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
There are two possible routes for cruising the Florida Keys, the offshore Hawk Channel passage, and the “Inside Route.” Hawk Channel features more, but not all, marinas, while the Inside Route offers the greatest bonanza of wonderful anchorages to be found anywhere in the Southeast. Trouble is that I have personally sounded 5 feet at low tide directly between the markers in places on the FL Keys inside route. Mind you, only in places, but nevertheless, this is a real concern for those piloting vessels that draw more than 4 feet. Skipper Zimmers expressed his concern in the question below and received several answers via the AGLCA Forum.
We are in Marathon and arrived here from Key Biscayne via Hawk Channel. We want to return on the ” inside” via the ICW from Marathon to Biscayne Bay. We have a Nordic Tug with a 4.5 foot draft. Is the ICW deep enough for that draft?? Thanks,
Herb Zimmers aboard GiddyAp
We draft 4 feet and have done it several times. Never had a problem.
Steve and Gina Smith
M/V Island Time
Herb, You should have no problem. Just pay attention to your charts and stay in the channels through the cuts. Those are the places you can get into trouble if you get distracted.
Try to go on a rising tide
Mike and Rosie
I carry a five foot draft and the last time I went the inside route, I ran hard aground right around marker “60″ on a low tide. I could see I was scraping the bottom for a mile for finally stopping. I used my dingy to heel me over and got loose and never touched bottom again.
On a high tide, I wouldn’t have touched anywhere.
We did the inside from Biscayne Bay to Marathon. We draw 4 ft and at low tide we had some mud in our wake near R80 to Steamboat channel. What was more of a problem was the crab pots and now some are marked with green, brown and blue floats. Our friend had his boat hauled yesterday and the props were wrapped with a bushel basket full of ropes. I may have been out of the channel sometimes but it seems the pots are in the ICW with no regard for boats.
May be the prop shops are paying the crabbers to place the green floats in the ICW:)
We just arrived in Marathon from Key Biscayne. Our Cabo Rico draws 4’10″. Although we encountered some less than 5′ depths, we made it through with no drama. We did time our passages through channels with the tides.
Just west of the Florida Key’s Inside Route’s intersection with Channel Five, one of the most important transition routes from Hawk Channel to the Inside Route (or the other way around), cruisers’ can visit the Fiesta Key – KOA Campground Marina. This is a small, quiet place, with a stone breakwater enclosed harbor. Don’t look for major restocking facilities around here, but otherwise, it is a good place to hang out for a few days.
The original post on this marina is no longer entirely accurate. Charmaine is closer to the mark. I am here right now and I love the place, in fact I am applying for the harbormaster position. First, the positive aspects…the property itself is very nice and well maintained. They just got about a dozen brand new “cottages” in various pastel colors which are actually small cubeular trailers. The primary use of the property is RV and tent camping sites. There are now 2 small stores which for lack of a better description carry most anything you would want in an RV park. They also carry frozen bait and have live shrimp at the store located in front of the docks as there are many people who launch runabouts for day fishing here. There is also a large fish cleaning station.
The staff is indeed very hospitable and the restaurant is pretty good. Shawn seems to be the main chef while awaiting Alice to get back to 100% after knee surgery. The restrooms and showers are always clean, which is kind of odd since I never actually see anyone cleaning them:) There is a large SHELL sign at the docks which would lead you to believe there is fuel, but such is not the case, they have even removed the pumps since I was last here.
Ok, not to be negative, but by way of information, every place has certain drawbacks. In the case of Fiesta Key, which is probably my favorite place to hang out in the keys, at the top of the list has got to be price. The original description for this marina states $1.50 per foot per night. May I say both “no” and “way”. Allow me to elaborate. That may have been true back in 2008 at the time of that post and when KOA owned the property, but about a year ago, give or take, some company called Morgan Properties (I think that’s it) bought the place. I do not know anything about the company but they obviously do not specialize in marinas or resort campgrounds. That would not be a bad thing if they would allow the onsite manager to make the decisions, but apparently they can’t even take a leak without consulting with New York first. Now, back to pricing…Sally and I live aboard the 38 foot steel hull Benford Tug “Knee Deep”. This summer when I was here, the previous manager, well, kicked us out stating that “corporate” had decreed that they would no longer allow live aboards on the property, which is somewhat amusing since the main difference between an RV and a boat is that one of them floats:) At any rate, during that trip they could never decide what to charge us, all of the rates being exhorbitant. One day it would be $85, the next $65, the next $75, then back to $85, etc. It was almost as if the office had a dartboard that they threw a dart into every morning to decide the rate. This time, with a new manager (nice guy by the way), my rate has been $61 per night. BTW, the new manager is going to call NY tomorrow to see if there is a rule about live aboards. Still, if you think about it, as nice as it is, this is a campground and $61 a night comes to over $1800 a month which makes staying for an extended period of time cost prohibitive for most of us. Other than the fact that the bean counters in NY are trying to micromanage and pricing themselves out of the market, I can’t actually think of another downside. The pricing is the key, anyone who knows about the Keys knows that Nov. 1 begins the “high” season. Right this minute (Nov.4) I would estimate that the property is at about 15-20% capacity, and that is on the weekend!
