July 1, 2013
When The Water Calls ... We Follow

June 20, 2013
New Adventures

May 31, 2013
Storing Our Shiny Red Tug

May 13, 2013
Viva La Difference

May 6, 2013
Swinging Free & Easy

April 15, 2013
In The Middle

March 29, 2013
On The Hook

March 18, 2013
Tinker Time

February 28, 2013
Jumping Into the Mix

February 15, 2013
Time Travel

February 6, 2013
Charlevoix - A Small Town With A World-Class Reputation

January 15, 2013
The Perfect Ending

January 1, 2013
Magical Weather & Mysterious Ports

December 15, 2012
Collins Inlet, Killarney, & Little Current

December 1, 2012
New Neighbors

November 16, 2012
What Makes a Perfect Anchorage?

November 1, 2012
Are We There Yet?

October 15, 2012

October 1, 2012
Womens Roundtable

September 15, 2012
Freedom to Discover a Southern Gem

September 1, 2012

August 15, 2012
Nice to Have Options

August 1, 2012
Go West!

July 15, 2012
The Perfect Boating Vacation Destination

July 1, 2012

June 15, 2012
Flagler’s Folly

June 1, 2012
Everglades Detour

May 15, 2012
Making New Friends

May 1, 2012
Something Old and Something New

April 15, 2012
Florida’s Wide Open West Coast

April 1, 2012
Life On the Water in a Trailerable Trawler

March 15, 2012
Becoming Second Nature

March 1, 2012
Last Dance

February 15, 2012
Call it Romance or Mystique

February 1, 2012
Natural Wonders Abound

January 15, 2012
Hardly a Care in the World

January 1, 2012
Wide-Eyed Anticipation

December 15, 2011
Winding Our Way to Lake Powell

December 1, 2011
On to New Cruising Grounds

November 15, 2011
Sharing the Love

November 1, 2011
On the Water Again

October 14, 2011
First Impressions

October 3, 2011
Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Fun

September 15, 2011
Getting the Show on the Road

September 1, 2011
Lets Dance!

August 15, 2011
Getting Our Ducks in a Row

August 1, 2011
Summer Without a Boat

July 15, 2011
The Water and The Boater Home

July 1, 2011
One Step Closer

June 15, 2011
Time Keeps on slippin’ Into the Future

June 1, 2011
Made in the USA

May 15, 2011
Making the Right Truck Choice

May 1, 2011
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

April 15, 2011
What Goes Around Comes Around

April 1, 2011
Wishing Star Interlude

March 15, 2011
Helping Hands

March 1, 2011

February 15, 2011
Weighing the Options

February 1, 2011
Making a List, Checking it Twice!

January 14, 2011
The Science of Towing

December 30, 2010
The Upside of Downsizing

December 15, 2010
The New Plan!

December 1, 2010
Homeward Bound-The Final Leg

November 15, 2010
Somethings In The Water

November 1, 2010
Our Turn to Relax & Smile

October 15, 2010
Gem in the Rough

October 1, 2010
Whats Your Favorite Place on the Loop?

September 15, 2010
Reflecting Pool

September 1, 2010
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

August 15, 2010
Canadian Wonderland

August 1, 2010
"Low Bridge, Everybody Down"

July 15, 2010
One Day At A Time

July 1, 2010
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

June 15, 2010
Lets All Do the Rendezvous

June 1, 2010
On the Hard

May 15, 2010
Falling in Love With Key West

May 1, 2010
Helping Women Get On Board

April 15, 2010
Key West - A Repeat Performance

April 1, 2010
Unexpected Pleasures

March 15, 2010
Mom Cruise

March 1, 2010
Okeechobee Bound

February 15, 2010
Chance Encounters

February 1, 2010
Three Nights in Paradise

January 15, 2010
New Frontiers

January 1, 2010
First Time Experiences

December 15, 2009
A Friend In Every Port

December 1, 2009
Dealing With A Temperamental Lady

November 18, 2009
You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

November 13, 2009
A Cult Following

October 15, 2009
Somewhere in Time

October 1, 2009
Unlocking Our Minds Eye

September 18, 2009
Its In My Nature

August 15, 2009
The RBS Antidote

August 1, 2009
Crab Crazy

July 15, 2009
Sights And Sounds Of The Bay

July 15, 2009
Sights And Sounds Of The Bay

June 15, 2009
Our Last Leg North

June 1, 2009
Northern Migration

May 15, 2009

May 1, 2009
Hello Goodbye

April 15, 2009
Let The Sun Shine In!

