There are some numers lower down in this article, no doubt you know the rest it covers anyway but may be of use. In know we were near fort myers but can't exactly remeber how close. Pretty much all the marinas hire out though. Hope it helps.
Originally published Sportsboat & RIB Magazine - Copyright Sportsboat/Paul Glatzel
You deserve a break!
“You deserve a break, go to Florida to check out the boating there – fly Business Class just spend what ever you need to” ….. okay the Sportsboat budget doesn’t stretch quite that far so a family holiday to the States had to suffice and gave us a great opportunity to look at the way they boat in the States.
If you’ve been to the States you’ll know that everything they do they do bigger, you get a feel for it from TV programs but nothing prepares you for the scale of the difference. The pickup trucks are huge, even the minor roads seem to be dual carriageways and every other person seems go own a boat. Hardly a great surprise really given that Florida is the State of 30,000 lakes, thousands of miles of canals - so you can moor your boat up at the bottom of the garden – and they’re huge on fishing. On the Gulf of Mexico coast, where we were to stay, there is also the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway which stretches from Texas in the north 1300 miles down to the Florida Keys allowing craft to travel the length of Florida without venturing out to sea – Florida truly is a boaters paradise.
Our base was to be in the Charlotte Harbour area which is a 1.5 hour drive down from Tampa on the west side of Florida. After the long BA flight from Gatwick we picked up our car (a very trendy Chrysler Cruiser – that new American 1960s style retro car you see over here occasionally) and headed off. We were soon cruising down I41 across some very impressive bridges (one was 3 miles long) that took us across the bay down towards the Englewood area..
Below Tampa there is a string of long thin islands facing the Gulf of Mexico that stretch from Venice in the north to Fort Myers further south (some 25 miles). Behind these Islands there is what in effect is a huge lagoon through which the Intracoastal Waterway runs, at its widest it is a few miles from the islands to the mainland whilst elsewhere it is a few hundred yards. This area is the other side of Florida from Disney and so is not really ‘touristy’ in the way that some of the eastern shore is. In many ways this is a big part of its appeal as flying 10 hours to sit alongside others from the UK has never really been my idea of a holiday.
When we think of US craft we probably all tend to think of craft like Searay 20ft cuddies or bowriders from the Bayliner stable. Whilst these craft are plentiful it really is fishing that dominates this area of the US and the vast percentage of the craft are aimed at the fishing market. They tend to divide into flat hulled boats with very shallow draughts which venture into the swamp type areas or those with fairly serious deep V hulls that are designed for the offshore fisherman. Fairly typical too was the hybrid 20ft boat we hired which was a bowrider with a deep V but a large open area towards the rear of the boat for fishing from. What really surprised me (shocked would be more appropriate perhaps) was the dominance of outboards over inboards and more particularly Japanese outboards over the yank versions. Both of the hire companies we used had fitted their fleet with Yamaha 4 strokes rather than any of the US options. A great testament to the Yamahas but perhaps worrying for Mercury/Mariner etc.
The area is so dominated by boating that waterside restaurants and bars abound each with their own jetty areas - can there be anything more relaxing in February than cruising up in 75ºF with dolphins in your wake, tying your boat up then slowly downing a beer or cocktail while watching over a beautiful sunset? There are plenty of places to cruise to and explore with narrow shallow inlets affording glimpses of a Manatee (a ‘sea cow’) or the canals (not quite like the UK ones) taking you along the bottom of peoples immaculately manicured gardens where their 20-30ft runaround hangs suspended in its boat hoist ready for action.
The two weeks we spent cruising around this area was great, whether it was with the kiddies on the beach, wandering around a golf course, watching the alligators that came out of the lake at the bottom of the garden or out boating this is a lovely relaxed place to come that is not too touristy. I’ve always found it difficult to get away overseas for long periods during the boating season so Florida in the winter was a great idea. Perhaps next year we’ll do the Florida Keys – Sue what did you say the travel budget was for next year?
Where we stayed
The weather in Florida is great all year round and even whilst the rest of the States was suffering its worst winter spell in decades we enjoyed temperatures that ranged from 70-80ºC. . We stayed on a development called the Rotunda in Englewood. The Rotunda is a huge development covering about 10 square miles, the road system is circular, was laid out 25 years ago and ever since Americans, Canadians & many Brits have been buying up plots of land and building huge open plan bungalows with pools. Properties on the Rotunda can be bought new for c$200,000 when the equivalent in the home counties here would be c£400,000.
Renting a boat:
I did find it rather ironic that the most litigious society in the world is equally one of the most relaxed when it comes to certain aspects of safety. Bikers don’t wear helmets, anyone can rent a boat with just a car driving licence and they have no boat training schemes to speak of. All of the marinas we went to rented out a variety of boats, the fact that I knew one end of a boat from the other helped but certainly wasn’t critical. The boats ranged from the pure fishers with low bows and a very flat almost dory like hull through 22ft centre console Boston Whaler type craft to 20ft bowriders. Everyone seems to hire out for either 4 hour half days or an 8 hour session. Prices vary from $150 - $180 for the half day to $200 - $275 for the full day. On top of this you pay for fuel but given that a gallon seems to cost c$2 (and there was whinging on TV about the price being too high!!!!) then that’s only a few dollars. In the States the US Coastguard rules insist that each boat carry a VHF, flares, charts and lifejackets for everyone on board with the safety briefing checking we understood where all this was.
The boats we hired typified US boating habits. On the one hand we hired an Edgewater which was a centre console craft with a very shallow V. It was designed for fishing and even possessed a platform above the engine to allow you to punt in shallow waters. Predictably handling was not great as the flat hull let the boat wander slightly at speed and tended to slam in anything over 4 inches of chop but to be fair this craft is designed for fishing in calm waters rather than offshore fishing. At the other end of the scale the Key West bowrider we had was a mixed family runabout with good seating up front but with an open area and no seats at the rear to allow the some decent fishing.
Rental companies include:
Gaspirilla Marina 941-697-2280
Boca Boats 941-964-1333
What did it cost?
We flew with British Airways from Gatwick to Tampa. Tickets were £450 per person but at the time kids were getting free seats. The villa (via Florida Lifestyles ~ 941-475-1696 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
) cost $450 per week whilst our Chyrsler Cruiser cost another $450 for 10 days. Whether it’s clothes or food if you typically pay £10 in the UK then you will pay $10 in the US so food and general living expenses were fairly cheap
Charts & the buoyage system: In the UK and the rest of the world (except the US) we use what’s called IALA A buoyage system, with IALA A you find red squarish ‘cans’ on the left hand side of a channel when entering port and the green triangular shapes on the right. In the US it’s different and the phrase they use is “red right returning”. Their IALA B system has red triangular shapes to starboard when entering port with green squares to the right – confusing! To further confuse me the depths or drying heights shown on the charts are in feet (the Americans don’t do metric) which if you don’t realise can have a pretty expensive impact on your boat.
Training in the US, as it is, is undertaken by the US Coastguard and is only mandatory for anyone wanting helm a boat under the age of 21. The US Coastguard are a mixture between the RNLI and the RYA and even have an almost identical Sea Check scheme to the RNLI. Whilst the RYA have recently authorised the first US based RYA school in Florida there didn’t seem to be anything like the RYA there.