Captain Jane’s In-Depth Look at Boot Key Harbor (Marathon)
Our fearless roving reporter, Captain Jane Tigar takes an in-depth look below at what may be the most popular port of call in the Florida Keys, Boot Key Harbor!
We aboard S/V Lady Jane now understand why people heading for the Bahamas, Bimini and elsewhere just happen to get “stuck” in Boot Key. From all I have read of Marathon’s not so long ago history and attendant cruising quality (or lack thereof) life, this truly is an example of how people can make change in the world. This is one of those ICW stops that is now clean, welcoming, fun and a “real community.” If you love Vero Beach Municipal Marina, you may want to check out Boot Key for your next Keys adventure.
First, getting into Boot Key harbor: We draw 5, so we did not even think of using the Sister’s Creek entrance and most folks we’ve heard from don’t suggest it without local knowledge or a really shoal draft vessel. We used the West entrance which, heading North takes you quite close to the 7-mile bridge.
Once in the marked harbor entrance, we followed the clearly numbered markers. We have read some recommendations that you not follow the marked dog-legging channel into the harbor, past the open bascule bridge, however, we followed the City Marina’s live radio advice and kept inside that channel. We draw 5 and while I don’t remember the exact depths we found, there was no pitter patter of the heart as I did my periodic glances at the depth sounder. Perhaps the advice I’ve read to go through the mooring field is out of date — I’m not sure.
The very friendly and capable staff, from what we’ve experienced and heard on the VHF to others, give very clear and good directions to your mooring ball, or to the sea wall if you are taking one of the along-side ties with connections to electricity and land.
When you check in, be sure to take your included goodie bag — a sturdy thermal shopping bag with useful vendor contact numbers on the outside and a bunch of literature, coupons, and information about the marina and Marathon.
Your first morning we recommend that at 9 AM you tune in to VHF Channel 68 for the daily morning Cruisers Net program. This is a moderated morning “VHF radio show” that begins with a call to new vessels to the harbor to introduce themselves and say where they came from and what their plans are. Next up a call to departing vessels. Then news announcements — and these are often really worth listening to as it can range from announcements about the closure of the dinghy dock folks used to use for Publix and West Marine to free yoga gatherings at 10 AM next to the tennis courts, a tennis court event, the weekly softball game (equipment provided!), music offerings, cruisers offering free presentations or workshops about something they do or love — this morning it was foot reflexology lessons, tomorrow I’m offering a Native American flute demonstration and talk, last week a couple offered a “concert” from their stern and dinghies from 30 vessels gathered round in late afternoon to enjoy it…
After the announcements, there’s buy trade and sell; after that cruiser comments and questions about pretty much anything from hair cuts to medical care; then there is time for cruisers needing help or assistance. It ends with Trivia questions — cruisers offer trivia questions and sometimes West Marine posts the question and gives a prize to the first correct answer.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the community, dinghy in, or if you’re at the sea wall, walk over to the marina office and the giant cruisers’ lounge. It is huge and open only during marina office hours. It’s where you can receive your mail and parcels, buy ice, swap books, sit at a table with your laptop and use the free wifi, work on quiet clean projects (there is a sewing circle going on since we’ve arrived). For big noisy, dirty boater’s projects, walk a little further down the dock to the project rooms. You will probably see someone repairing a dinghy or tinkering with some other boat project. There are lockers there to store your supplies…
Your first Wednesday — don’t miss the Meet and Greet potluck at the marina’s Tiki hut, or in inclement weather, inside the marina office. It starts at 5:30.
Good new land heads and showers and a big laundry facility are just a little further down the dock near the humongous floating and new dinghy docks.
There are only two things I can criticize here and neither would keep me from staying here again. One is that the recycling doesn’t seem to get picked up as quickly as boaters can fill the bins. But I’m so thrilled that there are recycling bins and people are using them, that I feel curmudgeonly even mentioning that it can get a little unsightly near the garbage area in the far end of the parking lot. Could simply have been the glitch of a holiday weekend. The second is the problem of dinghies being a little more enthusiastic to get to land than they should. The marina staff is working on that in a characteristically kind but firm way.
One of the great things about the City Marina is its location. You are literally adjacent to a great city park with the afore-mentioned tennis courts and soft ball field. We hear you can even borrow tennis rackets from the park. This is municipal service at its best.
It’s a short walk from the marina to several restaurants — Annette’s Lobster and Steakhouse is right across the street and gets great reviews and a lot of cars in the parking lot for the modestly priced daily buffet lunch is a good sign. The Upper Crust Pizza, just a little to the right up the road from Annettes was also hopping when we passed by, and a Thai and Sushi place just next door. We can vouch for the Thai curries and pad thai — really good and authentic. Or walk left from Annettes to Key Fisheries; it’s a short walk and you can eat at the outdoor covered tables of the restaurant or buy smoked and uncooked fish from the attached fish market. So far, these are the best fish sandwiches we’ve had in the Keys and the spiny lobsters grilled outside to order are excellent and fairly priced. Have several movie titles in mind because you will need one to order your food and Casablanca and Avatar are usually taken. Or hop in your dinghy or kayak and scoot across the harbor to Burdines — they serve great seafood at reasonable prices and it’s a beautiful spot.
Publix supermarket is only a mile away and for the aerobically hardy, West Marine donated several shopping carts you can wheel to Publix and back to the marina. For the less aerobically inclined, folks on the VHF Boot Key Cruisers Net recommend a taxi service that charges $5 to get you back with your groceries; there will be information in your welcome goodie bag
Rental cars are available several miles up the road at the Marathon Airport. Budget and Enterprise have some good deals if you shop carefully and check the internet prices as well as the in-house prices — you never know which are better. As we discovered, it can be less expensive to rent a full week than a weekend. With wheels you are within 10 minutes of lots of great places to eat and provision.
Stayed tuned for Part 2, for a glance at different marina options and maybe even a snorkeling review of Sombrero Reef. Can’t make any promises. We’re in the real Keys now.
S/V Lady Jane
One quick correction! At Keys Fisheries ‘” it may not be a movie title you need to place your order; check the white board for the requirement du jour. Today, you needed the name of a cartoon character’¦
And, while I’m at it ‘” I learned from experience that the City Marina Wednesday night Meet and Greet is an understatement; when they say bring a dish to pass, they mean major pot luck. Last night, the marina staff set out a big long table for the food in the huge cruisers lounge. First timers, like us, bring snacks, and anyone more than one week in residence, brings in real dinner food’¦ It was a big crowd!
We are now on a mooring ball having not visited here since 7 yrs ago. What changes and all for the positive!
I will ditto all of Capt Janes comments, plus add that a weekly pumpout is included in your mooring fee (they come by your boat on a schedule and you do not need to be on your boat), and water is modestly priced at just 5 cents/gal. This mooring field should be the model for others in FL to follow. The rules are not overbearing and they really cater to the cruising community’“a novelty sometimes in the state of FL.
Kathy and Jim