Friday, April 22, 2016

Boot Key Harbor

We are again under way, after a week-long stay in Marathon, Florida. We have crossed the Overseas Highway and are now on the gulf side, northbound for Shark River with following seas. I still have some cell signal from Marathon; we'll see if I have anything when I'm done typing. Otherwise I will have to upload it tomorrow when we get back to civilization.

Vector at anchor off Knight Key, with the Seven Mile Bridge in the background.

We arrived outside of Knight Key, the westernmost part of Marathon, last Thursday, after a very nice cruise from Key Largo. We dropped the hook not far from where we did on our last pass through, just a bit further north and closer to the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar (map). We splashed the tender and rode there for dinner across some chop. The "inside" portion of this restaurant is really a giant palapa, and we chose that shadier option over the poolside patio where we ate last time.

The Sunset Grille from our anchorage. Lots of people walk out on the bridge for the sunset.

Friday morning we tendered all the way in to the city docks in Boot Key Harbor to see about getting a mooring ball. There are 216 moorings in this enormous harbor, but only 15 are for boats longer than 45'. We lucked out and snagged the last open ball, Victor-3 (map), which had me thinking "what's our vector, Victor" our whole first day. The ball next to us, V-4, while rented out, remained empty for our entire stay.

We had planned on taking just four nights, with the possibility of extending to a fifth. As long as we had a good address, we placed some Amazon and eBay orders, including the repair carcass for my laptop, and had our mail sent, which was scheduled to arrive sometime Tuesday. When we checked in, though, we learned that a full week was the same price as five nights, so we just signed up for a week instead. That gave me the chance to place another Amazon order as well.

This manatee was in the canal when we stopped at the office. Covered with the same growth that Vector has on her bottom.

It's hard to paint a picture of Boot Key Harbor for anyone who has not been there. It's a sea of boats; from some angles it looks as if you can walk across the harbor without getting your feet wet. Outside the margins of the city-run mooring field, another several dozen boats are anchored. Rules for both the moorings and the anchorage require the vessel be able to navigate, but many appear not to have moved in years. The landlubber image that comes to mind, with no disrespect to some of the nice folks we met there, is "trailer park." (I've lived in trailer parks, also with some very nice folks.)

I don't really grok the popularity of these kinds of anchorages (neither did we understand similarly crowded RV parks), but to be fair, we came to understand some of the reasons. The city marina provides some very nice and well maintained dinghy docks, and decent shoreside facilities. The WiFi does not extend to the harbor, but there is a large room with tables and power outlets that can accommodate a couple dozen folks using laptops or tablets at the same time. There are two theater-style TV rooms, a large exchange library, and even a "workshop" room with cruiser-contributed equipment such as a drill press. Rentable lockers in the workshop area allow for longer-term repair projects.

The larger and less popular of the two enormous dinghy docks. Usually it was more crowded than this.

The marina also provides recycling for motor oil, fuel, oily rags, coolant, and lead-acid batteries, in addition to the more traditional single-stream household recycling. Mooring or dinghy-dock tenants also get parking privileges and use of the enormous bicycle rack; coded tags are provided for dinghys, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. And, of course, there are bathrooms and showers, as well as a nice, if pricey, laundry facility.

On top of all the services at the marina, a half dozen or so restaurants are in walking distance, as well as a Home Depot, a gas station, and a few other conveniences. A bicycle or a $5 cab ride will get you to almost anything else in town, including a West Marine and other chandleries, two nice grocery stores, and yet more restaurants. A morning radio "cruisers' net," similar to the one we experienced in Georgetown, provides announcements and a buy/sell/trade/assistance forum.

Tiki hut at the marina. Cruisers organize events here on a regular basis.

