We had a beautiful morning on January 26th to begin our cruising again!
Our goal was to reach Suntex Marina in Hollywood, FL, just south of Fort Lauderdale. We were meeting Rob’s cousin Carol (cousin Mary Alice’s younger sister), and her husband Derek there, as it’s the marina where they keep their beautiful catamaran, Safari.
Safari being prepped for the Bahamas
As you continue south, you see magnificent homes, huge boats, and often, those huge boats are docked behind those huge homes. So…one or the other isn’t enough? What’s even more remarkable, is when you speak with those with local knowledge, these homes and boats are rarely used! Crazy.
Spectacular homes along the ICW
The many bridges along the ICW contribute to the slow going. While a number of them are high enough for us to clear without an opening, it’s not always the case. So…you continually look at charts, Aquamaps, Waterway Guide, Active Captain and more to ensure that you will clear the bridge or if you need a bridge opening. While every bridge has a board on their fenders marking the clearance from the water, they are often facing IN, or have small type, so you can’t read them until you’re on top of them. Additionally, they are often worn or broken, so ultimately illegible. Not whining, but it is nerve wracking, as a small error can be an extremely costly mistake! If you hit the bridge, that’s clearly a costly mistake. Additionally, if you open the bridge unnecessarily, you are subject to a $1,000 fine from the Coast Guard. So we continued on with antennas down and an eye on the water level boards on the bridges. Our big complaint about the ICW overall is the difficulty in reading channel markers, signs regarding speed/wakes and sometimes the lack of markers overall. Unfortunately, the bridge tenders refuse to divulge water depths and clearance heights in Florida, as they don’t want any liability. Plus, we were in the middle of Manatee season, so you need to be especially diligent. While the dolphins are ALWAYS around, you can be confident that they will dodge you, no matter how close they get to the boat. But the manatees are literally giant sea cows, who move slowly and tend to “hang” in the water. Their numbers are increasing, but they are extremely sensitive to weather changes, and don’t tolerate cooler temperatures, or boat interactions well, so they rightfully remain protected. In fact, the majority of signs regarding boat wakes are there to alert boaters of their potential presence, and every marina has numerous signs providing information on them, and how to interact with them (don’t!).
A sampling of ICW bridges
While much of the traffic on the ICW consists of small recreational boats, there is some commercial traffic and the occasional yacht navigating this narrow waterway, which provides some tricky moments!
As we ventured south, we spotted a few landmarks: Mar-A-Largo, The Boca Raton Resort & Club (where Nancy went many times on business for the annual beauty business conference for the media industry, CTFA) and The Breakers.
Mar-A-Largo, The Boca Raton Resort & Club and The Breakers
Our goal was to reach the anchorage just south of the Lantana Bridge, in Lantana, just north of Boynton Beach.
Our anchorage just south of the Lantana Bridge
After a 42 mile run in clouds and rain, we arrived at the Suntex Marina in Hollywood at 3:10 pm. We were wet and exhausted, but excited to see Carol and Derek, and spend some time catching up. After 3 years away from the boat, they were consumed with cleaning, purging and setting up Safari for a few months of sailing in the Bahamas. Carol and Derek are seasoned sailors, having spent 3 years sailing all over the world with their three kids. We spent our first night crashing early after a long day, and agreed to have dinner the next night.
We spent the next day provisioning (thanks to Carol and Derek loaning us one of their rental cars!), cleaning and just catching up overall. Carol and Derek have a home in Ft. Lauderdale, and keep the boat at Suntex, so they knew just where to go for dinner! We decided to go to a Greek restaurant they love, Taverna Opa. It was delicious and fun, with 2 belly dancers entertaining the patrons. We were all a bit confused about how belly dancers have anything to do with the Greeks, but it made for a lot of laughs! And again, the food was wonderful!
Derek tipping the Belly Dancers
Like their sister property in Vero Beach, Suntex in Hollywood was set in a beautiful golf community, with an incredible club house, pool and gym. Nancy was thrilled to have the spectacular pool to herself! But then the thunder and rain came again, so it was time to get back to the boat!