April 1, 2009
Dont Worry, Be Happy

March 15, 2009
Bahama Bound

March 1, 2009
What Do You Do All Day?

February 15, 2009
Slow Motion

February 1, 2009
On The Hook With A Million-Dollar View

January 15, 2009
High Anxiety

January 1, 2009
A String Of One-Night Stands

December 15, 2008
Pushing Into New Tennessee River, Upstream To Adventure

December 1, 2008
All Together Now

November 15, 2008
Kismet in the Aftermath of Hurricane Ike

October 31, 2008
Our Love Affair With The River

October 16, 2008
Big City Lights

October 1, 2008
The Adventure Begins

September 15, 2008
Prepping For The Loop

September 1, 2008
The Space Ship

August 15, 2008
Jumping Aboard In Seattle

August 1, 2008
If We Knew Then What We Know Now!

July 10, 2008
The Second Time Around

July 1, 2008
Our Turn For The Great American Loop


Nice to Have Options
By Kismet, Wednesday, August 15, 2012

By Jim Favors

Even though it seemed like it was only yesterday, it had been almost three months since we’d launched our Ranger Tug, Kismet, in Tarpon Springs, Florida, to begin our winter cruising season. The time sure flew by, almost as fast as a bright shooting star speeding through a starlit night sky. Our time in Key West, and our winter sojourn’s end, had crept up on us; where did the time go? As we sat in the cockpit of our boat, at our first anchorage in Jewfish Basin, located on the Florida Bay side in the Lower Harbor Keys, ripples were gently lapping against our hull, made a few minutes prior by a fishing boat way off in the distance. We were slowly absorbing the new vista surrounding us during our first night on the hook before we continued on our way first east, then north, to Marathon where we had moved our truck and trailer a week earlier. As we relaxed on the back deck of the boat at anchor, I couldn’t help but marvel at our continuing success at finding new and exciting cruising options to complement our relatively new trailerable boating lifestyle.

This is an example of the mangrove islands and sandy seabed surrounding Jewfish Basin.

Lisa and I had three route options available to us when we departed Key West. Our first option was Hawk Channel, which runs inside the shoals of the Straits of Florida on the ocean side; we had cruised this before. The second option would have been to trailer the boat all the way up to the mainland; this would have been a speedy way to cover ground fast but since we were dragging our feet at having to depart the Keys, we decided on the last option available to us. We chose to take the path less traveled, the Florida Bay ICW, as it offered us more time on the water.

It’s always a good feeling when we come back from a long dinghy trip to find our boat right where we left her.

We left our slip on Stock Island early Sunday morning heading west towards Key West. We soon rounded Fort Taylor and proceeded into Key West Harbor’s Northwest Channel. We were heading towards the Florida Bay and Gulf of Mexico's Intracoastal Waterway (ICW - I call it the inside ICW route) the lesser travelled route for boaters heading to Marathon or beyond from the southern most point in the United States.

The reason it is less traveled is because, for one, a boat has to cruise an additional seven miles to get to the same point in Marathon from Key West than the more popular route, Hawk Channel. In addition, and more importantly, the water depths in this route get a little skinny in a couple places, most notably in the narrow channel off of Big Spanish Key, just to the south of Turtle Crawl Bank. Although we never saw much less than five feet of water off Big Spanish Key, boats with a draft much deeper than our 2.5 feet might prefer Hawk Channel for this reason. Because of our Ranger Tug’s shallow draft and our quest to explore new cruising grounds, it was a no-brainer for us to venture off into Florida Bay en route to Marathon.

