Trip to the Florida Keys

Hmm, I thought you said you were chartering in the Keys? But the title just says “trip.”  Um, yeah. We were supposed to be chartering for a week.  But it didn’t work out that way.

For my first draft of this post, I wrote all the details about what happened and then realized that it was both pretty boring and kind of whiny.  Basically, a combination of the captain having some health problems, the alternate captain cancelling, the boat not being ready to leave the dock and windy/rainy conditions forecast for the last couple days of the week caused the owner/captain to cancel the trip when we were just an hour (!) from the boat. He has shut down his operations and told us he’s planning to sell the boat.

We didn’t lose any money, but we had been really excited to sail and snorkel in the Keys and learn more about cruising in that area.  So of course we were disappointed.

However, cruising for seven years had taught us to always be prepared for a change in plans.  And Dave and I have long said that our penchant for traveling with tiny companies has given us some amazing experiences that we wouldn’t have had with larger companies, but also left us much more vulnerable to something not working out.  Sort of like my penchant for going barefoot and putting up with a few broken toes over the years; I still go barefoot every chance I get instead of being safe and wearing shoes!

So we spent nine days in Marathon, got to meet a few TBG readers and generally enjoyed the sunshine.  Highlights of our time there:

Banana Bay Resort and Marina:  Gets mixed reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp.  Those who know what to expect — a nice clean large room, comfortable bed, good shower, refrigerator, pool and hot tub in a convenient location but lacking a restaurant and most other “resort” amenities — like it.  For us, an added bonus was the marina — we love walking the docks and talking to sailors!  We even got a room that overlooked the marina and managed to meet up with Jennifer and Mike on Three Sheets, who are TBG fans.  The down side was the internet service.  Frequently slow and subject to drops, it got worse as our stay went on.  Tough when I’m trying to manage TBG!

They are currently running a special on the motel rooms if you book through Expedia where you get every third night free.  Dogs are allowed — $25 fee per stay (not per day).

For Keys cruisers, this is a great place if you have guests coming who need a motel room and you want to be docked nearby (the marina’s winter rates are pricy, but they are at any marina with docks in the Keys).  It’s about a 3-minute drive from the dinghy dock at Boot Key Harbor (I’m told it’s a 15 to 20 minute walk).

Crane Point Nature Center:  A delightful bit of “the original Keys” combining a Bahamian settler’s home, a 1950’s island home, a bird hospital and lots of nature trails along with a small but very nice museum.  Dogs allowed on leash.  Allow at least 2 hours, we spent over 3 hours here.  If you like “national park” type experiences, I think you’ll like it.  Admission charged.

Key West:  It’s a pretty drive and had to go for just an afternoon to get a beer and watch the sunset (photo at top).  If you’re making a day trip of it, don’t pick a gray rainy day but a few clouds will produce spectacular sunsets!

The Stuffed Pig:  Local breakfast restaurant with great food and mostly outdoor seating.  All the staff loves dogs — every day Paz got her own dish of dog biscuits and a glass of ice water!  Not cheap, but nothing in the Keys is.

Kayaking Boot Key Nature Preserve:  We rented kayaks for a day (most places will deliver them to a put-in spot) and took their suggestion to go from Sombrero Beach into and through the Boot Key Nature Preserve.  While their description of it and the map they gave us made it seem very simple, we got seriously lost and turned a planned 3-hour trip (including a lunch stop) into a 5-hour ordeal (no lunch; we did make it out ourselves).  We should have taken a handheld GPS (the map had waypoints) and a cell phone in a waterproof case, but the rental company had said it was simple and we wouldn’t need them.  It is a good kayak trip if you’re prepared — but don’t underestimate it.  More on the lessons from this experience in a coming post!

