Please Note That Postings Below From Fellow Cruisers Are Listed in Chronological Order, Based on Publication Date
Please Note That Postings Below From Fellow Cruisers Are Listed in Chronological Order, Based on Publication Date
Niles Channel makes into the northern flank of the Florida Key’s Hawk Channel between Summerland Key and Ramrod Key. The underwater debris reported below is found near a recommended anchorage along Niles Channel’s northern tip, just south of the fixed bridge.
FLORIDA-FLORIDA KEYS-BAHIA HONDA TO SUGARLOAF KEY-NILES CHANNEL: Hazard to Navigation – Niles Channel Fishing
Mariners are reminded of fallen debris from the old Niles Channel fishing bridge pier deteriorating. Parts of the fishing pier have fallen into the water in approximate position 24-39-36.0N/081-26-06.0W. Mariners are advised to remain clear of this structure and to use the main navigational channel when transiting the area. Chart 11445
Bahia Honda Channel/State Park Anchorage lies between the two Bahia Honda bridges, off the westerly shores of Bahia Honda Key.
Waters get very rough at night with a lot of rocking and rolling. More of a jerky roll. Park looks nice but if you want a good nights sleep don’t stay here. winds got to 30 knots and boat next to us drug anchor. winds were SE to S.
The small collection of islands known as the Tarpon Belly Keys flank the northeastern side of the Cudjoe Key Channel. This latter cut makes into the so-called, “Back Route” from Marathon to Key West, west of the turn at Harbor Key Bank Light. It’s a great spot, and we have never had a problem getting the anchor to hold. Then again, we do not usually undertake the anchor setting procedure described below by Captains Chas and Bev.
Has anyone else had a similar or dissimilar experience anchorage hard by Tarpon Belly Keys. If so, please click the “Comment on This Posting/Marina/Anchorage/Bridge” link below, and share your information.
We are in the Keys and tried to anchor at Tarpon Belly Key, a pretty remote place. We have a 43 Mainship with 75′ of chain and 250′ with a 75 lb. Rocna, 8 feet of water and 7 feet of pulpit. Our usual procedure is to drop about 20′, let it settle while slowly reversing and add in about 20′ segments until we feel a good grip, then bump reverse multiple times to deepen the set and eventually increase
reverse a few hundred rpm’s to set. When we did the set, the anchor released. A few efforts to set and we finally pulled up. Holy cow! A massive ball of grey clay (looked and acted like cement) and grass. Could have been a small planet. Boat hooks, dunking and dragging thru the water finally got it off. We tried 3 other locations at the same anchorages with the same, but smaller ball, result. At 5PM, we finally went to a marina. Just beat sundown by 15 minutes.
Our question is should we not done the finally set, as we usually do, on this type of bottom? Would the anchor, with time and gentler prodding by the wind and tide, eventually buried deeper? (I wouldn’t have been able to sleep)
The Rocna has been great for us and we love it.
We also have a 45 lb. Bruce and a Fortress. Would it have made sense to try them?
Chas & Bev
That “grey clay” you pulled up usually provides great holding- after all, it stuck to your anchor! I suggest you change your anchoring technique: let out full scope, or even more, before you pull back on the anchor to set. You want to give the anchor the best geometry to dig in, not the worst angle. I know there are some “authorities” who advocate setting on short scope, but there is defective logic in that. Cruise on!
Wow, what a GREAT article by our Florida Keys SSECN Correspondent, Captain Charmaine Smith Ladd. To reach the anchorage Captain Charmaine describes hard by Tarpon Belly Key, cruisers whose craft draw 5 feet or less, might choose to run the so-called, Back Route from Marathon to Key West, at least partially. To do this, run north on Big Spanish Channel, sandwiched between Big Pine Key to the west (among others) and Little Pine Key, plus several smaller keys, to the east. At Harbor Key Bank Light, you make a turn to the southwest, and slip along the northern face of the uninhabited keys all the way to Northwest Channel, which, in turn provides access to Key West.
Cruisers bound for Tarpon Belly Keys should depart this “back route” near Statute Mile 12287, and navigate the “Cudjoe Channel” to a point abeam of Tarpon Belly Keys. This is an unmarked passage, so the use of an up-to-date, GPS chartplotter is highly suggested.
For those whose vessel requires more than 5 feet of water to keep off the bottom, Captain Charmaine recommends navigating an arc around Bullard Bank, Monkey Bank, and Sideboard Bank to enter Cudjoe Channel from the Northeast.
