Weekend Getaway

Cruising Florida's Treasure Coast

Florida
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January 2016
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By
Capt. Jeff
Werner

Florida's Treasure Coast stretches along the Atlantic Coast south from Vero Beach, Fla., to the St. Lucie Inlet area. Our departure point for this long weekend excursion is Vero Beach City Marina. Tucked behind a large mangrove island just off the ICW, it is a favorite marina for cruisers since it is set a distance away from the hustle and bustle of ICW boat traffic. Before heading south, have lunch at the Ocean Grill, just a mile away from the marina, with a view of the Atlantic right on the sandy beach. If you like peel and eat shrimp, steamers and blue-crab burgers, you will soon know why the Ocean Grill was inducted into the Trip Advisor Hall of Fame this year.

Day 1: Vero Beach to Fort Pierce - 15 miles

While cruising to Fort Pierce along the ICW, you are traversing the Indian River, which is really a very long lagoon. The nice part about the ICW is that it allows you to proceed at a leisurely pace, especially for the short distances involved along the Treasure Coast. Like most Florida cities with fort in their name, Fort Pierce traces its beginning to a military base. An army fort was constructed in the area during the Second Seminole War in 1838.The Fort Pierce City Marina has recently completed an extensive renovation and is the ideal marina to berth for the night. The pet-friendly marina offers fuel, showers and laundry, two on-site restaurants and is just steps away from downtown. For happy hour starting at 3 p.m. daily, stop in the 2nd Street Bistro for an extensive craft beer list and gourmet burgers. Cobb's Landing, located next to the marina, offers fresh seafood dishes and its signature Pineapple Mojito. Warning, they're strong. What more can a sailor ask for?For dinner, a five-minute taxi ride will take you to Harbor Cove, a waterfront restaurant located at Harbortown Marina. The casual restaurant overlooks the marina and ICW. Make sure to get a seat at an outdoor table. The fish and chips are great, and the Rum Runners are strong.In the morning, after the mojito hangover has subsided, a visit to the A. E. Backus Museum & Gallery just down the street from the City Marina is in order. The museum exhibits the paintings of A.E. Backus, a well-known Florida artist, as well as the work of The Highwaymen. The Florida Highwaymen were a self-taught group of African-American landscape artists from the Fort Pierce area. From the 1950s through the 1980s, the Highwaymen were influenced by Backus' style.

DAY 2: Fort Pierce to Hutchinson Island - 19 miles

Hutchinson Island is a 22-mile-long barrier island, that protects the ICW from the Atlantic Ocean between Fort Pierce Inlet and St. Lucie Inlet. Near the south end of the island, along the ICW, is the entrance to Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina. Marina guests have full access to the 200-acre resort amenities including an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, three outdoor swimming pools, jogging and bicycling trails and is only a quarter of a mile away from the beach.For dinner, the captain's choice is Shucker's on the Beach. It is a lively spot, six miles north of the resort, where you can keep your toes in the sand while dining. If you prefer to stay at the Marriott for dinner, the casual Baha Grille offers savory seafood, steak and pasta dishes in an upscale setting.Hutchinson Island is home to the House of Refuge Museum on Gilbert's Bar. The history of the House of Refuge dates to 1876, when the U.S. Life-Saving Service constructed ten ˜houses of refuge,' or life-saving stations, along Florida's Atlantic Coast. These houses were staffed by ˜keepers,' who, with their families, led solitary lives in order to find, rescue and minister to those who fell victim to Florida's treacherous reefs and shoals.Prior to construction of these houses, many shipwreck victims made it to the isolated shore and then perished of starvation and thirst. As part of their duties, the keeper and his family walked along the shores as far as possible in search of shipwreck victims. This House of Refuge is now a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

