Since the days that our family had purchased that big boat that we ran on the Ohio River, with the death of my father back in April 2013, we sold that boat in June 2015 and after many years of keeping our pontoon boat on Indian Lake, Ohio, we moved that boat down here to Central Florida last October.
Initially, I had the boat kept at the Mt. Dora Boating Center located in the very pretty Central Florida town of Mt. Dora, Florida on the shores of Lake Dora.
Lake Dora is one of the southern most lakes that make up the Harris Chain of Lakes. The lakes stretch from Lake Apopka, over in the Orlando area up to Lake Griffin which at its northern reaches, is not far from Ocala, a land and water distance of around 40 miles.
The lakes are all interconnected by a series of waterways and canals such as the Dora Canal, The Dead River and Haines Creek, with that waterway also showing up on some maps as The Ocklawaha River.
The Ocklawaha River, which for brevity sake, I will mostly refer to it from this point forward simply as the Ock.
The headwaters, like several other rivers in this area, are credited with originating down in the Green Swamp in southern Sumter County, northern Pasco County. This river, which is a major tributary of the St. John’s River, have a very interesting attribute–they all flow northward.
The Ock, if you just go from where it’s main run begins at the northern end of Lake Griffin, runs for about roughly 80 miles to where it joins the St. John’s.
While much of the river is still relatively untamed and wild, much of it has been the victim of a long abandoned project to serve as the water source for a project started in the 1960s to create the “Cross Florida Barge Canal.”
The canal, which wound up facing a major campaign to kill it, would have run from the east coast to the Gulf of Mexico to provide for passage of commercial vessels transporting bulk items from each coast.
There was a problem with this scheme, according to opponents and engineers with experience in such matters, found that had they continued with the work to create the canal, it would have had a very serious negative impact on the aquifer system of all of Central Florida and back in the 1970s, the project was killed.
There are still some remnants of that project that still remain, one of them being most of a lock and dam structure on the middle section of the Ock, with some channeling of the river having begun, but this area is now among the most wild and remote of the entire run of the Ock. The lock and dam remain with water on one side, but the other there is nothing but dry land.
Further north, where a long straight canal was dug, there sits an operational lock that rarely sees much boating traffic other than fishermen and kayakers locking thru and then there is the Rodman Dam, which holds back a body of water known as the Rodman Reservoir.
A fight is ongoing between two sides—one wishing that the lock be removed and so is the dam to allow for the return of the river to its more natural state and on the other—are those who want the lake to remain because they say it provides great fishing. Of course, as in it seems all things in these times—the issue is highly contentious, with hot and nasty verbal barbs and sometimes, fists, flying back and forth between those on the two sides of that issue.
The Ock has an interesting history. Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the early 1900’s, there were regularly scheduled runs of paddlewheel/steam driven river boats that came from ports such as Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia and Jacksonville that made their way down the coast to the St. John’s and into the Ock where the boats made port calls to towns such as Ocala.
I have long had a romantic notion of starting out on an inland lake, a lake with a connection no matter how tenuous to the sea, and taking those waterways from inland out to the ocean.
While it is “on paper” feasible to take such a trip from Indian Lake, once starting below the spillway, going south to the mouth of The Great Miami River which starts at Indian Lake to the Ohio River at the Ohio/Indiana border, down the Ohio to the Mississippi and on down to the Gulf of Mexico.
In reality, such a trip is really not feasible, at least if you are talking about the part of the trip down the Great Miami. It only has a few sections that are at all navigable by a power boat, so it would be necessary to take out when such sections stop, trailer the boat to the next navigable section till it runs out and so on.
It would really be a big cheat to call that a direct run to the sea.
Well, fast forward to my move here to Central Florida.
As I learned of the history of the river having been a direct waterway route out to the Atlantic–I got the notion that I was going to take the pontoon from Lake Dora all the way to sea at Jacksonville.
As part of my doing “recon” on such a trip, back on the Memorial Day weekend holiday–I took the boat from Mt. Dora, to use it to go camping at a fish camp a few miles from where the Lake Griffin becomes the main body of the Ock, with my goal for that weekend to run the boat up to the Silver River, and then run that short river to its headwaters at Silver Springs State Park.
Unfortunately, I did not make it because even though I have seen videos on You Tube of people successfully making that run–I had to turn back when I started hitting snags in the river on a very narrow, winding and shallow section.
In this next section of this blog entry, I am going to post some of the photos of the trip up the lakes from Mt. Dora, up to Nelson’s Fish Camp on the Ock.. with that trip including taking a small lock that is located along the Haine’s Creek Section of the trip.
The “harbor” next to the Mt. Dora Marina at Mt. Dora, Florida on Lake Dora. My starting and end points for this weekend long trip on the Harris Chain of Lakes and the Ocklawaha River.
Heading west on Lake Dora, the first of three lakes I was on during this trip.
Heading into the one mile long Dora Canal with this waterway leading to Lake Eustis.
Some of the sorts of scenes that you see along the “wilder” portions of the Dora Canal, both above and below….
Back out on open water on Lake Eustis, heading north towards Haine’s Creek.
Now entering Haine’s Creek….
About to enter the lock on this waterway–a very short drop of only about five or six feet, but a fun lock to enter. On my return trip a few days later, as things happened–I locked in with only one other boat, another pontoon.
The guy who was it’s “captain” told me that in October 2015, he and four other men using two other boats other than his pontoon, and carrying gas powered chain saws with their chains being on the end of poles so they could cut underwater logs clear, made an attempt to run the Ock all the way to the sea.
He said that they slogged their way through, cutting many snags clear only to be turned back when they reached the Rodman Reservoir, turned back thanks to water plants totally clogging the waterway to such an extent, they were in fear of burning up their outboard motors due to the weeds clogging the water intakes and overheating the engines.
He said that one of the crew–it was his fourth such attempt to make it up the Ock doing so in all four seasons–with him never being able to make the trip, with their concluding–that today based on many factors–it is no longer possible to make such a trip.
At least I found out this was the case…
The Burrell Lock on Haine’s Creek.
Exiting the lock—going to head towards Lake Griffin and on to the Ocklawaha River….
Leaving the lock area—
Almost out of the canal and into the last lake….
On the lake and now north to my campsite…..
In the Ock…
Nelson Fish Camp along the Ocklawaha River, my home for the holiday weekend.
Before getting there—a nice big gator swimming across the river just “upriver” from Nelson’s even though this is just a bit south of the camp—still kind of hard to think of going north being “down river” and vice versa from what I am used to having boated the Ohio and other rivers “back up north.”
End of Part 1, New Waters To Explore…..