|| Florida Keys Trip
Holiday season 2000
The trip was good the original plans were completely abandoned other
than the start and end dates due to freaky weather, but a good time was
had. The water was beautiful and clean; the temperature was warm.
The original plan was to put the boat in at Marathon, sail to Key West over
2 days, hit the Marquesas if possible, then sail back to Marathon over 2
days. If only Mother Nature wasnt such a merciless bitch...
Thursday, December 20, 2001
Left Apex at 4pm. Intended to leave at noon but as all things go, that
was not going to work. The porta-potty was leaking all over the inside
of the boat, and I had to find a last-minute replacement.
Friday, December 21
Drove out past Jacksonville and stopped for the night between there and
Daytona at 2am. Saw an interesting end to a high-speed chase from the
rest stopa hoarde of police cars pushed a car off the road that
was riding on its rims about ½ mile north of the rest stop. It
was like something from a crazy police chases show.
10am Got rolling again, hit delays from a traffic accident.
3pm Delays from Fort Lauderdale all the way through Miami. Road
construction and heavy traffic. Very bad traffic, took forever to get
through south Miami (which is not a place you want to be moving slow or
stop at all, for future reference). Traffic did not let up until we were
leaving the mainland and entering the Keys.
7pm Finally arrive at Marathon and Faro Blanco resort. While checking
in at the gulf side office, we find that the resort does not seem to have
us listed. After some fear and calling people, we find that the ocean
side and gulf side keep separate reservations, and the slips are organized
by the ocean side. It was too late to launch the boat at the ramp (they
normally close at 6pm) but a nice guy named Bill who works there offered
to wait for us. It was low tide and the ramp was unusable so we parked
the boat in the lot and camped there. They did not charge us anything
for the slip or ramp because of the situation. We went to eat dinner at
Shuckers oyster bar - HUGE scallops!
Saturday, December 22
Tried to launch at Faro Blancos ramp, but it was nearing low tide
again and the ramp was too short and water too shallow. Was also very
narrow. For future reference, this ramp can only be used at highest tide
for larger trailer-sailor boats.
We gave up on Faro Blancos ramp and went to check the public 24-hour
ramp north of the school at 33rd street. It was very nice and deep, but
the water on the gulf side was choppy and the winds were very harsh with
gusts over 20 knots. I would not have felt safe sailing the boat in conditions
like that in unfamiliar waters, knowing how shallow it gets near there.
The parking at the ramp was for 48 hours, which was not long enough, so
we would have had to move the car to Faro Blanco to park it there after
sailing to their gulf side docks. The folks at Faro Blanco were very friendly,
though. After hearing about our situation, they recommended some ramps
in Key West that we might try when we get there, even gave us some numbers
to call and let us use their phone. After some phone calls, it was found
that City Marina had a good ramp.
After listening to the weather forecast, we decided that it would be best
to just head toward Key West and get our touristy stuff out of the way
during the crappy weather.
We stopped at Bahia Honda on the way to check out the beaches. We found
that their marina was very nice and well protected, and their launch ramps
were very nice as well. The facilities were VERY clean. We spent the rest
of the day there chilling out on the beach and taking photos. It costs
$1/foot, 22 foot minimum, includes parking of your truck and trailer,
and reserves a slip for you whether you are there or not. Seemed a little
pricey at the time, but later on we figured that for the price of one
nights hotel stay in Key West would give you over a week at Bahia
Honda and the view here is far better.
We left at sunset and continued all the way to Key West. Checked in at
the Hampton Inn a day early, ate dinner across the street at TGI Fridays.
Sunday, December 23
The weather was overcast but clearing slowly. Still kind of windy.
We left the boat locked up in the parking lot and went sightseeing in
Key West. We checked out the municipal launch ramps at the north end of
Simonton street Not good for trailer sailors but would be fine
for pwcs and stinkpots. The ramps and docks were in disrepair, there
was no good parking (only meters), and there were bums camping out there.
We went looking for City Marina; the map we had of Key West was mislabeled
with improper street names. We found it anyways, it was right by the big
charter boat row in Garrison Bight. The ramp there is nice, but due to
a bridge you have to pass under, you have to raise your mast on the other
side. Is a small inconvenience but well worth the trouble. City Marina
only charges $5 to launch, $5 to take out, $6 a day to leave your truck
and trailer parked there. $12.50 a night for a mooring. It was a nice
clean place, with friendly people.