What a neat place to be once the hook is down. Read Captain Charmaine’s article below, study her pics, and you’ll see how neat it is!
Tarpon Belly Keys, Florida Keys
N24 43.74 W81 31.24
by Charmaine Smith Ladd
September Sea is often out sailing and anchoring throughout the Florida Keys. Often the question “Where do you go?” is presented to me. When told of the plethora of unique and quaint places where we anchor, the usual response is: “There’s no protection there, is there?” Or, “That’s Bayside, what do you draw?” We draw 5’8″ and have no problems navigating Florida Bay–we simply consult and adhere to our charts!
Cruisers often forget that shoal waters surrounding an anchoring area can be just as beneficial as a body of land for protection. When looking at charts, one limits their anchorage areas if land is viewed as the only source of protection from foul weather and indicative of a comfortable anchorage. Shoal waters can provide much the same protection.
One fine example of this is Tarpon Belly Keys. Looking at the charts one might view it as undesirable for protected anchoring. But a closer examination shows the shoal waters around it prohibit fetch from building in the area. The only seemingly exposed area is from the Northwest, but because of the shape of the narrow channel from the Northwest, and its surrounding shoal waters, you are quite protected. It is a very comfortable and lovely anchorage.
Tarpon Belly Key used to be a shrimp farm. There are two man-made, coral bottomed canals that are fabulous for exploration. From a distance, it appears there is a sand beach but it is sand-colored coral. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes when going up to the Key. We are careful to have an extra long painter on the dinghy so that no chafe occurs while tied up to a tree on the Key. There’s a home-made tree swing, remnants of campfires, a foundation for what used to be the main office of the shrimp farm, and lots of remains of concrete and structural steel that gives it a feeling of walking through a historic time in the Keys. You can walk, albeit carefully, atop one of the old concrete beams from one side of the canal to the other section of the Key, then follow an overgrown road and see the other canal. It is quite picturesque!
On Cudjoe Key, seen southwest of Tarpon Belly, the great Fat Albert makes it home. Many have seen it from afar, a big weather blimp high in the sky. However, from Tarpon Belly’s vantage point, you have an incredible view of Fat Albert as it’s docked.
Hope you enjoy the pictures of this most unique area of the Keys! There are so many places like this where you can anchor and enjoy the beauty, wildlife, and solitude. Open your anchoring choices by remembering that surrounding shoal waters can also offer great protection!
Charmaine Smith Ladd, s/v September Sea
SSECN Correspondent, Florida Keys
“Bringing you the low down from down low!”
The Old Bahia Honda Bridge is a fixed bridge with a vertical clearance of 29 ft at statute mile 1205 just south of Seven Mile Bridge.
LOCAL NOTICE TO MARINERS:
It is reported that the Old Bahia Honda Bridge is rapidly deteriorating and many parts are hanging dangerously below the bridge. The
channel at the east end of the bridge is the only clear safe passage. Mariners are advised to stay alert and transit the area with caution.
Ref: LNM 31-08 through 52-09, 01 through 51-10 and BNM 128-08-KW and 141-08-KW Chart: 11442, 11448
The so-called “Back Route” from Marathon to Key West runs north up Big Spanish Channel, turns sharply west at Harbor Key Bank Light, and then skips off the northern face of a series of unhabited keys, until reaching Northwest Channel. This latter passage leads, in turn, to Key West.
We just love the “Back Route.” There’s a host of wonderful anchorages along the way, and this passage has a true backwater feeling, as if you were out in the middle of nowhere, which, for much of the route, you are.
There is one major caveat to the “Back Route.” Do NOT attempt this passage while piloting a vessel that draws more than 4 1/2 feet. There is one shallow stretch of the Big Spanish Channel that is the cause for this prohibition. Otherwise all the waters along the way have plenty of depth.
Good Morning from Key Weird,
Just wanted to let the group know that because of the strong easterly winds we have been having down here Life’s2Short took the bay side trip via Big Spanish Channel. We left Marathon at half-tide-rising and never saw less than 5.5 feet, and that was only around a small area by Cutoe Key. It was a pretty trip with the tides pushing us up Big Spanish Channel and then pushing us into Key West. The trip took about 7.5 hours going 8.5mph.
Be sure your liver is in shape before arriving here!
