3/12/19 to 3/24/19
Monday, March 11, dawned with some scattered clouds but fine conditions for a Florida Gulf side passage. Unfortunately, the winds and sea conditions were too high for the Hawks Channel (Atlantic Ocean) passage where we had hoped we could snorkel along our way. On the Gulf, seas were only about 1’, although it was more like chop than waves. Along the way, we saw 2 dolphins, a sea turtle and again, thousands of crab pots.
After anchoring at 2:30 PM, Paula and Kathy caught some rays while Tom tried to catch some fins. He did…but his line kept breaking. He asked for new line and Paula readily agreed!
The next day was a short one, only 25 miles to Marathon’s Marlin Bay Yacht Club where we had reservations for a week. It was a tight marina, but a dinghy came out to welcome us in and we had 2 dockhands to help. The marina facilities were beautiful!!! It was originally to be a condominium complex with slips but new ownership turned it into a vacation resort community. There were only about 30 slips in the main basin but there was an outside basin with more slips. After seeing the gigantic pool (115’ long) and receiving a tour of the facility, Paula decided she already wanted to stay 2 weeks. And it appeared she might get her wish, as high winds were in the forecast again.
Marathon is the midway point between Key West, MM (mile marker) 0 and Key Largo, MM 107 and the largest city in the Keys. The 7-mile bridge just south of Marathon connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys. (Pictured right with the original overseas railroad bridge built in 1912 on the right.) It was a family-oriented community and much more laidback than Key West.
We walked to Crane Point Hammock & Wild Bird Center to check on the kayak trail we were told about but found out there was none, the park was closed, and the entrance fee was $15. So instead, we enjoyed seafood dinner on the patio at Keys Fisheries watching the sunset and then closed the day relaxing in the lovely jacuzzi at the marina.
We had Kathy choose the activities for the next day since it would be her last before leaving us. Breakfast began at the Stuffed Pig, followed by learning about turtles at the Turtle Rescue (didn’t do the $25 tour but we heard it was good). Tom checked out Sombrero Beach to see if we could snorkel there, but the wind was just too high.
So, with an $11 taxi ride, it was off to the Dolphin Research Center. We had gotten a tip that joining as a member was actually cheaper than the adult admission, so we became members for a year and got one 1-time pass, which Kathy used. Win-win. We have been to about 4 dolphin centers, and the Dolphin Research Center was by far the best. There were 26 dolphins (5 rescues with the rest born there) in 5 different lagoons. The dolphins could easily have jumped over their enclosure fences to escape, but none ever did. They loved their home. Restaurant quality fish were fed to them 5 times a day and with a full healthcare package, their lifespans were approximately twice that of dolphins in the wild. Training in different areas went on all day long along with educational programs in their theater, so there was always something to see. There were also 3 sea lions, birds (macaws, cockatoos, peacock) and a few wild iguanas. Kathy thoroughly enjoyed it and Paula was over the moon. She says if Tom dies first she is going to return to this facility and be an intern (two 4-month sessions).
We took advantage of the car to stop on Pine Key on our return where we were in the 84,351-acre Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge. We stopped at Blue Hole, the largest freshwater quarry in the Keys and saw a gator, turtle, and fish. Because it was mid-day, we only saw 1 Key deer out of the approximately 800, nearly extinct at one time. It is a small deer, standing only about 36” at the shoulder. Before leaving Pine Key, we had shrimp pizza at No Name Pub, a very popular spot since 1931 as a general store with a bait and tackle shop, then later with a brothel, finally now a pub. Every inch of the walls and ceiling were covered with dollar bills. Our waitress estimated there was $100,000.
Two popular marinas in Marathon often used by Loopers were Banana Bay and Faro Blanco. We stopped by both of them just to see who we could find doing the Loop. It was fun to meet many others but we were disappointed to learn we had missed a get-together a few weeks earlier with about 200 Loopers.
We stepped back from touristy things the next day and relaxed a bit with Paula swimming laps at the huge pool and Tom working on the list – repairing the autopilot, moving a light switch, etc. Oh…and taking a nap. Then a few more boats joined us at Marlin Bay and we got to meet a few more Loopers.
A few days later, we enjoyed a 20-minute ferry ride to Pigeon Key, where we had an excellent story-telling guide who loved Henry Flagler history and entertained us with her stories. Pigeon Key is a very historical place, with 400 men living on the 5-acre island during the building of the railroad to Key West. We had hoped to snorkel there but after looking at the minimal fish life, didn’t think it was worth getting wet.
We finished the evening with dinner at the Faro Blanco Lighthouse Restaurant, where from 5:00 – 6:00 PM, anything on the menu was $20. Tom got the 16 oz prime rib (normally $36) and Paula got the 8 oz filet mignon.
The next morning, we took a snorkel trip to the Sombrero Reef. Even though we had 47 people on our catamaran, once we got to the reef, it was big enough for all of us. There were thousands of fish and we saw 2 barracudas and 2 moray eels. The reef along the Keys, of which this was only a small part, is the third largest coral reef in the world and stretches from Key Largo to the Dry Tortuga.
We finally got to meet Ron and Charma Owens when they flew down to Marathon to look at a boat. Tom had been working with Charma over the phone for about a year to revamp the DeFever (make of our boat) online forum. It was a pleasure to finally put faces to voices.
Our only downside with Marlin Bay Yacht Club was their strict “no working on your boat” policy and their lack of laundry facilities. They would not allow us to sand the teak flybridge steps and entry door anywhere on the property, even off in the undeveloped areas. With a locked marina, it was a place we felt safe leaving the door off while work was done and we really wanted to get it done. With the delay due to winds, it would have been the perfect time. We finally found the opportunity at the crab pot business across the street which allowed us to use their lot and power to do the sanding. It took us over 6 hours to scrape and sand the steps and over 5 hours for Tom on the entry door while Paula began varnishing the steps.
Overnight winds once again gusted to 23 mph and we were glad to be in a secure marina.
And so our days continued – waiting, varnishing, doing jobs we could do, enjoying the local restaurants, and laps for Paula in the pool – as we awaited winds to die down. Marina buddy, Bud Hansen, went with us to dinner several times as his wife, Sue, had gone home for a week. And we all enjoyed the Islamorada Seafood and Arts Festival the day before we left, thanks to Bud’s rental car. On our return home from the festival, we stopped at a place where there were many cars gathered. “What was it?” we asked. It was Robbie’s, where you could feed the large tarpon (large…as in 6’ long 100+ pound) which snatched the fish out of Tom’s hand at lightning speed. The pelicans were a mean nuisance as they tried to intrude. Fun times together.
After dinner with Bud, we stopped by Faro Blanco which was hosting the Marine Technologies Fun Run [link from 2017 run] where MTI “go fast” boats traveled from Miami to Key West over 4 days. The boat pictured to the right was one of the “slow” ones. It only went 80 mph – but what do you except for $950,000? Some of the other sleeker models were over 2 million (see left 2 pictures below) and did 180 mph! Boys with deep pockets and their toys! There was a huge fuel truck on site as they turned money into speed.
It finally looked like we had a 2 to 3-day opportunity with calmer winds. Paula won the ongoing table shuffleboard championship against Tom in the clubhouse, we finished saying goodbye to Scot (that’s Scot with 1 “t”) Henry, the bartender full of wonderful suggestions for restaurants, ate our last dinner out in Marathon, and finished prepping the boat for departure. After 2 weeks in Marathon…Key Largo, here we come.