Boating Round Trip- Cape Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet
We're up early on a nice, calm Saturday and have nothing planned for the day so a boat ride sounds like a great idea. Our 21 foot pleasure boat with twin 150 hp outboard motors is sitting on the trailer in the side yard just calling us to the water.
First, we pack our necessary supplies: sun protection, drinks, ice, water, sandwiches, snacks, fluffy beach towels and a small personal items kit with a hairbrush and comb and hand wipes. We load our gear into the boat and then check the boat using our mental “pre-voyage checklist”. Things to check are gas levels in the tanks, life vests on board and in good condition, tool kit, spare propeller shear pins, drain plug in place and tight, electrical (lights on boat and trailer), and condition and air levels of the trailer tires. Finding everything in working order, we hook the boat to our car and travel just a mile north to the public boat ramp at Port Canaveral.
Putting the boat in at the west end of the port, we park the car and trailer and jump aboard. The engines crank and purr nicely, so everything is ready to go!
Heading through the port toward the east, we see the many shrimp boats docked along the seawall. These trawlers help make the Florida seafood industry profitable and provide food for all our tables. Further east in the port, we pass restaurants, pleasure boats docked, day-cruise gambling ships, the Trident Submarine turn basin and, nearing the port’s exit, we see Jetty Park, a great camping and fishing spot, on the shore to our right.
After we pass Jetty Park’s long fishing pier, extending far into the Atlantic, we head to open waters. Lots of other boaters are doing the same today. Leaving the port, we encounter waves that are a bit choppy at the port’s entrance. This is a natural occurrence when open waters enter a port or inlet. It’s not severely chopped; just a bit of rocking and rolling.
We turn south in the Atlantic, within site of land, but well out into the ocean. The sites are beautiful as we see the condominiums and hotels along the beach. Seagulls and pelicans are seen flying over the water in search of food. The breeze is blowing to keep us cool and the sun is shining brightly.
We take a minute to apply some sunscreen. Although we are both well-tanned, we can still get sun damage during a long day at sea. The water reflecting the sunlight makes it almost twice as intense and can burn the skin easily. We take turns at the wheel of the boat while the other applies a liberal amount of sunscreen. For those not well-tanned, we recommend that you apply the highest sun-blocking sunscreen you can locate while on the water like this!
We have no reason to speed along, so we cruise at a leisurely pace with the gentle waves rocking the boat, almost like being rocked to sleep. I relax, lying on the front deck on my fluffy beach towel for a while. Soon, the sun and gentle waves makes me sleepy, so I have to get up and move around to avoid missing the trip!
I take the wheel while my husband relaxes a while. We both open soft drinks and turn on the boat’s stereo. Some rock and roll wakes me up very effectively. Hubby gets to kick back in the rear seats and suns a bit while I control the boat.
I like to go fast some, so I crank the throttle higher and add some speed. It’s also getting hot, so the additional breeze created from our higher speed cools us off. We are, at this point, passing Cocoa Beach on our right. Fishing boats, both pleasure craft and trawlers, are visible further out to sea on the left. We spot one of the large cruise ships coming toward port as well.
Soon, Patrick Air Force base becomes visible on the right and we see the small trainer jets buzzing over us as military personnel perform training exercises. Between our boat and the shore, a flock of surfers are enjoying the breaking waves. This section of beach is a favorite of surfers. There are lots of pleasure boats fishing in this area as well. They must know of a good spot and we note to come back some time when we want to try our luck at fishing.
Satellite Beach and then Melbourne Beach are soon seen as we continue south. We again exchange places at the boat controls. We decide to slow down because a very low populated, beautiful area is coming very soon. We drift a bit closer to shore.
South of Melbourne Beach there are tiny communities and the land narrows down to as little as 150 feet from ocean to river. In this area are some large oceanfront homes with vast, natural property in between. We enjoy looking at these huge multi-million dollar homes and wondering what they look like inside. We both agree it wouldn’t be the place to live for us, the closest 7-11 convenience store is 10-15 miles away!
We move back out to sea as we approach Sebastian Inlet. Since Sebastian is not a “controlled” port, meaning there are no locks to control the water flow, the water can be very rough entering from near the beach. We go out a mile or more and upon reaching the inlet, turn west. Remembering the rule “red-right-return”, we make sure we are properly in the channel as we approach the fishing pier at Sebastian Inlet National Park.
There are a large number of boats in and around the inlet fishing. Some are, like us, going into the inlet while others are departing. Between the natural choppiness of the water and the boat wakes, the ride gets a bit bumpy for the first time. Once inside the inlet, which connects the ocean to the Indian River, the water returns to normal and is quite smooth. Being certain to maintain our position inside the channel markers we head into the Indian River where we turn north.
