Is it time to re-think the Florida Keys?
As a yachting destination, the Florida Keys has a bad rap in the industry. Some say justifiably so. The crass commercialism along Overseas Hwy, the excesses of Key West, the high prices of pretty much everything, and the uninteresting food, have all taken a toll on its reputation.
Having said that, the Florida Keys are very different from the water than from the land – it’s quite different to explore them from a sailing catamaran or a motor yacht instead of the narrow and unpredictable US 1 route by car.
The first piece of advice for a boat trip, however, is not to underestimate the distances, e.g. it’s 175 miles from Miami to Key West. It a good three day journey on a sailing boat and two days on a motor yacht. So if you’re planning a 4 or 5 day or even a week’s trip, think Upper Keys, maybe Key Largo and Islamorada, or at a push, the Middle Keys to Marathon, Duck Key, etc.
The great thing about the Keys is that your weather risk is minimum. If you are looking at a charter for a few days or a week in winter, for example, you have three options with varying degrees of protection:
- Outside the barrier reef if the weather is great. The waters are clear and there is great diving and snorkeling on the reef. The Gulf Stream will hold you up a bit due to its strong 2 to 3 knot South to North current.
- Using Hawk Channel on the inside of the reef which has really protected waters and a depth of between 7 and 12 feet.
- The inside route by using the Intra-Coastal waterway. This can be used in case of bad weather and has a unique charm all of its own. Much slower though due to the no-wake zones.
Things to Do and See
The Fishing is great and yes, you do need a fishing license. Mahi Mahi is common outside the reef, and fly-fishing for Permit and Sea-Trout in Florida Bay is popular. There are professional sport fishing boats available for the bigger stuff like Marlin and Sailfish. There are good fishermen here in the Keys and a number of the top boats participate in the BBC (Bahamas Billfish Competition) that is held every year.
Dinghy or Tender excursions into Florida Bay. This is a very unique experience and highly recommended. Florida Bay has a unique eco-system that supports all kinds of marine wildlife including Manatees, and LOTS of unusual birds. It is very shallow, has brackish water and some local knowledge is useful.
Parts of Florida Bay have been set aside as an American Crocodile reserve area. There are not many Crocodiles left probably about 200 or 300 and the species is in danger of extinction so you probably won’t see any of these critters. They are generally smaller than Alligators and can live in brackish water unlike Alligators that like fresh water.
Hanging out at the older bars and watering holes that have become Florida Keys institutions – like Lorelei’s and Hog Heaven, Snappers and many, many others.
Snorkeling and Diving on Molasses Reef. The scientists at the John Pennekamp Marine Park and Sanctuary have been working wonders with the coral reef and are slowly bringing it back to its original splendor. You can dive on the bronze underwater statue of Christ and there are all kinds of fish and corals right here in your back-yard.
Where to get picked up?
Many of our clients ask us if the charter boat can pick them up in Miami. The answer is YES. However, it’s a good long distance from Miami, even to the upper Keys. A good 2 or 3 hours on a power boat and maybe 6 to 8 hours on a sailing boat. If the boat is Keys based, the owner will charge you for the “dead-head” time involved in getting to Miami and for the return journey to their base in the Keys.
If you have limited time available for your Keys excursion, it might be a good idea to take a cab or limo to Key Largo and avoid the long and rather uninteresting sail from Miami to Key Largo. It’s only an hour by car.You can also fly into Key West and start your charter from the South. But, remember the distances..!!
Eating in the Florida Keys
Standard Keys fare is all-American – slightly modified to reflect what tourists think the Keys should be all about, e.g. Mahi-Mahi sandwiches, fried fish, grilled fish, baked fish, blackened fish, all with French-fries. Chicken wings and peel and eat shrimp – all washed down with a Margarita. After all this is the quintessential Margaritaville. Jimmy Buffet paradise. Keys people are quirky but generally nice. I count myself among them..!!
If you are looking for more sophisticated fare, eating in the Keys is not for you. If you are lucky enough to have a good chef on your charter vessel, my advice is: take most of your meals on-board. Drink ashore and eat on the boat.
From Islamorada to the Bahia Honda Bridge, the Florida Keys offer incredible coastline fishing all year round. There are many yachts for sale in Florida capable of targeting Barracuda, Snapper, and other species near the coast.