With a name like “Factory Bay”, I could have cared less about anchoring off Marco Island. But since our experience last year coming in Capri Pass, anchoring in the Marco River not realizing the 3 1/2 foot tide swing and having a BEACH growing beside us by 9 PM, Factory Bay was a wise alternative. It also turned out to be a great place to hang out & watch the world go by for a few days. The resident rays played around the boat, the Key West Express and other large tourist vessels plied the waters and there were plenty of isolated beaches so that dinghy exploring kept us busy. We still couldn’t sail to the Keys because those pesky STRONG winds (20-30+) just wouldn’t let go of the isobars. So we were taking our time along the West Coast of Florida, working our way south slower than anticipated. But Factory Bay turned out to be a delightful surprise!
By the way – if you’re looking for a great cruising guide to the Southwest Florida coastline, by far the best is the no longer in print “A Guide To Anchorages in Southwest Florida”. There’s also Claiborne Young’s Cruising Guide to Western Florida, which is a good supplemental cruising guide, with everything you could ever want to know about the area, good restaurants, area history and other information. Ask around, even though the little spiral bound Anchorages in Southwest Florida guide is no longer in print, maybe someone would sell you theirs.
Although we were oblivious to the problem, apparently this is where the whole Florida anchoring brew-ha-ha started a few years back — Marco Island city officials imposed anchoring restrictions in 2007 restricting anchoring within 300 feet of any seawall and for more than 12 hours — i.e. you weren’t going to be allowed to hole up for a few days in a protected harbor waiting out a cold front. Apparently the rich folks in Marco that own property didn’t like having boats anchoring off their multi-million dollar properties – especially for longer than overnight. I can almost understand their desire to make sure derelict boats didn’t plant the hook, become an eyesore and never leave – this is a big problem in our minds. Boaters were understandably outraged and some deliberately violated the city’s rules and were successful in getting the ordinance overturned and declared unconstitutional in 2009. The few times we’ve been into Marco, there have been few boats anchored and other cruisers tell me they avoid Marco whenever possible because it was where the anchoring brew-ha-ha started. For us, it offers an opportunity for an uncrowded anchorage within walking or dinghying distance of a Publix supermarket, restaurants, marinas and other cruiser friendly facilities. Plus there are several marinas.
There are two, maybe three anchorage areas inside Marco Island if you count dropping the hook just inside the Big Marco River before where the channel hooks to the right headed to Factory Bay. Shellhouse Bay looks like a very nice, very protected anchorage area and contrary to popular belief, we think we could get our 5 1/2 foot draft back there to anchor. We sounded it in the dinghy and by following the channel and coming in & going out on a rising tide, it looks doable. Once inside Shellhouse Bay, there is plenty of depth and room for several boats to anchor. We didn’t find a dinghy friendly dock back there though — the Esplanade Marina caters to big expensive boats and didn’t offer a daily dinghy fee to allow access to their dock. But if you’re going in for dinner or shopping at the marina, we were told that it wasn’t an issue.
The one anchorage that is not there anymore, although it’s still on our charts, is behind Coconut Island just outside the main entrance to the Big Marco River. This island has totally disappeared and been replaced by a sandbar with shifting sands making it too shallow for us to get behind even the sandbar. We were told that some enviromentalists decided several years ago to remove all the non-native pines and other foliage that was on the island to return it to it’s natural native state. When they destroyed the pines, they literally destroyed the island. Amazing!
The most cruiser friendly marina, the Rose Marco Marina is located in the corner in Factory Bay. They offer a dinghy dock for $5 a day, water, fuel, trash disposal and a convenient location to walk to the Publix or restaurants a few short blocks away.
The Marco Island Marina was a short distance upriver, but a pretty pretty place. The dockmaster is very accommodating and wants new boats. The facilities are all brand new and first rate – check out the pool! If you’re in the market for a marina, check out the Marco River Marina.