Todd & Brenda Lanning
You passed through some of my favorite cruising areas in the Keys. We always pick our way in and anchor for a night or two. Cudjoe Channel to Tarpon Belly Key (take the opportunity to moon Fat Albert!), Johnston Key Channel and especially Jewfish Basin are three of our favorite stops. Try it, you’ll like it!
The “Johnson Keys Northern Anchorage” is one of many spots to drop the hook off Big Spanish Channel. The so-called “Back Route” from Marathon to Key West, uses this passage to lead from the southerly waters near Bahia Honda Keys, past Pine Island, and finally into the open waters of the Gulf. From this point, cruisers headed for Key West turn (what else) west and skip along the northern face of the undeveloped Keys, staying well off the land, except for another host of good anchorage possibilities.
We like this spot, stayed here in Dec and now in March. Good protection from N to E winds. Very quiet, no boat or road traffic. No crab pots either.
Below is a very informative and interesting string of messages copied from the T&T (Trawlers and Trawlering) list about cruising from Marco Island in southwestern Florida, to either Marathon or Key West, then north to Miami or possibly even the Okeechobee Waterway. There’s tons of useful cruising tips here, over a wide ranging swath of waters.
I am interested in information related to leaving Marco Island and rounding the bottom of Florida, possible crossing over to the Hawk Channel at Seven Mile bridge. Anyone with experience, ideas, help? Thanks.
“Cavalier” Island Packet SP Cruiser
We did just that about 2 years ago. It seems like yesterday but unfortunately that is a long time ago in cruising days. Our boat draws 4.5 feet and I would love to leave again tomorrow and do it in the same boat.
We made our way from Marco to Little Shark River, anchored there and left for 7 mile bridge. The water is skinny but you will get used to 9-10 feet and you will make it. Picking good weather is important. Many crab traps but just work your way through them. Go slow in places where dodging them is difficult and faster in open areas. Uneventful in crossing under 7 mile bridge. We had no tidal problems but I have heard of significant tidal flow so you probably should check the tidal flow times before leaving.
We did Hawk Channel to and from Key West. Plenty of water, of course, but we experienced extraordinarily rough water. When the wind direction is from off shore the long fetch can make things uncomfortable. Hawk Channel provides easy access to the Key West area but in my opinion, it is not worth it if the water is rough. Hawk channel is not close enough to land to say you saw any local color of the keys.
Now, if I had it to do again, I would take the bay side to key west. I have never been that way so do not have any direct experience but have heard many good things. Also have traveled by car to many places on the bay side and easily see why others rave about the “local color”.
You didn’t say what your draft is and that can be a factor in this part of the world. Also, you didn’t say how long you plan to be gone or when you want to leave.
Morning Star only draws 3-1/2 ft and we regularly leave Marco via Coon Key Pass. That makes a stop at Everglades City a short hop. Or you can continue on to Little Shark River for an overnight. The run from Little Shark to Marathon is not long and we have never found it to be particularly shallow. There are a few “banks” to avoid but they are well marked and if you are paying attention there won’t be a problem.
From Marathon, you can pass under the Seven-Mile Bridge at Moser Channel or you can go east up the ICW on the Florida Bay side or you can head west to Key West via Big Spanish Channel.
If you are contemplating Florida Bay, know that a strong northerly will blow a lot of water out of the Bay.
Finally, if your goal is to do the “South Florida Loop”, a trip we highly recommend, I would do the Okeechobee leg first and head south from Stuart. That way when you leave Miami and head down the Keys the prevailing wind will be at your back.
We traveled directly from Naples to Key West on the Gulf. It was 122nm dock to dock and an easy run, although we did travel at a faster speed than usual. We left Naples at 7AM, navigated the crab pots and then never saw another pot nor another boat until we neared Key West! Took the Hawk Channel from Key West to Marathon.
ONE OLIVER II
Captain Roy’s question below is in response to a posting last spring by Captain Charmaine (see line below). However, I thought he might get more response if I placed it on this “Florida Keys” Cruising News section. I will also post it on the “Ask Your Neighbor” section. Those who have recently cruised the Florida Keys inside passage, please chime in by click the “Comment on This Posting/Marina/Anchorage/Bridge” link below.
Hey Charmaine… how about Bowlegs Cut, Steamboat Channel, and the other rumored “shallow spots” on the inside route? I’m interested in taking the inside route all the way from Miami, but I keep hearing that depths are less than 4′ in some of these notorious spots. Comments ???
