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Mini Cruise of the Florida Keys

Mini Cruise of the Florida Keys in a Trawler

NOTE:  This was advice for a trawler, but can be used by a boat similar to KANDARIK with 6.5 feet of draft and 56 ft. mast

Below is a mini cruise of the Keys as I know them from my own sailing there.  I never like to advise anyone to go somewhere I have NOT been first hand. So, this will not take you all the way to Key West, but will give you something to think about from Miami to Marathon!!

Sail into Biscayne Bay using either Government Cut from the  ocean, going south of Dodge Island, being very careful where that entry channel meets the ICW going south.  With chart plotters it is very easy, but I do not have a chart plotter and need to watch if those seagulls ” be standing or swimming” as I negotiate that transition with all the markers and buoys!!

Head south on the ICW, towards the Rickenbacher Causeway.  Do NOT head for the middle span in the bridge, pay careful attention to the markers in the ICW keeping red to the starboard and green to port as it is very shallow outside this channel.  The Markers will take you under a lower span, and it is always a bit confusing as you think you should be going under the highest span, but you are not!!!!

Once south of the Rickenbacher Causeway you can go to either of these places:
Nixon’s Harbor to anchor in the lee of Key Biscayne, or go around the shallow marked sandbar to the south and west of Key Biscayne to No Name Harbor, a really cute place that is completely protected with a good restaurant ashore, and  a lovely lighthouse to walk to.  BUT on weekends, it is like little Havana, so try not to anchor there on a weekend.  You can lay along side the sea wall during the day, but have to anchor out at night and I believe now they charge to anchor there but it is nominal.  Old days no fee at all!  But not today.

Or, you can go to the Crandon Park Marina if they have space for the night.  That is at the NW end of Key Biscayne.  But I prefer to be at anchor in Nixon’s harbor or Hurricane Harbor or No Name Harbor.

OR, if a nice day with good visibility, you can take the Stiltsville entrance from the ocean into Biscayne Bay and then you will have Key Biscayne to the north of you as you enter Biscayne Bay.  I don’t remember the official name of this entrance, as we always just called it Stiltsville, but will look up a chart and give you the official name.  It is easy and deep and allows you to miss the entrance of Government Cut altogether, which is no joy ride!!!  All the places above are easily accessible from the Stiltsville Entrance into the Bay it is just they will be to your north, not south, as you enter Biscayne Bay.

If you want to go to Coral Gables and see the sights, and there are many to see in Coconut Grove, you can go to the west side of Biscayne Bay and get a dock at Dinner Key Marina. From there it is accessible by walking or riding bikes or taxis to see so many things of beauty and interest:
Coconut Grove itself

Barnacle House
Vizcaya
Fairchild Gardens

And a good place for lunch in Coconut Grove is the Peacock Cafe on MacFarland!! You can eat inside or outside on the patio, and there are a lot of great historical photos of Coconut Grove.

and a lot of other places if you get there I will tell you in much more detail.

Then, after that North end of Biscayne Bay, Head south through the Featherbeds, a reef that has a marked channel right through it. Once through the Featherbeds, leave plenty of water between you and the large reef that extends north of the Featherbeds.  We always anchored in the lee of Sands Cay or you could possibly go into the little snail like harbor Boca Chica,  but it may be private now. It is very distinctive with a stone or coral lighthouse.  If you cannot take the trawler in there be sure to visit it by dinghy. Also, on Sands Cay, there is a tiny lake, marked like a circle on the chart, that you can get into from the North at high tide with your tender.  It is wild and fun to go in there but only at high tide.
Also, we would take the tender and anchor it in the passes between the little islands, and being careful of strong tides, we would snorkel the passes, they are clear and beautiful just like the Bahamas but try to work the slack tide as the ebb and flood between the Keys are pretty strong.

Heading south about 2 miles from Sands Cay is a small ranger station ashore marked on the chart.  You cannot take the mother ship in there but have to anchor about a quarter of a mile off of it and tender into the small harbor and then take a really nice elevated walk in the mangroves between Biscayne Bay and the ocean!  Really a treat.  Take water to drink as you will get thirsty and there is no drinking water there.  At least there was none when we were there some years ago.  If there is an East wind, we stay anchored there for the night.  But one night the wind came from the West with a cold front, and while it was very choppy and uncomfortable for us, it was NOT dangerous and we just stayed there until daylight bouncing up and down on the anchor…

Heading further south, follow the markers and try to go into Ceasar’s Creek. Always a favorite of ours.  It is very shallow at the entrance from the North and West, so try to go in at half tide rising.  Once inside the channel, you can anchor bow and stern and spend a lovely night in the wilderness.  It also has a lot of bird life and sometimes mosquitoes at dawn and dusk, so be prepared with screens for your hatches.  There is also a deep water channel from Ceasar’s Creek out into Hawk Channel along the eastern edge of the Keys all the way to Key West.

Hawk Channel is a well marked channel inside the large reef that extends east and southward from the Florida Keys.  It is like a road that can be used in any kind of weather.  Keep track of the channel markers and you cannot go wrong.  It encompasses the large John Pennekamp Reef State Park so no fishing is possible, but the snorkeling just outside the channel is great in calm weather.  Really beautiful.

But, back to Biscayne Bay!

From Ceasar’s Creek south, back inside Biscayne Bay, again head for the path between the reefs that is well marked and easy as pie especially if you have a chart plotter, which we do not have!

You will pass to port Angelfish Creek with a marker in very shallow water at the westward entrance to Angelfish Creek.
Anchor between Key Largo and Pumpkin Cay shown on the chart just south of the entrance to Angelfish Creek.  It is protected from the WEST as well as the East.  You cannot go ashore at Pumpkin Cay as it is private.

You can take the dinghy and go through all the canals where the rich and famous have beautiful homes at Ocean Reef Club.  And take the dinghy up the creeks to the north of Angelfish Creek, that is really fun.  And take the dinghy south through the creeks to Ocean Reef and more homes and even the harbor and club although going ashore is not suggested unless you know a member as they do not take money at the restaurants.  However there is a good, but expensive grocery store there and ice cream shop inside the main Ocean Reef Harbor!!!  Also fuel dock if you need fuel.
Then you can either go further south under the Card Sound Bridge, to the lower part of Key Largo.  But we cannot take our draft or get under the bridge, so I have not personally ever done that, but you certainly can.
From there south, or south and then Southwest, I really cannot help you as we always have had to go out to Hawk Channel through Angelfish Creek and follow Hawk Channel to Rodriguez Cay where we anchor for the night.  And then from there we go outside the reef all the way to Key West.  So cannot help you after that.