Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations

The Keys to Trailer Boating
The Keys to Trailer Boating

You've heard the stories about the Florida Keys. It's where President Truman set up a southern White House (Key West) and where treasure hunter Mel Fisher found gold (40 miles offshore). It is the stomping ground and venue for many Jimmy Buffett songs (Margaritaville) and the beginning and end of numerous fishing adventures for trailer boaters from across America.

The Florida Keys are made up of about 100 islands connected by 42 bridges and home to 81,000 full time residents. This is where students go for Spring Break and where snowbirds go to escape the winter snows from the north. Ernest Hemmingway came to Key West to write For Whom the Bell Tolls while thousands of Cuban refugees have come ashore in the Keys to escape Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba, just 90 miles away. For everyone involved, this 126-mile chain of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico has been home, a temporary haven and a safe harbor.

Indians occupied these islands for hundreds of years before the first Spanish explorers sailed past. Seeing the landmasses as Ponce de Leon sailed north, the name "cayos" (Spanish for small islands) was given to the view. Generations later, the cayos evolved into the "Keys." Today the influence of Spain and Cuba is seen all along Highway One as it reaches the southernmost point in the continental United States (Whitehead and South Streets in Key West).

But before there was a highway, there was a train track. For seven years, with 700 laborers and with a price tag of $50 million, Miami businessman Henry Flagler built a railroad that ran from Homestead (south of Miami) to Key West. While it's primary cargo were fruits and vegetables and seafood from the country's southernmost point of land, it was also the beginning of tourism. The railroad ran from 1912 until Labor Day weekend 1935, when it was destroyed by a hurricane that killed 800 people and set the mark for the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere (26.59 inches). Three years later, the Overseas Highway began the business of carrying trucks and tourists. And it continues to do so today. More than 19 million people visited Florida during the first three months of this year and a sizeable percentage used Highway 1 to get them to the Keys. BoatUS Trailering Magazine is going to take you to a few selected sites right now:

Key West This famous city is two miles long and four miles wide. Within those boundaries is a unique blend of history and celebration. Key West is closer to Cuba than it is Miami (90 miles vs. 159 miles). In 1822 the U.S. Navy made Key West the headquarters for it's Anti-Pirate Fleet in an attempt to make maritime travel safer on both the Gulf and Atlantic sides of the Keys. It is rumored there are more bars per square foot (one every 67 feet) than in any other city in America. Sloppy Joe's bar (this was Hemingway's favorite watering hole) is the sponsor of the annual Hemingway look-a like contest every July. Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Café (500 Duval Street) is filled with paraphernalia from his always-sold out tours. Mel Fisher's Maritime Museum (Green and west Streets) has gold coins, artifacts and exhibits from the famed treasure hunter's 16-year search for the Atocha which sank in 1622. John James Audubon spent time in Key West sketching 18 new species for his "Birds of America" series of prints.

Key West Boat ramps:

*Oceanside Marina, 5950 Peninsula Avenue, Stock Island, 305-294-4676
*Trumbo Point
*Garrison Bight City Marina, 711 Eisenhower Avenue, 305-294-3093
Marathon Key At the northern end of the 7-Mile Bridge is the midway point of what to see in the Keys. Marathon takes its name from the laborers who were building Henry Flagler's railroad. When told how much had to be accomplished in a certain amount of time to stay on schedule, word quickly spread about the "marathon" of which they were all a part. Today it is a base for sport fishing offshore (sailfish), on the protected flats (bonefish and tarpon) and on reefs (snapper and grouper). Marathon is also home to the world renowned Dolphin Research Center where studies are underway to learn how these friendly fish interact with each other and human beings. At the nearby Crane Point Museum, injured penguins, egrets and other shore birds are nursed back to health. Marathon has a sea Turtle hospital and the 58-bed Fisherman's Hospital for patients without fins, feathers or flippers.

