Many snowbirds are making their annual pilgrimages south despite extensive hurricane damage to Florida boatyards and marinas. However, they have had to plan their stopovers carefully, while other cruisers have chosen to stay in South Carolina and Georgia until more Florida facilities are back on line, says cruising guide author Claiborne Young.
Young, of Elon College, N.C., has published lists of damaged yards and marinas along the Florida Panhandle and the state’s east and west coasts in “Salty Southeast,” his e-mail newsletter for cruisers. Those lists and a free subscription to the newsletter are available by e-mailing Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Florida Keys and boating facilities around Fort Lauderdale and Miami came through hurricanes Charley, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne virtually unscathed. Snowbirds still can cruise down Florida’s east or west coasts to those destinations and find fuel and dockage en route, Young says.
“South of Titusville, though, they’re going to have to pick their fuel stops and overnight stops with care,” he says. “If you pick and choose, you can make your way down the waterways.” He cautions, though, that cruisers were reporting overnight slips filling up quickly. “Call ahead. Make sure there’s a slip available.”
He expected the slip squeeze to ease by Thanksgiving.
The Florida Panhandle from Choctawhatchee Bay west to Mobile Bay — Pensacola and its environs — suffered the worst damage.
“Pensacola looks like a war zone,” Young says. “It reminds me of what Charleston looked like after Hugo in 1989.” Yards and marinas in Mobile Bay are back up, and facilities in Panama City are “fully functional,” he says, but cruisers are advised to bypass Pensacola, if possible.
“To my knowledge, there’s only one marina pumping fuel along that whole stretch,” he says. That’s Blue Water Bay Marina on Buggy Bayou. “They’re operational.”
Many cruisers doing the great loop up the Hudson River, through the Great Lakes and down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway say they intend to continue on to Florida and winter in the Keys, Young says.
At this fall’s TrawlerFest gathering in Solomons, Md., Young — who is the author of five southeast U.S. cruising guides and co-author of a sixth — sold two cases of his “Cruising Guide to North Carolina and Georgia.” Young says he usually sells maybe a half-dozen of them at that event.
Why the surge in sales? “People are thinking about spending the winter in South Carolina and Georgia,” he says. “Marina owners around Hilton Head think they’ve got a wonderful winter ahead of them.”