BRADENTON BEACH*

Located only a couple of hundred yards south of the Cortez Road Bridge, at about Mile 86 on the GICW.

I’m not sure this qualifies as a genuine “gunk hole.” It’s a very crowded, open anchorage with up to 30 boats most of the time. Many are liveaboards. It’s very shallow and VERY rough when the winds blow strong anywhere from the northwest through southeast. It is also susceptible to wakes from the large power boats cruising all day long, up and down the nearby Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW) channel. Weekends are especially bad for wakes. The bottom is mud and sand. Lots of grass makes it difficult for certain kinds of anchors to dig in well and dragging in gusty winds is a real possibility. I once came within 20 feet of being tossed onto the rocks under the pier. I was always worried about another boat breaking loose of dragging anchor in a storm and running into me. In fact, this happened to some friends of mine during Tropical storm Eta. A large, derelict catamaran’s anchor line parted. It was blown down onto my friend’s boat and was pushed up against the floating “day dock” at the pier. The couple got off their boat and onto the dock literally minutes before the six-foot high waves pushed their boat under the day dock. A total loss of everything they owned but the clothes on their backs. Down where I was at the Coquina North Boat ramp Leftis Key kept the wave action down to less than three feet.

Make sure you have a visible, Coast Guard-compliant anchor light shining after dark. The Bradenton Beach Police and the Manatee County Sheriff’s marine departments LOVE to make “anchor light sweeps” in the early morning hours while you’re sleeping and they REALLY enjoy writing $90 tickets for failure to show the proper lights.

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Bradenton Beach has to be the best provisioning stop along the entire coast. There is a FREE, city-owned dinghy dock with trash bins. Within one block of the dinghy dock there are five restaurants, two live music venues, and a sports bar where you can catch all your favorite teams. The Post Office is less than half a block away. There’s a Circle K convenience store a block and a half away serving hot coffee in the morning if you’re too lazy to brew your own and they sell ice. Unfortunately it’s not block ice. Just cubes so pick out a bag that’s frozen solid. Bradenton Beach Marina is just to the north of the anchorage with gas, diesel, water, and haul out facilities.

At the end of Bridge Street is the stop for the FREE trolley that serves all of Anna Maria island. It runs every 20 minutes, more or less depending on traffic,  from 6 am until 10 pm. It takes you past Walgreens and CVS pharmacies, Dollar Tree (everything’s a buck), Ace, and True Value Hardware stores. For groceries there’s a Publix Supermarket between the two pharmacies. 

For $1.50 regular fare, and 75 cents for seniors, there’s the #6 Manatee County Transit System bus that comes by once an hour and goes over to the mainland. I call it “The Dark Side.” You need to be at a bus stop at about a quarter before the hour. You’ll be early but should you be late and miss the bus you have to wait for an hour until the next one comes along. If the weather is hot wait for the bus at the stop in front of the Moose Lodge. It’s headed down to Coquina Beach where it turns around before heading back to the mainland. BUT,  you’ll be sitting in air conditioning instead of in the blazing sun.

If you’re going to be around for a few days and riding the bus to the mainland several times, slip a $5 or $10 bill in the slot and tell the driver “ONE WAY.” Your change is encoded on a card that pops up out of the fare box, and is good for one year. Next time you ride you insert the card and the fare is deducted. If you’re 65 or older make sure to tell the driver, “SENIOR FARE.” If you don’t they’ll charge you full fare.

The #6 bus will take you to a Winn Dixie Supermarket or a larger Publix than the one on the island. The bus also makes a major stop at Blake Medical Center, an excellent hospital, rated one of the top 100 in the country. A taxi from the dinghy dock to Blake will run you $20 not including tip.

A little further along the route there is a Walmart Supercenter, a Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Office Depot, a Best Buy, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Beyond that there is a West Marine about two blocks away from the bus stop. Just ring for a stop when the bus makes a major left turn as a stop light off the main route. At the end of the line is DeSoto Station where you can board buses that will take you to the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport to the South, or Northbound buses to Tampa and St. Pete.

All along the route there are good restaurants, greasy spoons, and fast food chain joints. T-Mobile, Verizon and Metro PCS wireless phone companies all have stores on the route. 

If you ride the trolley to Manatee Beach you can get off there and board the county’s #3 bus or the Beach Express, both of which will take you into downtown Bradenton. At that depot you can get buses that will take you to Tampa/St. Pete or down into Sarasota.

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