Editor’s Note – The waters described below by Captain Turner are part of the so-called “Back Route” from Marathon to Key West. While this is theoretically part of the “ICW – Inside Route,” it is a portion of the Wateway seldom run by cruising size craft. Most captains choose to run Hawk Channel from Marathon to Key West. Conversely, my experience with the inside route from Jewfish Creek to Marathon is that, unless the tide is unusually low, you can count on minimum 5-foot depths! If anyone has seen less depth between Jewifish and Marthon, PLEASE let us hear form you by following the “Comment . . . ” link below!
Did the inside route on nov 2 09, depths for about half a mile
between Cudjoe Key and Big Spanish Key (st. mile 1213) got down to 4 feet during low tide. High tide would give you another 2.5- 3.5 feet
Below is a GREAT discussion copied from the GL (“Great Loop”) mail list about cruising the waters from Marco Island on the Western Florida coastline, south of Marthon in the Florida Keys. There were so many contributors to this string that it was not practical to seek individual permissions, so I’ve just used first names.
Looking for a crossing buddy & or advice for the best route to Marathon. Lots of skinny water, a long passage at 9 kn & navigating shoals at the end in fading light leave me a bit nervous. Any advice or company appreciated.
We prefer to duck in at Little Shark River and anchor for the night. It is a wild, desolate and beautiful place. Take a run up the river a ways to sightsee. Leave early in the morning when the seas are down a bit. The trip from there to Marathon is only about 35 miles, if my memory is correct. Its an easy morning run and you will have lunch in Marathon.
If you have the time, instead of going from Marco to Marathon in one long run, stop at Everglades City along the way, and if you like anchoring out, too, try the Little Shark River. (No place at Little Shark for animals, if you have a dog aboard, but otherwise a beautiful, remote area.)
From Marco, you have two choices. You can go inside down through Goodland, or outside around the Cape Romano, I think the name is, shoals. Inside, there’s only one trick, and that’s immediately south of Marco. There’s a bridge there, where if I recall correctly, the marker colors reverse sides. As you come under that bridge, you have to turn hard to stbd to catch a red marker that’s difficult to pick out on the south shoreline. Don’t miss it. Little fishing boats skip it and go straight across that bay to the green, but you can’t. That red is correctly charted, but confusing on the water. Thatchannel is shallow, but it carries 7′, so you should be OK. You come out of the inside passage in the 10,000 Islands region inside (east) of the Cape Romano shoals, and can run across the bay there in 6 ft or water until it deepens to the 10 ft range. The channel up to Everglades City is deep, and the river currents can be swift at peak ebb and flood. The dock there is old, but adequate. Dining ambiance is fun. Old Florida. Make your run from EC to Marathon (or Little Shark) the next day.
As you run south, say just inside the Everglades National Wildlife Sanctuary and you’ll be clear of crab pots. Outside the park boundary, there are lots of them. That run carries 6′ or slightly more water all the way.
At Marathon, sea conditions may change when you go under the Seven Mile Bridge into Hawk Channel. We made the trip in rather calm conditions in Florida Bay, but found 4 ft rollers in the Hawk Channel. Use the charts and run in shallower water north of the channel for a smoother ride.
Hope this is useful.
I’ve done Marco to Marathon (and vice versa) several times in my 4.5 draft vessel. The only spots to be concerned about are on the Marathon end where you have to make a few zigs and zags to by pass some shoals. They are well marked on the chart. Plot a course through there then line up on Seven Mile bridge and you will have it made.
I agree with everythin Jim says about Everglades City. I’ve done the “back door” from Goodland and out Coon Key Pass to avoid the long trip around Cape Romano Shoals, but I’d be VERY cautious with 5 ft. draft. Also, unless they have changed, the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City doesn’t take plastic.
Bring cash for your dockage.
Because of very strong easterly winds in March 2009, we enjoyed several relaxing days at the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City and then an additional night at anchor in nearby Russell Pass because a pre-arranged boating club visit ran us off the quay wall at the R&G Club. We were offered a short section of the quay at is southern end just beyond a slight jog in it, but upon sounding it with my lead line, I discovered I had about an hour to vacate it before I was aground – off to Russell Pass where we were in the company of 11 other vessels.
An easy day to the Little Shark River headed into the seas saw us well up into the river beyond the last nav marker because several sailboats were occupying the more generally used open area inside the mouth of the river. The wind funneling down the river and the severely reversing currents made that a bad decision for us, and the second night was spent much more comfortably at anchor off the coast a mile south of the river’s mouth. The wind was howling right out of the east making the area close in flat calm.
