Our Loop complete, we are free to relax and enjoy the beautiful Keys and Miami! February 8 – March 6, 2020. 🐬🌴🌞🌸⚓️

 

Marlin Bay Resort and Marina

Marlin Bay Resort and Marina is a very special place.  We spent a few days here last February, and loved it.  The facilities are spectacular, with a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff, and best of all, the views of the Gulf and the sunset are incredible! We were thrilled that we crossed our wake here, and could spend the next week relaxing.  After our long run from Naples (nearly 10 hours), we were ready to do nothing!  We were in Slip #2, right next to the little lighthouse at the marina entrance, with an unobstructed view of the Gulf and the sandy sitting area along the water just steps from Misty.  We were thrilled to be there!

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Our view from the bow of Misty, watching the rain over the Gulf

There were quite a few Loopers at Marlin Bay.  The marina has more than doubled in size, adding a huge northern basin since we were here last year.  We were happy to be in the southern basin, as it’s smaller with better views and closer access to the pool, bar and clubhouse.  Every evening, the boaters gather in the chairs along the water to watch the sunset and enjoy a cocktail, many arriving with conch shells in hands to salute sundown!  Yes, that happens!

Marlin Bay sunsets

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There were a bunch of large iguanas who lived on the rock jetty next to the basin entrance, but this guy seemed to be king!  Every day, he would pose on the top of the rocks, surrounded by the smaller iguanas looking up at him. His Harem? They were hard to spot, blending in with the rocks, but this guy stands out!

Our friends Steve and Carol (AKA Cookie)/Valentine were staying nearby at Sombrero Marina, and invited us to join them along with fellow Loopers Jerry/Whiskey Business, Renee and Pierre/Shoreline Traveler, and Robin and Ted/Curtis-Sea Key Fisheries for Happy Hour at Key Fisheries.  We had a great time catching up with them, and meeting some new boaters.

Looper Happy Hour at Key Fisheries

Shortly after our arrival in Marathon, Rhonda and Joe Tignor, formerly aboard Bandwagon 3, came to visit Mike and Cindy/Winespeed (also former Loopers) who were docked just south of us at a marina in Marathon.  They rode their dinghy over to Marlin Bay, and we spent a great day enjoying the pool, followed by a fun dinner and Marathon Steak and Lobster.  Many thanks to you all for a wonderful Wake Crossing dinner celebration!  Boy does this ever feel great!

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Fabulous dinner with Rhonda, Cindy, Mike and Joe

Our dear friends Mike and Lori McKean were spending a few months working from their condo in Boynton Beach, FL, over on the East Coast, and came to visit us in Marathon for a few days.  We had a great time relaxing in/at the pool and lounging aboard Misty, grilling and eating on the water, watching the sunsets, and taking Misty for a ride out to Sombrero Key for some snorkeling.  There are quite a few restaurants within walking distance of the marina, but we preferred a mix of grilling and eating along the water, with a couple of meals. It was a great visit!

Our first evening hanging out at Marlin Bay

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Valentine’s Day snorkel trip to Sombrero Key

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Dinner at Key Fisheries, Sunset at Marlin Bay, and a game of pool in the Club House…fun night!

Another delicious meal at Irie Island Eats Food Truck, with a must stop at wonderful Paradise Produce next door!

After Mike and Lori left, we chilled out at the pool (with a couple of cute girls!), enjoyed another sunset, and then said farewell to Marlin Bay.

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Our last day at Marlin Bay…time to head north!

We stayed at Marlin Bay until February 16th, when we set off for a mooring ball at Lignumvitae Key Park, just off of Shell Key and Islamorada.  Our goal was Bill Byrd State Park Marina in North Miami Beach, where we were planning to stage for our extended trip to the Bahamas.  Justin and Bryan would be flying down to Nassau on March 7th, to meet us for a week of cruising in the Exumas

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Pulling out of Marlin Bay, stopping for fuel at Faro Blanco, and we’re off!

What a beautiful day!  There was virtually no wind, sunny skies with a 76 degree morning, and a high of only 82.  And, the water was a lovely temperature.  We were only one of two boats to grab one of the park mooring balls, and enjoyed a quiet afternoon swimming, reading and relaxing.  This is a spectacular anchorage! 

Lignumvitae Key Park Mooring Ball

Lignumvitae Key Park lived up to all of the reviews we had read about it…so beautiful and peaceful. We enjoyed a swim (until we both had a slight jelly fish sting!), the quiet, grilling dinner, and a beautiful sunset followed by a spectacular starry night.  Life “on the hook” is good! 

Our next stop was Tarpon Basin, a beautiful bay along Key Largo.  It was another beautiful, sunny day with temperatures going from a low of 75, to a high  of 82, with virtually no wind. A great night to anchor out!