One last thing, if you want to come here, which I reccommend, don’t try it with more than about a 4 foot draft. Come strait in, DO NOT try to cut the corners. For about a 1/4 mile out on either side the water is about 3 ft and sometimes less. I have actually run my dingy aground, and it is not sand, it is rocky.
This place is well worth it, I highly reccommend this marina. I will let you know what I find out about liveaboards:)
Knee Deep Somewhere,
John and Sally
M/V Knee Deep
UPDATE!!!! Ok, the new manager called corporate and apparently they will allow live aboards (although they do not have a POUT station. Also, ref fuel, they have installed a 2500 gal tank (gas only) above the docks, it is on the other side of the road and is not functional yet.
Most importantly, I finally ran down pricing. You sort of have to point it out, repeatedly, but apparently you can stay here for $12 per foot if you stay for a month. For my boat, that comes to around $450 plus a $100 electric and water fee. For this time of year and with the amenities this properties offers, I think that is reasonable. At any rate, it beats the crap out of $1800 a month:) Hope to see you soon,
Knee Deep Somewhere
John and Sally
M/V Knee Deep
Over the week of August 13-18, several posts appeared on the T&T (Trawlers and Trawlering) Mail List concerning the general cruising characteristics of the Florida Keys Inside route. Those messages are reproduced below. Incidentally, the entire SSECN staff highly recommends the T&T list if you own one of these roomy, fuel efficient vessels.
Just to add my 23 cents worth, I have always considered a 5-foot draft to be the cutoff for safe cruising of the Florida Keys inside route. On numerous occasions, I have sounded 5-feet directly between the markers in the Key Largo region, particularly where the main channel passes the marked entrance to Tavernier Creek.
If your vessel draws 5-feet or preferably less, don’t let these soundings discourage you. Some of the most wonderful anchorages, not to mention the views, you will ever enjoy lie off the FLK inside route!
Looking for info on the practicability of taking the inside route from Miami to Marathon.
I draw 5 feet. What is the opinion of the boaters that have done this route. Is it doable?
We’ve done the inside route and we draw 4’9″. Never had a problem, but then we watch the water, not a screen. It is marked adequately. Neither Jill or I can recall anyplace where another 3″ would have made a difference. There is a tide down there, though I doubt it is much more than 2 feet. If those 3″ might make a difference, plan to transient at high tide during a new or full moon, might want to consider spring tides too.
Briney Bug- Panama City, Fl
I have gone the inside route from Miami to Marathon a number of times, both in Pooh (draft 4’8″) and my previous sailboat with 5′ draft. Should be little problem. Not to say the water isn’t skinny; we often are reading
depths of 5.0 to 5.2 feet on parts of this route (shallowest is just north of Islamorada), but haven’t touched bottom.
Steamboat Pass, just south of Islamorada used to be a problem, but this has been dredged and is now good for around 6 feet (deep water ;-).
Sorry Larry, but I disagree. I carry 5′ draft and have soft grounded in the center of the channel on two different trips on the inside route several years apart. I won’t try it a third time.
Time of year can make quite a difference. In the winter, northers will blow water out of Florida Bay. But don’t let that discourage you. It’s wonderful cruising!
The trick is to wear polarized sun glasses, use you eyes.
The water is usually clear, and it looks scary shallow, it is, but with 5 ft u can make it.
The channels are well marked. The tide is about 6 inches in the upper keys,wind can effect water levels more than the tide.
Go for it!
See you in paradise!
I don’t know where Mr. Kennedy traveled in the ICW on the inside, we have found the inner passage from Miami to Spanish Key to be a chalky green only rarely clear. We obey the day markers backed up by GPS. If your draft is 6-plus you are cruising for a bruising. If you need Sea Tow they are not allowed to move you until the environmental police arrive. The fines are prodigious..
We have made the trip back and forth seven times.at different times of the year. Mr. Kennedy obviously has had a different experience.
One thing is beyond dispute If you need Sea Tow you are in bad trouble
42′ Draft 4′
Now that I know that Captain Sterling runs a tourist boat in the Keys, I must defer to his greater experience. I guess I was there at the wrong time. But it remains true that if you are passing over water that is 4,5or 6 feet it is impossible to tell the difference even if the water is crystal clear. Several of the passes are that shallow. Call me naive but I advise extreme caution. Remember you do not have advantage of some one who has local Knowledge.
