In the early 1700s, Spanish captains leaving Cuba or Mexico would clear the Florida Straits and set a course for the favorable currents of the Gulf Stream. But not all accounted for tropical weather patterns and hurricanes sunk numerous treasure ships along the Florida coast. Most met their demise between Jupiter and Cape Canaveral, so this region of Florida is sometimes known as the Treasure Coast.
Today, Stuart is the centerpiece of the Treasure Coast. Thanks to Martin County building regulations which prohibit constructing taller than four stories, Stuart has not become a haven for high-rises like the counties farther south. Once most populated with retirees, it is now a thriving family community.
Stuart is the political, economic, and cultural center of Martin County. Historic downtown Stuart is adjacent to the St. Lucie River, and there's a free floating dock off the Riverfront Boardwalk that facilitates visiting during daylight hours. Here you'll find several fine restaurants, antique shops, galleries, specialty clothing stores, and even a pet boutique that makes for delightful strolling.
Don't miss Kilwin's (772-223-6446). It's a fantastic ice cream and fudge shop. The Lyric Theater (772-286-7827 or www.lyrictheatre.com) is a 1920s movie house that has been expanded into a charming 500-seat performing arts center with an active calendar of events.
Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge, built in 1875, is the oldest building on the Treasure Coast and the last of 10 lifesaving stations built here to assist shipwrecked sailors. Its location was once known as at "St. Lucie Rocks," the earliest designation for south Hutchinson Island. Its boathouse was added in 1914 when the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard.
The lifesaving station took its name from a nasty patch of real estate where submerged rocks and reef lines lurk in front of an inhospitable rocky beach.
The bar, in turn, was named Don Pedro Gibert, for the last-known American pirate. He was born in South America, and his name was easier to pronounce in English if one added an "l." He and his crew worked the rocky shore off Hutchinson Island, either by attacking ships and driving them onto reefs, or by setting fires on the beach. They'd play the part of marooned mariners, only to plunder their rescuers once close at hand.
In 1832, Don Gibert attacked the Salem, Massachusetts-based ship Mexican and stole silver worth $20,000 before ordering his crew to kill the sailors and burn the ship. Instead, Gibert's crew decided to lock the sailors below and set fire to the ship. Little did they know, the captain and crew freed themselves, extinguished the flames, and sailed to New York where they reported what had happened.
The British Navy caught Gibert off the coast of Africa where he was loading slaves. The navy blew up his ship and extradited Gibert to Boston to stand trial. He was hung in the spring of 1835.
Today, the restored Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge (772-225-1875) will fill you with plenty of good sea stories.
Another great must-see is the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center (772-225-0505 or www.floridaoceanographic.org). This 40-acre parcel is home to a library, nature trails, Children's Activity Pavilion, and pools where you can learn about game fish and rays first-hand. The center also has activities that include eco-tours of the nearby Indian River Lagoon, fish feeding, and snorkeling with a guide at Bathtub Beach.
Bathtub Beach, by the way, is the area's best beach for small children because large boulders just off the beach break the surf. It is south of the House of Refuge.
Restaurants and Provisions
Stuart has many strip malls, but for an indoor mall experience, drive over the bridge to the Treasure Coast Square Mall in neighboring Jensen Beach.
Mariners moored in the Southpoint Anchorage are in close proximity to downtown Stuart and its excellent restaurants. Fine dining choices include The Flagler Grill (772-221-9517), The Black Marlin (772-286-3126), The Ashley (772-221-1769), Jerry's La Famiglia (772-463-0059) and the Osceola Street Café (772-283-6116). Across the bridge you'll find Wahoo's (772-692-2333), a local favorite.
Off the beaten path, try Conchy Joe's Seafood (772-334-1130) restaurant on Northeast Indian River Drive in Jensen Beach. This rustic 1920s-era Florida stilt house is full of antique fish mounts, gator hides, and snake skins, but the great seafood served in a casual, waterfront atmosphere is always fresh.
