Saturday, May 24, 2014

Route Planning Considerations

Under Way Before Sunup
Having no plan sounds good... but having SOME kind of plan is necessary.  Yes, we can say we’re free and easy out here, but we have basic needs that must be met.  Food and water are two of the biggies.  Of course with all of the provisioning I did, both prior to cruising and more recently, just before leaving Marathon when we still thought were were going to the Bahamas for two months… you might think we would be set.  And you would be right!  But fresh foods like veggies, fruits, milk and bread… those must be replenished or we make due without.  And then there’s trash, waste, laundry...  But first!  How do we GET there???

I plan our passages in blocks of about a two week stretch.  I look ahead at the possible anchorages and distances we might want to go in a day.  I see what there is to do nearby and then I factor in the grocery stops.  This way I can make sure that we eat well and don’t go without much.  So far, I've been able to find plenty of food along the way, but we have to plan for it.  

But before we look for things to do along the way, we must consider the route itself.  Taking the ICW from Marathon to Biscayne Bay through the Upper Keys is not done without a certain amount of, shall we say "pucker factor".  Many say that with our 5'3" draft, it isn't even possible.  Or is it?

We had all but decided not to try the inside ICW route out of the Keys, when a conversation with Mark Doyle, co-creater of On The Water Chart Guides, changed our minds again.  He and his wife Diana have been through the Upper Keys recently and he said he thought we would be alright.  So, with the allure of calmer waters and more anchorage choices, we decided to try it.  We made it without incident to the first anchorage, Lignumvitae Key... But we still have a ways to go!

Solace Leading The Way
While we were tooling around there, we met a couple aboard Solace , who invited us to follow in their wake on the way out to the next anchorage.  This next hop would be a short one, but the charts show several very shallow spots.  We jumped at the chance to have another boat go ahead and give the "all clear", even if it meant getting up early to be under way before sunup.  

The waters we sailed in back home were mostly plenty deep.  Our previous boat had a draft of 6'3" and there was only one anchorage we ever went to that we even came close to bumping bottom.  Here in the Florida Keys, our 5'3" draft on Dos Libras is borderline too deep!

One Of Several Passes Through Mangroves
It has taken some getting used to for us to feel at all comfortable traveling in waters where the charts say the depths are 5 ft.  There are just so many variables... tide, moon and strong winds, that can affect the depths.  How can you know???  Well, you don't.  You can ask for local knowledge and consult the myriad of sources available to boaters these days... then you make your best decision.

Shallows all around us and inches to high tide 
All morning long I watched our instruments as the depths soared to a comfortable 8-9 ft., and then plummeted to a mere 5.7.  Leaving early allowed us to take advantage of what little tidal range there is in the waters of the Upper Keys.  We could see that the water was moving, and the mangroves looked as if we were a few inches lower than high tide, but we never bumped.  Not once.

A few times, I reduced speed and "hunted" for the water, but those spots were brief.  I began to relax and feel more secure than I ever though possible in depths this skinny.

Welcome Dinghies!
We arrived at our destination just before noon.  This anchorage in Tarpon Basin (N25°07.185’, W080°25.805’), just off of Key Largo, offered access to shopping with a Publix just to the South within walking distance.  The big draw here is the dinghy dock at the Murray Nelson Government Center County Park where you can tie off and go ashore.

Dinghy access to shore is an important consideration when planning your stops.  In Florida, we have found an overall feeling of hostility towards boaters accessing the shores to offload trash and obtain water, regardless of the fact that we are also going ashore to provision.

There are plenty of restaurants who will allow you to dinghy up, as long as you are eating there, but leaving the dinghy to walk to the Publix or other nearby businesses is often a problem.

Another couple aboard Rum Line joined us for the walk to Publix along the busy highway.  We enjoyed the chat and it made the walk seem short.  The day was winding down by the time we got back to the boat and put away our groceries.

Route, Tide, Weather, Provisioning, Entertainment, Trash and Waste disposal... all important considerations.

There are mobile pump out boats that work the Florida Keys.  You can call Pump-Out USA to arrange for them to come to your boat for free!  They are in different areas along the way so you must call to find out where their scheduled service areas are, then try to be in one of them when the need arises.  Very convenient... but call ahead!

This brings us to what I consider one of the MOST important considerations for route planning... and sometimes, it isn't easy to plan for at all...  We know that we can take on water at the last place on our route... but I am ALWAYS looking for a good spot to top off our water tanks.  Never waste an opportunity to offload trash, or take on FREE water!

The winds were down in the morning and the conditions perfect.  The tides said we should wait until about 10:30 before we left, so that gave us plenty of time to make a couple of trips to top off our water tanks.

The Hose is there just under the fence near the corner
We dinghied back to the Welcome center and tied off to the bulkhead where we had seen a water hose set up for our use, complete with a shut-off at the end of the hose.  We didn't even have to lug the bottles to shore!

We didn't expect to see THIS!

There was just something nice about this little boat...
Even the smallest of things (like a water run) can bring unexpected pleasures...

With water tanks full, trash gone, fridge and freezer brimming... we were set to head out once again to brave the shallow waters ahead...

The only thing we haven't come across yet is a place to do laundry!  I learned way back while we travelled the West Coast of Florida, never to pass up an opportunity to do laundry.  Well, we have options on our route all planned out.  We should have underwear aplenty to get us there, so... it's back to planning for entertainment!

I guess it is possible to "JUST GO" and worry about the details later... but that just isn't in my nature.  With a little bit of research and planning, Cruising can be so much better!  Get the basic needs out of the way and then plan for the FUN!

The internet is a powerful resource in finding not only the necessities, but entertainment as well.  There is so much to see and do along the way and with a little bit of planning, you won't miss a thing!

Next stop... SNORKELING!!!


  1. Great review....Could I ask you to put in AC the Murray Nelson Government Center County Park as it not morked and a review of the anchorage and info on Pubix? It would help others in planning.

    1. Richard I looked it up and it is already on AC It's #8 and is listed as Key Largo Government Center and Dinghy Dock