This portion of our journey was bookended by two delightful towns, Fairhope, Alabama and Tarpon Springs, Florida. In between were the broad bays, bayous, rivers and barrier islands of the Emerald Coast, followed by a series of ‘open water’ (i.e. mostly no land in sight) hops along the more remote regions of Florida’s Big Bend.
The Emerald Coast is renowned for its tropical weather and spectacular barrier island beaches. This has attracted a great deal of beach home and condo development, and the typical vacation accoutrements that go along with them. While we enjoy such attractions and comforts too, our focus while cruising is usually on smaller towns and quieter anchorages. Fortunately we were able to find these in abundance, with interesting stops in places like Apalachicola, Carrabelle, Smack Bayou and Dog Island.
For most cruisers doing the Loop, the open water crossing of the Gulf of Mexico from the protected ICW ending at Carrabelle and beginning again near Tarpon Springs is a big one. Many choose a one-step overnight trip (about 180 miles). For us, however, because of our relative speed and ability to handle the fairly shallow depths of the river entrances at selected interim stops (Steinhatchee and Crystal River) we chose the longer, more scenic route. This worked out very well for us, with sunny weather and relatively calm seas the entire way. It also allowed us to have experiences that other cruisers miss, such as the opportunity to swim with the manatees in the incredibly clear waters of the Three Sisters freshwater springs in Crystal River.
We’re not sure our pictures do complete justice to this lesser known area of Florida, but we’ll let them speak for themselves.
The next installment will cover our time spent in the delightful town of Tarpon Springs, our journey south to Fort Myers, then east across central Florida via the Okeechobee Canal to Stuart, and south to Miami, our departure point for the Bahamas.