Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Boca Chita Key to Boot Key Harbor

     Wind, tides and weather are the main controlling factors when traveling south on a sailboat. Our decisions to move or stay put are always dependent upon the forecast. We'd been monitoring the wind forecast and predictions that called for increasing winds from the north and east. Our planned trip to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon would take two days from Dinner Key. One night was planned at Boca Chita Key a small uninhabited island at the southernmost end of Biscayne Bay now owned by the National Park system.

Officially, it's not considered part of the Florida Keys. This picturesque little island with its ornamental tabby lighthouse was once owned by Mark Honeywell the heating magnate who used it as a weekend getaway for himself and wealthy friends in the 1930's. Now the island is used by boaters and weekend campers who like us can stay for a nominal fee of $20.00. The island is a tiny tropical delight that seems worlds away from bustling Miami, yet it's only a 25 mile day trip by boat.

Biscayne Bay is a relatively shallow bay with depths averaging around 9 feet. Water depths at the southern end drop even lower to 7 feet. We took our time leaving Boca Chita Key since we needed a rising tide to transit both the channel out of Boca Chita and high tide at Angelfish Creek which is the only southern passage from Biscayne Bay into Hawk Channel on the ocean side.

     Shortly after turning to port into Biscayne Bay a small pod of dolphins spotted Simple Life and to my delight rushed toward her hoping for an exciting bow wave ride.Their disappointment was evident as they swam under her bow and darted off to starboard. Since the water was so shallow I was able to witness and photograph the entire event. It seemed that the largest of the three dolphins was in charge. When he or she decided to sheer away from the boat the others obediently followed.
     High tide was around noon and our arrival at Angelfish Creek was perfectly timed for the passage through to the ocean side. We were cautious since eight years ago we held our breaths as we'd recorded depths of five feet and less in the channel. This time we never saw depths less than seven feet. There appeared to have been quite a lot of development along the shoreline and we speculated that some dredging in the channel may have been done.

    Our arrival in Hawk Channel on the ocean side of Key Largo felt like a homecoming for us. My parents had lived in Key Largo for thirty years and we knew it when it was a rough and tumble sort of existence, long before it was gentrified. Both Joe and I have fond memories for those days. Rodriguez Key on the oceanside of Key Largo would be our anchorage of choice for the evening. Not that there were any other choices of anchorages in the area. The reality of transiting Hawk Channel is that protected anchorages or I should say any anchorages are few and far between.
     Fortunately, we anchored on a windless night. That meant no rocking and rolling and a restful sleep. Boot Key Harbor, our destination was 59.34 nautical miles away. That's a long day on a sailboat. The anchor was raised by me at dawn! I am not a morning person and I'd barely finished one cup of coffee. Joe's back problem had improved but, I didn't want to exacerbate the situation by having him weigh anchor. So, even though I was still bleary eyed the task was mine. With a cup of coffee in one hand and a lever for the manual windlass that wasn't in proper working order in the other it took half an hour to pull up 80 feet of chain even with Joe motoring over the buried anchor to lighten the load of 18,500 pounds of "Simple Life" the task was not one that I relished at such an early hour. It's a good thing there wasn't a squall!

     Winds were under ten knots during the morning and afternoon. We needed to motor sail in order to arrive at Boot Key Harbor before sunset. Rumor was that during January the 226 moorings at the Marathon City Marina can fill up quickly as southbound cruisers arrive at their winter destination. Upon arrival, Joe anxiously called the marina hoping for a mooring assignment. The friendly voice of Ann one of the City Marina administrative assistants responded asking, "How can I help you today?" Joe requested a mooring for a month. We were in luck! Ann assigned our mooring and told us to come in to the marina office when settled to pick up our welcome packet and sign the contract. For now we are settling into living aboard in Boot Key Harbor, a winter destination for many and for us, as each day passes in paradise it's beginning to feel more and more like home.

Boot Key Harbor

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Location:Florida Keys