Traveling through the mangroves heading into Tarpon Basin

We’ve been here twice before, and loved it.  Tarpon is a popular stop, but it’s big, and we have never felt close to anyone. We’ve had manatees and dolphins visit, beautiful sunsets, but never had the chance to take the dinghy over to the mangrove caves.  We were on a mission, and were super excited that we were able to see them.  

We set anchor around 11:30 am, had lunch on board and set off on the dinghy to explore.  On the far side of the basin, closer to the municipal dock, there is an anchorage filled with derelict boats.  They’re fairly tucked in and out of the way, but this is a huge problem all over the state.

Derelict boats in Tarpon Basin

We had done some reading to get an idea of the location for the mangrove caves, and they were fairly easy to find (heading north, they’re on your port side, between Red 48A & 48). I will admit they were more than a little creepy, and I was glad both to have seen them, but also to leave them!!

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Mangrove Caves, Tarpon Basin

We raised anchor at 7:50 am, and continued our journey north to the Miami area. 

From Tarpon Basin to Miami

Our first thought was to anchor out just outside No Name Harbor in Bill Baggs State Park, located at the southern end of Key Biscayne.  There is a basin within a break wall, and an anchorage out in the bay.  Both were packed, as everyone was waiting out the increasing winds to head over to the Bahamas. After scouting the area, we made the decision to continue north to Bill Byrd State Park.  After a frustrating experience connecting with the marina, we finally arrived at 3:39 pm.  We planned to stay at Bill Byrd until we crossed over to the Bahamas, so it was time for us to sit tight.

Cruising through Miami, and the infamous Haulover sandbar…ever the sight of a party!

So, it’s February 18th, we’re in Miami, getting ready/waiting for the weather window to cross to the Bahamas, the wind is blowing, and not in the right direction (south or west is best).  Since we had committed to meeting the boys in the Bahamas on 3/7, we’re getting nervous about making it.  Our crossing would involve getting to the Bimini’s, across the Tongue of the Ocean and then on to Nassau.  It’s a long trip with a lot of open water.  We would need to make a decision soon, and it’s not looking good.  In the meantime, we’re going to enjoy Miami and explore, as we’re pretty well set for a Bahamas crossing if/when we need to go.  Rob got a couple of Florida travel guides for Christmas, and it was time to check it out!

We already had lunch at Gianni’s in Versace’s mansion on our bucket list.  The food was not going to be a draw, as we just wanted to get inside of that house!  Surprisingly, the food was quite good.  Service was meh, but we were seated outside next to the spectacular pool, had a visit from a friendly feline, the food was better than we expected, and we had a great lunch!!

Fabulous “fancy” lunch at Gianni’s in South Beach, a very Versace afternoon!

We quickly made a decision that sadly, the Bahama’s were off the table.  The winds were crazy every day, and there was no end in sight.  The boys changed their flight to Miami (at a cost, obviously!), and we got to planning a fun week for them in Florida.  In the meantime, more of Miami to see!!  Rob got some Florida travel guide books for Christmas, so we have ideas!

First up was Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, located in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of the city.  Vizcaya was built from 1914 -22 by James Deering, who made his fortune at Deering McCormick National Forester.  The Italian Renaissance – styled home and gardens originally sat on 180 acres of waterfront property.  Deering even had a channel dug in Biscayne Bay to provide water access to the estate.  The channel markers are still in place!   We had a beautiful day to explore this spectacular property.

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Villa Vizcaya

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The spectacular Italian Renaissance styled gardens at Vizcaya

The Barge, originally built to be a breakwater, became a “stone party boat” by Vizcaya’s designer, Paul Chalfin.  Sadly, it ended up not being used much as a party barge, but it’s still pretty amazing, dripping with ornate sculptures! 

Anyone who ever visited our home in New Jersey knows that we love to garden, and visiting public gardens has always been an inspiration for us.  In our reading, we learned about the Fairchild Botanic Gardens. The gardens are named after Dr. David Fairchild, a famous plant explorer (1869 – 1954) known for traveling the world in search of useful plants.  He visited every continent in the world except Antartica, and brought back hundreds of important plants, including the flowering cherry tree variety that now grace the Washington, D.C.  Dr. Fairchild retired to Miami in 1935, and joined a group of other plant collectors and horticulturists to create the gardens that opened in 1938 on 83 acres.  Many of the plants he brought over are still growing in the gardens!  It is a gorgeous botanical garden, and we were also treated with a visit to their beautiful butterfly house, which features a beautiful Dale Chihuly glass sculpture.

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The beautiful Fairchild Botanic Gardens

Our friends Mike and Lori McKean were still at their condo in Boynton Beach, and took the short drive down to Miami for another visit.  We enjoyed  a nice couple of days aboard Misty, took walks on the beach and of course….we ATE!  Great dinners aboard, and a lovely dinner at Little Havanna in North Miami Beach.  We enjoyed a great meal there last year with our friends Jeff and Lucy/Encantada, and again had a great dinner.  This time, we enjoyed our meal with vocals from a lovely Spanish influenced band.  Another fun night!  We also took a drive up to see their place in Boynton Beach and dinner at Two George’s, right on the ICW.  Being at places on the water that we have passed while traveling aboard Misty is always a different perspective!

