The best part about the trip from Key Largo to Marathon was the dolphins. They joined us off an on along the way and at one point we had 3 on the starboard side and 5 on port, simultaneously. It’s fun to see them jumping in our wake and playing leap frog with each other.
When the dolphins were not around, there wasn’t much to see. This back channel, the Florida Bay, is very shallow. We could see mangroves, massive power lines and occasional fishermen. Sometimes the water was a beautiful blue-green color, so clear we could see the bottom. Other times it was more brownish, being effected by the mangroves. We could see stripes of different colors in the water in the distance, showing really shallow patches. We did bump the bottom at one point, inside the marked channel, but thankfully nothing bad came of it. Unfortunately, it was me at the helm. Upon arrival at Marathon, we crossed over to the outside traveling under the famous Seven Mile Bridge.
The Marathon Marina is located in Boot Key harbor and is a favorite of many boaters. They have nice floating docks for transients, a gorgeous pool and popular restaurant called Lazy Daze with $4 appetizers during happy hour. During the winter months, we hear boaters must make reservations well in advance of their stay. Those wishing to stay a month or more usually lock in their dates nearly a year out. But this time of year, we were all alone on the transient dock the first night. Two different boats came in on our second and third nights there, but really very quiet. Marathon Key suffered a lot of damage from hurricane Irma last fall and they are still in various stages of recovery. We saw a couple of sunken boats still around.
On Thursday, we visited Key West with our rental car. A 50 mile drive is much faster than a 50 mile boat ride! Since I had not been to the Keys before, it was nice to see some of the islands by car. The trail of Irma was still very evident with tarps on roofs, trees and fences down and brown vegetation where it should have been green. Locals tell us that most of the damage was suffered on Big Pine Key. Located between the two, its the place where many people live who work in Key West or Marathon. (Key West was completely spared.) Did you know they have deer on Big Pine Key? This is a feature they are quite proud of. There are lots of road signs warning drivers to look out for the “Key Deer”.
What’s not to love about Key West? Everyone there is having a good time. They are friendly, quirky and not in a hurry. There’s actually a lot of history, museums to visit, homes to tour. We drove straight to the end of Duvall Street to get a photo at the “southern most point” of the U.S. We opted for a selfie with the back of the marker after seeing the line of people waiting.
Then we ditched the car and bought a ticket for the Conch Train. Its one of the tourist must do’s, where the driver tells cheesy jokes while driving you around the area. Its a good way to get around and maybe learn a few things.
After taking a break at Sloppy Joe’s for a beer and conch fritters, we got back on the train with a better driver who actually gave out interesting information…
As we passed St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church she mentioned it was actually blessed by the pope, making it a Basilica. Its one of the oldest parishes in Florida. She pointed out the grotto in the courtyard where it is said that a resident nun, Sister Gabriel designed and mostly built the grotto using rocks from the property. She had survived three major hurricanes since arriving in Key West in 1897 and was motivated to keep the area safe from future storms, so she prayed over each rock as she laid it. When the grotto was dedicated in 1922, Sister Gabriel remarked that as long as the grotto stood, Key West would never experience the full brunt of a hurricane. And it hasn’t. Last fall when hurricane Irma approached, at least 1500 people were gathered at the grotto to light candles and pray, holding vigil until the storm passed them by.
Before heading back to our floating hotel in Marathon, we sampled delicious grilled oysters at Turtle Kraals. This place was a turtle canning operation at one time. Think about that for a while! Some of these old places out on the boat docks are fun and boaters like to arrive by dinghy to enjoy them. Its a short walk to Mallory Square from there where the nightly sunset party happens.
Friday was our day to return to Key Largo for snorkeling at John Pennekamp State Marine Sanctuary. It was about an hour and a half in the other direction. At the park, the tour boat took us and about 25 other people out about 3 miles to the reef for 90 minutes of snorkeling. My time in the water was shortened by about 30 minutes after Joe pointed out a half dozen barracuda sitting near the bottom. Yikes. He didn’t seem to mind, but I happen to know they have teeth! Some of our follow snorkelers saw a tarpon and a shark. I kinda like the pretty little yellow and blue aquarium fish and the coral was really healthy and colorful.
All this time, we had been watching the weather and hoping for another day to spend in Marathon, use the pool and check out a restaurant, but it became clear we shouldn’t dawdle. Everyone was talking about the weather coming in and boats were beginning to come into safe harbor. The summer weather pattern had begun and rain was being predicted for at least the next 10 days. We decided to make a run for Marco Island to stay ahead of it. It’s 100 miles between Marathon and Marco which is twice as long as we normally travel in a day. But, the alternative is an anchorage in Little Shark River in the Everglades which is OK for one night but not really OK for several nights waiting out some weather. So, we left the dock at sun-up and ran faster than our normal speed, getting some help from the current to get to nearly 11 mph. We arrived at a marina in Marco Island around 6:30 that night. Sunday we made the final 40 miles from Marco Island to Ft Myers Beach and once again we needed to stay ahead of a storm. Incredibly, we made it into the inlet before the rain started.
Our cruising time is done now for a while and we have Tasteful Traveler all tied and fendered for the summer. Joe spent a lot of time securing lines, as hurricane season is upon us. We could really use a hurricane free season here on Ft Myers Beach. How long do you think it would take to build a grotto?