Monday, May 26, 2014

Sailin' Away To Key Largo

A quick trip through the mangroves got us here
I guess I've had this image in my mind since I heard the 1980's hit Key Largo...  that the reality would be just like in the video, right?

(insert sound of record scratching here)

Well, here we are in Key Largo, and while reality isn't at all like the mental image I've carried all these years,  we ARE having a good time.  With all of the housekeeping chores out of the way at our last stop, and the boat repairs finally coming to an end... THIS is what we had hoped for when we went out cruising.

We are anchored just out from the big pool at the Marriott
We arrived here on Saturday, Memorial Day Weekend.  This anchorage was our pick because of it's close proximity to the cut leading out of Blackwater Sound on the Bay side, to Largo Sound on the Atlantic side of Key Largo.  We wanted to visit John Pennekamp Park for some snorkeling!

The parasail boat runs right behind us
Upon arrival, we put up our sunshade and settled in to watch the world go by for a while.  We are right in the middle of the Memorial Day Melee and while the Sound is pretty chopped up all day long, there is no lack of interesting things to see, right at our doorstep.

I have no idea what THIS is...

The water here in Blackwater Sound, although still clear,  is not the beautiful color we found at Lignumvitae Key.  Bruce did a little swimming and made a few passes at the barnacles on our bottom but I was not interested in getting in.  It wasn't near hot enough with the nice breeze we had and the sunshade up.  I read a book in the cockpit until time to shower for dinner...

McKissicks saving our spot!
We motored to a nearby restaurant called Senor Frijoles... Yep, Mexican Food!

Our friends from Autumn's Wind were at the dock to meet us with a spot saved for us to tie up!

We opted to sit inside to enjoy the air conditioning and found that the McKissicks may have been here before... all the waiters knew them!  Evidently this is their favorite restaurant here in Key Largo...

And it is now MY favorite.  Not only is the food delish... but yes, that is COTTON CANDY BABY!  The only thing I love better than cotton candy...

is FREE cotton candy!  Why is it than only the kids and I got some? Hey, I'm not bashful!  Gimme CANDY!  I was in heaven.  And I was glad that cotton candy doesn't take up too much space in the tummy, because even though Bruce and I split a plate, we were STUFFED!

We enjoyed seeing familiar faces and hearing about all of the stuff going on with our friend's refit... But it was suddenly time to go.

We said goodbye and motored back to the boat to take our seats for the Sundown.

It was a good day...

The next morning, we packed our lunches and our snorkel gear and headed for the pass in the dinghy.

The winds were light and the holiday crowds were still asleep this early in the day.  We knew from having watched yesterday, that a LOT of boats use this pass and that combined with current from incoming or outgoing tide, it could be treacherous for a small dinghy...

 A little bit of chop from the current did not stop us
While we did experience an incoming tide against us, the traffic was still light and well behaved, causing us no problem as we traversed the narrow pass.

We had no idea what to expect from the Blackwater Pass Channel, but it was quite the event traveling along underneath the bridge.

I couldn't find any information about the building of this pass... but it seems to have just been cut through Key Largo, leaving walls of fossilized creatures in view.  There were gorgeous homes built all along the way and many had cut out slips for their boats.  It was amazing to see.

We reached the end with no problems and were suddenly out in Largo Sound.  Again the water was an unattractive  brown color as we turned right to look for the entrance to John Pennekamp Park.

We motored along the shore and joined the well marked main channel through the mangroves.  This channel is also well travelled with many boats zooming through to the exit where they would head out to the reefs for some snorkeling or diving.

We turned to our right at marker 19 into the well protected approach to the Park entrance.

It took a while to find the dinghy dock.  It was located at the far left corner of the basin behind a transient dock and along the vey edge of the mangroves.  We got tied up and took off to see if we could book a snorkel tour.

Now... before you begin clamoring about "why we are spending money to take a snorkel tour when we have a perfectly good sailboat that could take us to the reef..." consider this.

#1  Our boat is on the Bay side and it is impossible for us to reach the reef without going a LONG way around and backtracking to get here.

#2  This is a holiday weekend, and even on a GOOD day, there are few mooring balls on the reefs and if a tour boat comes out when you are attached to one, you must give up the ball to them.  So, there is no guarantee that we would be able to stop at the reef even if we took our boat out there.

#3  With the first two considerations in mind, we opted to do our part to stimulate the economy here in exchange for the comfort of knowing that we would be guaranteed a snorkel opportunity with little effort on our part.  And besides, the conditions are PERFECT!  And they may not be tomorrow!

Banana Reef

Obligatory Selfie

I wore my full rash guard  

The water was so nice.  There were cool spots and warm spots, but there was very little current to worry about.  We saw a lot of fish and the colors of the fans and coral were so vivid.  The photos do not adequately convey the beauty of the reef.  Nor do they show the SIZE of those FISH!

