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Learn to SAIL BUZZARDS BAY then sail the world
Florida Bay
Florida Bay
Just do it
By J. & R. Limantas
Florida Bay and Blackwater Sound
Florida Bay and
Blackwater Sound
Except for a few handfuls of hardy frostbitters, sailing stops in the Northeast during the winter. What is a body to do, especially when the cravings start for warm sunshine, blue skies and wavelets lapping the side of a boat? After vacationing in many warm winter locales, we finally tried Key Largo, Florida. We were lured by the proximity to Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports and an island location drivable from the mainland. We loved it so much, we returned again this year.

After last year’s reconnaissance, we (read-my husband) decided to bring the toys. After much discussion, modification and long lists, the brave little Scion-XB-that-could was loaded up with one Sunfish, one Avon inflatable dinghy, one 3.3 hp Mercury outboard engine, a dolly and all the other essential bits and pieces needed to make them go, keep us safe and repair common breakages. And we managed to squeeze in two people, clothes, etc.

After a harrowing drive down I-95, through wind and rain and over icy roads, we arrived in Key Largo. Warm breezes wafted through palm trees, as the sun rose through a sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, ahhhhh. After disassembling the Supercar, freeing it of boat pieces and parts, it was time to go sailing.

The proposed voyage was in the works for one year. Information was gathered, charts studied and the destination determined - North Nest Key within the Everglades National Park. We launched the Sunfish EC (Everglades Cruiser) at the ramp next to the Caribbean Club, a good dive bar, which had a cameo in Humphrey Bogart's Key Largo and a prominent mention by Jimmy Buffet's A Pirate Looks at 50. Under the watchful eyes of the bar patrons, we set sail on Blackwater Sound, equipped with ziploc bags filled with a chart, binoculars, a flashlight, a hand-held VHF radio, a magnetic compass, a cell phone, a camera, sunscreen, lunch and water.

North Nest Key is located in Florida Bay. It is a designated camping area of the Everglades National Park. Our proposed course was to sail through the Boogies at the Northeast side of Blackwater Sound. The Boogies creek is the only direct passage into Florida Bay through the mangroves surrounded Blackwater Sound. Then head southwest to North Nest Key.
The Little Scion-XB-that-could
The Little Scion-XB-that-could
Sunfish EC
Sunfish EC
Blackwater Bay
Blackwater Bay
With a light wind out of the southeast, we reached across the sound in a few hours. The creek has day marks at the entrance. With a following current, we quickly slipped through the 200 yard long passage, which is about 20 foot wide and 2-3 foot deep with mangroves on each side. As we left the creek, Florida Bay opened up before us. The aqua colored water, blue sky and warm temperature reminded us of the time we spent in St. Croix in the USVI. Continuing on a beam reach, we headed to North Nest Key.
The Boogies
The Boogies
Landing on North Nest Key
Landing on North Nest Key
By this time some of the drawbacks of the Sunfish EC started to be felt. We waited with bated breath for the opportunity to stretch our legs onshore, not to mention being able to ease the effects of the hard “bench”.

As we rounded the PVC pipe marked sand shoal, a white sand rimmed bay opened up before us. Several boats were anchored a few feet off the beach along the shore. We pulled in next to the only other sailboat - a Marshall catboat. We spent a pleasant half-hour eating lunch and chatting with the catboat’s owners, who were also from the Boston area.
Driftwood
Driftwood
What is around the point?
What is around the point?
Having a future camping trip in mind, we set off to investigate what facilities were available. Our questioning of the beach population garnered the fact that there was a pier with toilet facilities not far - just follow the shoreline. A short wade along the beach and around the point revealed a startling sight. Extending out from shore, a pier raised above the water about six feet with a ubiquitous toilet on top, the kind you find at concerts, festivals and other crowd events - another sacrifice to budget over beauty (sigh). We headed to the white sand beach, which extend out from the water and up onto the island for about ten feet, where it reverted to the natural state of a mangrove island – swamp land. We slogged down a path through the swamp back to the beach where we had left the boat. I personally could not imagine camping there and having to walk to the “facilities” during the night.
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Nature
Oaring through the Boogies
Oaring through the Boogies
Waving farewell to the other island visitors, we sailed back to the Boogies, again on a beam reach. While sailing in this area, one of the amazing things you notice is the adaption of nature. I spotted short mangrove sticks, standing vertically upright floating by. On closer examination, you could see a few small leaves sprouting on the above water portion. These sticks are carried by wind and currents to shallow areas where they could take root. Much of Florida bay has depths less than five feet, so it is not surprising that mangrove islands keep popping up.

Entering the Boogies, we found that the current was flowing against us. Captain Jonas, centerboard in hand, took up position on the bow, while I manned the tiller, and we rowed back into Blackwater Sound at 4pm. During the day, the light southeast breeze backed toward the east making it necessary to tack back to the ramp. With wind and current against us, it took us four hours to sail the last quarter of the trip (about the same time it took to sail the first three-quarters). But as we watched the sun set and the twilight descend into darkness, we also spotted manatees, dolphins and a variety of birds.
Sunset on the Everglades
Sunset on the Everglades
As the sky darkened and the lights on shore lit up, we made sure to spot the lights at our destination with binoculars. We knew we would be sailing in the darkness for at least two hours or longer if the wind died. It was important to note several areas along the coast, so that our destination lights could be distinguish from others. As we crossed the Intercoastal Waterway and the Everglades NP boundary, we periodically lit up the sail with our flashlight. The Sunfish EC was not equipped with navigation lights and power boats were still running up and down the shoreline.

We ghosted along under the starry sky with energetic music echoing and BBQ smells wafting from the shore. As our destination neared, we feared that the breeze would disappear. Thankfully, only the approaching shore blocked the wind, forcing us to row for the last 200 feet. As we beached the boat, our sense of accomplishment buoyed us through stowing the Sunfish, dinner and a shower through to a well-deserved rest.


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