19/01/2012/1:07 pm, Marathon, FL
We've been hearing about Marathon for years and years - the sailor's gathering spot in the Keys - where people come and never leave. Some folks have told us they love it here, and others were disappointed in it. We've had just brief glimpse of it, but I could see a bit of what they all were talking about.
The very best thing about the place was what happened here - and what the stories are about. We dinghied from our anchorage outside Boot Key Harbor to the bar at Dockside Marina, sat down and ordered beers. We were feeling pretty good about being here in this cool sailor's bar already, and then four folks came along to sit at the table next to us. With great gasps of surprise, we recognized Pat and Doug (Sanctuary) and Debbie and John (Troon) who had been our neighbours at Tiger Point Marina in the spring when we were all getting our boats ready. We were with Sandra and Steve who have had boats there in the past, so it was a Tiger Point reunion for sure. Once hugs were exchanged all around, we shoved tables together and amid bites of very good nachos and slurps of beer, we managed to talk all at once and with great animation about our trips and our plans. It seemed just the perfect "Marathon" experience.
We took a walk up the road a bit and back along the docks, returning to have dinner at the same bar. That part was a mistake. What was a wonderful experience earlier (except for some trouble the server had with the bill) turned into a sour one. We waited and waited for our orders to be taken, and then waited ages again for our meals to arrive. Mine came first - good fish and chips. I was just about finished when Steve and Sandi's arrived. They were pretty much done when Jim's was finally ready, and by then he asked for it to be packed for take out. When the server brought the bills, ours was wrong again. So my moral of this story is go for happy hour and forget about having dinner there. There was some pretty good music happening, but it didn't make up for the poor service.
Weatherwise, in typical win one/lose one fashion, coming down here on Wednesday was a boring old motoring trip. Once again we could take turns going forward to sit on the foredeck, but it just wasn't the same listening to the roar of the engine instead of the swish of waves. One thing though - that water is the same lovely aqua green that we loved in the Bahamas.
We anchored outside the entrance to Boot Key Harbor - just at the west end of the Key. There were no mooring balls available and we weren't sure enough of anchoring room and depths when we arrived, so we joined the 8 or 9 other boats outside. Once again, there was no wind to speak of so aside from the occasional wake of a passing boat, we rested well out there.
On Thursday morning, Jim and I took a little run around the harbour again to get gas for the dinghy, check out the Bayfields we spotted on our first trip in, find Patty and Steve (Indigo Falcon) who are also here, and see if we could get more of a sense of the community of Marathon. We had success on almost all fronts. (On our way in, we passed this solitary heron standing knee deep in water just a few feet outside the channel. I forgot to take pics all the rest of the time here!) Our first stop was at Marathon Marina for gas. With tanks filled, the next stop was at Blue Bay, a Bayfield 36 from Minnesota with Rick and Nancy on board. It was a delight to meet these two fellow B' 36 owners and we had a great time chatting with them about our sister ships and places we've been in them. As we moved down the harbour, we spotted B' 36 Calixta but no one was home. Next up was Indigo Falcon and we were lucky to find Patti and Steve aboard. With a bag of crisp green beans in hand (fresh from the farm yesterday - thanks Patti) we ventured on to Troon for one more visit with Debbie and John and to drop off a book we'd been given on Mr Rossborough - builder of Rossborough boats; we thought it really should live on a Rossborough trawler!
By then, the morning had pretty well slipped away so we gave up on any land exploration and contented ourselves with the knowledge that we really do have a feel for Marathon. It's a boater's community with boatyards, boaters and bars; it revolves around the harbour and has a little land and some stores behind it. That's enough for us for now!
A short motoring ride along the keys - always watching those fishing balls that are scattered over the surface - seemed like Maine except for the colour of the water -brought us to Newfound Harbor, in through a deep enough but narrow channel to a skinny little anchorage tucked behind the key. The sun emerged from the cloudy sky and we shed our jackets to enjoy a lovely still evening. Off to Key West in the morning!
18/01/2012/12:59 pm, Tavernier Key
We set off from Dinner Key at 7:15 on Tuesday morning after listening to the weather and confirming that the seas would be gentle. Once across the Bay, our route out Biscayne Channel took us past some fascinating houses on stilts.