Marathon Boat ramps:

*Grassy Key on Florida Bay. US 1 across from Jolly Roger Travel Park 305-289-0404
*Marathon Boat Ramp on the bayside. Located across from Key Colony Beach on US 1.
*Knight Key at US 1.
*Boot Key Harbor on Atlantic side. 22nd Street on Rainbow Lane
*Boat Ramp on 30th Street, bayside.
*Pretty Joe Rock Ramp, Off US 1 on Tipton Lane, bayside.
*Vaca Key, US 1 at Aviation Boulevard, bayside
Islamorada Key Trailer boaters take note-- there are more fishing boats per square mile here than in any other location in the world. Obviously, the favored activity is being on the water in Islamorada and this Florida key is designed for just that purpose. October is the month for catching bonefish and snook in Islamorada waters. Amberjack, tarpon and marlin will be plentiful in March. The "hump" located 13 miles offshore is considered one of the most productive fishing grounds in the country with ample billfish, snapper and amberjack making up the most frequent catches (depending on the time of year). Diving fans can see the 1733 wreck of the San Pedro in just 18 feet of water. It's the centerpiece of the San Pedro Archeological Underwater Park located 1.25 nautical miles south of Indian Key. At mile marker 81, the Hurricane Monument designates the catastrophic 1935 storm that leveled Islamorada with a 17-foot tidal wave and 200-mile an hour winds.

If Islamorada is going to be a "definite stop" while traveling the Keys, then make sure you make a second stop at nearby Holiday Isle. Not only are there wonderful beaches but this is home of the famous Tiki Bar, after which any other Tiki Bar takes its name. Originally constructed out of driftwood in 1968, the Tiki Bar is home to the popular invention called a "Rumrunner." Tourists from around the world stop at the Tiki Bar, have one of these special beverages and leave their business cards in the thatched roof.

Islamorada Boat Ramps:
*Smugglers Cove Marina, 8550 Highway 1 305-664-5564
*Shell Key Channel (Atlantic side), Highway 1 and Madigra Road

Key Largo This is the first large Florida Key you will drive through when coming from the mainland (it's 90 minutes from the Miami Airport without traffic). Spanish for "long key" (it is 30 miles long), this is home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park which extends three miles out into the Atlantic and twenty five miles along the shore. It is located at mile marker 102.5 and provides swimming (Cannon Beach), moorings and boat slips, a 30,000 gallon salt water aquarium in the visitor's center as well as 47 separate camping sites. Movie buffs can see the actual African Queen from the famous Bogart/Hepburn film as well as the 22-foot mahogany Thayer IV from "On Golden Pond" at Key Largo Harbor Marina. The southernmost part of Key Largo is the city of Tavernier, which at one time, was a plantation of pineapple and coconut groves. Today, Tavernier Creek provides access to both the bay and the ocean. The actual key that is called Tavernier is a few miles offshore and was used in the 18th century as a base for "wreckers" who would seek ships in distress on reefs and salvage their cargo. The "wreckers" aren't around anymore but boaters should be aware the reefs certainly remain.

Key Largo Boat ramps:

*John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, 305-451-1202
*Key Largo Marina, Mile Marker 100 on US1.
*Intracoastal Clearwater Ramp (bayside), go west on Gulf Boulevard to the east side of the Bellaire Bridge. There are 6 ramps.
*Park Steet Ramp, corner of Park and Gulf Boulevard. There are 8 ramps here.
*Sexton Cove on Blackwater Sound (Atlantic side) Mile Marker 110-B.
*Harry Harris Park, mile marker 92.5 (Atlantic side), 305-852-7161.
On both the Atlantic and Bay sides of the Keys are numerous artificial reefs composed of old Coast Guard cutters, barges, a 300 foot Navy destroyer, tugboats and pieces of concrete bridge spans. As a result of the water's temperature and clarity, these reefs attract coral formations that in turn attract small fish, which of course attract larger fish. And this attracts avid fishermen and divers. Trailer boaters who are wary of venturing miles out into the open ocean to visit these reefs can make use of any number of charter boats venturing to the reefs several times a day. Depending upon where you are launching from, there are a number of artificial reefs in shallow water just offshore.

For centuries the Florida Keys have been attracting people and their boats. It continues today and there is no doubt it will do so for centuries to come.

For More Information…

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
Marathon Chamber of Commerce 800-262-7284
Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce 800-872-3722
Monroe County Tourism Development Council
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West

Getting There:
Baltimore: 1059 miles
Charlotte: 735 miles
Savannah: 518 miles

Nashville: 853 miles
Detroit: 1230 miles