Monday, December 15, 2014

Key Largo

We are, finally, in the Florida Keys.  As I type we are under way, headed southwest toward Tavernier Key; this morning found us anchored off Key Largo, near an uninhabited island known as Rodriguez Key (map).  We are cruising the Hawk Channel, a somewhat protected waterway between the Keys, to our north and west, and the Florida Reef which protects them, to our south and east.

This morning's anchorage, with Blossom silhouetted against the pre-dawn light.

We left our cozy anchorage in Hollywood's South Lake Saturday morning for the short cruise to Miami, with Blossom following right behind us.  As the shorter, and thus slower, boat, we are the limiting factor on bridge timing and arrival times in general, so it's easier for us to just be in front. We also have the shallower draft (Blossom draws a full eight inches more) and can report back if there is anything skinny enough to warrant a change in their course.

We dislike traveling popular waterways on the weekends -- it's amateur hour, with plenty of skippers who don't know how to drive, and yahoos who just don't care.  Towboats do a booming business, and law enforcement has a field day.  So cruising the very popular waters from Hollywood to Miami on a Saturday would not have been our first choice, but we really needed to be positioned for the outside run by Saturday night, in case the weather window slid up to Sunday.

We managed to time the bridge openings perfectly, with a minimum of station-keeping involved, and we both made it through the single operable span of the Broad Causeway bridge with great anxiety but no incidents.  (The inoperable span is that way because it fell on top of a $20M megayacht last week, doing considerable damage but causing no injuries.)  A good bit of the traffic we encountered was northbound, likely heading to Fort Lauderdale for the holiday boat parade.

We found no fewer than four giant cruise ships when we arrived at Port Miami, which meant the ship channel through the harbor was closed to us.  We had to go around the south of Dodge Island via what is popularly known as "Fishermans Channel" which is, nevertheless, a busy deepwater channel sporting a cruise ship of its own, along with three freighters.  We turned right at Fisher Island into a system of unmarked channels and dropped our hooks in Norris Cut, between Virgina Key and Fisher Island (map).

Saturday's anchorage.  The superyacht Petrus II anchored uncomfortably close to Blossom, but they stayed only a few hours before returning to their marina on Fisher Island.

Other than the usual noises of a busy port, that's a beautiful spot, with a view of the Atlantic to one side and the glimmering lights of downtown Miami to the other, framed by tony and exclusive Fisher Island and verdant Virginia Key.  Even though it appears open to the Atlantic, it is actually protected by a very shallow bank, and we had a calm and lovely night.

Our view of the Miami skyline at night.

Acceptable weather for a Sunday passage held, and it looked like the other end of the window might be closing in, so we weighed anchor in the pre-dawn hours and headed back around the west end of Fisher Island to the ship channel. Ironically, on the way out the channel we passed the AIDAvita on its way in to port, the very same ship we passed (also on its way in) when we left Port Canaveral a week ago.

I loved the way the undersides of these clouds were lit in the moments before sunrise.

We were treated to a spectacular sunrise as we exited the inlet.  We had a bit of a bumpy ride for a couple of miles, until we made the hard right turn to head southwest toward the keys.  It took a full hour just to come all the way around Fisher Island and see our anchorage again from the other side.  South of Key Biscayne the barrier reef begins to rise toward the surface, and the ride improved steadily throughout the day.  About mid-morning we passed Elliot Key, which is as far south as we made it last year (though we were on the other side, in Biscayne Bay).

Stephanie snapped this photo of us heading out the channel into the dawn.

We had a fair tide out the inlet, and a fair current heading south, so we made excellent time.  We reached Rodriguez Key shortly after 2pm, well ahead of my 3:30 projection.  While we could have pressed on another dozen miles, protected anchorages are few and far between on this side of the Keys, so we just made it an early day.  Martin and Steph tendered over for cocktails and dinner aboard Vector.

Steph sent this to us, saying we looked like we were cruising on a sea of diamonds.

Today's cruise has been lovely, albeit a bit of a slalom among the numerous crab and lobster traps that dot Hawk Channel along most of its length.  With fewer miles to go, we started a little later, after sunrise.  This evening we should be anchored west of Boot Key and the city of Marathon.

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