DAY 3: Hutchinson Island to Manatee Pocket - 5 miles

While the cruise to Manatee Pocket is a short distance, it cuts across one of the most treacherous sections of the ICW, the intersection with St. Lucie Inlet. While the average tidal currents are two to three knots, I have experienced currents up to six knots during maximum ebb on a winter spring tide. At that time, I witnessed a small disabled tugboat get swept across the ICW and out St. Lucie Inlet like a cork bobbing on the water. When possible arrive at this intersection near slack water.This crossroad is where the Okeechobee Waterway begins its 144-mile journey west to Fort Myers. Manatee Pocket is just over a half mile west of the ICW, along the Okeechobee Waterway. The pocket is a small, narrow harbor filled with marinas, boatyards and bars and restaurants and is also the home of Chapman School of Seamanship.The fixed docks at Pirate's Cove Resort & Marina on the west side of Manatee Pocket are the perfect location to tie up for the night. Happy hour begins at 11 a.m. at the resort's tiki bar and runs till 7 p.m. The good news is that you just have to meander down the dock to get back to your boat.If you choose to eat as well as drink, dinner is served at the Pirate's Loft, which is up the stairs from the Tiki Bar. The Treasure Coast offers a mix of sun, sand, relaxing boating along with a pinch of art and history; the ideal recipe for a weekend getaway.

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Wickford to Block Island 29 NMCruising down the western shores of Narragansett Bay under the Jamestown Bridge, passing magnificent mansions then Point Judith Light, you are soon on your way across the open expanse of Rhode Island Sound to Block Island. The farthest island from land on the entire Eastern seaboard, Block Island is even more remote than Monhegan in Maine (10 miles out by comparison).

Block Island - weekend warrior - marinalife
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Block Island has a vacation vibe, and everything is relaxed, truly on island-time with their moniker of Bermuda of the North. The 1,500 happy humble Block Island residents claim they've been social distancing since 1661, so they've got humor to carry them through the long off-season. Block's pear-shaped 7 x 3-mile island is cool, casual and fun to explore for a few days, yet not so stuffy-chic or celebrity-crushed as Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.Getting around by bike or moped is the best way to explore Block's entire 16 miles of perimeter roads. Along the undulating country lanes, you may feel transported to Ireland with the lush rolling fields, stone walls, dramatic Mohegan Bluffs and the contrasting blue sea. Passing dozens of unique beaches, you may plan to return later. Highlight sights are Block Island's two impressive lighthouses – North and South East – with the busier main village of Old Harbor in between.Block Island has two boating harbors: the more protected New Harbor in Great Salt Pond, which is preferred by pleasure boaters, and Old Harbor with its primary ferry landing and bustling downtown of shops and grand seaside hotels. Staying at Great Salt Pond overlooking your mooring or dock slip, you should enjoy sunsets, pub fare and a boaters' block party atmosphere at The Oar or Dead Eye Dick's (opens in May). While in the Old Harbor after browsing boutiques, find a perfect chair and cocktail at either grand seaside hotel: Spring House or Atlantic House.For a delicious local dinner, Kimberly's serves littlenecks or calamari followed by lobster mac n' cheese as a beautiful ending to a day of exploring. Live music may be piping out from next door Poor People's Pub to lure you over for a nightcap.Block Island's public moorings in New Harbor are assigned daily by the Harbormaster. Private slips can be reserved at Champlin's Marina, the Boat Basin and Oar House. They book up quickly in prime summer season, which results in boats rafting-up with strangers (friends you haven't yet met!).

Day 3: Newport

Block Island to Newport 25 NMDeparting Block Island, perhaps after fresh coffee and pastries delivered to your boat by enterprising locals, you will be in the company of power boaters and sailing vessels, plus the occasional charging ferry heading to Newport. It's a direct course northeast to the Sailing Capital of Newport.

Bannisters Wharf - weekened warrior - marinalife
Bannisters Wharf, Newport | Greg Burke

No boater worth his Sperry's can miss out on the yachty harbor of Newport, established in 1639. As a visiting boater, contact the Harbormaster or Newport Yachting Center for an affordable mooring or a much pricier dock space in this prime harbor. Water taxis ply the harbor frequently to take you to the town docks.Newport is full of magnificent vessels, lively waterfront pubs lining Bowens and Bannisters Wharfs, and scads of inviting seaside shops on cobblestone streets. Getting off your boat, stretch your sea legs with a scenic 3.5-mile cliff walk by the Gilded Age mansions of our fine affluent families (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Dupont, Astor and Morgan). Before sunset, head for Newport rooftop drinks overlooking the harbor at The Vanderbilt or the Hotel Viking to toast your good fortunate in this big little state.