I thought Stiltsville would be a collection of ramshackle houses on stilts along the shoreline, but this was not what I expected at all. Rather than clinging to the shore, they cling to the flats on their long spindly legs and appear to be far off in the water, and while they looked skeletal from a distance, several of the buildings topping the stilts were quite modern. According to my favourite resource book (Managing the Waterway by Mark and Diana Doyle) the community began as a cluster of fishing shacks, evolving to clubs, getaways and homes. Initially, a fisherman would find a spot and build a structure but as time went on land ownership became an issue and legal battles ensued. After enduring countless hurricanes and storms, it's a wonder they are there at all, and it appears there is now an effort to have them placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The skyline of Miami in the background seemed such a contrast to these imaginative buildings scattered across the water. Passing by them in the early morning light was even more special.
We enjoyed a fabulous sail down Hawk Channel to Tavernier Key where we spent a calm night. The wind (NE to E 10-15 kn) stayed abeam most of the day and sea was composed of gentle swells instead of the roller coaster we've endured on some other days. It was the kind of day we could take turns going forward to read or take naps on the foredeck; the kind of day we could have a real lunch instead of a granola bar. (Shrimp wraps made with leftovers from last night's dinner); the kind of day that simply makes us glad to be on the water. With all sails out, we averaged 5.8 to 6 knots most of the day - just fine for Madcap. We thought about stopping at Rodrigues Key where there is a little more protection, but we wanted to get farther along and we couldn't make Channel Five before dark, so this was the next choice. Because the wind dropped right off to 5 kn or less, it was a fine stopping place but it would be no good if the wind was blowing. We are seeing for ourselves that the Keys offer few secure anchorages for 6 ft draft boats.
The sky was full of stars and the evening stayed warm so we enjoyed dinner in the cockpit instead of huddling in the cabin in our sweaters and socks!
16/01/2012/12:53 pm, Dinner Key Mooring Facility, Coconut Grove, Miami
We had planned to leave on Monday but, luckily, the wind was blowing 20 knots NE to E and any deep draft anchorage between here and Marathon would be uncomfortable that night so we happily delayed our departure.
It was such a good thing because it gave us time to go off to see South Beach. We met up with Steve and Sandi again and took the train from the Coconut Grove stop (Rt 1 and 27th St) to Government Centre where we switched to the bus. (#120 and S will both take you to the beaches). We bought day tickets - $5.00 for the whole day and good on both train and bus. It was a perfect day to go exploring the wide pathway along the beach and the streets lined with art deco buildings. We had been prepared to leave them for another time, but we're so glad we didn't have to.
We hopped off the bus at 17th St and joined the walkers along the winding beachfront pathway, headed south. There were a few hardy souls on the beach but the wind was whipping up a froth and inside the dunes was more pleasant. We missed Art Deco Weekend by a day, but we probably had a lot more sidewalk room without the festival crowds. After all, one needs room to stop and gawk at both people and buildings! (I never did get a good pic between the cars and trees and café awnings!)
The South Beach area was first developed by the Lummus brothers in 1912 and after "taming the jungle" they established a public park along the oceanfront from 15th to 5th Streets and sold off moderate sized lots for middle income people. Hundreds of apartments and hotels were built in the 1930's in what was then considered to be "modern" style. According to my reading material, the term Art Deco didn't come into being until the 60's and by then, the building boom had come and gone, the area was becoming run down and had settled into apartment hotels for retirees who could spend affordable winters here. In the 80's, a movement spearheaded by Barbara Capitman and destined to become the Miami Design Preservation League, took on the city to preserve and restore many of these wonderful buildings with their trademark relief ornamentation, curving lines, porthole windows, stepped rooflines and pastel colours. I don't know what happened to the modest living, because it is pretty classy now!
We stopped for lunch at Oceans Ten and spent a happy time people watching and enjoying our salads and sandwiches (at not a bad price either - $8.95 for the daily specials) before taking public transportation back to our own little neighbourhood of Coconut Grove where we were very happy to be based.
It was a special treat to take the launch back out to the mooring field with Cathy and Bill (Skeeter) who have spent several seasons in Isla Mujeres, Belize and Guatemala. I dug out my little notebook and scribbled down their suggestions as fast as I could. Once again, a day in the life of a cruiser turned out to be full of treasures - from sights and scenery to people to information to excitement about what tomorrow will bring.
And tomorrow will bring a departure toward Marathon!