Cruising The Venice Of America

Story by Bobbye Kenyon
Photos by John Kenyon

Fort Lauderdale welcomes you to discover its downtown excitement, historic locales, and mesmerizing seascapes

The dog days of summer have faded into fall, delivering cooler temperatures and lower humidity. This terrific combination for an optimal cruising experience can be found along the waters of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. With over 300 miles of navigable canals, channels, and waterways, this stunning locale, also known as "The Venice of America," is a unique boating destination.

Local boaters enjoy this "downtime" season as less traffic on the waters, available dockage, and shorter lines also provide a slower boating pace, while crisp autumn winds usher in Northerners making their way to warmer breezes. "We are getting our folks who trailer their boats down from Canada and the Northeast back," Matt Domke, Downtown Dockmaster with City of Fort Lauderdale/New River Marine Facility, said. "We've had a lot more visitors than last year." This time of year, be sure to incorporate manatee season (November 15 to March 31) into your cruising itinerary as you cautiously navigate and share the waters with these gentle creatures. Manatee zones are areas designated along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) with Idle Speed/No Wake signs posted; it can be costly if you're caught speeding!

What's really neat is that if you check the calendar, you can plan a boating getaway that might include internationally recognized marine happenings like the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) October 27-31 and Winterfest Boat Parade on December 10.

Cruising Advice

Heading south, it's an eight-mile run dotted with five bridges down the ICW from Pompano Beach to Port Everglades. The scenery is spectacular — canals, mega mansions with mega yachts, landmarks like Pier 66, and the natural beauty of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. A bevy of restaurants including a pair of popular dockside dining spots offer a temporary port along the way: Chart House, south of the Oakland Park Bridge, is a great place for lunch with its wonderful Intracoastal view, as casual dining and feeding the tarpons at 15th Street Fisheries provide a delightful dinner stop.

Cruising south, the Southeast 17th Street Causeway Bridge with a 55-foot vertical clearance paves the way to the deeply chiseled inlet at Port Everglades. The Port not only provides a gateway to the Atlantic Ocean for boating and fishing adventures, it's a bustling center of commercial activity with cargo and military vessels, while cruise-ship terminals offer a home to some of the largest passenger ships bringing visitors to the area. Fort Lauderdale is an incredible boating venue that invites you to come aboard and explore its many faces as you cruise this stunning segment of the ICW.

Thinking of a ride uptown and don't want to miss a thing? Then you might consider boarding the Water Taxi (Channel 68) for a delightful detour off the ICW, cruising along the New River as it weaves on a westerly route and cuts its way through the heart of the city. The pulsating Riverwalk beckons boaters to indulge in an exciting mix: the best of today with plenty of restaurants, trendy shops, and entertainment along with a sprinkling of local history at The Downtowner Saloon and Stranahan House Museum.

photo of a port in Fort Lauderdale

A not-to-be-missed nautical destination landside is located a short drive south to Dania with a visit to the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum. The West Marine Boating Superstore, the largest of all the West Marine venues with 50,000 square feet, has a grand opening weekend December 11 in Ft. Lauderdale at 2401 South Andrews Avenue.

If it's solitude you're looking for, drop anchor in the city's only designated anchorage spot: a cove situated along the west shore, south of the Las Olas Bridge. It's first-come, first-served for 10 city-owned moorings. The best news is there's no longer a 24-hour limit.

Boat Ramps

Trailer boaters have several ramps throughout the area that provide the essential components on every boater's list: effortless launching with easy access to the New River, ICW, and Atlantic Ocean. At a flat fee of $5 per day, Alsdorf Park at N.E. 14th Street Causeway (Pompano Beach area) affords a bargain for boaters (three double-wide ramps, dockage, washdown station, ample parking, and restrooms). "I highly recommend this place, although on the weekends it really gets crowded," Captain Christopher Hill said as he prepared to launch his 19-foot Sea Strike. "It's a good deal." A picnic area with tables, grills, and a playground nestled among the tall pines dotting the ICW provides a great way to end the boating day.

Cooley's Landing (three large ramps, plenty of parking, restrooms, and security) lies west of the City of Fort Lauderdale/New River Marine Facility in the Sailboat Bend area, near the S.W. 7th Avenue Bridge. It's a terrific launching site for those who want to explore the diversity of New River as it winds further westward to the Dania Cut-Off Canal or eastward toward the ICW.

