Tag Archives: Cruising the Keys

We Don’t Do Force Five

Eagle Too and the boats around her dance at their moorings as the winds blow steadily from 25 to 30 knots. Whitecaps dot the harbor. We listen as gusts howl through the rigging, our bow lines creaking as they strain to hold us in place.

It’s our fourth time stopping in Marathon, Florida, but it’s the first time we’ve picked up a mooring from the Marathon Municipal Marina in Boot Key Harbor. Even though there are over 200 mooring balls in the harbor, the location is so popular with cruisers and liveaboards that there is typically a 30 to 50 boat waiting list for a mooring at this time of year. Things don’t usually start to open up until after April, when cruisers from places north, their winter season over, start their seasonal homeward migration.

Approaching the mooring field, Boot Key Harbor, Marathon

Usually on our trek south we end up anchoring outside the harbor while waiting for good weather so that we can move on. This year is different though.  There are actually moorings available. As we look around, we can see several empty ones near us. The reason is Hurricane Irma. When the storm hit the Florida Keys last September, there were over 250 boats moored or at anchor in Boot Key Harbor. After the storm passed, only about 50 remained. Most of the permanent residents were wiped out, and many seasonal cruisers who would have normally filled the vacant space in the harbor decided to skip this season in light of how hard the local area was hit. The result is that when we hailed the marina, they were able to immediately assign us a mooring ball.

Hurricane damage in Boot Key Harbor. This was an abandoned marina, but the last time we saw it the building was intact.

Once the strong north winds in Ft Myers Beach blew themselves out, we experienced a near perfect three days of mild and sunny weather to continue our trip south to the Keys. This is the third time we’ve made this trip in the last two years, and we have a well-established route. From Ft Myers Beach, we head down the Gulf coast to Marco Island, and anchor in Factory Bay.

Thick smoke in Factory Bay, Marco Island, Florida from nearby brush fires.

Smoke so thick it was difficult to breath.

Next, we continue south past Cape Romano and then turn east towards the Everglades, to our next overnight anchorage at a spot called Little Shark River. It’s a great place to park for the evening because if the wind is from the typical easterly direction, you can anchor a mile offshore in 10 feet of water, protected from any wind-driven swell and far enough out to be left alone by the mosquitoes and no-see-ums. But if winds turn westerly, you can head up the river to anchor (in depths of 12 to 14 feet once you clear the entrance bar) and have a peaceful evening. Just be sure you have good screens!

From Little Shark River, it’s an easy seven hours across Florida Bay to the Seven Mile Bridge and the Florida Keys. Well, it’s easy except for the millions of lobster pots that dot the Bay in the winter. Making this crossing at this time of year is actually a lot like running a slalom course, with constant course changes to avoid running over one of the lobster pot floats and potentially wrapping its line around the prop and shaft.

Once in Marathon, a look at the weather forecast convinced us to head to one of the available moorings in the harbor rather than anchor out. We’d originally been hoping to just stop for a day, maybe two, and then be on our way for the Bahamas. But a building high pressure system to our north was predicted to bring us several days of strong east winds, in the 20 to 30 knot range. On the Beaufort scale, that’s what’s known as a Force 5 to Force 7 wind. If you’ve followed us in the past, you know we have a philosophy here on Eagle Too that features something we call the suck-to-fun ratio. We like cruising in calm seas in warm sunny weather in 8 to 12 knots of breeze, because it’s fun. We don’t like bashing into six foot swells in 25 knots of wind, because it sucks. It’s strictly Force 4 winds or below for us. We travel with purpose, and that purpose is to enjoy ourselves. The weather forecast we were looking at did not have a lot of potential fun in it. So we elected to pick up a mooring and wait it out.

Life On The Hook isn’t all glamour and sunsets. Filling a water jug at the dinghy dock to transport back to Eagle Too.

The wind blew for three days, but things finally died down and we were once again on our way. We slipped our mooring and moved to the anchorage outside the harbor to stage for an early departure the following day, stopping at the fuel dock on the way out to top off the tank and fill our reserve jerry jugs.

Sunset over the Seven Mile Bridge

In one of those “it’s a small world” funny coincidences, we learned on the way out of the harbor that we had been moored for four days right next to Penguin, another boat from Pensacola, who was also heading for Bimini. They actually keep their boat right around the corner from us in Pensacola. We spent the next two days leapfrogging past each other as we headed up the Keys, and are now anchored 100 yards apart near the SW shore of Rodriquez Key, just off Key Largo.