Hollywood Suntex Marina Clubhouse and Pool
Due to weather (rain and winds), we ended up staying another night in Hollywood, and enjoyed “docktails” with Carol and Derek aboard Misty. The next morning, we left Hollywood at 7:40 am, heading to Tarpin Basin in Key Largo. While it was cool (55 degrees), it was sunny with virtually no wind (5 mph). We passed through Miami, and encountered a TON of our dolphin friends. We’ve been seeing them daily since the Carolinas, but once we hit Key Biscayne and Card Sound, it was astounding!
Leaving Suntex Marina, Hollywood, FL, and heading south on the ICW, Nancy at the helm
The Miami skyline is beautiful! There’s a wide variety of architectural styles, lots of color (most especially the gorgeous aqua water), beautiful promenades and parks along the waterfront, huge cruise ships, commercial traffic and a TON of mega-yachts. The only downside, is that there are a lot of bridges, many of which we needed to open, and that slows down the trip. And, it was only appropriate that as we passed through Miami, we were surrounded by Miami Dolphins!
When we entered Card Sound we were repeatedly surrounded by dolphins! There was one large group of both adults and babies, that stayed with us for 15 – 20 minutes, our longest “visit” yet. It was amazing!
Dolphins playing and “bodysurfing” in our wake, Card Sound
After leaving Card Sound, we cut through a pass of mangrove “islands” at the northern end of Key Largo to enter Tarpin Basin, where we threw the anchor for the night. We were pooped, as we left Hollywood at 7:40 am, and traveled 67 miles.
Cutting through the mangroves, North Key Largo
We left early again (7:30 am), as we were going to put in another long day to reach Marathon. We spent the first part of the trip in Florida Bay (the Gulf), but cut over to Hawk Channel in the Atlantic Ocean, looking for deeper water, and hoping to find fewer crab traps. Unfortunately, there were still a lot of traps, but it was faster going due to the deeper water.
Beautiful Florida Bay, AKA The Gulf of Mexico
Seven Mile Bridge & Hawk Channel in The Straights of Florida, Atlantic Ocean
Once we got over to Hawk Channel, we could see on our chart how close to Cuba we were.
Our chart, taken after crossing into the ocean. The circled vessel on the right is us, the yellow land to the left is Cuba!
As we approached Marathon, we took another cut through the mangroves, taking Sister Creek to reach Boot Key Harbor and Marathon Marina. There were numerous boats anchored in the creek and tied to the mangroves. It looked like a nice spot, but we know firsthand from our stay in Vero Beach how buggy the mangroves can be!
Sister Creek and Boot Key Harbor
It was a great travel day, with calm winds and sea, and a pleasant 70 degrees. We enjoyed two nights at Marathon Marina, which is pretty conveniently located, and has a lovely pool. We didn’t eat at their restaurant, as it looked and smelled dirty, so we opted to have most of our meals on the boat.
There’s a large Turtle Hospital a short bike ride away from the marina, so we took a ride to check it out. The hospital rescues and rehabilitates the turtles, and if they’re well enough, release them back to the wild. It was fascinating and heartbreaking to see these amazing animals, some who were waiting for release, and others that are now permanent residents. They even had tiny baby turtles (adorable!). While we are extremely conscious of respecting the water around us and the animals who live there, it was awful to see how our often careless behavior affects our wildlife. Plastic grocery bags are officially out of use in our household!
The Marathon Turtle Hospital
We left the Turtle Hospital and rode down to check out Faro Blanco Marina. We had thought of staying there, but it was far more expensive than Marathon Marina. It is a lovely spot, with a beautiful pool and nice dockside restaurant, The Lighthouse Grill. We enjoyed a lovely lunch while watching the fisherman come in and feeding the pelicans as they cleaned their fish.
Faro Blanco Marina, Marathon
After fueling up and pumping out, we pulled out of the marina just after 9 am on our target date of February 1st to run our last 49 miles to Key West! We had another beautiful day to travel, with calm seas, light winds and temperatures in the high 70’s. We arrived at Galleon Marina in Key West at 2:40 pm.
Coming into Key West
We were so thrilled to finally arrive there after our long travels, and we had a great slip close to the breakwater with beautiful views of the harbor and a central location at the end of The Bight. And the best part? Tomorrow our boys come for a week with us in Key West! So, we celebrated!
Celebrating our arrival in Key West