We ate lunch at Margaritaville, and went sightseeing, shopping. Went to
the Aquarium and Shipwreck Historeum. We were the only 2 people on the
shipwreck tour, but it was still cool. The tower view from the top of
the historeum was fantastic.
After the Shipwreck Historeum, we went to Mallory Square to watch the
remainder of the sunset and see the jugglers, fire breathers, and other
street performers. One guy was selling dirty jokes for 50 cents each so
he could buy beer. Christmas carolers singing reggae-style songs were
at the church. Festive lights were everywhere. Even this Grinch was having
a hard time not enjoying the Caribbean holiday spirit.
We ate dinner at the Hard Rock Café and returned to the hotel tired.
By evening the weather was very pleasant. Planned to head out early tomorrow
and head to the Marquesas.
Monday, December 24
Launched the boat at City Marinas ramp and motored to the other
side of the bridge. Tied to the pier there near the houseboats to load
supplies and raise the mast. It was difficult to tie off to the pier there
since it was so high up. Might be easier next time to load the boat first,
head out all the way to mooring buoys, tie off, and raise the mast there.
We motored all the way north of the Navy station (directly upwind) and
then idled down to the turning basin by noon. Wind was very calm, maybe
5 knots at most. It was barely enough to ghost us along downwind against
the tide (sometimes we were sailing backwards!) We sailed around with
a boat named Trinka, who offered us a beer but we never got close enough.
He had a nice cutter rig with 3 sails up.
There was not enough wind to move us against the tide, let alone take
us to the Marquesas, and we would only have a few more hours of sunlight.
The decision was made to put off the journey until tomorrow morning.
We found an unoccupied mooring buoy at the west side of Tank Island (some
absent boat called Eagle) and tied off there for the night. Judging by
the growth of creatures on the buoy, it hadnt been used in some
time, so we figured it safe to mooch on Eagles parking space. If
he showed up, wed find another; there were plenty of other empty
buoys there. We had Christmas music playing from a boat nearby that was
decorated with lights a red sleigh being pulled by a dolphin. Some
folks were having a party and a campfire on the beach north of Tank Island.
Talked to Magic Penny water taxi on the radio for their rates - $5 per
person per trip.
Tuesday, December 25
The wind is good, 7 knots from the N/NE. Got nice xmas cards from Donna.
Untied from the mooring buoy near 8am and sailed mostly downwind at 4
knots. Franks whisker pole worked well, and was short enough that
I did not have to dismantle it to tack the jib.
We got disoriented at Boca Grande key since it looked like the Marquesas
should have looked and it was on a similar course. I double-checked the
charts and found that the channel marker we were heading for was indeed
5 miles THROUGH what I thought was the Marquesas. After checking the position
of our boat, I found that we were near Boca Grande key and nearing some
nasty shoals. After adjusting our course we were fine.
We arrived at the Marquesas at 3pm. We tried to get into Mooney Harbor
but the clouds were rolling in, blocking the sun and raising chop that
made it hard to make out the deep water for entering. We shoaled out in
2 feet of water and had to turn around. The weather was worsening and
the winds were picking up, so we moved into 6 feet of water in the lee
of the island and anchored.
After staying there for a while, the waves were making me nervous so we
moved to 10 feet of water for a new anchorage. Still in the lee of the
island, the waves were very nasty. It was an uncomfortable night and I
woke myself twice an hour to check the GPS and make sure we were not dragging
anchor. It was a very uncomfortable anchorage - heavy waves and wind,
and it was starting to rain.
Wednesday, December 26
The anchor held great; we hadnt moved at all. Surprising since the
bottom was covered in sea grass and the danforth is not very heavy. The
weather keeps getting worse. Waves are getting pretty big (smashing over
the bow) and winds are blowing well over 20 from the north and getting
stronger. The decision is made to return to Key West. Its very scary
being stuck out in a storm in the middle of nowhere, and you are the only
I think we have enough gas to motor back, but I decide to sail with reefed
main only and get most of the way there. It was a beam reach most of the
way, which made for a very uncomfortable ride. We made fairly good time,
over 5 knots. Once we got in visual range of Key West (the massive super-liners
are hard to miss) we had to point higher, and then it got really rough.
