North of Tampa Bay lie beautiful waters where spring-fed rivers flow into the warm Gulf of Mexico. This is a paradise where manatees gather, scallops abound, redfish prowl the oyster beds, and ospreys soar overhead. Homosassa is a magnet for boaters, but beneath the water surface lurks another attraction: Million Dollar Rock.
So dubbed by locals, Million Dollar Rock sits just outside of marker 47 on the Homosassa River and is famous for its uncanny siren-like knack of attracting vessels. They strike it and either run hard aground, damage their props and drives or punch through their hulls, causing cracks and holes that can sink even the most seaworthy vessel.
The million-dollar moniker derives from the cost of repairs over the years that the rock has inflicted on hapless boaters despite the channel being clearly marked. Homage has been paid to its destructive abilities in the form of a unique work of art. Palm trees sculpted from damaged props have been erected at Riverhaven Marina (one of the repair facilities nearby that can haul a sinking vessel once it’s towed from the rock). The trees remind all boaters running the river to watch for not only this famous rock but others too.
Homosassa is known for its rocky bottom and hazardous shallow waters. Capt. Ernie Croft of Sea Tow, who has plied these waters since the 50s and towed boats off the rocks since ’95, calls this area “moving rock country.” He says that you could be traveling over the same waters for decades and never strike a rock, but if you catch the tide at just the wrong moment you can hit a rock that you never knew was there. He says this in not necessarily the case with Million Dollar Rock.
Despite clear markers on either side of the channel, boaters continuously wander off course and meet the local hazard.
All the waters in the area are shallow and Capt. Mike Dunn of Towboat US says that the depth at the center of the channel can be as thin as 3 feet at low tide. Some may think there is enough room to pass on the wrong side of the marker, but it’s a gamble.
Dunn says most boats run aground on Million Dollar Rock because the captains are not paying attention or are just not sure what side of the marker they should be on. There are other parts of the river he considers more treacherous, such as Hell’s Gate, due to their being very narrow with vessels traveling at speed. Boaters can be forced up on the rocks to avoid other boaters who are not paying attention, and the danger is compounded by anchored buoys that drift out of place with heavy traffic (at print time one buoy broke from its anchor and was washed upriver).
So if you’re up on the West Coast of Florida and want to visit a beautiful river with much to offer, make sure you don’t contribute to another bronze palm tree. If you don’t pay attention and stay in the channel you may help inflate Million Dollar Rock into a multimillion-dollar attraction.