I'm getting ready to take my wife cruising to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We chartered a Hunter 41DS and will be departing from St Petersburg. I plan to head south and explore the coast down towards Venice and on to Sanabel Island. Almost all of my cruising experience is on the west coast and northern gulf, so I'm excited about cruising in a whole new region.
I do have a couple questions for those of you that have travelled in this area; first, anchoring. I've got the charts and have plotted quite a few anchoring locations that others have recommended, but the entire coastline looks pretty shallow. Is there any reason, other than weather related of course, that I can't just find a nice spot on the gulf side of the keys and anchor each night?
Secondly, I would like to get my wife off the boat for a couple of nice meals. Does anyone know of some waterfront restaurants in this area that I can just navigate up to and dock my boat for dinner? I'm not really interested in docking in a marina over night, and I just don't want to mess with a dingy unless I have to.
Paul--Click over to ActiveCaptain.com and register (its free). That will give you the ability to review the charts and aerial photos of the area you will be sailing in along with marks for anchorages, restaurants and the like and reviews, comments and suggestions by other subscribers.
Once you've left St. Pete there's little on South Tampa Bay. There are a couple of waterfront restaurants in Bradenton, on the Manatee River, and a few more along the ICW once you've left the Bay at Cortez/Ana Maria Island including two good ones just west of Jewfish Key where there is also a nice but somewhat tight anchorage. South of that there is Marina Jacks in Sarasota as noted above and a couple more on the ICW south of Sarasota if your boat's draft will allow you to make an approach. The only convenient restaurant in Venice is the Crows Nest which is right at the inlet. Unless you hit that at slack water, the approach to the docks can be a bit of a trial, especially so if you are handling a yacht you are not familiar with. Assuming you make it, the down-stairs restaurant at the Crows Nest is less costly than up-stairs although the menu is the same (cotton vs. linen napkins!).
Do not even think of anchoring in the Gulf off the keys unless you plan to stand anchor watches; and, are willing to roll your guts out most of the night. Late night squalls are very common here at this time of year and can be very violent. You want a protected anchorage if you intend to get any rest.
N'any case, check out ActiveCaptain. You'll be glad you did.