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COQUINA NORTH BOAT RAMP

This is a barely-used alternative to the crowded Bradenton Beach anchorage to the north because it is very shallow. I anchored here for about a year and a half and even rode out Tropical Storm Eta on anchor in 2020! NINE boats at the Bradenton Beach location sank in that storm! When anchoring near a boat ramp you must be AT LEAST 100 feet away. 

With a swing keel like my boat has you can anchor fairly close to the mangrove-lined shore to the north of the boat ramp in 3-5 feet over good-holding sandy mud. Further away from shore there’s an area resembling a crater where you’ll find water 10 to 15 feet deep. Almost everything south of the ramp is too shallow to anchor in and much of it dries out at low tide.

Wind protection is excellent from SW to NW because of a thick stand of mangroves lining the shore. North to South, however, is open and it can get very choppy in strong winds from those directions. The worst direction for chop comes with strong winds sweeping in from the southeast across lower Sarasota Bay. A fetch of more than 10 miles can cause real discomfort for those anchored up in the larger Bradenton Beach anchorage but Leftis Key, to the south of the Coquina North ramp, lessens the wave height considerably.

For those whose draft allows them to anchor here there is much to recommend it, compared to Bradenton Beach. I anchored up there for two years and always looks longingly south until I finally decided to give the boat ramp area a try. 

Right outside the parking area is a trolley/bus stop. The trolley is free and runs the entire length of Anna Maria Island from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. You can shop at Walgreens, CVS, Publix Supermarket, Dollar Tree, Ace and True Value Hardware stores as well as dozens of restaurants along the route. The trolley operates on a 20 minute schedule but is often delayed because of traffic at the height of the tourist season. The Manatee County #6 bus swings by every hour, almost at the top of the hour, and for $1.50 (75 cents for seniors) will take you to the mainland. The route passes by a Walmart Supercenter, Publix Supermarket, Winn-Dixie supermarket, a Lowes and Home Depot, Best Buy, Office Depot, and a West Marine, and enough fast food choices to clog any artery. If you take the trolly up to the Manatee Beach stop you can board buses there that will take you into downtown Bradenton and beyond with connections to Tampa and St. Pete.

Two caveats..Make sure you have a working anchor light. The Manatee Sheriff’s department loves to sneak around in the middle of the night writing tickets for people who don’t display a proper anchor light. It’s a $90 hit!

And DON’T tie your dinghy up to any part of the boat ramp or the railings around the ramp! That’s against a county ordinance and they can not only fine you, but they can, and have, impounded and towed away violator’s dinghies. You must tie off to one of the mangrove’s branches and wade ashore.

The Coquina North Boat Ramp is very popular and though there is a “No Wake” zone, boaters will push this right up to the limit, and sometimes beyond, especially the commercial mullet fishermen who launch their boats here. They will rock you senseless sometimes. You also have the wakes from the GICW to contend with.

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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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PALMA SOLA BAY*

It’s a bit off the beaten path, but if you’re looking for a place to hang out on the hook for a couple of days Palma Sola is good if you can clear a 10 foot bridge.

The bottom is good holding with sand and mud. Protection from the wind is good in all directions and no matter how hard it may be blowing there would not be much wave action to bother you. During daylight hours jet skis buzz around which can be annoying, but after sunset it’s quiet.

The anchorage is right off Manatee Avenue and there’s a bus stop at the western end of the cul de sac bay. The east-bound bus will take you into downtown Bradenton and one of the two county bus terminals. Heading west will take you to the Manatee Avenue Beach. There you can hop on the free trolley and go to Coquina Beach at the south end of Anna Maria Island, and to Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Publix Supermarket, an Ace Hardware and Dollar Tree as well as quite a few restaurants. Taking the trolley north from the beach will take you to the town of Anna Maria where there are restaurants gift stores and a True Value Hardware.

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MANATEE RIVER

Many who don’t want to be in the Sarasota Bay anchorages around Bradenton Beach can drop the hook in the Manatee River. Here they can rest up before continuing northwards on the GICW. Others may want to go up Tampa Bay, perhaps to drop in to the Jean Street Boatyard, Florida’s oldest yard. It opened in 1843!, and is the only DIY yard I found on Florida’s Gulf Coast. 

A couple of good spots for an overnight stay are just inside the mouth of the river coming in off Tampa Bay. The first is DeSoto Point, often referred to by locals as the “Holy Hole” because of the three crosses on shore. You’ll drop the hook into good, hard mud about 8 feet down. If you have a dinghy you can get to a nice, sandy beach nearby. Expect wakes from boats running out to fish Tampa Bay or further out into the Gulf itself. The spot is wide open to winds from the north and northeast.