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Islamorada - weekend warrior - marinalife
Islamorada | romrodinka on Canvas

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Day 2: Duck KeyIslamorada to Duck Key 21 NM

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Day 3: Key WestDuck Key to Key West 52 NM

Before adventuring out in the heat to pet the famous six-toed cats at Hemingway House or view the spartan simplicity of the Truman Little White House, grab a Cuban Café con Leche and wander around town absorbing the laid-back, culturally diverse life of island time.Nightly pub crawls guide visitors along Duval Street's legion of barrooms. Much like the revelers doing the Duval Crawl, the Key West chickens strut the streets and crow at all hours. Colorful roosters and mother hens with tiny chicks weave in and out of traffic and through open cafés around town.

ocean reef club - weekend warrior - marinalife
Buccaneer Island, Ocean Reef Club | Ocean Reef Club

Much quieter winged creatures reside in the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, a tropical paradise home to hundreds of species of magical butterflies and birds. More of nature's birding and fishing wonders lie just off the western shore. Accessible only by boat, Key West National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 208,308 acres with only 2,019 acres above sea level. Wading birds, pelicans, shorebirds, sea turtles, manatees and dolphins all live within or visit the refuge.There's an eatery on nearly every corner from the quirky Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe to the beautiful Seaside Café at the Southernmost Mansion and Louie's Backyard for fine dining. It's best to experience Key West on a bike or a golf cart so you can catch the quirkiness of the island including the popular drag show at 801 Bourbon Bar and the famous cemetery. And at the end of the day, join the locals for live music at the Green Parrot Bar.Several marinas welcome boaters with a range of pleasant amenities and convenient locations: Conch Harbor Marina in historic Old Town, Stock Island Yacht Club and The Perry Hotel & Marina.

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Day 1: Solomons Island

Just a sliver of land measuring a mile and a half long, and in some spots it's just the width of a single road, yet Solomons is alive with eateries, shops, a tiki bar, marinas, a scenic sculpture garden and a world-class museum.

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Local residents seeking to preserve the maritime heritage of the area began the Calvert Marine Museum as a community project in 1970. It has evolved into a research museum, renowned for local history exploration while actively looking toward challenges of the future, especially environmental issues. Maritime history, estuarine biology and paleontology are brought to life through hands-on experiences. More than 500 artifacts include a 28-foot three-log canoe, a tobacco press and boats from Solomons' long-gone shipyards and oyster industry.

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Several marinas on Back Creek include the resort-style Solomons Harbor Marina close to the town's center, and the larger, 246-slip Spring Cove Marina that offers a courtesy shuttle to restaurants and shops.

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Solomons Island to St. Mary's City 36 NM

"Where's the city?" is a frequent question from arriving tourists who haven't yet realized they are standing on the archaeological site of Maryland's first capital. Tours of replica buildings bring that era back to life. Trails along this historic exhibit on the St. Mary's River wind past a replica of the Dove (one of the ships that carried Catholic settlers), the Godiah Spray Plantation and a fully excavated 17th century building at St. John's Site.

St. Clements Island - weekend warrior - marinalife
St. Clements Island | Susan Elnicki Wade

After a 90-year search, a fort-like formation the size of a football field was recently uncovered. Ground-penetrating radar scans revealed a brick cellar guardhouse and dwellings -- possibly Native American -- within the walls. Native communities in the area can be traced back 10,000 years, and a quartzite arrow dating back 4,500 years was unearthed.

Eating options are limited but tasty. Tiny Enso Kitchen has amazing breakfast sandwiches and lunch salads, but its fame comes from scrumptious bread and pastries. Although it's located in a gas station, St. James Deli & Spirits is known for excellent take-out pizza and subs.

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Day 3: Coltons Point

St. Mary's City to Coltons Point 26 NM

Off-season, the pace of life in this peaceful little community on the Potomac is lower than the speed limit. That all changes as warm weather tourists arrive at St. Clement's Island Museum to learn about the 1634 arrival of two ships, the Ark and Dove, whose English passengers sought to establish a new colony based on religious tolerance.

Bald eagle in flight - weekend warrior - marinalife
Bald Eagle in Flight | Frank Cone

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In 1967, local preservation groups organized the annual Blessing of the Fleet, a time-honored traditional benediction for the boats and the St. Mary's County watermen. The event also raises awareness about the island's future, currently one-tenth its original size due to rising sea levels.

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