Carolyn-on-iSUPStand Up Paddleboarding:  The Keys are a great place to SUP and I took advantage to try out a Tower Inflatable SUP.  I’d seen their boards at a boat show, liked them better than the other inflatable SUPs I saw there, but hadn’t had a chance to try one (about a week before we left I found out that a TBG reader had one and loved it, so I was 99% sure I would end up getting one — maybe Dave and I would call it our Christmas present to each other?).  I even went so far as to talk to Tower about advertising on TBG, I was that convinced of their quality and value.

Tower has a network of board owners who are willing to let others try them out — and one was located less than a half mile from our hotel.  He was out of town until our last day but happy to have me try it out — and then came the kicker:  he was moving inland and selling his 14′ board.  I tried it, loved it and bought it.  We spent the rest of the day playing on it!  I’ll have more details on why I like it in a post tomorrow.

Note:  If you are interested in a Tower iSUP — very high quality, and great “regular” prices — check out their web site.

We did lots of other things, such as walking the old 7-Mile Bridge and wandering through a number of marinas and talking to cruisers.  And then on our way home we made a very slight detour to Hollywood, FL (just outside Ft. Lauderdale) where we met Chris and Melody on Vacilando in person for lunch (photo below).  Melody makes the cute Nautical Bracelets with a shackle and they were the ones who first told me about Unique Natural Products drain cleaner.  What a great ending to our time in the Keys!


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  • Anne Ellingsen
    Posted at 30 November 2013 Reply

    Too bad about the sail cancellation. But sounded like a good time was hadj. Plus a kayak adventure you’ll be talking about for awhile.

  • Sherry Stewart Haught
    Posted at 30 November 2013 Reply

    We have had two of our trips to the Keys take unexpected turns. Both turned out okay not the trip of our dreams, but okay. “You cannot change the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” The first one to go wrong, we had planned the trip in November for the next July. The week before we were to leave the guy in Marathon called and said “I am sending your money back, I sold the condo and boat.” We already had 4 airplane tickets. We were lucky enough to book Key Lime Sailing Club & Vacation Cottages, Florida Keys for a week. We got to swim with the manatees there when they came by in the mornings. The next trip was with 2 other couples . We chartered a 40 ft. catamaran out of Key West. The group that had it before us ran it into a seawall. The company offered us a 20 ft. day sailer instead!!! The refused to refund anything. BUT, a friend had a house there that they weren’t using, so we spend the week on land. We had to do some paper work and went to the local fast food place to use the wifi and enjoy iced coffee. As we were filling out the BBB forms and small court claims one of my friends apologized that I was spending my vacation on a computer in McD’s. I said,” I am fine. It’s airconditioned, I have iced coffee and I am looking out at the Gulf. ” She said, ” I guess you are a glass half full kind of person.” It wasn’t what we had planned , but we had fun anyway. We got out of the water after they got there.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 30 November 2013 Reply

      Maybe it’s something about the Keys 🙂 Glad you were able to salvage it, but I understand that moment of panic!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 30 November 2013 Reply

      Meant to add that we tried to get a last-minute reservation at Key Lime because of the boats, but the dog-friendly rooms were all full. We also tried to arrange a couple of different day sail options but couldn’t get free dates and the weather to cooperate!

  • Annette Cleckner Baker
    Posted at 02 December 2013 Reply

    Glad you made the best of the trip. And you got to meet Melody and Chris. Good folks.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 02 December 2013 Reply

      It’s pretty rare that we don’t have fun . . . one friend says he never bothers to ask us how we liked somewhere because we like everywhere 🙂

  • Mid-Life Cruising!
    Posted at 05 December 2013 Reply

    Sorry the trip wasn’t what was planned, but sounds like you had a great time anyway. May as well make the best of it.

    We’ve never been to the Keys and look forward to sailing there. Thanks for the tips.

    Just read your SUP post and then this post with the Black Friday deal … good thing I didn’t see this earlier because we really can’t buy a SUP right now and that would have been really tempting! At least I know they they do have some good sales to watch for in the future.

    Hope you sell lots of your cookbooks this Christmas …. love it!

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