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April 22nd, 2010:

Bahia Honda State Park


Note: Bahia is pronounced, “Bay-ah” by the locals.

White Swan at Bahia Honda Key

We no more than reunited with the sailors aboard Lady Bug, when White Swan and Lily Pad headed further south to Bahia Honda Key, which is the first island of the Lower Keys.  Nancy used to frequently go to Bahia Honda Key to the state park when she lived in the Keys years ago.  She became the resident Keys expert at this point.  She gave us numerous pointers on what to do and see while we were in the Lower Keys.  She and Sandy planned on going to Bahia Honda Key after Vaca Key and she suggested we might like to go there as well, after I was voiced my desire to see sandy beaches instead of mangrove swamps.  Bahia Honda Key has some one of the few natural sandy beaches in the Keys.  I mistakenly imagined the Florida Keys to be nothing but sandy beaches and palm trees.  Not so.  However, the Lower Keys have more beaches than the Middle and Upper Keys.  My personal opinion is, if you want nothing but sandy beaches and ocean, you might as well stay on the east coast of Florida.

On the way to Bahia Honda Key, we stopped by Sombrero Key which is a reef with a lighthouse on it.  Even though it is called a key, there is no land visible above the water.  Sombrero Key is used as a snorkeling site and there are mooring balls provided there at no charge so boaters won’t damage the fragile reefs with their anchors.  Lily Pad and White Swan were secured to mooring balls and then the four of us enjoyed snorkeling in the clear blue water.  There were lots of fish, soft coral and sea fans at this site, but very few hard corals.

Lily Pad led the way into the anchorage at Bahia Honda Key.  The reef, that is at the beach of the state park, jets way out into the channel and close attention must be given to avoiding it as you navigate your way through the opening of the old Henry Flagler railroad bridge which allows entrance into the harbor at the park.  We were thankful for Lily Pad leading us into this tricky entrance.  After successfully anchoring in the harbor, Gary and I took our dinghy to shore and tied it up to a piling in the marina while we took a walk along the water’s edge on one of the beaches on Hawk Channel at Bahia Honda State Park.  The water displayed different shades of blue, with the lighter pastel blue being the most shallow.  Some people were snorkeling over the reef in the waist high water.

Beach on ocean side at Bahia Honda State Park

Further up the coastline is another beach, unseen from the beach at the state park, which is a topless beach.  We passed the topless beach as we sailed down Hawk Channel, but we were a couple of miles away and unable to see the people (even with binoculars).  Nor did we walk far enough to reach that beach.  A third beach on the island was at the harbor where we anchored for the night.  This beach has buoys in the water lining the designated swimming area, warning the boaters to stay away.

Cheryl (left) and Ed behind her; Nancy (right) and Sandy behind her

There is a small marina at the state park and they run snorkeling trips from there, taking people out to a huge reef called Looe Key.  Gary and I located Looe Key on our charts and decided we would venture out on our own tomorrow and go there.  It will be the first time since we’ve been in the Keys that we will navigate somewhere by ourselves.  Actually, sailing in the Florida Keys was a little intimidating for us at first.  The paper charts are not the most user friendly and you have to know how to get from point A to point B using the paper charts because the GPS only shows a limited amount on the screen.  We are very thankful to have had such good mentors to introduce us to sailing in the Keys, namely Ed and Cheryl Byers, and, Sandy and Nancy Graves.  Gary and I think we could have mastered it by ourselves, but having the others to guide us certainly made our first trip here a lot easier.  Thanks to their tutorage, we now feel we could come back again and successfully navigate the Keys on our own.

Clear blue sky and royal blue ocean

Regarding our sail down Hawk Channel: Today is the first time we have actually sailed outside the ICW.  Hawk Channel runs on the outside (ocean side) of the chain of islands comprising the Florida Keys.  Obviously, the ICW runs on the inside of the islands, making it more protected from the wind and waves of the Atlantic Ocean.  There is a barrier reef between Hawk Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, which minimizes the swells (waves) coming from the ocean.  However, Hawk Channel is not nearly as protected as the ICW and navigating it requires good weather and light winds.  We had nice weather today for our trip down the channel and motor-sailed with just the jib out.  The water was a beautiful royal blue and crystal clear.  Today was the first day we really felt like we were in the “Bahamas of the United States”.



We realize now we are not going to have enough time to go to the Bahamas.  When planning this trip, we read in the cruising guide a minimum of one month is necessary to go to the Bahamas because of dealing with the weather.  We had the month of April to make the trip, but more than half our time has passed while we have been waiting for the proper weather conditions to make the passage.  The extended forecast indicates there will be no break in the weather any time soon.  Hopefully, there will be another time when White Swan can venture to the Bahamas.

Since our reality check, we have decided to enjoy the Florida Keys the rest of April.  Our travel today brought us to the city harbor in Marathon on Vaca Key.  We are now in the Middle Keys.  We picked up a mooring ball in this busy harbor.  I always enjoy being hooked to a mooring ball, as we don’t have to worry about our anchor dragging during the night.  And just as important, we don’t have to worry about others’ anchors dragging in the night.   For those of you who don’t know what a mooring ball is, it’s a large ball-shaped float permanently anchored to the bottom.  It has a rope attached to it, that you pick up with your boat hook and then secure it over a cleat on your boat.  Most busy harbors have a mooring field because  1. More boats can stay in the harbor., and  2. The city or whomever owns the mooring field makes revenue from the rented mooring balls.   And as previously mentioned, for the boat owner it’s safer.

That evening, Sandy, Nancy, Gary and I rode in our dinghies to Burdine’s restaurant and had a lovely dinner.  We enjoyed having our meal on the waterfront deck until dusk came and the No-See-Ums attacked us.  We quickly paid our tabs and enjoyed the breezy ride in our dinghies back to our boats, leaving the No-See-Ums behind us in the still air.  From now on, we”ll probably try to be on our boat, with the screens in the hatches, before dusk arrives at this anchorage, to avoid another encounter with the No-See-Ums.

The next day, we loaded our marine bikes onto the dinghy and rode them to the nearby grocery store.  Afterward, we met Sandy and Nancy at the Stuffed Pig restaurant for lunch and then we went to the fresh seafood market.  With each couple parting ways, Gary and I chose to ride around and see what else we could find close to the marina.  We found a turtle hospital that gives educational tours.  Remember the saying, “If you want to revisit a place, don’t see everything there is to see.”  We want to come back to the Florida Keys again, and we’ll hopefully tour the turtle hospital at another time.

By the time we got back to our boat, Ed, Cheryl and Molly had made it to Marathon to reunite with us.  The three sister ships were on mooring balls all in a row.  It’s always impressive to see a group of the same model of boat in a harbor.  We are often asked if we are traveling together.  A few times, there have been one or two other Gemini catamarans in the same harbor along with the three of ours.  Usually, we meet the owners before leaving port.