Just west of the Florida Key’s Inside Route’s intersection with Channel Five, one of the most important transition routes from Hawk Channel to the Inside Route (or the other way around), cruisers’ can visit the Fiesta Key – KOA Campground Marina. This is a small, quite place, with a stone breakwater enclosed harbor. Don’t look for major restocking facilities around here, but otherwise, Captain Dalton is quite right about it being a good place to “hang out for a few days.”
We have stayed here several times. Always enjoy the friendly staff and lovely surroundings. Spent much of our visit 3 years ago, watching a 300+ lb sea turtle in the inlet to the marina. He came and went at his leisure on a daily basis, as did my husband and myself. A cool place to hang out for a few days or weeks away from the cold weather in Virginia.
Another GREAT article by our very special Florida Keys correspondent, Captain Charmaine Smith Ladd. And, in this missive, Captain Charmaine is asking for input from fellow Florida Keys Cruisers. Please read on, and if you have any knowledge of the channel across Channel Key Pass, please click the “Comment on This Posting/Marina/Anchorage/Bridge” link below, and share your information.
May 11, 2011
Channel Key Pass (ICW through Channel Key Banks) – Navigational Conundrum
N 24 48.768 W 80 54.708 (Green #5 & #7 and Red #8)
by Charmaine Smith Ladd
The weather in the Keys has been in the high 80s. Not a bad thing when there is wind to blow off the waters and keep one comfortable while aboard. A few weeks ago, looking at the extended forecast it became apparent the wind would be saying goodbye for a while. That’s the time when flags which otherwise fly proudly become as limp as last week’s wilted flowers. Hardly a breath of wind to lift anything. Marinas and Harbors can get quite stifling during such times, unless one has the option and decides to run air conditioning.
September Sea has that option. But instead of closing the boat up and turning on the central air, we find it much more adventurous to leave the confines of marinas and Harbors and head offshore in search of cooler days and nights. Most probably wouldn’t think it…but it’s a great time to take off for adventure even when the seas are calm and the breeze is gone.
Florida Bay was our choice this time, as it would be calmer waters for anchoring in the event any weather happened to surface. Gorgeous waters say hello to coolness! There seems to always be air out here in the Bay, even if it means going five to ten or more miles offshore. It is worth it. Not only for cooling off, but how one can cool off is what is so wonderful about getting away: the farther one goes the more one gains with total privacy, solitude, and no irritations. LOL
We’ve been out and about for over three weeks and loving it. When we departed Boot Key Harbor (Marathon), we took the Atlantic side and sailed on the last day of wind before the calm…and it was a glorious sail. There’s nothing quite like the sound of movement along the water and not spending a dime on fuel. It’s as Green as it gets! At Channel Five we crossed over into Florida Bay. Glorious backwater areas!
We recently had to pick up some supplies so we headed back towards Marathon. We normally don’t take the Bayside route as we draw 5’8. The waters of Florida Bay average 7-9 feet, mostly 7-8 this far inshore, whereas traversing the Atlantic one doesn’t have to constantly watch the depth sounder. But we decided to do it, as it was new territory for us between Channel Five and Seven Mile Bridge, via the Bay. When charting our course, we came across an unusual navigational aid configuration along the ICW at Channel Key Pass:
Look at the included chartlet as if your boat draws 5’8. All depths on the chart are optimal, as the tide does not fluctuate feet but only inches in Florida Bay. How would you have plotted your course in this scenario? I’d like to get some of your comments as this is an ICW Route and many of you have probably been here. I’m sure there are other areas along the ICW that are just as confusing. But this one really makes little sense to me.
What do you make of it and how would you have handled it? You can see my track (in black) through the Pass (channel markers) but after doing so and finding my keel within a very few inches of touching bottom; in hindsight perhaps I should have gone with my first inclination: going outside the red marker and navigating the 7 ft. waters to its starboard. But then again, imagine making this choice at night. That would be scary to come up to two lit channel markers and decide to go around them instead of between them!
This just goes to show how one must be alert at all times. Even after plotting my course, I had no idea what those markers would actually look like when approached. The view from the water actually looked more confusing than the chart… as the chart is correct and the markers are exactly where indicated. The markers are not directly across from each other but create more of an “S” curve as you pass through. Navigating the “S” curve brought September Sea precariously close to the shoal on port (Green #7). Perhaps I should have gone outside Red #8, as the chart shows the water consistently deeper there. I did watch a sailboat do just that about an hour later, long after we had passed through.
There must be some history of these channel markers. Perhaps it was for fishing boats to easily navigate between the two shoals. But if that were the case, then why such a narrow opening and “S” curve rather than moving the red marker closer to the northernmost shoal and creating a much wider and easier to navigate passage? Anyone out there have an idea of why this is set up in such a confusing manner? This writer would love to read what you think.
