We are anchored off Elliott Key, in Biscayne Bay (map), the northernmost of the true Florida Keys (Key Biscayne and Virginia Key, north of here, were formed differently, and Virginia Key was actually part of the barrier island that extended north to Hillsboro before they were separated by a hurricane). While this is as far south as we will get on this pass, we can at least say now that we made it to the Keys. Elliott Key is part of Biscayne National Park.
It truly is different here. For one thing, the water is so clear we can now clearly see the bottom. We've seen our anchor in use for the first time ever, and we can see it right from the boat along with all 75' or so of chain we have out (we are anchored in 7'-9'). We actually went snorkeling right off our swim step, and used the opportunity to clean off some of the incredible amount of marine growth we accumulated over three weeks in Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately, my lungs are not up to the task of cleaning the barnacles off the prop without a supply of compressed air, which we do not yet have. Despite the growth, the hull looks to be in pretty good shape.
We arrived here after a very pleasant but fairly brief cruise from Key Biscayne yesterday afternoon. By the time we left, the sand bar west of Hurricane Harbor, famous for crowds of party-loving boaters, was starting to fill up with small boats. Even a Nordhavn came in to our anchorage with a speedboat in tow, possibly to join the holiday weekend festivities. We did a quick loop of the anchorage, past the old helipad, before heading out into the bay.
The bay from there to here is mostly wide-open area of 8'-12' depths, plenty of room to engage the autopilot, relax, and take in the scenery. That included the famed Stiltsville, but mostly involved watching other boats, which is always amusing on a holiday weekend. Holidays weekends in these latitudes carry the added bonus of many boats adorned with eye candy, but the antics of the skippers often steals the show. Listening to the accompanying rants on the VHF radio is equally entertaining.
There is one short section of narrow, marked channel north of here, part of the ICW, that crosses Featherbed Bank, and with the clear water I opted to drive from the flybridge for this transit to get a better view of the bottom. Of course, that's when I discovered that the flybridge autopilot control head is still acting up, and I had to have Louise disengage it from the pilothouse helm so that I could steer manually upstairs. Looks like I will have to rebuild that head a second time, although we are actively looking for a replacement, since this one is iffy after the water damage.
As we passed the north end of the Key, boats were already congregating on the sandbar there, another party hotspot. I'm pretty sure this sandbar was featured on a Girls Gone Wild video. Elliot Key is seven miles long, though, so we knew we'd be very distant from any noise (or bad seamanship) associated with the revelry there. We opted instead to anchor near mid-island, where the little harbor sits to serve the National Park Service visitor center and the campground.
I say "near," but the harbor itself carries depths of only 2'-3' of water, and water deep enough for Vector does not start until a good half mile from shore. We stopped about 3/4 of a mile away, dropping the hook in charted 8' depths. At today's low tide we were just a mere foot off the bottom, which is interesting to look at under water. Our keel was brushing over the sea growth.
Knowing it was buggy ashore, Louise opted to remain aboard while I took the tender in to the park this morning. By the time I arrived the campground was half full, and I expect it will be completely so by this evening. The "marina" just reopened last month, having been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The visitor center on the island is still under re-construction. The restroom and shower facility was working, though.
When we anchored yesterday afternoon, we were a half mile from the nearest boat, but today is a different story. There are boats in both directions as far as the eye can see. Our little camera can not do justice to the scale of it from here. Last night, however, was extremely quiet, dark, and peaceful, and we tried to take advantage of clear, dark skies to view the first-ever Camelopardalids. I only managed to spot one meteor the whole night, however, which apparently was a common complaint.
Our schedule would permit us to remain here the rest of the weekend, however, our waste tanks are nearly full, and thus we will weigh anchor tomorrow and head back north. At least we can look forward to slightly less water traffic tomorrow than there was today or will be on Monday, as many of these holiday-weekend boaters will remain anchored, rafted, or moored throughout the weekend. The radio has been cackling all day with the Coast Guard and the towboat companies responding to numerous emergencies of one sort or another.
I have several photos I took around the boat and ashore at Elliott Key, but our cell-phone Internet connection here is too tenuous to upload them. I will try to get them posted in the next few days.