This May, Eastward Boats is going to take a trip around the bottom half of Florida with one of their Coastal 2200 boats—sort of a “Bucket List” trip for the avid fisherman/boater. The mission will be to show the diversity of the fishing and cruising Florida has to offer. The two-man crew will see how many different species of fish they can catch along the 500-mile route, fishing inshore, offshore and freshwater, all out of the same boat. The trip should take six days and will begin on the North Fork of the St Lucie River, in Port St. Lucie, travel across the state through Lake Okeechobee, down the west coast of the state in the Gulf of Mexico, come around through the Everglades, up through the Keys and North along the coast in the Atlantic Ocean, returning to the original launch site back on the Treasure Coast.
Outfitting the Boat – Choosing the right boat and equipment for the trip is imperative to handle the diverse conditions that the crew will surely encounter. The Eastward Coastal 2200 is a boat that bridges the gap between a bay boat and an offshore center console, so it can navigate rough open-water as well as the shallow flats. The Evinrude G2 200 outboard was chosen for its efficiency to stretch the fuel range. Perhaps the most important choice in outfitting the boat was which electronics to install given the fact that most of the route will be navigating unfamiliar waters and out of reliable cell phone coverage.
Electronics – Of course, paper charts will be used for trip planning, but while underway, an accurate fix on the boat’s position is best obtained using a chartplotter/GPS. Having an accurate depth sounder on board is just as important, and in the event of an emergency, a VHF radio with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) integrated with the GPS, is a must.
Night Ops – The plan will be to arrive in port each evening, just prior to sundown, but as most mariners know, that may not always be possible. Choosing the right route, weather, sea conditions or even a “just one more cast” hot bite can affect an arrival time. For this reason, we have a handheld thermal night vision camera. The FLIR cameral provide us clear vision in total darkness and adds peace of mind plus a measure of safety for running after dark.
Communications – For a VHF radio we chose the Raymarine Ray50. Its compact size takes up very little dash space, yet it packs 25 watts of power, includes DSC and a large easy-to-read display. The ability to send a distress signal with the mere touch of a button is a feature that you hope you never need to use, but it’s nice knowing it’s there.
Navigation – To get the biggest bang for the buck in the space allocated on the console, we installed a Raymarine aSeries a9. The screen measures 9.84-inches in width and is 7.46-inches tall. The touch screen uses pinch-to-zoom and allows simple swiping through all the functions. This all-in-one combo unit has a built-in 10Hz GPS that acquires satellites super-fast for accurate chartplotting. The CHIRP sonar also has DownVision that you must see in action to appreciate the clear picture you get of underwater structure and fish.
Installation – Raymarine designed both the multifunction display and the VHF radio for easy flush mounting. Trim pieces hide the stainless-steel fasteners and the gaskets included ensure a weather-tight seal. Networking the units together and into the outboard engine functions was nothing more than plugging a few cables into the network buss. The chartplotter’s GPS signal came up automatically on the VHF and the engine gauges could be displayed on the MFD screen.
Intuitive – Along with easy installation, all of the unit’s features are fully functional, including engine and fuel efficiency monitoring. We have also custom designed several additional display screens—and have yet to open the owner’s manual for instructions.
Follow along – A video will be produced that covers the route, places visited, where the crew stayed, fish that were caught and the beautiful scenery encountered. The video will also detail provisions, trip preparations, how the boat was outfitted, fishing info, accommodations, fuel stops and more, so someone who wants to make the same trip, or any leg of the trip, will have all the information they need. A written article documenting the trip will also be published in a major fishing publication.