In the meantime, we aboard September Sea will be cool and comfy offshore. Of course I had to time this article while in internet range, so at this moment we are much much closer to shore than we prefer (well, I did need to get those supplies too, so it’s all good). It is so different near shore…very, very warm day! As soon as I click “Send” we’ll weigh anchor and be underway offshore again. Coolness, here we come!
Charmaine Smith Ladd
SSECN Special Correspondent, Florida Keys
“Bringing you the low down from down low!”
We have been through Channel Key Pass a number of times, most recently about a week ago. I agree that the position of the marks looks pretty strange, but we always follow them, and we have not seen anything less than about 6.5 feet.
Unless I have specific knowledge I always follow the marks rather than the chart or the purple line. The soundings were taken many years ago and rarely get updated. The marks may have been moved since the chart was created.
Our boat needs somewhere between 5.2 and 5.4 feet to avoid fraternizing with the bottom, depending on how much water, fuel, and beer are on board. We made it from Marathon to Miami and back within the last few weeks. Channel Key Pass was one of the easy places for us. The skinniest water was found in two places. The worst was near Isla Morada, between marks 80 and 86. We could not find anything more than about 5.6 feet, even though the tide was up and the wind was light. The other place was at mark 50, just north of Grouper Creek. We were not much more than a boat length from the red mark when the alarm suddenly went off. A quick jog even closer to the mark quickly restored about 9 feet of water. We have been through there before without incident. I don’t know if there is shoaling or if we were simply a few feet closer to the existing shallows.
Yorkshire Rose, Catalina 42
According to the USCG out of Marathon, the vertical clearance in Moser Channel of the Seven Mile Bridge is 65 feet.
Is the 7 mile bridge clearance 63′ 0r 65″ as my chart shows? Please verify & thank you. Our Lord’s Blessings & Fair Winds
Ed & Bonnie aboard Almost Heaven
This anchorage lies off the inside/ICW route, just west of Channel Five. We note that Captain Ron says other guide books suggest dropping the hook in Jewfish Hole (just to the west). Follow the link below to these water’s listing in our “Florida Keys Anchorage Directory,” and you will see that we have chosen a slightly different position, where cruisers will be partially sheltered by a shoal just to the east. Note either of these anchor down spots are fair weather only anchorages.
The “desired” anchorage according to the guides is Jewfish Hole. Heavy grass/weed bottom. Only a heavy plow has a chance to dig in. Danforth type anchors just skid along the bottom for a good chunk of “salad fixins.” I would not anchor here in any sort of blow as your holding will always be tentative. The only positive is that there is a campground there with ice, fuel and a quik mart.
Another great article from our regular Florida Keys correspondent, Charmaine Smith Ladd. Who knew this small facility had so much to offer?
May 6th, 2009
Fiesta Key Marina, RV Park & Campground
MM 70, Long Key
24° 51.061 N 80° 47.749W
by Charmaine Smith Ladd
On Long Key, amidst 28 acres of lush tropical trees and foliage, is a little known place (formerly a KOA Campground) called Fiesta Key. You would think yourself in the Bahamas as you look around at the quaint, brightly colored island setting with the laid-back charm.
Touting a small marina (jet ski rentals too) and ship’s store, an Olympic-sized fresh-water swimming pool, hot tubs, motel rooms, waterfront bar and grill, internet access, two complete laundry facilities and much, much more, Fiesta Key is a great place to go for a not-so-far-away getaway.
The marina is for very small boats only. However, immediately west of Fiesta Key, one can anchor at semi-protected Jewfish Hole. A fair-weather anchorage in the winter, Jewfish Hole offers good year-round protection from the East and Northeast (via the shallows outlining Fiesta Key).
The good folks at Fiesta Key are quite hospitable. They were so nice to us as they allowed us to dispose of our trash, gave us access to potable water, and were extremely gracious in every way. Our dinner there was very reasonably priced, delicious and served with a smile. The people working at Fiesta Key like their jobs and it shows!
Just let them know you’re anchored out and what you need. Their fees are nominal and their warmth genuine.
Having access to the amenities of Fiesta Key and knowing that its staff is both friendly and helpful sure gives a new twist to the anchoring out experience. When is the last time you anchored out and were able to get all your laundry done all the while with an ice cold beer in hand and an eye on the Marlins game?
Fiesta Key is a wonderful escape from the hustle of marina and mooring life to a quiet anchorage with all the anchoring space for as much solitude one could ever want…yet also offers you a taste of the nightlife, dinner out, and all the social minglings if you so desire. It’s all there for you at Jewfish Hole Anchorage and Fiesta Key Marina, RV Park, and Campground.
Charmaine Smith Ladd, SSECN’s Regional
Correspondent for the Florida Keys,
bringing you “The Low Down from Down Low.”