The months of January, February and even part of March are not known as the best months for boating here in North Florida. In fact, many us tend to focus our attention on other things and try to patiently wait out the less than ideal conditions. However, as a passionate boater I find these down times to be a blessing in disguise. As with any lifestyle, it’s imperative to set aside time for planning and education. I know that this doesn’t necessarily sound exciting, but you’ll have to trust me – it is!
The Perfect Destination
If I’m not going somewhere on my boat, the odds are I’m planning my next adventure. I’ve come to realize that thinking about and planning a trip to a tropical paradise can be almost as rewarding as the actual trip itself — and honestly sometimes better. In my mind the weather is always perfect, my boat never breaks down and the seas are always calm. Therefore I find myself spending the winter months either planning my summer trips or daydreaming about warmer days and tropical destinations.
Your first stop in planning a cruise is often the internet, but the information you’re hunting for is often hidden and difficult to find. That’s why I created Florida By Water — to save you the endless hours I spent searching for new destinations to explore by boat. The site is broken down by city and then into categories like campgrounds, marinas, daytrips, restaurants, boat ramps and hotels. Often you’ll find reviews from other boaters that can help you make your decision. Every location on the site is accessible by water. Florida By Water does not charge for listings, therefore we list anywhere and everywhere you can get to on your boat.
My recommendation: look for areas you’ve never visited before. Last summer we discovered Carrabelle, Florida. It’s one of those small but great boating and fishing destinations that tend to be overlooked by the majority of boaters. Carabelle’s a quaint town with great water access and the charm that only a small fishing village can bring. Here’s another example a Florida By Water member sent me a few weeks ago:
“We are still cruising. We are at Whiddens Marina on Gasparilla Island, a charming, hospitable, old Florida marina that has been in the same family since the twenties. Another one of those hard to find spots only locals know about. This place has character. A highlight of our journey! When I asked the lady how much to stay the night she said she gets $40. When we said we would anchor in the harbor for the night she said to just stay on the dock for free as there is no one else here staying. I believe she lives in the upstairs of this old building. There is an old (everything here is old) museum attached and an outhouse with shower. It's wild. Like we have gone back in time. While it may not appeal to all, we feel privileged to find and be able to experience the rustic nature of this place. We will be back home on Tuesday.”
Once I’ve chosen my destination, I spend the next few weeks charting my waypoints. Personally I use Garmin Homeport for my charting software, however many companies make the same type of software. I can easily add all of the GPS coordinates from the comfort of my home, create routes and upload them to the chart plotter. Then I’ll save these and revisit them many times before heading to my new location. Another great information source — a quick call to a local sea tow or marina can provide valuable tips about the area. Just make sure that when you’re boating in unfamiliar waters you always use your charts, as well as local information.
Another winter option is to attend some of the many boat shows that are held after the first of the year. More than half of the NMMA boats shows are held during the month of January. Here in the Jacksonville area, the Jacksonville Marine Association Boat Show is at the Prime Osborne Convention Center from January 27-29, and the Southeastern Boat Show’s at Metropolitan Park April 20-22. If you’re up for a road trip, one of the best boat shows in the nation is in Miami on February 16-20. You can find a complete list of boating events at http://www.floridabywater.com/events
Whatever you decide to do, you’ll find you don’t have to completely break from boating just because the weather is a little less than desirable.
Rusty Gardner is the owner and President of floridabywater.com & Boatflorida.com