The Party Starts Here

Ski IslandIf there is one thing most boaters love to do, it is raft up. A formal definition is “the roping together of a number of small vessels to form a raft-like structure; a social gathering based upon such a structure.” However, over the years the term has come to focus much more on the social aspect rather than the roping together of boats. A raft up is about a destination. It could just as easily be called a party spot where boaters congregate. These pristine locations are usually sandbars or small islands that are only accessible by boat. They are perfect for relaxing, people watching, playing in the water and socializing. From time to time there are organized events, but for the most part it’s just the place to be.

This past year, Florida By Water (floridabywater.com) went in search of the most poplar raft up location in the Sunshine State. Not surprisingly, almost every city has its own special place. Therefore, we picked 10 of the most popular (based on a very unscientific survey) raft up locations for boaters.

Whale Harbor Sand Bar (Islamorada): This sandbar is located just off the marked channel coming into Whale Harbor. It’s a beautiful sandbar with beautiful water. This location can get pretty rowdy at times, so beware; this is not your location if you’re looking for a quiet Saturday afternoon. However, if a party is what you’re looking for, you will be thrilled.

Crab Island (Destin): Locals and vacationers alike hang out at this sandbar. Dozens of boats anchor here on any given day and in average depths of only two feet. It’s an ideal place to park a boat and play in the water. It’s also a great place to catch hermit crabs, hence its name. You’ll also want to catch the Ultimate Chicken Fight Championship held at 2:00 pm on Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Disappearing Island (Ponce Inlet): During low tide every day, an island appears (and later disappears) as the water recedes at the inlet where Ponce Inlet and New Smyrna almost meet. The sandbar is over ½ mile long and the perfect place to spend a day. Boaters from all over come to play on the pure sandy island. It’s as if it was made for recreational boating! A bonus is you can see the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse from the sandbar.

Peanut Island (Palm Beach): Peanut Island is a great choice for Palm Beach county’s top boating destination. It has a dock, anchorage, designated swimming area, snorkeling, sandbars, picnic areas, restrooms, showers, camping, footpath, museum and even a presidential nuclear bomb shelter! The nearby Lake Worth Inlet floods the area with crystal clear blue water with each incoming tide. Peanut Island got its name from a peanut oil shipping terminal which was supposed to be built nearby. The facilities are second to none.

Ski Island (Merritt Island): Ski Island is located on the Banana River near Port Canaveral. It’s just minutes away from Kelly Park, Harbortown Marina, the Locks and the Barge Canal. This small piece of land turns into a gathering place for boaters on the weekends. Boats in every size, shape, and color pull up to the island or sandbar for their piece of the Jimmy Buffet lifestyle.

Three-Rooker Key (Clearwater): Three-Rooker Bar is not your typical bar because it’s really a small island or sandbar just off the coast of northern Pinellas County. Partying here is the nautical equivalent of tailgating in a parking lot before a football game. Boaters drop anchor and get crazy. It’s crowded and loud on weekends, but the water is Caribbean blue and the sand is white and sugary soft.

Sliver Glen Springs (Lake George): Silver Glen Springs is one of two fresh water springs located off Lake George in Central Florida. You’ll find clean, cool water surrounded by a state park and the Ocala National Forest. This is the perfect destination for snorkeling and relaxing. You’ll find numerous houseboats anchored for the week on any given day. The spring is part of the USDA Forest Service's Silver Glen Springs recreation area. The recreation area is used for swimming, snorkeling, picnicking, fishing and boating. Boating is not allowed in the spring pool, but the spring run is a popular spot for recreational boaters.

Jupiter Sandbar (Jupiter): The popular Loxahatchee River Sandbar in the Jupiter-Tequesta area is a top destination for local boaters. It's conveniently located near the Jupiter Inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway. The sandbar is long, can accommodate hundreds of people and is usually crowded on weekends. Boats begin arriving about three hours before low tide, when the sandbar is covered in a foot or two of water. As the tide leaves, the huge sandbar becomes exposed. The Loxahatchee Sandbar is made up of fine sand and there is some good snorkeling near the sandbar's east end.

Fort George Island (Jacksonville): Located off the Intercoastal Waterway you’ll find this location has the best of both worlds, a sandbar and a private beach. Fort George Island is a state park; however, the sandbar and the beach are only accessible by boat. The destination is rarely overcrowded and is pet friendly.

Haulover Sandbar (North Miami): If you like boats, beer and bikinis, this is a stop for you. The entire Haulover Sandbar is nothing more than a shallow area near the inlet and marina of the same name, but on weekends it becomes something else. Haulover Sandbar is the Margaritaville for the boating crowd. Oh, and it's next to a large, uninhabited island officially called Sandspur, but popularly known as Beer Can Island. People camp, have bonfires and do all sorts of other adventurous things on this sandbar.

Five things every boater should do this spring

As the days get longer and warmer and the smell of honeysuckle starts to fill the air, my mind start to drift away to the endless boating opportunities that await me this summer. Every year around this time I find myself planning for the perfect boating season. Let’s face it, even though here in Florida we can boat most of the year, many of us tend to take a break during the winter months. (Mostly due to the fact that we think anything under 75 is not suitable for outdoor activities!)

Now that the temperature is rising and the days are getting longer, there are a few things you need to do to ensure that your perfect boating season starts with all of your oars in the water.