The current there was strong, and the waves were getting steeper and closer
together. The wind by that point was gusting near 30 knots, and waves
were cresting head-on over the bow. The front hatch blew open and stayed
open, and seawater would pour in with every wave, drenching the inside
of the boat. Donna did not enjoy this part of the trip at all, and neither
did I. She tried to shut the hatch, but the hardware was jammed up and
would not keep it shut. I tried to do a repair as she steered, but to
no avail. I just had to leave it as it was until we were back in a safer
area, and deal with the boat being soaked inside and out.
Once we were within 5 miles of Key West, I turned the motor on and dropped
sail. It took 3 hours to cover this distance, barely being able to push
through the waves and current at full throttle. It was like the storm
we experienced on the Ocracoke trip, but with current and tighter-packed
waves. I would get hit by 3-in-a-row steep waves and the boat would slow
to 0 knots and start turning off course, unable to steer until we picked
up some speed going beam-on to the waves. I was getting soaked by splash
and spray with every wave.
I went after another mooring buoy in the lee of the island north of Tank
Island, tied off the boat. I tried to drop the mast but the waves were
too bouncy and I dropped the bow shackle in the water. I used the jibs
snap-hook to keep the forestay attached, and called Magic Penny to take
us to shore and dry off. We got our clothes bags and left everything else
on board. I could care less about everything being soaked I would
deal with it tomorrow when I was dry and rested. After spending all night
on watch and spending all day hugging the tiller to my chest, I was cold,
wet, sore, and exhausted.
We took a taxi to the marina to pick up the jeep, drove to Hampton Inn,
and checked back in a day early.
As if the day was not bad enough, I ran into Hampton Inns concrete
entryway pillar with the trailer and smashed the fender up, broke off
a marker light, and had to deal with a police report and my insurance
company. At least the hotel manager was pleasant and wasnt angry
Thursday, December 27
The weather was absolutely beautiful again. Donna dropped me off at the
dock and drove to the marina to wait for me. I called Magic Penny to take
me back to the boat so I could finish dismantling her. It was much easier
in calm water. The trip to Garrison Bight was much shorter this time since
I was able to pass under the bridge to the Navy station.
For future reference, folks launching at City Marina motor all
the way out under that bridge and raise the mast from a mooring buoy near
Tank Island. Saves you an hour at least.
Hauled out the boat, parked it at the hotel. Went back to Duval street
to finish some touristy stuff, do some shopping, and try to forget the
horrible experience of yesterday. The amount of tourists here now is growing,
and the sidewalks are getting crowded. Traffic in town is getting pretty
bad. We ate at Willie Ts, across from Margaritaville. Kind of pricey
but very good.
The weather turned cold, overcast, and rainy again in the evening (this
seems to be the popular trend now). We decide that we are done with Key
West and are heading back to Bahia Honda to stay and sail around that
Friday, December 28
Checked out of the hotel, left the boat in their parking lot until later.
We went to Duval Street for some last-minute gift purchasing. Also went
to see the Southernmost point marker.
After picking up the boat and heading towards Marathon, we stopped by
Boaters World to replace the bow shackle. I bought 2 to keep a spare handy,
since Ive dropped 2 into the water since I got the boat. Thankfully,
boat supply stores in the Keys are as common as McDonalds franchises.
We drove to Marathon and stocked up on some things to rid the boat of
its now growing stench from sour sea-water and hot tropical funk. We stopped
at the Hampton Inn Marathon (NICE!) to do laundry and let the boat dry
more. When I say it smelled bad, I mean it smelled BAD. Reeked, horribly,
so bad I could hardly stand to stay in it long enough to clean it, much
less sleep onboard. You know its bad when you open up the head closet
to get a breath of freshened air.
After the boat is habitable again, we plan to stay at Bahia Honda until
the vacation is done.
Saturday, December 29
After cleaning the boat out more in the morning, it was still not habitable.