It’s Easter Sunday, the first of April, and we’re having a relaxing day doing some writing and weather research. We’re not liking the east winds that are currently blowing for a Gulf Stream crossing, as we’d be heading right into them, but they’re supposed to veer to the southeast in a couple of days. Tomorrow we’ll probably make our last coastal jump north to Angelfish Creek and an anchorage we know off Old Rhodes Key, and then make our crossing to Bimini when the winds turn southerly on Wednesday. Again, if you’d like to see where we are, you can locate Eagle Too by checking our mapshare page at share.garmin.com/EagleToo.

Hopefully we’re just a few days away from a couple of cold Kaliks and some warm Bahamian bread!

Chilling In Marathon

Ah, the life of a cruiser. If you count our time in the Dry Tortugas, we’ve been in the Florida Keys for three weeks now. When are we leaving? We don’t know. We haven’t yet decided. And that’s just fine with us, since there is no place else that we absolutely need to be right now. We live on perpetual vacation, after all!

For most of the last two weeks, we’ve been hanging out in Marathon, which is just about right in the middle of the Keys, halfway between Key West and Miami. Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor offers what is probably the best protected location in the Keys, and contains over 200 mooring balls for visiting boats. Marathon and the Boot Key Harbor mooring field are on the short list of things all cruisers should partake of at least once. It’s one of the common cultural experiences that defines our cruising tribe and unites us through bonds of community. It’s a boating Mecca that offers everything a sailor (or even that lesser order of mariner, a power-boater) requires to sustain themselves and maintain their vessels.Marathon7 Marathon6 Marathon5 Marathon4

Instead of picking up a mooring, of which there are currently plenty available (it’s the off-season—in winter there’s a waiting list), we decided to go to a marina instead. Why? Because it’s currently hot. Very hot. Damn hot. I’m not talking about the kind of hot that you can deal with by pouring water over your head to cool off. I’m talking the kind of hot that leaves you feeling lightheaded and dizzy after merely taking the trash ashore. The type of hot where people on moorings wait for midnight to come so that temperatures will moderate enough to allow for comfortable sleep. No, we knew we wanted to run the air conditioner. And that meant access to shore power, which meant we needed to be in a marina. So we’re tied up to a seawall at Sombrero Resort and Marina, where we have power, water, and even cable TV for a pretty reasonable weekly rate (by Florida Keys standards, anyway).Marathon2 Marathon3 Marathon1

There’s a swimming pool with a Tiki bar for our use, a pretty decent laundry room, and an address where we can receive mail and packages.Marathon12

So as you can imagine, it’s been a bit difficult to muster the determination to leave and head north. I mean, we’re in the Keys, after all, a place that many consider paradise and spend a great deal of money to visit.

For the first time since leaving St. Petersburg, we’ve been able to take our bikes ashore. We’ve found that everything we need, from West Marine and a Yanmar parts dealer (repair parts for the boat) to grocery stores and numerous bars and restaurants (therapy for the soul) are all within a 15 minute ride. I will say that our Back Bay folding bicycles did not benefit from the long period of dormancy. Remaining on deck, zipped in their storage bags while we experienced Cuba and Mexico, the steel parts of our bikes did what you’d expect them do in the presence of salt water and tropical heat—they started rusting. The worst was the chain on Rhonda’s bike, which had frozen into a solid clump of oxide. Fortunately nothing was past the point of no return, and a few hours of cleaning, polishing, oiling and flexing returned everything to working condition.

It’s a mile and a half from where our boat is tied up to Sombrero Beach, which is considered one of the best beaches in the Keys. It’s an easy 15 minute ride on a nice bike path, so we naturally rode over to take in the July 4th festivities.Marathon8 Marathon9 Marathon10 Marathon11

So where to next? Well, we’re still waiting for a new float switch for our shower sump that we’ve ordered from  West Marine. Once it arrives, we’ll probably start looking northward. We believe we can be in Biscayne Bay in two or three days, where we’ll spend a night or two at anchor enjoying a view of the Miami skyline. From there, we think we’ll push farther north, maybe as far as Jacksonville. We have a few months of hurricane season to wait out before we’ll feel safe jumping over to the Bahamas, and we’ve been wanting to see more of Florida’s east coast.

Or maybe we’ll just hang around here for a while longer… 🙂

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