The Indian River is quite wide and the channel is also very wide in this area. The water is glassy and calm. Since we’ve just traveled slowly, at what’s known as “no wake speed” through the inlet, we speed up and allow the boat to “plane”. When a boat planes, it reaches a speed at which it rises in the water and the bow lowers. It is the fastest position for a boat, and we speed along quite rapidly.
Soon we see the Melbourne hump-back bridge crossing the river ahead. As we near, we begin to slow down. All bridges, sea-walled areas, and inlets require by law that you travel at “no wake speed”. By the time we reach the bridge, we are moving slowing and our boat is creating no following wake or wave. We return to and continue at a cruise speed until we reach the Eau Gallie Causeway and slow to no wake speed again.
Just north of the Eau Gallie Causeway is the entrance to the Banana River. We see the point of land called “Dragon Point” which, until recently was guarded by a large dragon guarding its eggs and hatching baby, constructed of stone and plaster. I understand that the dragon fell from age and is not going to be rebuilt.
We must pass into a narrow channel between Dragon Point on Merritt Island and the barrier island near Patrick Shores. The houses on Merritt Island in this area are old homes in the Florida plantation style and the view is quite interesting. On the left we begin to see Patrick Air Force base - but this time, from the other side. We travel this narrow channel area slowly. Once we pass under the Pineda Causeway, we’re in open waters for a long while. The next bridge to pass under is the 520 Causeway, about 8 miles ahead.
As we reach further north in the river near Merritt Island’s more densely populated residential areas and Cocoa Beach on the east, the channel widens and we hit the throttle for speed again. Cruising these familiar waters is fun. We see several skiers out today and someone parasailing as well.
As we continue north, we reach another spur of Merritt Island known as “Angel City”. The channel is narrowed again because we choose to remain in the Banana River. The Sykes Creek connects here and is the larger channel, but it won’t get us to Port Canaveral, our destination.
We reach Cocoa Beach’s main downtown area and US 520’s bridge. We slow to a crawl to pass under. We speed up the river toward US 528’s bridge which is 4 miles or so ahead. Reaching it rather quickly, we again slow to no wake speed and pass under. Several boats are tied to the bridge’s under-penning to fish. They wave as we pass by and we return the waves and smiles.
Just north of US 528, a very small, narrow channel known as “The Barge Canal” connects the Indian River on the west, the Banana River we are traveling on, and Port Canaveral with the Atlantic. This allows major traffic such as fuel barges to pass from ocean to the Inter-coastal Waterway. We turn into the Barge Canal, maintaining a low speed all the way to the Port Canaveral Lock.
Waiting for the lock to open, we prepare our ropes to tie up inside the lock. The lock allows the water level to be adjusted between river and ocean. The trick is to tie up loosely so that the water level change will not cause you problems. We also throw our bumper guards over the side of the boat so that while tied to the lock walls, we will not scrape our boat.
The horn sounds and the lock opens. All the vessels coming out are allowed to exit and we hear a different horn that signals us to enter the lock. Quite a few other boats will be passing through with us. Inside the lock, we tie up and cut the engines because it takes about 10 minutes or more to perform the water level adjustment and allow us to exit.
It is a good time to sit back and have a cold drink. The pelicans are sitting on the lock’s pilings and staring at us. Seagulls abound, hoping for a treat to be thrown. Being Floridians we know it is not a good idea to feed seagulls because soon swarms will gather demanding more.
After the water level adjustment - whether it goes up or down depends on the tides at the time - we are signaled to prepare for departure. Very, very slowly the lock doors open to reveal Port Canaveral ahead and we can see all the way out to the Atlantic. We untie and all the vessels exit the locks orderly and slowly.
Back in the Port again! Almost home! It’s been a long day, but a very pleasant one. We’re both ready to get off the water and into a cool shower and some air conditioned indoors.
Since we put in near the western end of the port, we quickly reach the dock and tie up. I got get the car and trailer and carefully back it down the ramp. The trailer must go into the water and allow the boat to “float on” before winching it the rest of the way onto the trailer. I place the car in park and make certain to set the emergency brake. My husband quickly unties and eases the boat very slowly into position on the trailer. I am in position as the boat nears to hook the winch line onto the boat’s winch hook and I allow the electric winch to pull the boat into proper position. Hubby checks that all is secure, and I move the car with boat and trailer up from the ramp.
Before taking off, we perform a post-cruise check list: no lines hanging out of the boat, nothing on top of the bow, boat stereo off, power off, and nothing in a place where it will blow out of the boat while traveling home.
We head for home, but before that cool shower, we must unload and do some basic boat maintenance. We’ve been in salt water all day, so we hose the boat and trailer down thoroughly on the outside. We also hose the rear of the car off in case salt water has gotten on it. Everything is put back in place on the boat, gas lines are shut off for safety, and we carry out things inside to end another enjoyable boating day!