A little further in is McKay Point. There’s good-holding in soft mud a fathom down. This is where you’d go to escape winds from the north which makes DeSoto Point a lee shore. 

Four and a half miles into the river by R”18” and R”20” you can anchor in soft mud in 5-10 depths. There is a marina nearby so make sure you anchor at least 100 feet away to be in compliance with Florida regulations. It’s open to winds from the north back around to the west. There is grocery shopping, restaurants, hardware stores and a hospital nearby. A dinghy dock is on the south bank.

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BOCA CIEGA BAY

After crossing Tampa Bay headed north, or chugging down through “The Narrows” you might want to take a break and drop anchor for the night at the north end of Boca Ciega Bay. You have St. Petersburg Beach between you and the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the city of Gulfport on the mainland to the east. It’s not a scenic location. The shores are lined with houses and condos. Good holding in muddy bottom. but you can find shelter from the wind in nearly any direction. Before dark you’ll have to contend with wakes from passing boats.

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TURTLECRAWL POINT*

There are three places to anchor around Turtlecrawl Point. 

  1. On the southeast side of the peninsula. The safest way to enter is to begin following the private markers around GICW G”23”. Around their G”11” you can edge in towards the shore. Good protection from NW winds over a muddy/sand bottom. Plenty of wakes from passing boats, but, as usual, these generally stop after sundown.
  2. On the west side of the peninsula and before getting to the Welch Causeway Bridge there’s a large anchoring area off the east side of the waterway between markers G”5” and R”10”. Can’t miss the place as there are a lot of boats anchored there already. Wind protection from northerly and easterly winds is excellent. Expect passing wakes during daylight hours.
  3. Though I haven’t anchored in this spot as I have in the previous two, there is reported to be an anchorage just north of the Welch Causeway and there is access ashore with dinghy dockage and a Publix supermarket and a Mickey Doo Doo’s is there if you care to clog your arteries.

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CLEARWATER

The anchorages at Clearwater are not idyllic and scenic. To my mind they’re little more than places of necessity since they’re surrounded by houses. Wind protection is good from all directions but you’ll be subjected to wakes.

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TARPON SPRINGS AREA*

The area around Tarpon Springs offers many anchorages. Some are VERY popular during holidays and weekends when the weather’s fine.

Three Rockers, the long key on the south end offers good protection from westerly winds if you anchor on the east side and vice versa on the west. But the west side can be rough even after the winds calm down since the water there is the Gulf of Mexico. Good holding in clean sand on either side of the island.

Anclote Key to the north offers great protection from most winds. The bottom is clean sand. This is a popular staging area for people headed to the panhandle who want to cut down the mileage by avoiding the “Big Bend.” When I was anchored here, though, a strong squall blew through and made the island a dangerous lee shore. After the squall passed I high tailed it out of there and made the 3.5 mile run up into the anchorage just inside the land of the Anclote River. The anchorage there offers superb protection from wind in any direction. (See the Tarpon Springs chapter for more information.)

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TARPON SPRINGS*

Tarpon Springs, once a thriving sponge fishing port, is an interesting stop if you love Greek food, but anchoring spots are nearly nonexistent. The only one with water deep enough is to your left at green day marker #19 as you come in off the Gulf. Florida law prohibits your from anchoring within 100 feet of a boat ramp so you need to go past the launch ramp at the entrance. Beyond is a small area where a half dozen boats can anchor in about 8 feet over a muddy bottom.

There are a half dozen wet and dry stack marinas along the Anclote River where you can buy fuel .

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HERNANDO BEACH*

There is little reason to go to Hernando Beach unless you need to get fuel.

There are two marinas at the end of a very long, narrow, winding channel where you can gas up. When you get to civilization the channel branches off to the right and left. Hang a right to get to the Hernando Beach Marina which sells gas and diesel. The Blue Pelican sells gas only. Neither will let you tie up and spend the night on your boat.

As you come in off of the Gulf the channel to the left is a long series of rock spoil islands. Be REAL careful to stay in the channel here. On the northern side of the islands is the very shallow Rice Creek Bay. Most of it is no deeper than three feet at low tide. Carefully swing into the bay between R”36 and R”38.

 On nice warm days there are always a large number of anchored boats there with people standing around in water up to their waists. If you’re able to float in at least three feet then anchoring up behind the spoil islands in mostly sandy bottom is a good place to spend the night. The islands provide excellent protection from the wakes of the long parade of commercial fishing boats that go out at dusk and return at daybreak.

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