1. Update your GPS and other electronics. Many of the electronics we have on our vessels, especially chart plotters, need to be updated from time to time. This will include firmware updates as well as updating nautical charts. For most devices, this can be done easily with a USB cable and a computer connected to the internet. The majority of manufacturers will have step-by-step instructions online for the firmware. Charts can be updated just as easily, although there is usually a cost of $100 or more.

2. Get a Vessel Safety Check. There is no excuse for not being safe on the water, and one of the best ways is to ensure your boat has all the required equipment on board is to get a Vessel Safety Check. Qualified examiners from the Coast Guard Auxiliary as well as the Power Squadron perform these inspections. Many times you can you can find these guys hanging out at your favorite boat ramp, but if not, they will be glad to come by your marina or home to perform the vessel check. Examiners will check for safety items like fire extinguishers, sounding devices, life vests and flares, just to name a few. Neither organization can cite you for not having the necessary equipment, however, if you do pass they will award you a sticker to place on the port side of your vessel. This sticker indicates that you have all of the required equipment and lessens your chances of being boarded. Noting can ruin a day of boating quicker than getting a ticket. To locate a vessel examiner, go to http://wow.uscgaux.info/content.php?unit=v-dept&category=i-want-a-vsc

3. Schedule your maintenance. If you’re a boat owner, you‘re well aware that you need to keep your boat serviced if you plan to keep it running throughout the boating season. A visual inspection and a spring tune-up are musts for every boater. Just as the days grow longer, so will the wait to get your boat serviced; I have seen it take as long as six weeks just to get an appointment. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, this is still a good time due to the cooler weather. Earlier is better than later, so that just in case you find a more serious issue you’ll have time to get the repairs made, and with e-15 that is always a possibility.

4. Restock your boat bag. I assume we all have a boat bag — at least I do. This is not to be confused with a ditch bag (the bag you carry in case you have to abandon ship). My boat bag is a bag I keep in the house to throw on the boat whenever I leave for a day outing. It includes all of the little necessities to make us confortable for a day on the water. Here are a few items to check and/or include.

• Sunscreen (Make sure it hasn’t expired.)
• Aspirin (or its equivalent) as well as other first aid items
• Crackers or other non-perishable snacks. It’s no fun being hungry two hours from home.
• Emergency contact information, in case you lose your cell phone. An extra set of car keys is a good idea as well.
• Insect repellant! If you have lived in Florida for any length of time you understand this one.

5. Plan your destinations. I must confess this is one of my favorite parts of the pre-boating season. Florida has literally thousands of different places to boat, each with their own unique flavor. Florida by Water (http://www.floridabywater.com) is a great resource for finding new ideas and locations. This site is a comprehensive resource for the boating community that lists marinas, boat ramps, hotels, restaurants and even the popular boating hot spots for a given city. The site also includes nautical charts, GPS coordinates and weather information for most of the cities in the state, as well as tourism information such as special events and area highlights. You can even check for popular boating events such as nautical happenings or raft ups. I’ve found it best to go ahead and put these kinds of items on the calendar early. If not, they’ll come and go and you will have missed all the fun.

I hope these tips will take a little of the stress out of what should be a relaxing pastime. There is nothing better than a day on the water with family and friends.

Rusty Gardner
President Florida By Water

Don’t be a rope-a-dope

In the whole scheme of boating one of the least expensive items you’ll buy for your boat is a set of dock lines. You’ll handle the lines every time you go boating. So why do so many boaters refuse to spend a few bucks?
At my marina you’ll see lines of different sizes and colors, some with eye splices and some with knots and I’m talking about the same boat. One of the signs of an amateur boater, in addition to cruising around with all your fenders hanging, is wrapping the excess line around the dock cleat 35 times rather than making a neat Flemish flake or a slip chain. Lastly, don’t be a rope-a-dope. There are no ropes on a boat. As soon as a rope goes on the boat or is tied to it, it’s a line.
The test of a good knot is can it be untied easily. Recently a boat in my marina was moving and the owner had his detailer, Jose, helping him move. Jose spent half an hour to untie the line from the piling. This negated the savings of not buying a line with an eye. Three strand nylon with a prespliced eye is only a few dollars more. A knot can reduce the strength of a line up to 50%. A splice can retain about 90% of the tensile strength.
Since I’m spending your money, how much are we talking about? A 25’ three strand economy 1/2” line costs $19.99. A premium line cost $32.99 and is 30% stronger. Double braid is stronger yet and is $38.99. (West Marine online prices) All the prices were different in my 2012 catalogue and will probably be higher when you read this article. Welcome to boating. To save a few dollars, dock lines are a good thing to buy at a marine flea market.
White lines are stronger. But, colors look better. For ease of handling double braid is the way to go. I like to have different colors for different lengths. The general rule for length is 2/3 of the boat length for bow and stern lines and the boat length for a spring line. Your permanent dock lines could be sized to your dock so you may save a few dollars.
Speaking of spring lines, if you dock in a slip you probably only need a forward spring line to keep from going back into the seawall. At my marina several boats have forward and after spring lines and breast lines. Maybe they’re expecting a hurricane. When you tie up alongside a pier in a crowded marina you can use a forward and after spring line as you may have a boat in front and back of yours.

By Bob E. Sherman
Syndicated Writer with Florida By Water
http://www.bobesherman.com/