On Saturday we rented a car from Enterprise to make a Sunday run back up to Fort Lauderdale. Louise's folks were embarking on a cruise and we thought it would be nice to see them off over lunch, and I wanted to pick up a few things. We even thought about a Costco run, but waved that off since we did not want to have a bunch of meat on a ~2 hour car ride (the closest Costco is in Miami). Ironically, the cheapest thing Enterprise had on the lot, which is at the minuscule Marathon International Airport, was a full-size pickup truck, so new it still had the dealer sticker in the glove box ($38,400, in case anyone wonders what a four-door Dodge Ram with amenity package runs; gulp).

Sailorman marine salvage, one of the stops we made in Fort Lauderdale.

On our way back from Fort Lauderdale we stopped in Islamorada for dinner; having already sampled the more famous establishments there, we instead tried a Mexican place that proved disappointing. Monday morning I ran some errands, including picking up some hard-to-find fasteners at the well-stocked local hardware store, before returning the truck to the airport. Enterprise is very laid back here, with a one- or two-person staff. They pick you up and drop you off as a matter of course, and Saturday's "pick up" was in the form of sending a taxi, then knocking the cab fare off the total bill.

As long as we had the car, we went a bit further afield for dinner Saturday, to the Marathon Ale House, an unassuming joint in the corner of a strip mall. Off the tourist-beaten path, it was one of the best deals on the island. Without a car or even a bicycle on the ground, we walked to Keys Fisheries one evening and Keys Steak and Lobster another, and we also took the tender down to Burdine's Waterfront, which has a dock. All were quite good, albeit at island prices. At Keys Fisheries we got our food at the window (how it's done there) and carried it up to the tiki bar, which had a better view as well as better people-watching.

Enjoying a beer upstairs at Keys Fisheries. It was trivia night.

With the remains of the week, and the newly acquired hardware, I got a few things done around the boat, including securing the flybridge compass and replacing a sheared machine screw on the now-spare macerator pump. I never did get to swapping computer parts around (a big job), but I did get the new hangar queen up and running, and tested it with Linux. I'm proceeding carefully; I don't want the parts swap to invalidate my software licenses, or scribble a bunch of hard-to-reverse setting changes on my disk.

The other project on which I made great progress is the rebuild of the main engine raw water pump, which I started back at the dock in Fort Lauderdale. You may recall I was stymied by some recalcitrant bearings; as it turns out, one of the cruiser-supplied tools in the shop at the marina was a 12-ton shop press. With the help of some PB Blaster the shop press made short work of those bearings, and I now have the shaft, with the bearings attached, out of the now-empty pump housing. I'll need to pick up a bearing separator to get the bearings off the shaft, probably in Tampa/St. Pete.

Sunset from the deck at Keys Fisheries, across the highway from the marina.

Our full week was up this morning, so we dropped lines and headed out of the harbor just as the radio net was starting. We had figured to go around the north side of the islands and anchor again if we had to wait on weather, but today turns out to be a great day and we're ready to be moving along.

We're now about halfway to our planned stop at Shark River. As I predicted, we left cell range before I could finish the post. But I am happy to report that our macerator pump is now working; we're in a very short 20-minute stretch of offshore water that is outside the nine mile environmental zone (it's three miles everywhere else, but the gulf coast of Florida is an exception), and we just successfully emptied our tanks. We had deliberately shunned the free pumpout boat in Boot Key Harbor just so we could test; by the end of the week the pumpout skipper was giving me the eye (a pumpout is mandatory after ten days in the harbor).

I expect we'll have the anchor down somewhere in the Shark River area, inside the boundary of Everglades National Park, by around 4pm. I don't expect to have any cell signal there, so you will likely be reading this after we come back in range somewhere near Everglades City tomorrow afternoon.


  1. hey Sean, if you stop in Fort Myers Beach Katie and I would be happy to offer rides to whatever and it would be cool to talk about cruising. Hope to see you. Kevin 239-410-6620

    1. Thanks for the offer; just catching up on comments here. We did not stop in FMB, as it was really the wrong direction for us coming in the inlet. We'll keep you in mind when we pass this way again, though.


Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!