Back in March I was between jobs when a friend asked me if I could help him deliver his beloved Sea Ray 45 from St Petersburg to Miami. The trip was intended to get him closer to his retirement goal of indefinite cruising throughout the Bahamas.
Even though there was no sail trimming involved, I said YES…of course! I wanted to document my experience to help you, dear reader, plan your trip, to provide some valuable recommendations and to set some real expectations about long distance cruising on a motor yacht.
The Sea Ray 45’s top end cruising speed is around 21 to 22 mph and the low-fuel consumption cruising speed is around 10 to 11 mph. Based on the length of our trip (325 miles) and the hours we motored, about 24 hours total, our actual average cruising speed was 325 / 24 or about 13 ½ mph.
Before you begin an adventure like this I recommend you get a realistic idea of your yacht’s fuel consumption per hour and per mile. Unrealistic expectations will leave you frustrated and over budget. When calculating the route do not use your top cruising speed; instead use a speed somewhere between top end and low fuel consumption cruising speeds.
Make sure all your yacht’s papers are organized, your insurance is up to date and offers coverage in the areas you plan to cruise and all your yacht systems are properly maintained and in working order.
On the first day we left before sunrise, at 6:45 am, from St. Peterburg’s Loggerhead Marina via the channel just west of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We were really excited about the trip and agreed to cover as much distance as our fuel and adrenaline/energy levels allowed.
The owner had optimistically estimated that a full tank at top cruising speed would give us a range of 250 miles and at half cruising speed would give us close to 500 miles. In reality, with a 15 to 20 mile per hour wind right on the bow and a 2 to 3 foot chop we only got about 150 to 175 miles on a full tank at an average speed of 13 ½ mph and had to refuel twice during our 325-mile cruise.
After speeding through Bradenton, Sarasota, and Venice and enjoying the inside scenic channels through Charlotte Harbor, where we spotted dolphins, ospreys nesting, and lots of other birds, we stopped for diesel.
We were amazed at the beautiful and well-appointed Hamilton Harbor Marina in Naples, where friendly dockmaster Amy greeted us with a big smile and efficiently helped us with lines and fueling so we could get back on our way to Marco Island quickly. We had reservations there at the Marina at Factory Bay to spend the night.
To maximize your enjoyment throughout the cruise get really familiar with the entire route before you leave the dock and create a list of marinas and other facilities where you can get water, gas and/or diesel along the way. Top-off your tanks often. If you are on a tight schedule and the weather is nice, continue on for as long as you can. Some of the tools we used to plan our trip were the Chart Navigator Light 1.1 software by MapTech, the Dozier’s Southern 2011 Waterway Guide and of course the yacht’s GPS and chartplotter.
The second day we left Marco Island right after sunrise at 7:15 am. We cruised at full speed past Cape Romano and Cape Sable until we got to the entrance of the yacht channel on our way to the Florida Keys. If you are cruising on the southwest of Florida do not cruise at night, as there are hundreds of fishermen traps along the way, especially between Cape Sable and the lower Forida Keys.
Also, if you have doubts about your draft allowing you to pass through certain areas along the ICW route, then take the outside route and save yourself the stress of navigating through unknown shallow waters. Your props, your insurance and your crew will thank you!
Once near the Keys we slowed down to conserve fuel and to enjoy the views and clear waters all the way to Plantation Key/Islamorada where we stopped at the Plantation Harbor Marina for our second and last diesel top-off of the entire trip. After fueling, dockmaster Lisa gave us directions to the Snake Creek channel so that we could get to the outside channel and cruise at full speed in order to reach Elliott Key before sundown.
We reached the Broad Creek Channel entrance at 5:45 pm, just in time to get back inside the ICW and reach Elliott Key to enjoy the sunset and anchor out for the night, where we had our first view of the Miami skyline. Elliott Key is a must-stop along this route as it provides a well protected/unspoiled anchorage with really clear waters where you can really relax and see thousands of stars at night.
On the third and final day we left Elliott Key towards Miami/Coconut Grove at 11:00 am. We cruised at full speed until we reached North Biscayne Bay, where we were greeted by over 30 Etchells sailing boats flying their spinnakers with Miami in the background. After we watched the sailboats race around the buoys for a while we decided to anchor out at the sandy key next to Key Biscayne where we enjoyed quite a display of yachts and other toys owned by the trend-setters of Miami.
After a few hours anchored off Key Biscayne we navigated to the Dinner Key Marina where the owner dropped me off and slowly started cruising towards new waters and the beginning of his retirement dreams.
At right is a summary of the route we followed, which involved both sections out in the Gulf of Mexico as well as on the inside, in the well protected waters of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Capt. Tony Miró is a lifelong sailor, photographer, writer and web developer who currently lives in FL with his family, where they sail aboard their Hunter 376 ¡Nada Mas! He runs sailboatspecs.com, caribesailingadventures.com & tonymiro.com.