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Okeechobee Waterway Reopens
Lake Route Only, says Army Corps

By Clairborne Young
Posted Monday, October 31, 2005

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The Okeechobee Waterway, which normally provides reliable access between the east and west coasts of the Sunshine State, was closed by Hurricane Wilma. If it had been closed for a long period of time, this would have seriously impacted the cruising community, particularly the "Big Loopers" who depend on this passage to continue their journey.

Last week, I began receiving reports that the Okeechobee was closed. This weekend, I received the note below from my long lost cousin, Captain Wendy Young:

Claiborne -

Here's my "on site" report of post-Wilma conditions along the Okeechobee waterway as of Saturday 10/29/05. I drove through Moore Haven and Clewiston to Indiantown marina to resume my delivery, but was not able to do so.

My delivery, a 34' Mainship I brought from Arnold MD en route to Punta Gorda FL is on the hard at Indiantown marina, where I put it on Friday 10/21 to wait out Hurricane Wilma.

With official word from Clewiston Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) office early Friday morning 10/28 that the lock system would be open and ready for westbound transit by Friday 10/28 or early Saturday 10/29, I returned to the boat, provisioned and arranged for dropping in the water. By late Friday, Clewiston ACE reported "not sure if locks will open by Monday 10/31", so we did not splash the boat.

I drove home again from Indiantown Saturday afternoon after Clewiston ACE office reported that Port Mayaca lock MAY be open by Thursday 11/3. LOTS of boats are anchored outside of Indiantown marina waiting to proceed westbound. Indiantown marina is full beyond capacity trying their best to accomodate stranded boaters. Good news is that Indiantown has electricity, so the restaurants and stores in town are open. As of Saturday 10/29, St. Lucie lock is open to allow transit between Stuart and Indiantown. Boats cannot proceed further west, as Port Mayaca lock is closed, blocking transit to Lake Okeechobee.

Clewiston has a lot of damage and did not have electricity on Friday 10/28. Roland Martin marina docks and roofs over covered slips are "upside down", with docks on top of the roofs. At least 5 boats are docked at Moore Haven,with Moore Havenlock not yet open to east or westbound transit. So - for all those planning to cruise across Okeechobee waterway, it may be up to a week or more before the whole waterway and locks are open. And, be prepared for restricted lock opening schedules if the Lake water level remains too high to release water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers on demand.


Capt. Wendy Young
USCG licensed master
Yacht sales, delivery & instruction
Punta Gorda, FL
"Blue Crab"

AS OF THIS MORNING, HOWEVER, I HAVE GOOD NEWS! A call to the Army Corps of Engineers in Clewiston, FL brought the SURPRISING news that the Okeechobee Waterway, via the Lake Route (also known as "Route 1") is now open. The "Rim Route" (or "Route #2) is not yet open, and no-one could give me an estimate on when that situation will change! I am impressed with the Army Corps of Engineers. As those with whom I met this past weekend at the Southern Cruiser's Rendezvous in New Bern, NC heard, I had been told that there were many sunken and semi-sunken vessels to clear before the Okeechobee could reopen. I have no idea where the Corps got enough cranes to do the job this fast, by my hat is off to them, and the entire cruising community owes the Corps a real vote of thanks. Of course, just by reopening, cruisers can not expect everything on the Okeechobee Waterway to be in pristine condition. Again, check Captain Wendy's note above. Much of what she says still holds, and all cruisers should proceed with the greatest caution. WE PLAN TO BRING YOU A FARTHER REACHING REPORT ON HURRICANE WILMA DAMAGE LATER THIS WEEK! For now, however, we are holding to our policy of waiting a good ten days to two weeks before beginning to contact marinas. Immediately after a major storm like Wilma, the last people marina staffs want to hear from is someone like me. Also, and perhaps more importantly, 25 years of experience has taught me that it requres some time before dockmasters and marina owners have a handle on what needs repairs, and how long those repairs might take. Finally, YOU WILL ALSO BE RECEIVING A VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE OF AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SORT FROM US TOMORROW. It will come into your in-box with a subject line of "A New, Free Service for the Cruising Community." Please take a few moments to review this message when it arrives. We are SURE you will like what you see. More info as it becomes available. Good luck and good cruising!

Claiborne Young
Watermark Publishing

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