Those in need of a break from seafood won't be disappointed with two authentic Thai restaurants. Basil Garden (772-221-2522) is not far from the Southpoint Anchorage. Thep Thai (772-220-4998) is on Federal Highway at Monterrey Road.
The closest supermarket to the Southpoint Anchorage and to marinas near the Roosevelt or Palm City Bridges is a Publix (772-221-3922) on South Federal Highway.
Use ChartKit Region 7 page 43, and Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 11472 (1:40,000), 11474 (1:80,000), 11466 (1:80,000) and 11428 (1:80,000).
Navigation and Anchorages
At the "Crossroads" just south of G "239," you have the opportunity to switch rivers by making two 90-degree turns to head for downtown Stuart and Florida's interior on the St. Lucie River.
Heading west into the St. Lucie River from the ICW, be wary of two sandbars bordering the channel near the entrance to Manatee Pocket. The one to port off Sandsprit Park is unforgiving and harder to see than the often-exposed bar lurking on the starboard side behind R "8." The navigation aids are frequently adjusted to account for the shifting shoals.
For enhancements to your sails and rigging, legendary Mack Sails (772-283-2306) is not far from the waterfront on Manatee Pocket.
Things improve as you make your way north toward Stuart, as you'll be in wider, deeper water after passing under the protection of Sewall Point. As you head toward the three bridges ahead, keep in mind that the nav aids mark shoals, so give them a wide berth. There's a new marina located on the site of what once was the Northside Marina (and former home of the Stuart Boat Show). The Harborage Yacht Club (772-692-4000) located west of Okeechobee SM 5 will serve the owners of the 198 adjacent condos, but also included in the plans are an additional 150 slips for public use. This deepwater marina will accommodate yachts up to 120 feet.
The 65-foot Roosevelt Bridge is followed by an automated railroad bridge that is usually open, and then the old Roosevelt Bridge that has a14-foot clearance. The horizontal opening of the railroad bridge is significantly less than the old Roosevelt Bridge and there isn't much maneuvering room. Make sure both bridges are up before you begin the passage.
Following the three bridges, the St. Lucie splits. The Okeechobee Waterway heads off to the south and the channel narrows considerably to become the St. Lucie Canal and the eastern origin of the Okeechobee Waterway passage across Florida. Lake conditions and water levels, debris removal, and lock maintenance all mandate a call to the Army Corps of Engineers (904-232-2539) for latest conditions before setting out on this route.
The North Fork of the river, which is a designated aquatic preserve, offers lovely scenery and anchorages. Deep water carries close to shore.
Stuart's municipal Southpoint Anchorage Marina (772-283-9225), at SM 7.9 of the Okeechobee Waterway, puts cruisers near the heart of downtown Stuart. The anchorage consists of 86 mooring and the modest overnight fee includes use of showers, laundry, pumpout, trash disposal, and lounge. Free WiFi reaches the moored boats. This cruiser-friendly anchorage is open to northwest wind but is generally calm in the prevailing easterlies.
For provisions, you'll have to travel five blocks to a large shopping center and it's three blocks to historic old town.
If you are planning a trip west through the Okeechobee Waterway and are in need of any kind of sprucing up, Riverwatch Marina and Boatyard (772-286-3456), located at Okeechobee SM 10, has a 60-ton travelift and they specialize in servicing and repowering of Volvo and Mercury products.
Rather than dodge storms or seek out hurricane holes, some cruisers elect to haul out for the duration of hurricane season inland on the Okeechobee Waterway at American Custom Yachts (772-221-9100) or Indiantown Marina (772-597-2455). Both facilities are within 30 statute miles of Sewall Point and the crossroads.
River Forest Yachting Center (772-287-4131), located 1 mile southwest of the St. Lucie Lock, is a first-class service and storage facility. Their "Hurricane Club" offeres exclusive hurricane refuge in a very safe and secluded location.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Police, Fire, Ambulance: