The Beauty and Danger of Bahia Honda Anchorage (Florida Keys)
The Bahia Honda Channel/State Park anchorage, which is the subject of Captain Charmaine’s article below. lies west of Marathon, and can only be entered from the Hawk Channel side, as a low level bridge prevents access from the Inside/ICW route. Even vessels approaching from Hawk Channel must cruise through a narrow section of the old Bahia Honda Bridge, where a short section of the span has been removed to facilitate navigation. We already have a “Navigation Alert” set at this old span, due to an entry in the Local Notice to Mariners about the bridge deteriorating.
Now, Captain Charmaine gives us even more to think about in regards to this anchorage. Follow the second link below Charmaine’s article to view this anchorage in Chart View!
March 29th 2011
The Beauty and Dangers of Bahia Honda Anchorage
by Charmaine Smith Ladd
Bahia Honda Key is gorgeous. There’s something there for everyone at this incredible State Park. There is an RV Park, Marina (albeit for shallower drafted vessels), lots of nature trails, nearly 3-1/2 miles of paved road for jogging, biking, and walking. There are steps set between lush palms where you can walk atop the old railroad bridge and see captivating views for miles! Bahia Honda also boasts 2-1/2 miles of natural white sand making several beautiful beaches that are hard to best. The crescent beach of the anchorage is lovely. There is a comfy beach house for changing and outdoor showers to rinse off the saltwater after a relaxing swim. The Keys has never been known for its beaches. Bahia Honda puts us on the “beach” map!
The ample anchorage is set between the remains of the old Henry Flagler Railroad (destroyed by the famous 1935 Labor Day Hurricane) and highway U.S. 1. In fair weather, this anchorage is ideal with its plethora of breathtaking foliage and million-dollar views of the beach. Once you’ve anchored, remember the current can be swift between the bridges, so don’t be too quick to jump into the water and swim to the nearby beach until you know it is safe to do so. You can also dinghy over to the friendly marina and tie up there. It is a short and enjoyable walk to the beach.
In the anchorage, there is great protection from the east. However, any foul weather from the North or South can blow inadequately secured boats into one of the bridges. This has occurred many times in the past. But it does not have to happen.
Last night (March 28th), it was reported that a sailing vessel was dismasted while anchored in Bahia Honda. A squall of weather blowing NNE hit the Keys around 22:30 with sustained winds of 25 knots, gusts up to 40. Before going to Bahia Honda to anchor, one must realize that even though the weather forecast may be for sunshine and lollipops; sudden and fast moving squalls do begin to occur this time of year. Bahia Honda anchorage, in the opinion of this writer, is fabulous if limited to a day sail as the month of March ends and the squally weather and winds begin.
The report on the VHF from the Coast Guard said the boat was was taking on water and possibly sinking. With the wind direction, the vessel must have blown from south to north and hit the old Flager bridge. The old pilings there are quite substantial, a fiberglass hull is simply no match for those mammoth pilings. It was later stated that two passengers were soon rescued from the vessel in peril. At this time it is not known whether or not the vessel sank. It is great to know no one was hurt in what undoubtedly was a life-threatening situation.
It is not clear whether or not the vessel had a working engine. On that note, it is unwise for any vessel without motor capability to anchor in the Bahia Honda anchorage. In the past, many a vessel without engines have sailed into Bahia Honda to wait for more favorable winds. As my mother used to say, “Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it…and all that comes with it.” That adage is a good one. This time of year one may very well get far more winds than wished for. Without a working engine one would be at the mercy of the winds. There is no mercy when anchored in between two bridge spans with no means to otherwise maneuver.
The bottom line here is that this is just another one of the many horror stories people have read or heard about Bahia Honda’s Anchorage. Truly, there is a time for everything. With knowledge and attention, one can anchor there with no problems at all. September Sea has been there at least ten times staying as long as a week to ten days and we have never had a problem with holding. And yes, we have encountered a few storms before realizing there is a time of year not to anchor there! But we never dragged there–however, lots of other boats certainly did while we were there! We always anchor close to the beach where the sand and grass are plentiful and the difficult rocky bottom as far behind us as possible. We do not anchor in Bahia Honda overnight this time of year as hurricane season grows nearer.
Be informed. Bahia Honda is wonderful!! One must use their head so their vessel and passengers will stay safe. You will love Bahia Honda’s anchorage, but at the right time of year and for the proper length of stay. In the Keys during this time of year one must watch the weather many times a day. If you don’t have radar, use NOAA weather on the VHF. In any anchorage in the Keys one can usually hail another vessel on either VHF 16 or 68 to inquire about weather. And don’t forget to use your instincts. Last night I noticed the breeze had cooled significantly. That was all the notice needed to turn on the VHF NOAA weather forecast and check radar.
Bahia Honda. Beautiful, captivating, and wonderful for the entire family…but anchoring there can indeed be dangerous when not fully informed.
Charmaine Smith Ladd, s/v September Sea
SSECN Correspondent – Florida Keys
“Bringing you the low down from down low!”
Great article on one of our absolute favorite anchorages. No trip to the Keys is complete without a log entry for Bahia Honda, even if it is just for lunch!
All of the above stated is true. From the beauty of the park and beaches to the dangers of the anchorage.
I did spend a night there in the squall conditions described above.
However since I had read about the strong currents I had two anchors down not even considering that there might be a squall. The winds that night were predicted ENE which would be from behind the island giving us protection if they increased. But the squalls came from the ESE where there was no protection, surprise, surprise. We got pounded on an off for hours in the middle of the night. Sitting under the dodger in the companionway all the while I was thinking, if I drag I’m going to drag into that bridge.
But since my anchors are over sized and one rode is all chain, with plenty of scope out we did not drag.
I night to remember.
I was there on the night of March 28th, having just returned from Cuba. The boat that hit the bridge was a 22 foot Pacific Seacraft. His engine was not working properly and he went back very quickly once he started dragging, although he tried to let more scope out ‘“ I had a spotlight on him to assist. The boat was not dismasted and Boat US was there to take he and his wife off the boat, which was then towed back into the anchorage and re-anchored, then towed to a marina the next day. I myself dragged onto the beach that evening and had to be towed off by boat US, and again was re-anchored well out where my boat comfortably handled the conditions.
The safe part of this anchorage is well off the beach, where the current has not scoured the sand and it is possible to get decent holding. Close to the beach is NOT where you want to be despite what the OP says ‘“ the current rips through there and with the right winds, will pull your anchor out as it did mine. This by the way is the advice that Boat US will give you as well.