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Old 06-29-2020, 01:48 PM   #1
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Inside vs outside route Stuart FL to Key West

Sorry if this has been covered before but couldn't find it with the TF search function.
For a trawler that typically goes 8-10mph but pretty seaworthy, wondering how much of this route could go outside, weather dependent of course.
i know you can go out at Biscayne bay. the ICW can get tedious sometimes for a long trip and with the virus, there is less likelihood of needing to visit hotspot restaurants or other venues.
This trip would be likely winter time and perhaps not until January. I've read if there are northerly winds, the outside southern side of the keys can be preferable, i'm interested in thoughts from others that have done either route.
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Old 06-29-2020, 02:56 PM   #2
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I have done both and outside along the Hawk Channel is much easier than inside. Inside requires constant attention as the channel is narrow and shallow in spots. Also there isn't a channel inside west of Marathon. The only downside of outside is the limited crossings over to the inside where most marinas lie. So if you want to take your time and stop at marinas along the way, at least as far as Marathon, then the inside channel may be better, otherwise go outside.

To go outside go outside at the southern tip of Key Biscayne. No name harbor is a nice jumping off anchorage right there. Then you can probably make it to Marathon in one leg (about 100 mi) or stop half way at Rodruquez Key and anchor on the N or S side depending on wind. Then its a short 50 mi leg to Key West from Marathon.

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Old 06-29-2020, 03:23 PM   #3
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I've done both ways with my 38 that draws 3'. Both times I went inside because the winter winds had Hawk channel pretty stood up and sloppy. Yep, if going to KW on the back country (bay side) you have to peel off into the bay about Marathon. I had no problem with the depth, but you did have to be careful. I prefer Hawk if it is not too rough.
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Old 06-29-2020, 05:28 PM   #4
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We liked a combo of routes. The first time we went down there (as far as Marathon) we went inside all the way, with 5' draft. Ended up sanding the keel quite effectively about 6 inches or so. And there were a bunch of pots in the channel. Both issues happened once we were west/south of Islamorada (Shell and Lignumvitae Key). From then on we went out (or came back in) Channel 5. On any given trip, we took the outside virtually the whole route either on the going or coming leg, unless of course we went over to the islands as part of the trip.

We enjoyed the inside route; for a southerly passage, we were always departing from Ft.Lauderdale and environs, typically going out at Port Everglades or Haulover, back in at Cape Florida (Key Biscayne). We liked anchoring off Key Biscayne, including just outside of No Name (always too crowded) and visiting our friends there and eating at Boaters Grill. Thence to anchor off Elliot Key and explore both it and Boca Chita Key. Then maybe anchor off Pumpkin Key and explore Ocean Reef. We once went out Anglefish Creek there just for a change. From Pumpkin me sometimes moseyed down to Tarpon Bay to anchor and mess around some more in the Whaler, you used to be able to dock the dinghy there and walk over to Publix, not sure if that is still the case. Then down to Islamorada, we liked anchoring in the bight there and go to Lorelei's and Worldwide Sportsman's fish market. Maybe then go explore Lignumvitae and/or Shell, then on out Channel 5. Overall a really pretty and enjoyable cruise.

If you have never gone between Stuart and Ft.Lauderdale on the ICW, unless the weather is bad, in our opinion it is worth doing once for the sightseeing trip, but NOT on a weekend! Time your speed to the bridge opening schedules and relax if you can.
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Old 06-30-2020, 11:56 AM   #5
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Thanks this is all great info. We have about a 5' draft and good point about the bridges. Our air draft is just under 19' so we can get under quite a few but its worth considering. We already plan to avoid weekends especially in the more crowded areas.
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Old 06-30-2020, 02:27 PM   #6
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It's Tarpon Basin by the way, and apparently the dinghy dock is still there by the county building. We preferred to be in the basin above the ICW, away from the liveaboard and more commonly used lower basin.
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Old 06-30-2020, 06:12 PM   #7
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We travel the ICW from Stuart, anchoring at Peck Lake, Lake Worth, Lake Santa Barbara, Maule Lake and Key Biscayne. Exit at Stiltsville and follow Hawk Channel, which is easy but requires attention. Anchor at Rodriguez or Tavernier Key, then to Marathon and anchor north or south of the highway. This is for slow trawler speed so adjust if you have a faster boat.

If you want to fish, troll outside Hawk Channel along the reefs.

A lot of bridges between Lake Worth and Miami could be a hassle depending on your airdraft. Ours is 37’ so a bridge schedule and timing is important. It’s often a trade off going outside as it takes time to go far enough offshore and the come back in.
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