Scenes around Bill Byrd Marina in North Miami Beach, and Boynton Beach

We continued our exploration of Miami with a drive out to Key Biscayne.  It’s a beautiful area!  We drove out to the lighthouse, explored the beach and then on to check out the marina at Bill Bagg’s State Park.

The beautiful light house in Key Biscayne, with views of Miami and “Stiltsville”

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The beautiful beach at Key Biscayne, and a sign that is a little scary….specifically the purple flag part!!

After a lovely morning in Key Biscayne, we followed our guide book and ventured back up to Coral Gables to check out the Biltmore Hotel.  This remarkable hotel is certainly one of the most elegant National Historic Landmarks we’ve ever seen.  Set on over 150 acres, the hotel fronts a beautiful 18-hole golf course, tennis, a  spa and the enormous pool.  The restaurant Cascade sits along one side of the pool, with arches adorned with huge sculptures, and is said to be one of the largest hotel swimming pools in the U.S.  We enjoyed a yummy lunch watching hotel guests frolic in the pool.

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The beautiful Biltmore Hotel

Just across the street from the Biltmore was a lovely little church.  While we couldn’t get inside, we could at least admire it’s beauty on the exterior.

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A few blocks away from the Biltmore is the Venetian Pool.  Nestled into a beautiful Cape Coral neighborhood, the Venetian Pool is the only swimming pool on the National Register of Historic Places.  This is a former rock quarry transformed in 1924 by George Merrick, an historic real estate developer.  Merrick transformed it into the “Venetian Casino”, and was a popular destination for celebrities and A-Listers.  This is a public pool, with caves, waterfalls and gardens surrounding it.  Unfortunately, it was closed and the pool drained, looking like it’s getting ready for a much needed face lift.  We peeked through the fence to get a sense of it’s beauty.

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The Venetian Pool, Coral Gables

After a long day of exploring, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset at the marina.

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One of the sights we had read about was Coral Castle, but it was a bit of a drive south to get there. Since we had some extra time until the boys flew down to meet us, we decided to take the drive, and we’re so glad we did!  This place is remarkable!  Coral Castle was built by Edward Leedskalnin, an immigrant from Latvia.  He built the “castle” as a tribute to his 16 year old intended bride after she left him just one day before their wedding.  The castle features several remarkable engineering feats, the most incredible being that this diminutive man (5′ tall and 100 pounds) built it by himself, without help of other men or machinery.  Remember, the entire “castle” is built of coral and limestone, and it is estimated that it is constructed with 1,000 tons of stone.  Coral Castle well worth the drive…it’s amazing!

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Coral Castle

On the way home, we stopped at Burr’s Berry Farm and grabbed a hot dog and one of their infamous strawberry shakes for lunch.  We then felt like pigs, but it was worth it!

Burr’s Berry Farm

We had seen signs along the roads, and read about the Ancient Spanish Mission in North Miami Beach.  The mission was built in Sacramenia, in northern Spain from 1133 – 1141 AD.  In 1925, William Randolph Hearst purchased the Cloisters and the Monastery’s outbuildings.  He had it dismantled stone by stone, bound with protective hay, packed in more that 11,000 wooden crates, numbered and shipped to the United States.  Soon after arrival in the U.S. it was held up in customs due to concerns about illnesses from Europe being in the hay of the packaging.  Additionally, Heart was encountering some financial strains, so the collection was sold at auction.  The crates sat in a Brooklyn, N.Y. warehouse for 26 years before being purchased by two entrepreneurs to use as a tourist attraction.  After 19 months and $20 million, the monastery was put together.  Time magazine called it the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in history”.   In 1964, Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr, a multimillionaire banker, philanthropist and benefactor of many Episcopal churches, purchased the monastery and donated it to the Bishop of Florida.  Today, the monastery is the active parish of Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, where services are still held on Sundays and weekdays in both English and Spanish.  The monastery sits in a beautiful garden, and was busy with photo shoots the day we were visiting.  Like Vizcaya, you can pay a fee to have engagement, wedding and first communion portraits taken.  

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The Ancient Spanish Mission, North Miami Beach

Nancy was super excited to connect with an old client/friend from NYC, Steve Waterman, who now lives in Parkland, just outside of Ft. Lauderdale.  It was wonderful to connect and see that Steve is, well, exactly the same!

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Nancy and Steve

Our countdown is nearly over….Justin and Bryan arrive tomorrow, March 7th, and we’re super excited to spend a week with them in Miami and the Keys!  But first, another beautiful sunset!

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We loved Miami, and despite all that we did, we feel there is more to see.  The food, culture, arts and more, we will be back to explore some more in the future.  Florida Keys, here we come!!

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