Still too wet and smelly inside. I had to throw out the carpet, and remove
all the cushions in the v-berth to sun-dry them. The rest of the cushions
were ok by now. All the blankets in the v-berth, as well as the folding
chairs, genoa, all were still drenched and starting to smell bad.
I sanitized everything with Lysols version of Febreeze, and left
stuff out on the deck of the boat to dry in the sun. Took stuff up to
the hotel laundry to clean and dry, did a bunch of clothes.
We went to Bahia Honda to relax on the beach but it was full to capacity
and they were turning folks away. The traffic going south on 1 was pretty
jammed up, all people trying to get to Key West for New Years. Key
West was pretty full up when we left a couple days ago I dont
want to think what its like now, considering the traffic heading
We went to the Veterans Memorial Park on Little Duck key instead.
It has an ok beach, and enough parking for the Bahia Honda refugees. We
waded and looked for shells, but it was hard to find any that were not
inhabited by hermit crabs.
Sunday, December 30
We returned to Bahia Honda in the morning after repacking boat with now
mostly dry and non-stinking stuff. We got there early enough to get in
all the camping spots were taken but we explained that we were
staying on the boat, and they let us right in. We rigged and launched
the boat fast, and pulled into our section of the seawall.
Our slip was nice and close to the bathrooms. It did not have power but
we did not need any. Some of the slips here have power; all have water.
The only problem here was sea-grass floating in and accumulating in our
We went out for a sail shortly after launching. It was nice to just shove
off the wall and go. The pass through to the marina has a 4-foot draft.
We headed through the cut in the bridge and towards Sombrero Key, with
hopes to go snorkeling. The weather, however, was getting more overcast
and the winds were increasing. We decided to scrap the snorkel plans and
just tool around near the bridge. Came back to find a fishing stinkpot
in my slip, complete with Yosemite Sam logos. I could tell that the morons
that were on the boat thought I was snotty for asking them to leave, but
they should have had the brains to ask the dock master where they should
park before taking up so much space. It is, after all, a marina. DUH.
We headed back in around 2pm and went walking on the beach. While wading,
we saw several stingrays. I went snorkeling near the shore and swam with
a stingray-like fish for a short time. It had a very short tail and its
wings were not as wide as normal stingrays. It was brown and spotted.
Ill have to look it up and see what it was, wish I had brought our
waterproof disposable camera with me.
We went up on the bridge for some sunset photos. Saw manta rays and a
shark from up here.
The forecast for tomorrow is CRAP. Rain, cold, winds 15-20 and higher
for the next few days. Well wait and see if its true. If so
well head back home a day early.
Monday, December 31
Rain starts at 3am. Light to medium showers, not as much wind as was forecast
but it increased during the day. Since weve had enough of being
wet, we decide to head home. We packed everything up and headed out after
getting thoroughly soaked unrigging the boat. Good news is that the boat
will get a freshwater bath the whole way through Florida. We leave the
parking lot around 10am.
Tuesday, January 1, 2002
We arrive home at 6am, dead tired. Total time 20 hours, with 3 stops for
meals and many for gas. Figure 16 hours total driving time.
To sum it up:
Bahia Honda wins, hands down. It was beautiful, clean, uncrowded (they
limit the number of people in the park), the facilities were nice there,
and it offered the best, most protected slips/anchorages I saw anywhere
else. It is close to Marathon for supplies and things to do (there are
lots of dockside restaurants, etc in Marathon), and it is close enough
to Moser Channel that you can sail on the ocean or gulf sides with ease.
It has reefs nearby for good snorkeling, and beautiful beaches.
The slips there are on nice concrete seawalls with wood banisters to keep
your hull safe, with power and water, nice toilet facilities (outdoor
showers), 24 hour rangers/police, and a concession building/gift shop
where you can buy food and ice. The ramps are really nice too. There are
roofed picnic benches at the beach that are great for cooking dinner under.
And after the park closes at sunset, the day tourists are gone, leaving
nothing but a few campsite folks and the boats in the marina. VERY quiet
For $25 a night, you get calm beautiful water, palm trees, and a nice
tropical island paradise. Regardless of whether you slip there or anchor
out somewhere else, its nice to know your vehicle is in a safe spot.
The protected marina areas also ensure that your boat would be safe there
in the worst of weather.