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.
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.
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.
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.