Sunset at Jewfish Basin, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Forty-seven miles of cruising, at a typical trawler speed of 9 MPH, is a five-hour cruising day and very doable for a one-day cruise. With time on our side, Lisa and I decided to take advantage of the current good cruising weather and stretch our trip from Key West to Marathon into a three-day/two-night, scouting adventure. Earlier, I had mapped out viable anchorage locations using Active Captain (www.activecaptain.com) prior to leaving Key West, so we would have more than one option to choose from while on our trip. I'm of the opinion it's better to have a few anchoring options noted and researched ahead of time, in case one place is already taken or you need to make adjustments to get into the lee side of the wind. I'll alternate between Active Captain, Salty Southeast Cruisers and Skipper Bob publications depending where we're cruising, in order to maximize our available options. Our first night at anchor we rested in five feet of sandbox-like white sand bottom, we soon hopped into our dinghy and set off to explore the serpentine like channels surrounding the dozen or so mangrove islands near us. It didn’t take long before we were rewarded with the sight of several great white herons, nestled on gnarly mangrove branches close to shore. As we slowly moved from the shallow waters to deeper parts of the channels we were able to sneak up and surprise a few stingrays. Just the opportunity to encounter and revel in nature’s wild habitat reinforced our logic for taking the route less traveled.

Crab claws are small so you don’t need a large boat when harvesting them, as shown here.

For us, being at anchor is like staying at a really nice resort, except the price is a lot more reasonable, in fact – FREE, and the views are typically more rewarding. We left Jewfish Basin late morning, there really wasn’t a hurry, as we had two more days and only 20 miles to go. While working our way back into the ICW channel, we passed a busy stone crab claw fisherman, maybe the same one who sent ripples across the basin the night before. He was working diligently pulling his traps up so he could quickly harvest the crab claws. Stone crab claws have a large amount of meat to them however we recently learned that only one claw is harvested per crab not only to make sure the crab population remains stable, but they’ll be able to defend themselves while a new claw grows back.

No sooner had we passed the fisherman and were heading northeast in the ICW, we were greeted by a school of playful dolphins, just off of Mud Key Channel. I don’t know what it is about cavorting dolphins, but I never get tried of being escorted by them and find their antics very entertaining. They stayed with us, darting in and out of the water around our bow and stern for a few minutes, probably until their attention was diverted by a school of fish and an opportunity for an early morning snack.

If you look real hard you’ll see four dolphins swimming underneath the water by the bow of our Kismet.

Many boaters find it unsatisfactory to cruise in water less than 20 feet, one doesn’t have much choice on the Florida Bay ICW side, especially in the area we were cruising. The white sand bottom, coupled with the clear turquoise water beneath us, made the eight feet of water appear less than it really was. This illusion of depth, in crystal clear tropical bodies of water, begs one to rely on and trust one’s depth sounder readings because with the bottom appearing closer than it actually is anxiety can rule as you feel you might hit bottom at any moment.

As we made our turn at Turtle Crawl Bank we made our way through the narrowest and shallowest part of our trip. Maybe that’s why this area is named Turtle Crawl. We navigated our way through the red and green buoyed channel, much the same as a skier negotiates a giant slalom run, with laser like focus, we also idled down to a cautious “crawl.” It was a good thing, too, because as we left Big Spanish Key to our port, the water depths were from one to six feet all around us, so it was vital to remain in the channel. It was there we recorded our shallowest depth reading of 3.5 feet a few times. No time for cell phone calls or texting, laser-like focus was imperative!

This photo illustrates the clear shallow water near our anchorage at Porpoise Key.

Successfully past Big Spanish Key and only 10 miles outside of our Marathon destination, we tucked in between Big Pine Key and Porpoise Key to anchor for the evening. As careful as we had been cruising these sometimes shallower waters, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how fast the locals zipped by us, returning from a day of recreational fishing or leisure out on the water. As it turned out, we didn’t need to be as overly cautious as we were when planning our trip and the good news is, we now have a bit more local cruising knowledge under our belts and we’ll be able to skirt these waters more freely next time ourselves.

Lisa and I are always in search of new cruising options and are glad we had a properly drafted vessel this time out to be able to take advantage of the Florida Bay ICW route from Key West to Marathon; it’s a route that seems more utilized by the locals than migrating cruisers like ourselves.

Back in Marathon we’re graced with one final sunset over Boot Key Harbor before we haul our boat out and leave the Keys and start to wind down our winter cruising season.

The third morning, and last leg of our cruise, we headed to Marathon, located only six miles from our Porpoise Key anchorage. We left Florida Bay by traveling under the Seven Mile Bridge so we could enter Boot Key Harbor. We planned to pick up a mooring ball, from the City of Marathon Marina, for a couple days’ stay. There are about 20 marinas to choose from in the Marathon area, including the mooring ball option from the city marina we choose this time. Isn’t it nice to have options?