We snorkeled for about an hour and then returned to the boat just before they blew the whistle.  Bruce and I were able to board and get settled with our sandwich lunch before we got under way  back to shore.

We could see some of the other reefs out there and found them SO packed with boats, there is no way we would have been able to enjoy this without taking the tour.  So, for us, it was the perfect choice.  Maybe some time we will come out here on our own boat and find the reefs secluded and empty, with perfect conditions, bur for now, we've enjoyed them as Tourists and that's just fine with us.

The next day, Memorial Day we pulled anchor and headed for our last Key Largo anchorage, Barnes Sound (N25°16.398’, W080°20.764’).  There was a little bit of excitement as we passed through a channel and beneath the bridge leading out of Blackwater sound.  Excitement in the way of our depth sounder going nuts and showing less than 4 ft. JUST when I needed it most!  The cause was obviously not the actual depth of the channel, but the motor boaters zipping around us and churning up the bottom.  This causes our depth sound to read incorrectly and my blood pressure to skyrocket.  But still... we never bumped bottom and we weren't even at high tide.

We had better depths in the mangrove channel and wondered if these were natural and not manmade, as much of the ICW is dredged.  We've noticed that when we're motoring through these mangrove passes, we're seeing depths from 8 ft. to as much as the low 20s.  Obviously not dredged... but the entrances are often very shallow.  The holiday boaters and jet skiers seem to love the curving pathways and kick up quite a rush of water as it rolls into the mangroves and rocks our boat.

When we emerged from this last mangrove maze, we came out into a different world yet again.  Barnes sound is much deeper than the previous two and it allows for us to get out of the channel and actually sail our boat.  The color is nicer with the deeper water and it looks much more inviting.  It was also nearly deserted!

Gone are the holiday frolickers!  I don't even know what happened to all of those boats that had whizzed by us going through the pass... but after the crowds we encountered in Blackwater Sound, we weren't complaining!

The distance was so short to our anchorage that Bruce opted to sail on jib alone, but at least we were SAILING!  And it seems like it's been forever since we shook the wrinkles out of our sails.  We ghosted along enjoying the beauty of the day and thought about  all of the people who had to go back to work tomorrow.  I was one of them for so long, I can't blame them for wanting to get out and play and it makes me feel so fortunate to have this world mostly to ourselves for the most of the other days of the year.

Thanks to all of those who have served.
Spending this Memorial Day doing exactly what we want also has me thinking about my Dad, who was in the Army when I was born.  He never spoke much about it and we never really made any kind of big deal about the fact that he was a Veteran.  I think he mostly wanted to forget.  But even that should make those of us who have benefited, all the more thankful for the service that our Veterans have done.  Thankful for the fact that we never have to experience those things that would leave us trying to forget them for the rest of our lives.

We found our anchorage snuggled back up in a cove, protected from the East winds in flat water.  We were far enough from the mangrove banks to get away from mosquitos and enjoyed a cooling breeze as we marveled at the fact that we were literally the only boat in sight.   What a difference moving the next Sound up can make...

We took a personal jungle tour the next morning.  There are several small creeks and one rather wide one, that cut through the mangroves surrounding our anchorage.  We packed up the fishing gear and picked one of the more narrow ones to try first.

Fishing in the larger stream, still nothing!
We stopped and tried fishing in each likely looking spot... but caught nothing.  Evidently what looks like an attractive spot to us, was not so attractive to a fish.  It was kind of difficult to cast back in these mangroves.  I even tried throwing the cast net to catch us some bait fish since the lures we were using went out of style in 1992.

The hand held GPS was our guide and just as we began to think we would never find the end, we burst out into the open waters of Card Sound.

I suggested that instead of returning the way we had come, we scoot around and enter the next stream over, which was much wider than the one we had just left.

By this time, mangrove channels were all beginning to look alike and the sense of adventure I once felt when we went exploring was beginning to wane... So, we buzzed back to the boat and ended our day in the usual way, with a nap and sundowners.  There had been less than a handful of boats within sight today and as we watched the sun go down, we wondered if maybe there was some reason that nobody anchored here...

Tomorrow we would leave Key Largo and head towards Miami.  I believe that the memories we've made here will forever dispel the myth that was once the Key Largo in my mind.  


  1. The "NO Idea" is a glass bottom boat . . . we saw it coming in and then going out at one of the marinas we walked around. Saw a sign (with a picture of the boat) where it docked. Unfortunately, I don't remember which marina.

  2. Oh very good! Thanks for that! And THANKS for reading my blog!

  3. Super fun reading your blog post. We are anchored right now right in front of the Marriott. It is about 6 months after you were here and it is not busy. We were just talking about doing the snorkel tour ourselves. We were sailing on the ocean side but came in at Angelfish Creek due to engine problems. We really want to snorkel so this is our best option! Thanks for the post!