. The Carrabelle River flows into St. George Sound 5 miles NNE of East Pass. River currents are rather strong on the ebb. A fixed highway bridge with a clearance of 40 feet crosses the river about 0.5 mile above the turning basin. An overhead power cable with a clearance of 50 feet is about 2 miles above the bridge.
Dockage and Marinas
In Carrabelle there are several marine facilities. Berths, electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel, water, ice, pump-out station, launching ramp, wet storage, marine supplies and a 5-ton lift are all available. The Carrabelle Marina is a full service facility.
Tarpon Springs offers several small-craft facilities and a yacht club. There is a marine railway 0.4 mile west of Alternate U.S. Route 19 with a highway bridge that can handle craft up to 95 feet for engine and hull repairs. Water and supplies are available. The yacht club is on the east bank of Tarpon Bayou opposite Chesapeake Point.
A public wharf and launching ramp are south of the entrance to Spring Bayou, and there is another public wharf at the yacht basin at the entrance.
Activities On and Offshore
The other name for the Big Bend region is “Florida’s Nature Coast,” and that is with good reason! The name only hints at the wildlife and natural areas available from Bayonet Point through Homosassa Springs and Crystal River to Steinhatchee. The clear, natural springs and rivers are the winter home of the West Indian Manatee, and there are several tours in the area that cater to visitors looking to see these animals up close. Recreation opportunities are available to sportsmen of all walks of life. Guests can golf, snorkel, swim, canoe and more in the area. For additional cruising there is a choice of fishing lakes, rivers, and of course the wonderful blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Hassle Free Cruising
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