The S.E. 15th Street Ramp (two ramps on the south side of the canal) sits north of Port Everglades, before Lauderdale Marina — home to the TowBoatUS office and 15th Street Fisheries. On a late weekday afternoon, this centrally situated ramp so popular with the local boating crowd was buzzing as boaters pulled in from a day outing, while others headed out to enjoy the balmy evening breezes. Area residents Don Silver and his son, Alex, were preparing to launch their 19-foot BlackHawk Viper Edition to pick up some friends visiting from Chicago and go for a little cruise. "It's convenient to just about everything," longtime BoatUS member Silver said. "That's why we use this ramp a lot."

South of Port Everglades, John U. Lloyd Beach State Park offers closest access to the cut, making it a favorite for anglers via access to the ocean. Simply launch the boat, turn right, head out Port Everglades and into the cobalt Atlantic waters to enjoy a day of boating and fishing. This beachfront park (two ramps, ample docking and parking space) is an ideal launching spot for a canoe or kayak experience along Whiskey Creek; the manatee sanctuary provides an aquatic adventure as it flows through the park welcoming boaters to beach their craft for a relaxing picnic stop at the northern end.

Choice Of Marinas

Whether you prefer the bright city lights or beachside vibes, Fort Lauderdale features three diverse marina locales: City of Fort Lauderdale/New River Marine Facility, Riverfront Marina, and Bahia Mar Yachting Center. Each is a BoatUS Cooperating Marina. The City of Fort Lauderdale/New River Marine Facility offers BoatUS members a 15-percent discount on transient slips and is a convenient dockside marina in downtown Fort Lauderdale. It's close to the brick-lined Riverwalk district and the Museum of Discovery and Science.

Domke oversees the two miles spanning both sides of the New River, from Cooley's Landing to the U.S. 1 tunnel, directing boats ranging from 25 to 160 feet and handling an ever-changing mix of boating situations.

No docking space? While it can be a problem during holidays, special events, and even weekends, recent improvements in the form of new floating docks have alleviated some of the parking issues. "They were installed last winter," Ft. Lauderdale Dockmaster Domke explained. "While they can handle any size boat, even a 100-footer, they were primarily designed for smaller boats to have easy access to the dining spots along the river." If you still can't find a space, simply call on Channel 9 — he says he'll find one for you.

The second BoatUS Cooperating Marina is Riverfront Marina at 420 SW 3rd Avenue. Here, members get a 10-cent/gallon discount on fuel.

One of the largest BoatUS Cooperating Marinas is the Bahia Mar Yachting Center. The Yachting Center covers some 40 acres with 3,000 feet of parallel docks on the ICW and over four miles of floating docks, yet this isn’t a mega-yacht-only destination. A simple matter of logistics and a two-person crew for trailer boaters are all it takes to gain access to the marina. "We're about 10 minutes from the closest ramp (the S.E. 15th Street ramp), and we have plenty of parking for tow vehicles and trailers," Dockmaster Christina Russell explained. "You'll have full use of the property and enjoy a resort experience." BoatUS members get a 10-cent/gallon discount on fuel, 15 percent off on transient slips, and 10 percent off purchases at the Bahia Mar Grille as well as discounts on clothing at the Ship's Store.

The beachside marina complex affords access to a seven-mile stretch of famed Fort Lauderdale Beach via the hotel skywalk, and assists boating guests in arranging area tours, restaurant reservations, and car rentals at either an on-site or nearby agency. "We're making sure boaters have a good experience while making Bahia Mar their home away from home port," Kevin Quirk, VP, marina operations, LXR Luxury Marinas, said. If you prefer to sleep landside, the Bahia Mar Beach Resort offers special room rates for transient boaters. 

This article was published in Fall 2011 issue of Trailering Magazine

TowBoatUS Ft. Lauderdale

Established as Offshore Marine Towing, Inc. in 1989 by Larry Acheson, TowBoatUS Ft. Lauderdale's corporate office (headquartered in Pompano Beach) oversees a vast area of operations. Their fleet ranges from 26 to 96 feet, servicing boaters who traverse these South Florida waters through two working locations: Lighthouse Point Marina and Fort Lauderdale at Lauderdale Marina.

"Our office handles the area from Boynton Inlet to Haulover Inlet, with extended coverage 130 miles into the Bahamas rather than the standard 25 miles," Barney Hauf, Director of Sales and Personnel, explained.

Not only does it assist boaters in distress, TowBoatUS Fort Lauderdale is a member of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and is actively involved in the community through its Winterfest Boat Parade and Waterway Cleanup efforts. "It's great to do something for the community," Hauf added.




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