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A First-Timer Primer By Cyndi Perkins


ariners be advised that, in general, the Key West attitude toward modestsize cruising vessels is, “Take it or leave it.” If you don’t like the prices or the accommodations or the natives, don’t let the buoys hit your stern on the way out. Sailors are but a trickle among many tourism streams flowing into the Conch Republic economy. So it’s a long wet ride to the dinghy dock across a frequently whitecapped mooring field? So the shower cubicles are prisonesque? So it’s a long walk to Duval Street and Mallory Square? So what? When it comes to take it or leave it, we’ll take Key West on its own terms. The pleasures of time spent aboard and ashore in this one-of-a-kind outpost far outweigh the pains. And first-timers to “Key Weird,” as it is fondly known, will find that helpful Garrison Bight City Marina staff and fellow cruisers can provide you with the info needed to locate all manner of supplies and entertainment. The Big Chill of Winter 2010 left many Florida boaters out in the cold. Hanging on a mooring ball for more than a month at the southernmost end of the eastern United States (ever thankful for the Force 10 propane heater) was far preferable to the conditions some other boating brethren faced up north in Fort Myers Beach, Stuart, Pensacola and other popular snowbird/liveaboard destinations. From Boca Grande to Vero Beach, cruising sailors found the Hounds of Winter still avidly nipping at their heels no matter how far south the steadily hammering cold fronts allowed them to travel. The lower Florida Keys had the most tolerable temps. Forty-eight miles east of Key West, those waiting for wind without an ‘N’ in it for a favorable Gulf Stream crossing clogged Boot Key Harbor. Throughout February into early March, there was a 30- to 35-boat waiting list for the 226 mooring balls administrated by the city of Marathon. Chip Ahoy took advantage of the convenient pre-registration service, which is NOT a reservation, just gets your paperwork completed in advance. We never progressed to the waiting list. You can’t get on the waiting list until actually in the harbor. Numerous reports of many boats anchored willy-nilly all over Boot Key Harbor, outside the harbor and up Sister’s Creek (I heard tell of a Sister’s Creek survival party) convinced us that staying put in Key West would be safer. Also more enjoyable, given the oft-heard observation this year that causes me to wonder how Marathon is faring in consumer perception: “There’s nothing to do there,” was a common comment among the cruisers we talked to. The same cannot be said for Key West. There is plenty to explore on this “two-by-four” island. It’s every bit as

News & Views for Southern Sailors

charming and culturally rich as advertised, and then some. As one of our favorite staffers at the marina noted, even after living in Key West for several years she is still finding new delights tucked away on every street. It wouldn’t hurt to be wealthy if you were going to stay in Key West an extended amount of time, but there are many ways to enjoy a visit without sacrificing your budget. Staying at a marina in Key West Bight is not one of them. Quoted price with a 30-foot minimum length at Key West Bight City Marina was $88 plus tax per night in February 2010. The boaters who hailed the marina were told that there are no rate deals available by week or month in the basin right downtown in the center of Key West action. On the Web, you can check out the full array of municipal mooring field and dockage options with rates at

SOUTHWINDS February 2011