Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Miami, FL to Big Pine Key, FL

It never surprises me how many mistakes I can make. It should, but it doesn't.

I left Miami with a beautiful north wind and sailed and motor sailed down Biscayne Bay. Biscayne Bay is a lovely body of water that you can sail everywhere in. Remember that, because as you head south on the ICW, it's the last you'll find.

The southern end of Biscayne Bay is bounded by Elliot Key, Old Rhodes Key and finally Key Largo. I passed through Card Sound and Little Card Sound, and finally Barnes Sound to Cross Key where I stopped for the night at Gilbert's Resort in Key Largo just under the new bridge. It's a very nice little place with a tiki bar and a German restaurant eponymously named. I didn't get the chance to try it, though, and it's unlikely I will on the way back for reasons you'll soon find out.

I had thought I'd anchor in Tarpon Basin, but Skipper Bob's said it was crowded with moorings and lots of live aboards. It was only a few miles past Gilberts, but the siren call of margaritas, free electricity and cable was too strong to resist.

If you have a shallow draft boat, and remember this warning, it's a nice place to stop - across the creek is the Anchorage Resort and Yacht Club that apparently is better because it charges more. There is also an anchorage just south of that.

I left the next day on a rising tide but I really should have looked ahead in the chart book - there are a number of areas where the ICW is charted at 5 feet. It didn't really dawn on me until at the south end of Blackwater Sound that wind from the north had emptied these sounds of water. At high tide, it was barely 5-1/2 feet which happens to be exactly what Pelican draws.

So through Blackwater Sound to Buttonwood Sound where it's charted at 6 feet (but isn't), mostly to the end of Key Largo I ended up making my own channel. Nice.

The one bright spot was Tarpon Basin where there were hardly any boats. It is a beautiful mangrove surrounded basin where anchoring is easy peasy. It's well protected from every direction. I would recommend it if it weren't for the shallow depths on the inlets.

Past Tavernier it's shallow, and it the depth doesn't get better until the south end of Islamorada. At Steamboat Channel near Shell Key it goes to a comfortable 7-8 feet and carries that all the way to Marathon (and beyond).

Lesson learned here is check the charts days ahead - I would have gone outside in Hawks Channel from Key Biscayne if I'd done that - I just assumed I'd have at least 6 feet. In many places, just outside the channel it was 7+ feet, but it was a crap shoot.

I had made reservations at the Marathon Yacht Club for two days. It's on the Florida Bay side of Marathon and it's small and well protected from all but directly north winds. However, the bay is very shallow so even with those winds, it's not bad. I got to sail for the last few hours and with the shaft generator running quite happily arrived with batteries charged.

I had been recommended to back into the slip. Fortunately there were a lot of people on hand to help with that. In 42 feet of space I had to turn Pelican around and back in a clockwise manner (which Pelican does not want to do at all). There are boats within hand's reach to walk the stern around and so forth. So without any damage I got into the slip. Whew!

They had told me that the electric rate was $9.00. I thought that was for the two days which would have been competitive with most marinas. Nope, it was for one day. So I declined the service.

After spending a day beating Pelican up I decided to go to the club's restaurant. The food was very good and the service stellar! Everyone was extremely friendly. It was a lovely experience and I didn't have to walk all that far!

The next day a man who had helped me into the slip, Bob, gave me a ride to the Publix grocery store for food. He told me all the places to see in Marathon, but the one that caught my eye was Porky's Bayside - a little restaurant on Rt 1, just a block east of the yacht club. I decided I had to have breakfast there before I left.

After shopping, I went for a bike ride to Pigeon Key where the Flagler Museum is. You walk or ride 2 miles along the old Seven Mile Bridge. If you're walking, you really have to want to see the thing. It's $11.00 per adult to get in. After that, I did some random exploring.

Later I invited Bob over for cocktails and dinner which was very pleasant.

The next morning I went to Porky's and was not disappointed. They may have great dinners, but the breakfast was all that I could ask for and more than I should have. Highly recommended if you're in Marathon. There are a lot of fru-fru restaurants in Marathon, but as you know I'm all about good food cheap and Porky's fits the bill.

I got underway around 9:30 in a west wind (remember this, as it's important) and headed out to Moser Channel under motor and sail. I figured I'd head out to sea for a while and then tack back to the shallows and repeat as necessary. Well, the wind wasn't directly out of the west but sort of north west making it directly on the nose for the course I wanted to take and at 20 plus knots.

Here's my second mistake. I should have gone back. But no, I sailed out about four miles, tacked, and sailed back about four miles and realized I made about a mile on my course. At that rate it would be twelve or fifteen hours to go 20 miles. I'd be arriving late at night in a channel I wasn't familiar with.

While I was thinking about this I was finding I was only going about three knots. Ok, close reach in 20 knots I should be doing better than that. I was scratching my head and watching my wake when I realized that I was dragging at least one of the damn crab pots that pepper everywhere and are never ending. I could see it just under the water.

As I was trying to decide what to do about this (anchor, dive, that sort of thing) the line parted and all of a sudden I'm going 7 knots. Whew! Sometimes it pays to wait.

The day wore on and eventually I decided that beating into the waves wasn't all that much fun and it was very, very wet so I started the engine and made a beeline to the entrance buoy. Even if the water was green and clear and it was sort of warm, the trip still sucked. So, mistake number two was never travel into the wind directly especially on open water. Wait for favorable winds.

I got into the anchorage about three in the afternoon and had a well deserved vodka tonic. So there.

Newfound Harbor is a lovely anchorage and mostly empty. There is room for a lot of boats but there are only a few. It's worth a stop for Big Pine Key and Torch Key where there are some great restaurants.

I'll be here for a while - and then I'll see you on the water!

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