Boot Key is a funny place. It’s a destination for many cruisers. We had heard stories of a packed anchorage with 250 mooring balls and 50 boats sitting around on a waiting list. Some fellow cruiser friends had described it to us as “an adult summer camp.” When they used the word adult I think they meant above the age 60 and most likely retired. Because, that indeed would be a good description of Boot Key Harbor. A day in Boot Key starts with the 9am cruiser net on vhf channel 68. Where, if you tuned in, you could hear who was new, who was leaving, who was selling something, some corny riddles, and a little touch of drama. Some rather good entertainment for your morning cup of joe. Post cruiser net, the harbor always has some sort of activity or group cookout going on. Though the adult summer camp community wasn’t exactly our scene, I can see how Boot Key earned its place as a cruiser's destination.
etting to Boot Key was one of our longer days of travel. We took the outside and it was beautiful, but long and rather rolley. Arriving at sunset, we couldn’t quite muster up the energy to search the crowded harbor not knowing if we’d find a spot to anchor. So, with a calm night we anchored on the ocean by the seven mile bridge.
he next morning, we headed into the harbor. Crowded, as we expected. We went up a little creek (sister creek) and anchored along with several other boats in the mangroves. The creek is rather narrow, yet still maintains a lot of boat traffic. So, to keep your boat from swinging into the channel, everyone ties off to the mangroves. Doing so was a bit of an art project (as Joel called it). But, with help from a neighbor, we pulled it off. We actually didn’t mind not having a mooring ball. When the wind was blowing enough to keep the horrid no-see ums away, Sisters Creek was great. It was a short dinghy ride to the beach and a little longer one to town.
e spent most of our time at the little beach. On warm days, we brought our shampoo and showered off in the beaches outdoor showers (living on a sailboat really teaches you the luxury of real showers). Together we swam, read, did a little snorkeling and relaxed.
few days in we met new friends, Nina and Asheton. We had noticed them fishing the day before. They were our age (younger then 50) and on a dinghy. A rare sighting in the cruiser world. We got talking to Asheton thanks to one of our neighbors whos boat had pushed up into the mangroves and caught all of our attention. We were excited to meet like aged and like-minded sailors. They invited us over for dinner on their boat and we quickly became good friends. Nina and Asheton had been in Boot Key for a while and tipped us off on what was good. One of which was a Cuban restaurant where Joel and I later had some Cuban coffee and the best fish sandwich.
We were in Boot Key long enough to get some snail mail sent to the post office. Our address these days is “General Delivery at such and such, FL.” I like it. Though it makes getting mail a bit of a struggle, there's a since of freedom that comes along with not having a mailing address.
We even checked out a beautiful boat for sale that was on the list of “must sees” we had made from hanging out with Asheton and Nina. I guess we are always in the market for a great deal and a new adventure.
We stayed in Boot Key for about a week. Then, as the first of the month rolled in, we rolled out to the Big Pine Key to meet Otis(my dad). He had been to Big Pine Key many a time to fish and camp. With winter really setting in back in Virginia, he couldn’t stand not being in the Keys and knowing we were here. So, we (rather easily) talked him into joining us for a week.
It couldn't have been a more perfect week for Otis to make his way on down to Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge (where he camps). The wind calmed down, the water cleared up and we had the best week of weather yet.
Our “fish camp” week started with a beautiful sail from Boot Key to Big Pine Key.
here was no acknowledged anchorage within dinghy distance to my dad’s campground. But, with a week of calm winds we figured it’d be fine to make up our own. We pushed the envelope a little getting into a rather shallow anchorage (we would later get stuck trying to leave close to low tide). But, we were excited to throw the anchor down in crystal clear water and head over to fish camp to see my dad.
We started the week off with some pizza at The No Name Pub. A classic Key’s restaurant; a cute local eatery with a hint of weird. Thousands of dollar bills hang from every inch of the No Name Pub’s interior. Each signed by someone from here or there who has paid a visit to the restaurant. Tucked back in the residential community of Big Pine Key, the No Name Pub has become a must stop for not only Otis but almost every visitor. I’d have to say, if you find yourself on Big Pine Key, it’s indeed worth checking out.
Speaking of a hint of weird. It doesn’t take too much time in the Keys to realize everyone and everything is a little odd down here. And, it seems the further you go the stranger things get. I decide that the tamer the wildlife seems, the wilder the human’s life must be. Because, the wildlife here is indeed tame. The Key Deer walk up to you like dogs. Joel and my dad weren’t too thrilled about the key deer joining us for dinner. But, I loved it. Nina and Asheton ventured down to Big Pine Key one day and Nina and I spent most of our time hanging with the deer.
We did take a break from our quality time with the key deer to do a little exploring while Nina and Asheton were visiting. Together we all explored a few nature trails. We walked along the rocky shore out to the Island's point. There, we checked out a Cuban boat that had allegedly washed ashore. There are several of these boats in the keys. Scrapped together with car engines, floating materials and any odds and ends they managed to acquire. Knowing the ocean and specifically the moods of the Gulf Stream, it's a humbling experience to see what these people escaped on. Even more humbling to think of the life conditions that made such a voyage worth the risk.
The Cuba boat wasn't the only discovery. Nina found herself a lovely all-natural hat. Then, the boys caught a few fish and a little nurse shark.
The rest of our week was full of fishing. My dad is the definition of a Fisherman. He raised three girls (you know he’s happy to finally have son in laws). Yet, each one of us knows how to tie a fisherman’s knot, spin a spinner, jig a jig, cast a fly rod, catch a fish and even clean it. So, with him in town, you know we had an action packed week of fishing.
ith such clear water, Joel and I did a lot of diving. We dove for lobster, we dove just for fun, and then later in the week we dove to get Otis’s fishing gear after he flipped his kayak (yicks! never a dull moment with Otis).
Then, we ended the week right with a fish fry and a beautiful sunset. Big thanks to my dad for joining us on our adventure. We loved having you come down!