My chart plotter shows the route I took to be 60 NM to Boot Key Harbor at Marathon from the Little Shark. I stayed just inside the National Park Markers until the jagged coral bottom began to look too close to my 4.5 foot deep keel. Even after going south of the markers (before Oxfoot Bank), I was clearing it by less than a foot. This all may well have had to do with that strong wind blowing the water out of the bay.
Another option if the weather turns on you and you don’t want to push on is behind New Turkey Key ( 25038’52.36″N x 81016’47.50″W) Protected from anything but wind out of the south. Easy to get in and out. There’s a nice beach you can go ashore. There were tent campers there when we passed thru.
What’s the status of Flamingo? We spent a week there Feb 2008. They were still recovering from storm damage, but it is one of the highlights of the loop for us. We finally left when we started running low on food.
Mike & Tammy
My route plan shows 37.5 NM from the mouth of the Little Shark River to North West Cape on Cape Sable, to the N side of the span at the Seven Mile Bridge. You will need to add extra mileage if you don’t go direct from NW Cape to Marathon. If you take the “Yacht Channel route, which is what I suspect Rich did, you wind up almost 20 miles east of Marathon at about Long Key. This is a good strategy if the wind is strong out of the east because you can hug the shore at Cape Sable and then you get somewhat of a lee from the shallow waters of Florida Bay as you run down past First National Bank, Oxfoot Bank and Schooner Bank.
Randy is exactly right. Lots of wind that day, and I was looking for the most water I could find for my 4.5 foot draft.
The Cudjoe Channel cuts south from the so-called “Back Route” leading from Marathon to Key West. This interesting passage cuts north past Pine Key, and then out into the open waters of the Gulf. At this point, mariners heading for Key West, turn to the (you guessed it) west, and skip along off the northern face of the undeveloped Keys, until reaching Northwest Channel, which leads, in turn, to the many delights of Key West.
There are numerous anchorage possibilites off the “Back Route” after turning to the west. Cudjoe Channel is one, but this anchor down spot has the interesting advantage of often affording a view of the “Fat Alberts.” These are massive weather/radar ballons that the US Navy flies at the end of a long, long tethers from Cudjoe Key. The only trouble is they sometimes break free, and the Navy has to scramble a couple of fighters out of nearby Boca Chica Key to shoot them down, lest they drift into Cuban airspace.
Just a note about Fat Albert. It has a diesel generator in it so they have to bring it down every so often to fill the diesel tank. it can fly in up to about 60 MPH winds so it is not that dependent on the wind speed. it is also interesting how often it points in a different direction than the wind direction at sea level.
Here are some good words concerning another of the possible anchorages avaiable off the “Back Route” from Marathon to Key West. This one requires a longer trek off the main route to Key West, but if you want to drop the hook where few have been before you, fire up the GPS chartplotter, and give these waters a try.
More on this anchorage at: http://www.CruisersNet.net/94-cudjoe-key-channel-tarpon-belly-keys-anchorage-2
June 2009. Anchored off Tarpon Belly Key. First attempt to anchor failed, but found good holding further out from the key in deeper water. Lots of current thru here carrying grass that found its way to my sea strainers. Feels wide open but is sheltered by all the surrounding flats. Very easy to find your way in and depths are pretty much as shown on chart. Watch for “Fat Albert” baloon that flys from a cable nearby to put radar high in the sky. We noticed that when they bring Albert down, the wind may soon blow hard.
The Harbour Channel, Southern Anchorage is one of many possible overnight havens lying along the so-called Back Route from Marathon (and Moser Channel) to Key West. This anchorage lies near the point where the marked cut rounds Harbory Key Bank Light, and then skips along its way off the Keys’ northerly banks as you cruise to Key West.
Personally, I would only try to enter the Harbor Channel by using a GPS chartplotter. There’s a lot of unmarked shallow water nearby!
More about this anchorage at http://www.CruisersNet.net/89-harbor-channel-southern-anchorage-2
June 2009. More sheltered than one might think due to shallows. Holding good after trying a couple of spots. Enjoyed 41 mph breeze in middle of thunderstorm at night with no problem. Fair amount of current. Lots of grass collected in sea strainers for generator and air conditioning requiring cleaning once per day. Plenty of room. No issues for 52 foot cruiser with 5 foot draft. One of the better anchorages if you follow the ICW route on the Florida Bay side of the Keys from Marathon to Key West. No problem carring 5 foot draft on that route.